Jack Nicholson as J.J. Gittes, private investigator and all-around “nosy fella”
Los Angeles, September 1937
Release Date: June 20, 1974
Director: Roman Polanski
Costume Designer: Anthea Sylbert
Many of the suits Jack Nicholson wears in Chinatown are intentionally loud and showy. As an easygoing yin to the cynical Philip Marlowe’s yang, Gittes happily shows off the fruits of his labors with extravagant and noticeable suits in various earth tones and shades of cream.
However, when it’s time to get down to business, Gittes knows the last thing he needs is to stand out during a stakeout. For this, he has an army of gray suits at his disposal. None of the suits are boring by any means, and they’re only conservative in relation to his other apparel. For client visits and “pubic relations”, Gittes is the flashy PI in brighty-colored suits and shirts.
When Gittes shows up as Evelyn Mulwray’s “knight in shining armor” after her husband’s corpse is found, he is appropriately suited in gray. We’d seen him in gray suits before during his initial investigations of Mulwray, and it’s our signifier that his day doesn’t end with a few quips in front of the hungry press (“Gittes – two t’s and an e!”) Indeed, after Mrs. Mulwray departs, Gittes immediately gets right back to work, investigating the dry river bed and the dams.
What’d He Wear?
During this sequence, which leads to Chinatown‘s iconic “nosy fella” scene, Gittes wears a medium gray wool pinstripe three-piece suit. It is one of five gray-toned suits he wears during the film. He even has another gray pinstripe three-piece suit, although it has a single-breasted jacket. When Gittes’ nose meets its bitter end, he is wearing the suit with the double-breasted jacket.
Like his other suits, it is cut very appropriately for the ’30s and shows that costume designer Anthea Sylbert was more than deserving of her first Academy Award nomination for her work in the film. (She lost to Theoni V. Aldredge for The Great Gatsby, which is like going up against The Godfather for Best Picture.)
All of the garments of fully cut, especially the double-breasted jacket with its large peak lapels and 6-button front. The buttons are arranged in a 6×2 stance, but Gittes often buttons only one of them, either the top or the bottom depending on his mood.
The jacket has jetted hip pockets and a welted breast pocket where Gittes keeps a white linen handkerchief poking out. The shoulders are padded with roped sleeveheads, presenting a very 1930s look with solidly-built shoulders and an imposing chest down to a gently suppressed waist. The rear is ventless and the cuffs each have four buttons.
Gittes’ vest (or waistcoat) fastens high on his chest with six buttons. The notched bottom is pretty wide, allowing the bottom of the shirt and the top of the trouser waistband to poke out. This is a sartorial no-no but also a nod to Gittes’ casual persona.
The trousers, since the top is seen under the vest, do not rise as high as most trousers would have in 1937, but they still look appropriate with their double reverse pleats and cuffed bottoms with full breaks. Since they’re part of a three-piece suit, the trousers are correctly worn with suspenders rather than a belt.
Gittes’ pale blue suspenders are briefly seen just before he loses his nose. They appear to have some small dark gray repeating pattern.
The suit was one of many costumes auctioned in December 2008 during Profiles in History’s annual film memorabilia auction. The suit was described accurately but sparingly as “gray three-piece pin stripe suit” and was lot #2991.
Gittes wears a plain white dress shirt with French cuffs. The collars are long and large with a moderate spread, a style from the 1930s that was – luckily enough for the era – fashionable again in the 1970s. The double cuffs are fastened together with large flat silver discs.
His tie is burgundy silk with white polka dots.
Gittes wears a pair of brown patent leather plain-toe oxfords. Although we don’t see this for ourselves, Gittes bemoans “Son of a bitch! Goddamn Florsheim shoe!” after losing one in the reservoir. Florsheim, which was founded in 1892 in Wisconsin, is still thriving and would later gain some recognition as Michael Jackson’s shoe of choice.
Other than a quick glimpse of one after he loses his shoe, Gittes’ socks remains mostly unseen. His left sock appears very dark when wet, and it is likely either dark gray or black.
For a neo noir private eye, a fedora can be considered standard issue. However, not all Hollywood actors look right wearing one; some just look downright silly. Jack is the opposite; the way he sports his fedora, he looks exactly like a 1937 P.I. would. The fedora in question with this suit is a nicely-matched dark gray lightweight felt fedora with a wide black band.
How to Get the Look
This is one of Gittes’ more conservative suits, but the bold pinstripes and styling are still attention-getting.
- Gray pinstripe wool three-piece suit, consisting of:
- Double-breasted jacket with 6×2 button front, peak lapels, welted breast pocket, jetted hip pockets, 4-button cuffs, padded shoulders with roped sleeveheads, and ventless rear
- Single-breasted vest with 6-button front and notched bottom
- Double reverse-pleated trousers with slanted side pockets and cuffed bottoms
- White dress shirt with large collars (moderate spread) and double/French cuffs
- Burgundy red silk necktie with white polka dots
- Silver disc-style cuff links
- Brown patent leather plain-toe oxfords
- Dark dress socks
- Pale blue suspenders
- Dark gray lightweight felt fedora with wide black band
Do Yourself a Favor and…
Buy the movie.
Hello, Claude. Where’d you get the midget?