Robert Redford’s Black Tuxedo in The Sting
Robert Redford as Johnny Hooker, Depression-era con artist
Chicago, September 1936
Film: The Sting
Release Date: December 25, 1973
Director: George Roy Hill
Costume Designer: Edith Head
WARNING! Spoilers ahead!
To celebrate Robert Redford’s 80th birthday next week, I’m revisiting one of my favorite Redford flicks. After the incredible success of Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid and the chemistry of Paul Newman and Robert Redford in the starring roles, both actors re-teamed four years later to play washed-up con artist Henry Gondorff (Newman) and his de facto protégé, Johnny Hooker (Redford).
The titular sting is a con that Gondorff and Hooker expertly organize to swindle crime boss Doyle Lonnegan (Robert Shaw) as revenge for Lonnegan’s brutal killing of a well-liked associate. The con is centered around an illegal off-track betting parlor where the two men pose as feuding gamblers. As the plot thickens, the lines are blurred to the point where even the audience is unsure of who is trying to con whom, leading to one of the most famous denouements in movie history.
For BAMF Style readers fortunate enough to live in the Pittsburgh area, Row House Cinema in Lawrenceville will be showing The Sting during its “Essential American Cinema: The 1970s” week from August 19-25. (The Godfather and Grey Gardens will also be shown during the week. Don’t miss!)
What’d He Wear?
In their guises as slick wire store bookies Shaw and Kelly, Gondorff and Hooker each don a black tuxedo. Fitting for their roles, Gondorff’s dinner jacket has more traditional shawl lapels while Hooker wears a somewhat sportier black dinner jacket with wide peak lapels. The sharp lapels have a lifted collar and satin facings. The shoulders are very wide and well-padded with roped sleeveheads. The jacket is tailored to emphasize these strong shoulders and appear lean through the torso.
Black Tie Guide reports that this style was losing popularity by 1940 when Esquire advised its readers “to stick to tradition to avoid being mistaken for bandmasters, ‘a tribe noted for wasp waistlines, barn-broad shoulders and Himalayan high rise trousers’.”
The way that Hooker’s jacket shines under certain light suggests the possibility of being mohair or a mohair-wool blend. Appropriately for a dinner jacket, it has straight jetted hip pockets, a single welted breast pocket, a ventless back, and silk-covered buttons. Although the three covered buttons on each cuff is nothing out of the ordinary, the jacket very curiously has a two-button front; traditionally, a single-breasted dinner jacket should only have a single button to close the front. Recently, Daniel Craig’s ivory Tom Ford dinner jacket in Spectre received some criticism for its two-button front.
Although Esquire would report within a year after the film’s setting that the attached turndown collar had superseded it in terms of popularity, the wing collar formal shirt is the dress shirt of choice for both Gondorff and Hooker when donning their respective black tie ensembles. Hooker’s dress shirt is white piqué with three studs on the plain front bib. Both the shirt studs and the cuff links are black squares with silver trim, although the cuff links are much larger. This shirt has been confirmed as one of the Anto shirts that the manufacturer provided to The Sting for Robert Redford to wear.
Hooker’s black satin silk bow tie has a large butterfly shape. It is clearly a pre-tied model with the hook visible under the bow (typically the left side), which should be especially avoided with a wing collar shirt when the clasp has nowhere to hide. By the 1930s, it was indeed customary for a man’s bow tie fabric to match the facings of his dinner jacket lapels.
Hooker wears a pair of white suspenders over his shirt. Not much is seen of these braces, which connect to his trousers somewhere under his cummerbund, but the adjusters appear to be brass.
Hooker’s formal trousers match his dinner jacket in a similar black mohair-wool fabric with a single black satin stripe down each side. They have double reverse pleats, straight side pockets, and plain-hemmed bottoms with a short break.
Hooker wears a wide black silk pleated cummerbund to cleanly transition between his shirt and trousers. However, Black Tie Guide found an example from The New Etiquette, published in 1937 a year after The Sting is set, that states that “the pleated formal sash” was only acceptable with a black tuxedo in a resort setting; more general acceptance of cummerbunds was still a decade away.
Black patent leather shoes and black socks are the most acceptable form of footwear with black tie, but Hooker takes an additional step back from formality by sporting bluchers (or derby shoes), a less dressy alternative to the more formal balmoral shoe.
Homburg hats and chesterfield coats were the preferred outerwear with black tie during this era, but Hooker opts instead to wear his everyday fedora with a trench coat when venturing outside the gambling den. His wide-brimmed fedora is dark gray felt with a wide black grosgrain ribbon.
Hooker’s tan belted trench coat has tartan plaid lining that suggests Burberry. The lapels are wide and often worn with the collar upturned over Hooker’s neck, although he leaves the small double latch open over the throat to expose his bow tie. The cuffs are fitted with thin straps that adjust through a brass buckle, and the ribbed belt fastens around the waist through a larger brass single-claw buckle. The back has a large storm flap and a long vent up to nearly the waist. All of the buttons are light tan plastic, and the epaulette straps are each secured to the shoulder with a single button at the neck.
Throughout The Sting (and most of his movies), Robert Redford wears a plain silver ring on the third finger of his right hand, which the actor has stated was a gift from Hopi Indians in 1966. We can also assume that he’s wearing the same silver chain necklace with its large round pendant as he wears in other scenes.
As opposed to his usual sleeveless undershirts, though, a white cotton short-sleeve t-shirt appears to be Hooker’s undershirt of choice when sporting his formalwear.
How to Get the Look
Although he certainly wears a classic-inspired black tie ensemble for his days and nights in the betting parlor, Johnny Hooker is still a less polished amateur who was thrust into a world of professionals and, thus, is more prone to breaking a few sartorial rules.
- Black mohair-wool single-breasted 2-button dinner jacket with wide satin-faced peak lapels, welted breast pocket, straight jetted hip pockets, 3-button cuffs, and ventless back
- Black mohair-wool double reverse-pleated formal trousers with satin side stripes, straight side pockets, and plain-hemmed bottoms
- White piqué formal dress shirt with detachable wing collar, plain front bib with three black square studs with silver edge trim, and double/French cuffs
- Black satin silk butterfly-shaped bow tie
- Black pleated silk cummerbund
- Black square cuff links with silver edge trim
- White suspenders with brass adjusters
- Black patent leather plain-toe bluchers
- Black dress socks
- Dark gray felt fedora with thick black ribbon
- Tan belted trench coat with large lapels, button-down epaulettes, handwarmer pockets, cuff straps, small brass double throat latch, and long single vent
- White cotton short-sleeve crew-neck undershirt
- Plain silver ring (on right ring finger)
- Silver necklace with round pendant
Do Yourself a Favor and…
Buy the movie.
…I’d only blow it.
His wardrobe in “Havana” is, frankly, more interesting.
I’ve heard he was a very sharp dresser in Havana! I haven’t seen it yet but this and a few other suggestions I’ve gotten are bumping it to the top of my watch queue. I’ll be sure to screencap it and get a post together ASAP.
The trench coat that Hooker wore in The Sting is the old traditional officer’s trench coat made by Brooks Brothers. Wonderful coat they don’ t make anymore. Reason I recognize it is the set- in sleeves as opposed to raglan sleeves.
David A. Culpepper. Steaks2@aol.com