Jack Nicholson as J.J. Gittes, private investigator and ex-policeman
Los Angeles, September 1937
Release Date: June 20, 1974
Director: Roman Polanski
Costume Designer: Anthea Sylbert
J.J. Gittes begins his final day investigating the Mulwray case in Chinatown with his usual cheekiness, even when surprised by walking into a murder scene. He trades barbs with increasingly suspicious detectives, including the pugnacious Detective Loach (Richard Bakalyan) who inquires about Gittes’ sliced-up nose; Edward Norton’s character in Rounders would pay homage to Gittes’ response of “Your wife got excited. She crossed her legs a little too quick.”
But Gittes’ good humor wears off by the end, following a series of misadventures – mostly at gunpoint – involving sisters, daughters, and a shot-out eyeball. As his assistant Walsh (Joe Mantell) sagely – and now famously – advises him:
Forget it, Jake. It’s Chinatown.
What’d He Wear?
Gittes’ panache is stripped away from him by the last scenes of Chinatown as he faces the very serious facts of the case that have swamped him. His cheery off-white and earthtone suits and sport coats are behind him as he wears one of his most conservative suits, a gray pick wool suit with tan chalk stripes that are all bisected by a muted brick red stripe.
Gittes’ suit jacket is single-breasted with very wide notch lapels that roll to the top of a two-button front. The straight hip pockets are jetted, and Gittes wears a white linen display kerchief poking out of the welted breast pocket. The four buttons on each cuff are spaced apart and are the same black plastic as those on the front and on the waistcoat.
The cut of the suit jacket is very ’30s from the padded shoulders with strongly roped sleeveheads to the ventless back and flared skirt that contribute to the suppressed-waist silhouette.
Nicholson wears all six vest buttons fastened high on the chest from the top to the notched bottom. The vest (or waistcoat, if you will) has four welted pockets, as was stylish in the 1930s.
The suit trousers have a luxuriously full cut amplified by single reverse pleats. Although the rise is slightly lower than was fashionable during the era, the waist line is at least high enough to remain correctly hidden under the waistcoat and it is only a behind-the-scenes photo (in which Nicholson had his vest unbuttoned) that informs that the trousers have no belt or belt loops and were likely worn with suspenders.
The bottoms of Gittes’ trousers are finished with 1″ cuffs that break fully over his black leather cap-toe derby shoes, worn with black socks.
Gittes wears one of his standard white dress shirts with a fashionably long point collar and double (French) cuffs that appear to be worn with large flat silver disc links.
As he did always does with his gray-toned suits (such as his glen plaid or chalkstripe suits), Gittes opts for a red patterned silk tie that, in this case, nicely brings out the muted red stripes of his suiting. Gittes’ tie has a series of gray and cream stripes of alternating thickness in a right-down-to-left direction as well as a thick black stripe bordered by a thin yellow stripe beneath it.
The P.I.’s P.I., Gittes rarely ventures out without his fedora, in this case a fairly conservative one with a wide gray grosgrain band that barely contrasts against the dark gray felt of the hat.
Gittes wears his usual gold-toned wristwatch with a flat square dial on a link bracelet that uniquely fastens with a single-prong buckle. The watch was identified by Watches in Movies in January 2017 as a vintage Longines Palladium, a period timepiece that had been retailed by Tiffany & Co. in the 1930s and 1940s.
Although not an exact replica of the suit featured on screen, the “Chinatown Suit” tailored by Magnoli Clothiers is a fine-looking suit that incorporates many elements of Gittes’ suits, particularly this one.
How to Get the Look
J.J. Gittes may be known for his louder and flashier suits, but he can also dress with the best of ’30s businessmen in a gray striped three-piece suit, white shirt, red striped tie, and – lest we forget his profession – gray fedora.
- Gray red-on-tan striped wool three-piece suit, consisting of:
- Single-breasted 2-button jacket with wide notch lapels, welted breast pocket, jetted hip pockets, 4-button spaced cuffs, padded shoulders with roped sleeveheads, and ventless back
- Single-breasted 6-button vest with four welted pockets and notched bottom
- Single reverse-pleated trousers with slanted side pockets and turn-ups/cuffs
- White dress shirt with long point collar and double/French cuffs
- Red multi-striped silk tie
- Silver disc-style cuff links
- Black leather cap-toe derby shoes
- Black socks
- Vintage gold Longines Palladium wristwatch with flat square dial on buckle-strap link bracelet
- Dark gray lightweight felt fedora with wide black band
Gittes also wears a white linen display kerchief poking out of his jacket’s breast pocket.
Do Yourself a Favor and…
Check out the movie.
You’re dumber than you think I think you are.