Two years ago, I broke down the great off-white dinner jacket worn by Sean Connery in Goldfinger. For your end-of-summer fancy soiree (which I assume you’re hosting), the white or off-white dinner jacket should always be an option.
Nicholas Clay as Patrick Redfern, philandering Latin teacher
Adriatic Sea, Summer 1939
Film: Evil Under the Sun
Release Date: March 5, 1982
Director: Guy Hamilton
Costume Designer: Anthony Powell
WARNING! Spoilers ahead!
1982’s Evil Under the Sun is a lavish adaptation of Agatha Christie’s 1941 novel, jumping on the popularity of its successful predecessors Murder on the Orient Express and Death on the Nile by stacking together a star-studded cast, dressing them up in expensive period costumes, and dropping them into a murder mystery in an exotic locale.
Since the original novel was set on an English island, the filmmakers evidently decided they could weasel much more camp value out of a warm island palace, and the secluded hotel in Devon was scrapped in favor of a regal resort in the middle of the Adriatic Sea. Quiet intrigue gave way to flamboyant grandstanding as a delightful cavalcade of stars chewed the scenery against a backdrop of murder and Cole Porter.
Nicholas Clay was one of the film’s many stars, playing Patrick Redfern, a charismatic if inattentive husband who grows more and more nefarious as each brogue-covered layer is stripped away by master detective Hercule Poirot.
What’d He Wear?
For the resort’s cocktail hour, Redfern is appropriately dressed in an ivory dinner jacket just as white-toned dinner jackets were coming into fashion. The Black Tie Guide, which should be considered the definitive online guide to men’s formalwear, notes that:
White dinner jackets premiered alongside the mess jacket in resorts like Palm Beach and Cannes, albeit with much less fanfare. Constructed of cotton drill, linen or silk they were originally worn with either black or white trousers of tropical weight wool. Their popularity at tropical locales grew slowly but surely and by the time the mess jacket had become passé in 1936 they were as common as traditional dark coats. In its August 1936 issue, Esquire defined the quintessential warm-weather formal evening wardrobe: “This year, the big swing is to single- or double-breasted [light colored] dinner jackets, collar and self lapel facings. These are worn with[black] tropical dress trousers, patent leather oxfords or pumps, a white, soft shirt with either soft or laundered collar and a black dress tie.”
As the film is set in a tropical locale in 1937, Redfern’s double-breasted, light-colored, self-faced dinner jacket, soft white shirt, black dress tie and trousers, and patent leather oxfords hit the Esquire nail on the head. The character, a supposedly humble schoolteacher who hides great wealth and is much more fashionable than his dowdy wife, would be the sort of guy who would wear exactly what Esquire prescribes when heading to a tropical island.
As Esquire indirectly stated, the white dinner jacket implied a drop in formality that is reflected throughout the outfit.
Redfern’s dinner jacket is ivory lightweight wool with a 4×1-button double-breasted front. The substantial shawl lapels are self-faced – rather than grosgrain or satin-faced – and roll cleanly to his waist. The waistline is only slightly suppressed, more of an indication of the 1980s boxy fit than the 1930s athletic fit. Still, Clay’s athletic silhouette is kept intact by the jacket’s correct ventless rear, darted front, and long natural shoulders with roped sleeveheads.
The buttons, including the 4-button surgeon’s cuffs, are all white plastic, again a less formal option than mother-of-pearl. The welted breast pocket is embellished with a white silk handkerchief poking out; a red carnation pinned to the left lapel further enhances the ensemble. The hip pockets are jetted, as they should be.
Since the jacket is double-breasted and worn less formally than most black tie ensembles, a cummerbund is optional although still the standard option for resort formalwear. Redfern keeps his jacket buttoned at all times so it is left to speculation whether or not he wears a cummerbund. It’s likely that he would, as the Black Tie Guide continues:
By 1937 The New Etiquette was describing the [cummerbund] as a “popular and chic” waist covering for informal evening wear at resorts. “It is meant for hot weather to obviate the necessity of having the harness of a waistcoat over the shoulder and back when it might be uncomfortably warm. On the right people at the right time it is decorative and correctly in the spirit of colorful gaiety.” As the author alluded, the cummerbund could be used to infuse warm-weather formal wear with color and even patterns. Most often though, black silk continued to be de rigueur for waist coverings worn with the white dinner jacket. The pleated formal sash could also be correctly matched with a black tuxedo according to the book’s author, but only when those tuxedos were worn at resorts; the acceptance of cummerbunds year round was still at least a decade away.
Redfern’s formal trousers are black with flat fronts and a silk braid running down each side. He often places his hands in the on-seam side pockets, and the plain-hemmed bottoms slightly flare out with a short break.
Redfern’s shirt also indicates the relaxed formality of his outfit. It is white with a plain (not piqué or pleated) front and mother-of-pearl buttons (not studs). He wears a set of round golf cuff links through the double cuffs. Under the shirt’s soft turndown collar, Redfern wears a black silk “thistle”-shaped (or “semi-butterfly” or “hourglass”) bow tie that is clearly not a pre-tied version, which deserves a thumb’s up. Also, the thicker tie is good for someone with Clay’s large face and strong features.
On his feet, Redfern wears a pair of black patent leather cap-toe balmorals with raised heels. With the stitched toe cap on the uppers, this balmoral is more commonly seen as a business shoe and not with a formal outfit like a dinner suit. However, both the casual nature of his ensemble and the shiny patent leather excuse this choice.
Also, this less formal jacket and shirt would look very strange with the pinched bow pumps considered to be “proper” with black tie. Redfern wears thin black dress socks, as he should.
His watch has been identified by Roman and Will – two great commenters here – as a vintage Gruen Curvex on a black alligator strap. With its large Arabic numerals and oblong silver case, it is a more casual watch than most would accept with black tie, but it works here.
Go Big or Go Home
The white 4×1-button double-breasted, lapeled dinner jacket says plenty about its wearers. The most famous wearer was Humphrey Bogart as Rick Blaine in Casablanca, but a similar jacket also showed up on Emilio Largo, one of the more stylish Bond villains.
Although Largo and Redfern, as a terrorist and a murderer respectively, qualify more as villains than Rick Blaine, each of the three men carries a mischievous charm and a devil-may-care attitude as they conduct their shady business among fellow patrons of an exotic bar/casino/hotel.
Despite posing as a man of modest means, Redfern is still able to afford a leisurely week at such an exclusive Mediterranean resort… although it is his Broadway diva mistress that buys his room, so that sort of negates it. However, he still lives lavishly while there, indulging in numerous cocktails and rubbing elbows with the rich and famous.
The Redferns are eventually revealed to be a horribly deceptive couple of whom even Frank and Claire Underwood would disapprove. The casting of Jane Birkin as Redfern’s supposedly “plain Jane” wife Christine is interesting, especially given the start of her career as a mod icon and symbol of Swinging London.
Christine plays her part well, looking continuously haggard and beleaguered as her husband enjoys the attentions of Diana Rigg as the doomed diva. (Interestingly, Rigg is eight years older than Birkin. I guess the Redferns targeted cougars.)
Much of my enjoyment of this guilty pleasure piece of celluloid comes from the soundtrack. The score consists entirely of Cole Porter hits, masterfully arranged by John Lanchberry. Unfortunately, most of the tracks are unavailable on YouTube, so I can’t share any here. The first cocktail hour is scored by “Longing for Dear Old Broadway” (from The Pot of Gold, one of the earliest shows written by Porter) and “You Do Something to Me”. “You Do Something to Me” is one of Porter’s most popular songs, and it became a standard in the songbooks of legends like Frank Sinatra and Ella Fitzgerald.
Here is Leo Reisman and his Orchestra performing “You Do Something to Me” in 1929, the year Porter penned it for Fifty Million Frenchmen.
How to Get the Look
- Ivory double-breasted 4×1-button dinner jacket with large shawl lapels, welted breast pocket, jetted hip pockets, 4-button surgeon’s cuffs, and ventless rear
- Black flat front formal side-braided trousers with on-seam side pockets and slightly flared plain-hemmed bottoms
- White plain front shirt with front placket, mother-of-pearl buttons, and double/French cuffs
- Black silk “thistle”-shaped bow tie
- Gold round cuff links
- Black patent leather cap-toe balmorals
- Black thin dress socks
- Gruen Curvex wristwatch in an oblong silver case on a black alligator strap
To be extra natty, pin a red carnation to your left lapel and tuck a white silk handkerchief into the breast pocket.
Do Yourself A Favor And…
Buy the movie.
It’s funny to think if Giuseppe Verdi had been an Englishman his name would have been Joe Green.