The Thin Man Goes Home – Nick Charles’ Houndstooth Sportcoat

William Powell as Nick Charles in The Thin Man Goes Home (1945).

William Powell as Nick Charles in The Thin Man Goes Home (1945).

Vitals

William Powell as Nick Charles, retired private detective

Sycamore Springs, Summer 1944

Film: The Thin Man Goes Home
Release Date: January 25, 1945
Director: Richard Thorpe
Costume Supervisor: Irene

Background

Although it isn’t one of the better films in the Thin Man series, The Thin Man Goes Home offers us a glimpse of Nick Charles’ pre-detective home life in “Sycamore Springs”, an idyllic small town somewhere in New England, in an attempt to ground the man we’d before known only as a wise-cracking, hard-drinking urbanite.

The Thin Man Goes Home, released in early 1945 when the world was still at war, was the fifth in the six-film series that had rapidly began losing momentum. After a strong start, each movie progressively lost the trademark wit of the original, replacing it with family-friendly hijinks and – most notably – less booze. Nick Charles’ shady Greek origins (the family’s original surname was Charalambides in Hammett’s novel) were replaced by a WASPy neighborhood in small town U.S.A. Although it is curious that Nick and Nora leave their young son at home, especially given the series’ new direction in favor of family.

Despite this, any Thin Man movie is generally better than half of today’s cinematic output. In honor of today, the 122nd anniversary of William Powell’s birthday, I wanted to pay tribute to this great actor whose urbane sense of style and wit contributed so much to early Hollywood.

(Plus, one thing many people don’t know is that William Powell hails from my hometown of Pittsburgh. Evidently, the Pittsburgh accent wasn’t as common back in Powell’s day…)

What’d He Wear?

Nick Charles, who never appears anywhere without a sharp suit or dinner jacket, stays fashionable even in the more relaxed agrarian atmosphere of his hometown.

Nick certainly outdresses the town's local characters.

Nick certainly outdresses the town’s local characters.

Since The Thin Man Goes Home was filmed in black and white, it’s impossible to determine exactly what colors are on Nick’s clothing, but a few educated guesses can be made based on what was trendy.

Nick’s sportcoat is black and white houndstooth wool. Houndstooth, also known as dog’s tooth, is a very popular design consisting of duotone broken checks. Although other color options certainly exist, black and white is typically the most popular and – based on the contrast of Nick’s jacket – is a likely candidate for the jacket seen in the film.

If this doesn't tell you what houndstooth is, then I can't help you. Go look inside a dog's mouth. I hope it's not rabid.

If this doesn’t tell you what houndstooth is, then I can’t help you. Go look inside a dog’s mouth. I hope it’s not rabid.

The houndstooth pattern originated in the Scottish Lowlands during the early 19th century. By the 1930s, it had become popular among the wealthy, particularly on men’s coats and suits. It makes sense that an upper class gentleman like Nick would wear houndstooth, especially when not in a formal atmosphere.

The sportcoat is single-breasted with a 3-roll-2 button front; Nick only fastens the center button and lets the notch lapels roll over the top button. The shoulders are slightly padded and the darted front is especially visible with the houndstooth pattern warping at the waist line. The jacket also has 3-button cuffs and a ventless rear.

tmgh-CL-jkt2

Nick’s sportcoat has all of the features of a nice jacket appropriate in both town and country. There are three patch pockets – two on each hip and one on the left breast, which Nick embellishes with a white linen handkerchief.

Nick pairs his sportcoat with medium-colored trousers, likely medium gray, constructed of a baggy lightweight wool. They have a very high rise and single forward pleats. The trousers have no rear pockets, but there are on-seam side pockets.

In lieu of a belt or suspenders, Nick prefers to just hold up his pants when not wearing a jacket.

In lieu of a belt or suspenders, Nick prefers to just hold up his pants when not wearing a jacket.

Nick’s trousers have a very slim waistband with an extended tab in the front and a button tab in the rear. I’ve never seen this particular sort of rear waistband closure before, but it appears to have a button fastened over a fishmouth rear to allow for suspenders. The trousers are tailored to fit with no belt loops or side tabs.

Has anyone ever seen this sort of rear waistband closure before?

Has anyone ever seen this sort of rear waistband closure before?

As usual, Nick wears a white shirt with fashionable large spread collars, a front placket, and squared French cuffs worn with oval cuff links.

Nick investigates.

Nick investigates.

Underneath, Nick’s white sleeveless undershirt can be seen.

Nick’s tie is a silk abstract-patterned tie that was popular in the era. It has a dark ground and a geometric pattern in both light and dark colors. The tie has a wide base and a short length with the tip barely meeting the top of his high-rise trousers.

Although a short tie looks much better when worn under a buttoned jacket.

Although a short tie looks much better when worn under a buttoned jacket.

On his feet, Nick wears a pair of dark leather cap-toe balmorals. Black would be a reasonable color for a black and white houndstooth jacket and gray trousers, but brown is also a fine option for the country; also, the shoes in the film don’t look dark enough to be black.

Nick changes socks a few times during these scenes, wearing medium-colored (gray?) socks for the outfit’s first appearance and later changing into a pair of very dark (black?) socks.

Nick's footwear throughout these scenes including his gray socks (upper right) and black socks (lower right).

Nick’s footwear throughout these scenes including his gray socks (upper right) and black socks (lower right).

When he heads into town, Nick dons a dark felt trilby with a very slim self-band and a pinched crown.

tmgh-CX-hat1

Go Big or Go Home

Nick and Nora were always a very cosmopolitan couple, but Nick doesn’t let fatherhood or a trip home to family interrupt his fashionability. A black and white houndstooth sportcoat, white shirt, abstract tie, and medium gray trousers was the height of casual men’s fashion in the mid-1940s. Prior to this era, sportcoats and blazers were reserved almost exclusively for holidays or extremely casual situations, but the Depression and World War II caused a remarkable change toward acceptance of casualwear and soon men were wearing sportcoats in the city and even while conducting business.

“Bugsy” Siegel, one of the era’s most infamous fashionplates, was famously photographed in police headquarters while chomping on a cigar and deflecting questions. Though Nick technically falls on the opposite side of the law, his fashion sense reveals why gangsters and hoodlums always had a soft spot for him even after he’d put them in prison.

Nick Charles and "Bugsy" Siegel had more in common than one would think! Bugsy's outfit was so recognized that Warren Beatty sported the same thing while playing the gangster in Barry Levinson's 1991 film.

Nick Charles and “Bugsy” Siegel had more in common than one would think! Bugsy’s outfit was so recognized that Warren Beatty sported the same thing while playing the gangster in Barry Levinson’s 1991 film.

Interestingly, Powell’s jacket is even more similar to Bugsy’s with its three-button front and the inclusion of a white pocket square.

How to Get the Look

Whether you’re an urban gangster or an ex-cop heading home with his family, it’s hard not to look good in a houndstooth sportcoat.

tmgh-crop

  • Black & white houndstooth single-breasted sport coat with notch lapels, 3-roll-2 front, patch breast pocket (with white linen handkerchief), patch hip pockets, 3-button cuffs, and ventless rear
  • Medium gray lightweight wool single forward-pleated trousers with extended front waist-tab, button-tab rear, on-seam side pockets, and cuffed bottoms
  • White dress shirt with a large spread collar, front placket, and double/French cuffs
  • Dark silk necktie with geometric patterns and short, wide bottom
  • Oval metal cuff links
  • Dark brown leather cap-toe balmorals
  • Medium gray dress socks
  • White sleeveless undershirt
  • Dark felt trilby with slim self-band and pinched crown

Do Yourself a Favor and…

Buy the entire film series.

The Quote

Nick Charles: A couple of weeks on this cider and I’ll be a new man.
Nora Charles: I sort of like the old one.
Nick Charles: Why, darling, that’s the nicest thing you’ve said to me since the time I got my head caught in that cuspidor at the Waldorf.

Footnotes

Not all of Nick Charles’ behavior is as admirable as his crime-solving…

#YesAllWomen

#YesAllWomen

4 comments

  1. Roman

    Sure, Nick Charles isn’t the Thin Man of the original movie, but by the time the fourth flick hit the theaters, he, it seems, implied to be eponymous person. When I first heard of the masterpiece, I thought it has something to do with Crispin Glover’s Thin Man of the cheesy Charlie’s Angels remake. Oh, speaking of… Check out Glover’s sharp double-breasted black suit. It’s great, and Glover’s creepiness is on par with Christopher Walken.

    Like

  2. Hal

    I have yet to get around to this movie as I make my way slowly through The Thin Man series. You’re certainly right that at least the first couple of Thin Man films are still great fun.

    This sports jacket look is one that you could imagine someone today taking elements from – the dogstooth sports jacket has made a return to popularity recently – but the cut of the jacket and trousers are a long way from current trends. In fact, it is interesting to compare the jacket here with Charles’s suit jackets from the first movie in 1933. The thirties version is fairly classically proportioned with a traditional English cut. This forties cut is much fuller – one can see the extra drape in the cloth over the chest very clearly. Whist a slight drape cut can look good, I think I prefer the dapper 1933 version of Charles. Perhaps the sartorial standards slipped slightly with each movie, as well the level of wit and charm in the scripts?

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  3. Teeritz

    Great write-up! I’m a big fan of Hammett’s novel and I could never buy William Powell as Nick Charles. Classic film, though, and one that’s about due for a remake. With Fassbender and maybe Miss Johansson as Nick and Nora. And that dog from “Frasier” as Asta. Unless he’s retired.

    Like

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