David Niven’s Red Velvet Dinner Jacket in The Pink Panther

David Niven as Sir Charles Lytton in The Pink Panther (1963).

David Niven as Sir Charles Lytton in The Pink Panther (1963).

Vitals

David Niven as Sir Charles Lytton, urbane master jewel thief and titular “Pink Panther”

Cortina d’Ampezzo, Italy, Winter 1963

Film: The Pink Panther
Release Date: December 19, 1963
Director: Blake Edwards
Wardrobe Supervisor: Annalisa Nasalli-Rocca

Background

No discussion of debonair actors would be complete without mention of David Niven, a gentleman in every sense of the word.

Ian Fleming had long envisioned Niven taking the role of James Bond when 007 would finally receive a big screen adaptation only for Niven to appear in the 1967 screwball parody of Casino Royale.

Around the same time that Sean Connery was making his debut as Bond in Dr. No, Niven was cast as the lead in The Pink Panther, a comic heist film penned by Blake Edwards designed to be a vehicle for Niven. Eventually, co-star Peter Sellers’ immense talent for improv comedy shifted the spotlight from Niven to Sellers. Despite the fact that Niven himself was “The Pink Panther”, Sellers would go on to star in five more films as Inspector Clouseau and the phrase “Pink Panther” would be forever associated with Sellers’ bumbling detective. (Interestingly enough, Sellers would also appear in the 1967 Casino Royale. He just couldn’t let David Niven have anything, could he?)

However, Niven’s portrayal of the sophisticated playboy thief should not go ignored. Bringing his usual romantic charm and cheeky wit, Niven transformed the thief into someone we would root for all while supporting his unsuspecting nemesis, Inspector Clouseau. It speaks volumes for Niven that Sir Charles – a cuckolding career criminal who has no qualms about manipulating people – remains so likable.

Thus, BAMF Style is focusing on Sir Charles’ holiday-worthy attire on this Christmas Eve.

What’d He Wear?

This one takes cojones to pull off and should be reserved for only the truest of gentlemen. In short, if you don’t have a pencil-thin mustache, you don’t have a favorite walking stick, and you don’t conclude each evening with a snifter of cognac, you should pass on this outfit.

The epitome of class.

The epitome of class.

Sir Charles shows up at dinner with Princess Dala wearing a dark red velvet dinner jacket that you can be damn sure was tailored just for him. It is single-breasted with black satin-faced shawl lapels and – as an extra touch of elegance – matching black satin turnback cuffs. The four black satin-covered cuff buttons match the larger single button that closes the front.

The jacket fits Niven perfectly with a ventless rear, natural shoulders, and roped sleeveheads. The lack of an outer breast pocket keeps the jacket looking clean through the chest down to the flapped hip pockets. Typically, dinner jackets should have jetted pockets but this more unconventional and obviously bespoke piece of evening wear should have allowances made for the wearer’s personal preference. The pocket flaps blend nicely with the jacket anyway without the black satin jetting that would otherwise disturb the jacket’s flow.

pinkred-CL-jkt2

The “correct” terminology for Sir Charles’ jacket depends on which side of the pond you dwell. Colored velvet jackets (and most velvet jackets, for that matter) have typically been the domain of the smoking jacket, which is likely what the English would use to refer to Niven’s jacket here. We Americans would instead look at this jacket and simply call it a “velvet dinner jacket” due to its traditional dinner jacket features; indeed, the only thing differentiating Niven’s jacket from the traditional dinner jacket is the fabric.

The context of the jacket doesn’t help either. Smoking jackets are best for informal lounging while dinner jackets would be required for formal dining. This is more of an informal dinner for seven, although the presence of royalty (Princess Dala) may have necessitated something more formal. Still, this is David Niven so who the hell are we to argue?

(Terminology info from Black Tie Guide, which anyone interested in formalwear and looking like a grownup should read!)

Sir Charles wears his jacket with a pair of black formal trousers that appropriately feature a single black satin side stripe down each side. Due to the camera angles and Niven’s correct habit of keeping the jacket buttoned when standing, not many details are seen of the trousers other than the slanted side pockets and plain-hemmed bottoms.

Sir Charles at dinner.

Sir Charles at dinner.

Sir Charles wears a white formal shirt with a spread collar and narrowly pleated front. The small black studs down the front have gold trim, similar to the links worn through his French cuffs. The cuff links are large black squares with gold trim and a single diamond in the center.

Now this is a gentleman.

Now this is a gentleman.

Naturally, Sir Charles wears a black satin bow tie. This is David Niven we’re talking about, so none of the pre-tied or adjustable nonsense that you see in high school prom photos.

Another very distinctive aspect of Niven’s dinner attire is his footwear. Rather than the usual black plain-toe leather shoes, Sir Charles wears a pair of black Prince Albert slippers with a gold “CL” monogram. Also known as a “house shoe” for its purpose of informal lounging, the Albert slipper’s velvet upper and decidedly British heritage make it a fine pairing with the playboy thief’s red velvet dinner jacket.

While it may sound ridiculous to some to wear slippers with evening wear, the tradition began around 1840 when Prince Albert, Queen Victoria’s consort, decided that gentlemen could combat the harsh dirt roads of Britain by switching out their shoes for a more comfortable slipper when entering someone’s home. Thus, the leather-soled slip-on “Albert slipper” became fashionable. (More info here from Black Tie Guide!)

Sir Charles wears his all-gold wristwatch to dinner. It has a round case and an expanding bracelet, and he wears it on his left wrist.

Sir Charles' watch pokes out as he chats with a dinner guest. In case you couldn't tell, the guest in question is not the lovely Princess Dala.

Sir Charles’ watch pokes out as he chats with a dinner guest. In case you couldn’t tell, the guest in question is not the lovely Princess Dala.

Not much is seen of Sir Charles’ outerwear, as Princess Dala’s footman takes his overcoat as soon as he enters her chalet. He appears to be wearing a black wool double-breasted topcoat with large lapels and flapped hip pockets.

Sir Charles battles the bitter cold (left) and enjoys the comforts of a royal chalet (right).

Sir Charles battles the bitter cold (left) and enjoys the comforts of a royal chalet (right).

As an elegant touch, the red silk lining of the topcoat nicely evokes the color of his dinner jacket.

What to Imbibe

Sir Charles Lytton has a fully-stocked bar in his hotel room with gin, vermouth, whiskey, and champagne. Would you expect any less?

I have yet to find a Motel 6 with these kinds of amenities.

I have yet to find a Motel 6 with these kinds of amenities.

After making a date for Princess Dala to visit him in his room (scandal!), he pulls out a bottle of bubbly to entertain her. Though she’s maintained a reputation as a teetotaler, the exotic “virgin queen” soon succumbs to the vintage champagne’s charms. Aware of her situation, she playfully threatens Sir Charles:

Princess Dala: If I were my father, I’d have you tortured.
Sir Charles: No. If you were your father, I doubt very much if I would have kissed you.

Sir Charles enjoys a pre-dinner tête-à-tête with Princess Dala.

Sir Charles enjoys a pre-dinner tête-à-tête with Princess Dala.

With Thin Man-esque banter like that, the evening’s seduction is ramped up and Sir Charles finds himself embracing the lovely princess on the tiger rug splayed out across his floor in front of the fire. Unfortunately, the champagne in question didn’t receive enough screen time to prominently reveal itself; this was surely a missed opportunity for a “sex sells” product placement campaign. Are any refined drinkers out there able to identify the bottle? (Extra points to anyone who can identify any other bottles in Sir Charles’ hotel bar.)

For any non-refined (or at least poor) drinkers, you can take a Lytton-worthy cheeky approach to drinking in a red velvet dinner jacket by providing a bottle of Cupcake Vineyards’ “Red Velvet” blend. Combining Zinfandel, Merlot, and Petite Syrah, this economically-priced wine is a fine accompaniment for a hearty dinner with friends. (After all, not all of us can afford Château Margaux!)

As an interesting side note, a bottle of Cupcake Red Velvet wine showed up in Dallas Buyers Club in the home of Dr. Eve Saks. This would’ve been good product placement if not for the fact that Cupcake Vineyards didn’t even exist until twenty years after the story is set. Other places where I’ve noticed Cupcake wines are an early scene in the movie I Love You, Man and a Chardonnay in an episode of Bored to Death.

How to Get the Look

If you manage to successfully wear this evening attire, you’ll be remembered as a debonair gentleman who will certainly be called for another dinner… as well as a romantic rendezvous or two. If you don’t pull it off, you’ll likely be laughed out of the house before the main course is served.

pinkred-crop

  • Dark red velvet single-breasted dinner jacket with black satin shawl lapels, black satin turnback cuffs, black satin-covered single front button, black satin-covered 4-button cuffs, flapped hip pockets, and ventless rear
  • Black formal trousers with black satin side stripe, slanted side pockets, and plain-hemmed bottoms
  • White formal dress shirt with spread collar, pleated front, black studs, and double/French cuffs
  • Black satin bow tie
  • Black cuff links with gold trim and a single diamond center
  • Black velvet Prince Albert slippers with a gold crest
  • Black dress socks
  • Gold wristwatch with expanding bracelet, worn on left wrist
  • Black wool double-breasted topcoat with flapped hip pockets

With confidence, elegance, and a cheeky degree of self-awareness, you can wear whatever you want while enjoying digestifs with the best of them.

Do Yourself a Favor and…

Buy the film. Make sure it’s the 1963 classic and not the Steve Martin remake. Nothing against Steve, but why did anyone think The Pink Panther needed a remake?!

The Quote

Oh, champagne’s not drinking. That’s the minimum of alcohol and the maximum of companionship.

Footnotes

All readers of this blog should also check out Black Tie Guide, the definitive online resource for classic, contemporary, and alternative formalwear. It certainly helped me out getting some background info on Sir Charles’ eccentrically suave outfit, and it’ll help you, too.

Merry Christmas and/or Happy Hanukkah, BAMF Style readers! Whether you’re saying “Ho ho ho” or “Dreidel, dreidel, dreidel”, I hope this holiday season has been a happy one full of delicious booze and bad decisions.

6 comments

  1. Hal

    Presumably he can’t have been wearing the slippers when outside with the overcoat in the snow either.

    Lovely smoking jacket/velvet dinner jacket. Velvet jackets have been very popular recently but this is a very nice and unusual example.

    Like

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