Michael Caine as Alfie Elkins, charming part-time car service driver and full-time cad
London, Fall 1965
Release Date: March 24, 1966
Director: Lewis Gilbert
Wardrobe Supervisor: Jean Fairlie
Tailor: Douglas Hayward
Poor Michael Caine is forced to learn the hard way that there’s more to life than shagging “birds” and getting sloshed in Alfie.
After nearly ten years as an actor, Caine was finally receiving his due when he got the part of Alfie Elkins. He’d had two great roles over the previous two years in Zulu and The Ipcress File, and Alfie was his time to shine. After his roommate Terence Stamp (who had played Alfie on Broadway) passed on the role, Caine was approached and swept the screen with what became his breakthrough role as the philandering playboy. Caine’s “controversial” Cockney accent solidified his authentic portrayal of a common man, and it led to his first Academy Award Best Actor nomination and his second consecutive BAFTA nomination.
What’d He Wear?
As an unrepentant ladies’ man (at least for most of the film), Alfie Elkins needs to dress to impress. This navy blue mohair blend suit is one of the most commonly seen outfits he sports on screen. Tailored by Douglas Hayward, the suit keeps Alfie looking modern and trim among the “swinging ’60s” London set with a slim fit and slim features from the jacket’s lapels and pockets to the tie and trouser legs. Alfie himself praises the suit when undressing for a medical exam:
This suit don’t weigh nothing. It’s a new Terylene and mohair. You don’t feel as though you got nothing on at all!
Of course, he may be trying to subconsciously elicit images of nudity in the nurse’s mind, but he’s absolutely right about mohair wearing cool due to its moisture wicking properties. By contrast, the luxurious fabric also insulates well during winter to keep its wearer at a desired temperature. While Alfie’s suit indeed shines under certain light, it doesn’t have the luster of pure mohair; Alfie’s description of “Terylene and mohair” (Terylene is just a brand name of polyester) is probably spot on.
Alfie’s suit is a fine example of how a suit can be tailored for a slim fit without looking tight and pulling at the wrong places. As Caine shows when he undresses for his exam, he is in average shape, but his suits make him look more trim thanks to Hayward’s expert hand. Jumping ahead to Skyfall in 2012, the very athletic Daniel Craig was placed in a series of ultra-slim-fitting suits in an effort to evoke the classic look of ’60s Bond, but he often looked as though he was about to burst a seam or a button.
The single-breasted jacket has slim notch lapels – with a buttonhole on the left lapel – that roll over the top button to the center of the three buttons. The shoulders are padded with roped sleeveheads and each sleeve ends with a 4-button functioning “surgeon’s cuff”.
Alfie’s jacket has a breast pocket with a slim welt and hip pockets that slant gently backwards with narrow flaps. The back has a single vent.
The trousers rise considerably low for the era with narrow belt loops around the waist, through which he wears a narrow black leather belt. The extended front tab closes with a hook over the straight fly. The front pockets are slanted, and the rear pockets are jetted. Hayward keeps his fit consistent with a tapered leg down to the plain-hemmed bottoms that end with a short break.
A fashionable fellow like Alfie knows to match his shoes to his belt, and his black leather ankle boots are no exception. His dark dress socks – probably black or possibly navy blue – are often seen due to the trousers’ short break.
Alfie wears a white cotton poplin shirt with a long button-down collar. The decision for a very British character like Alfie to wear a button-down collar is surprising given its heavily American roots, although it was in England that John E. Brooks developed what was initially called the “polo collar” due to its appearance on polo players’ uniforms.
Alfie’s shirt has squared single-button cuffs, a plain front, and rear side darts. As we see when he untucks the shirt, the hem is curved toward the front and back. (Alfie wears no undershirt, although untucking the shirt does reveal his white underwear briefs!)
Alfie’s tie is also dark blue, and it nicely pairs with the cool hue of the navy blue suit. However, the tie is a shade lighter than the suit color; when wearing similarly-colored suits and ties, many men prefer to wear a darker tie than their suit. The slim knit tie is knotted with a small four-in-hand and has a flat bottom just above the trouser waistband.
Earlier in the film, when Alfie is picking up this suit from the dry cleaner he’s shagging, he wears a sky blue shirt with a slim spread collar and a multi-colored striped tie. This is his preferred shirt and tie with the gray pick suit he wore into the dry cleaner’s; he later wears the gray suit with this shirt-and-tie combo during the pub brawl that leads to his breakup with Annie.
I’m sure a more experienced eye would be able to identify Alfie’s stainless wristwatch, but the visible details are a simple black dial and a steel bracelet with a deployment clasp. If I had to guess, I’d say it was an Omega Seamaster Automatic like this one based on the rice-grain bracelet.
Alfie completes his look with a gold pinky ring on his left hand, set with a brown oval stone.
Evidently a fan of the fabric, Michael Caine would go on to sport another Hayward-tailored blue mohair suit in Get Carter five years later.
Go Big or Go Home
Alfie’s behavior leaves very little to be desired, and I think it’s fair to say that’s the point of the story. He’s a cheeky cad who refers to women as “birds”, abandons the girlfriend he knocked up, and engineered his married mistress’s abortion. He gets his comeuppance in the form of total disillusionment, although I’m sure some of the jilted ladies along the way wouldn’t have minded something a little more extreme.
How to Get the Look
Another relatively simple look where the true value is in Douglas Hayward’s expert tailoring for the times. He created a look that was perfect for a hip womanizer in swinging London that still resonates today thanks to his timeless craftsmanship.
- Navy blue mohair blend suit, tailored by Douglas Hayward, consisting of:
- Single-breasted jacket with slim notch lapels, 3-roll-2 button front, welted breast pocket, rear-slanted flapped hip pockets, 4-button functioning cuffs, and single rear vent
- Flat front tapered-leg trousers with slim belt loops, on-seam side pockets, jetted rear pockets, and plain-hemmed bottoms
- White cotton poplin shirt with long button-down collar, plain front, and squared button cuffs
- Dark blue slim knit necktie with flat bottom
- Black narrow leather belt with small gold metal single-claw buckle
- Black leather ankle boots
- Black dress socks
- Stainless wristwatch with a black dial on steel deployable-clasp bracelet
- Gold pinky ring with a brown oval setting
Do Yourself a Favor and…
Buy the movie.
I was wearing a navy blue lightweight suit, in a material called Tonik, made by Dormeuil, and I didn’t want it spoiling. I don’t care whether a bird uses Max Factor matte film or Outdoor Girl from Woolworth’s, if she starts purring up against your lapel, it won’t look the better for it.