James Dean as Jim Stark, confused suburban high school student and loner
Los Angeles, Spring 1956
Film: Rebel Without a Cause
Release Date: October 27, 1955
Director: Nicholas Ray
Costume Designer: Moss Mabry
Car Week concludes with a look at one of the most iconic drivers to ever speed across the silver screen: James Dean.
In Rebel Without a Cause, the second of Dean’s three credited films as an actor, Dean played the archetypical angsty teen Jim Stark. After a drunkenly difficult Easter Sunday that landed him in some hot water with the local fuzz, Jim begins his first day at Dawson High School and finds himself also at odds with most of his fellow students – particularly a bully who is, of course, named Buzz.
During a field trip that day to the Griffith Observatory overlooking the city, Jim further antagonizes his new enemies by… uh… existing? Buzz isn’t a very understanding sort of person.
After slashing the tires of Jim’s ’49 Mercury coupe and trying to get a knife fight going, Buzz challenges him to a “chickie run” at Millertown Bluff, setting the stage for the film’s climactic stolen car race.
It doesn’t help poor Jim that Buzz’s girlfriend is Judy (Natalie Wood) who seems to harbor some affection for this newcomer, despite the fact that she may or may not believe that he’s a yo-yo.
What’d He Wear?
Jim Stark wears some sharp duds for his first day at Dawson High, dressed in a jacket and tie to appease his parents in the morning before losing his tie for the actual day. He’s smart to keep the jacket on though, as it’s pretty damn snappy. Fleck was at its most popular in the mid-1950s, and it’s always refreshing to spot on on screen. Jim wears a dark brown wool fleck windowpane check sport coat with small-notched lapels and a two-button front.
Jim’s single-breasted jacket has a patch breast pocket and straight flapped hip pockets. The shoulders are padded, and his sleeves end with 2-button cuffs. The back is split with a single vent in the center.
So what exactly is “fleck”? The white imperfect slubbing on Jim’s jacket – which you’ve doubtlessly seen in other films and shows from the era – creates a “fleck” effect (effleckt?) to give the jacket a certain Space Age appeal. Although the fleck grabs the eye first, it’s worth noticing that Jim is actually wearing a jacket with a rust brown-threaded windowpane check.
Jim’s trousers are a slightly lighter and warmer shade of brown with a high rise and single reverse pleats. The trousers have side pockets and widely-played jetted pockets on the back with a single button to close.
He wears the same slim tan leather belt as he wore with his Easter suit. The belt has wide notches and a wide, slim rectangular gold single-prong buckle.
Jim may also be wearing the same shirt as he wore with his Easter suit, as it’s also a light ecru cotton shirt with a large point collar, plain front, breast pocket, and single-button cuffs. This shirt also has the same large fit that billows over the trousers when the jacket is removed, also revealing the shirt’s side pleats.
Before school, Jim stands in his parents’ kitchen wearing a dark brown silk tie tucked into his trouser waistband. Behind-the-scenes photos actually show a subtle grid pattern on the tie that blends together in the finished film.
When Jim tosses his tie and opens his shirt collar on the way to school, he also reveals the white crew-neck undershirt he wears beneath it. This is the same short-sleeve “muscle cut” t-shirt that he later wears with his red windbreaker; in the post analyzing that outfit, I share some evidence that Dean was likely wearing a J.C. Penney “Towncraft” undershirt with a 50/50 cotton-polyester blend.
As we also saw with his Easter suit, Jim wears a pair of brown leather moc-toe penny loafers.
Jim wears a very eye-catching pair of ribbed socks with an argyle pattern of cream, tan, and brown that ties in all of the outfit’s colors. Although the socks get their best on-screen exposure when Buzz and his cronies try teaching Jim a lesson in front of the observatory, they’re very clearly seen in the set photo below of Dean sitting with the film’s director, Nicholas Ray.
Jim wears his same gold wristwatch on a black leather strap.
Jim’s classic black coupe, whose tires suffer a sad fate at the hands of Buzz’s knife-wielding crew, is a 1949 Mercury Eight Club Coupe.
The Mercury Eight was the first model produced when Edsel Ford introduced the Mercury brand in the late 1930s to take on the entry-level luxury market dominated at the time by Buick, DeSoto, and Oldsmobile. The all-new design sold nearly 66,000 models in the first year with Ford’s 239 cubic-inch flathead V8 engine producing 95 horsepower.
After several styling and engineering changes during its first decade, the 1949 Mercury Eight was rolled out as the company’s first postwar model with a refreshing “ponton” exterior and a more powerful version of Ford’s flathead V8 – the 255 cubic-inch “BG” now upgraded to an output of 110 horsepower. Instantly popular in a year that broke sales records for both Ford and Mercury, the ’49 Mercury Eight also gained a following among customizers like Sam Barris who established his coupe as the first “lead sled” hot rod and established the 1949-1951 Mercurys and Fords as the definitive “lead sled” cars.
1949 Mercury Eight Club Coupe
Body Style: 2-door coupe
Layout: front-engine, rear-wheel-drive (RWD)
Engine: 255 cu. in. (4.2 L) Ford flathead “BG” V8 with Holley 2-barrel carburetor
Power: 110 hp (82 kW; 112 PS) @ 3600 rpm
Torque: 200 lb·ft (270 N·m) @ 2000 rpm
Transmission: 3-speed manual
Wheelbase: 118 inches (2997 mm)
Length: 206.8 inches (5253 mm)
Width: 76.4 inches (1941 mm)
Height: 64.8 inches (1646 mm)
It’s fitting that the “rebel” Jim Stark would drive a car with such a reputation for customization and potential for individuality. The original 1949 Mercury used in the movie is now on display at the National Automobile Museum in Reno.
Perhaps out of some latent desire to keep his new enemy somewhat comfortable, Buzz provides another black coupe with a Ford flathead V8 for Jim to drive during the “chickie fun” – a 1946 Ford Super De Luxe.
How to Get the Look
The fact that Jim Stark – considered a rebel, mind you – put together such a nice outfit for his first day at a new school just helps illustrate how far standards of men’s style have fallen since the 1950s.
- Dark brown wool “fleck” windowpane check single-breasted 2-button sport coat with notch lapels, patch breast pocket, flapped hip pockets, 2-button cuffs, and single rear vent
- Ecru cotton shirt with large point collar, plain front, breast pocket, and 1-button cuffs
- Dark brown grid-patterned silk necktie
- Brown single reverse-pleated high-rise trousers with belt loops, side pockets, jetted back pockets with button closure, and turn-ups/cuffs
- Tan slim leather belt with wide notches and wide gold buckle
- Brown leather moc-toe penny loafers
- Cream/tan/brown argyle ribbed socks
- Gold wristwatch with a round black dial on a black leather strap
Do Yourself a Favor and…
Check out the movie.
If I had one day when I didn’t have to be all confused and I didn’t have to feel that I was ashamed of everything. If I felt that I belonged someplace. You know?
Although, it’s been a rough week for me so I wouldn’t mind hearing this a few more times either: