Sidney Reilly’s 1920s Black Lounge

Sam Neill as Sidney Reilly in Reilly: Ace of Spies (Episode 10: "The Trust")

Sam Neill as Sidney Reilly in Reilly: Ace of Spies (Episode 10: “The Trust”)

Vitals

Sam Neill as Sidney Reilly, shrewd anti-Bolshevik and former British agent

New York City and London, Fall 1924

Series: Reilly: Ace of Spies
Episode: “The Trust” (Episode 10)
Air Date: November 2, 1983
Director: Martin Campbell
Costume Designer: Elizabeth Waller

Background

Throwback Thursday is always a great opportunity for BAMF Style to revisit Reilly: Ace of Spies, the fictionalized miniseries that depicts the life of Sidney Reilly, an early 20th century master of deception. This post will examine Reilly’s frequent wearing of black lounge, a semi-formal day dress known in the U.S. as a “stroller”. Black lounge makes quite a few appearances in the latter episodes, first seen for Reilly’s day in London court in “After Moscow” (Episode 9) and, finally, during his third and final wedding in “The Last Journey” (Episode 11).

The tenth episode, “The Trust”, finds erstwhile government agent Reilly in New York City, desperately trying to finance his friend Boris Savinkov’s anti-Boleshevik movement. Part of Reilly’s fundraising includes selling off his vast collection of antiques, art, and priceless Napoleona… all while being courted by a secretive Russian organization known as The Trust.

We assume Reilly is acting independently with his government ties cut behind him, but then – ah! – he has a meeting with Commander Cummings (played by the great Norman Rodway and based on MI6’s first chief, Sir Mansfield Smith-Cumming, who had died the previous year in real life.) In addition to informing the audience that Reilly is still in the employ of the British secret service, this meeting also wraps up the Zinoviev letter, a controversial document that was 1924’s answer to today’s “fake news”. The real Reilly’s involvement in the authorship of the Zinoviev letter, while suspected, has never been totally proving… contributing further to his mysterious legend.

What’d He Wear?

Black lounge is certainly a throwback look, recalling the days of the early 20th century when gentlemen took it upon themselves to bridge the gap between full formal and informal daytime occasions with a new style of semi-formal dress for both professional and non-professional occasions. It takes full morning dress down a formal step with a black lounge coat rather than a tailcoat.

Black lounge guidelines are relatively loose, dictating a waistcoat in matching black or a contrasting shade of buff yellow or dove gray. The dove gray trousers may be solid, but stripes and checks are also accepted. Given the outfit’s suggested formality, black lounge calls for white shirts and well-shined black oxfords.

Reilly wears a black worsted single-breasted lounge coat with peak lapels and a single-button closure. It has padded shoulders with roped sleeveheads, and each sleeve ends with a turned back gauntlet cuff and a single button. The production quality of the 1983 series makes it difficult to ascertain some details of the jacket, but it appears to correctly be ventless with jetted hip pockets. The white linen display kerchief in his welted breast pocket is an optional but certainly accepted affectation for black lounge.

Reilly lights up in Cummings' office.

Reilly lights up in Cummings’ office.

Although contrasting waistcoats are also acceptable for black lounge, Reilly wears a black single-breasted vest with six buttons from the notched bottom up to the appropriately high-fastening opening. The stripes of white cloth piped along the top edges of the waistcoat are known as slips and, according to Morning Dress Guide, are designed to “create the impression of an under-waistcoat.” Read more at The Fedora Lounge.

See the white "V" bordering the opening of Reilly's waistcoat? Now you know what waistcoat slips are.

See the white “V” bordering the opening of Reilly’s waistcoat? Now you know what waistcoat slips are.

Reilly appropriately wears gray wool trousers, although we never get a close enough look to see if there is any pattern or stripe. His trousers have double reverse pleats, straight side pockets, and plain-hemmed bottoms. They are likely worn with suspenders.

At first glance, Reilly and his butler appear to be dressed identically with black coats, wing collars, and dark ties, but the details - and contrasting gray trousers - of Reilly's outfit set him apart.

At first glance, Reilly and his butler appear to be dressed identically with black coats, wing collars, and dark ties, but the details – and contrasting gray trousers – of Reilly’s outfit set him apart.

Reilly’s outfit is mostly dated by his choice of wearing a four-in-hand tie with a wing collar. This would have still been popular around the early 1920s, but black lounge was eventually segmented into four-in-hand ties with turndown collars (as Ronald Reagan wore for his 1981 presidential inauguration) or day cravats with wing collars (as my dad wore for his 1982 wedding). Reilly would update his look the following year, in “The Last Journey” (Episode 11), with a turndown collar dress shirt and four-in-hand ties, as explored below.

In addition to the detachable wing collar, Reilly’s white cotton formal shirt has a plain front with mother-of-pearl buttons and double cuffs with flat metal links. His black tie, secured by a silver horseshoe-shaped tie pin about two inches below the knot, has thin white hairline stripes in the classic British left shoulder-to-right hip direction.

Cigarettes look cool even when they're not being smoked. A good lesson for us all.

Cigarettes look cool even when they’re not being smoked. A good lesson for us all.

The formality of the outfit calls for the most formal shoe, so Reilly’s black plain-toe lace-ups are likely patent leather oxfords. The traditional hosiery is black silk, and that may be Reilly’s sock of choice here.

In both "After Moscow" and "The Trust", Reilly's preferred and correct footwear appears to be well-polished black lace-ups.

In both “After Moscow” (Episode 9) and “The Trust” (Episode 10), Reilly’s preferred and correct footwear appears to be well-polished black lace-ups.

Most of Reilly’s black lounge appearances are set in the fall, necessitating a warm overcoat. Reilly thus wears a black wool knee-length overcoat with notch lapels and a belt. The left chest has a jetted pocket that slants toward the center in addition to a slanted flapped pocket on each hip.

Reilly keeps extra warm by donning a heavy wool overcoat and standing next to a fire.

Reilly keeps extra warm by donning a heavy wool overcoat and standing next to a fire.

Briefly seen, Reilly also wears black leather gloves for driving.

Reilly takes Eugenie for a ride... although it ends on a decidedly more positive note than the one-way ride she takes toward the end of the episode.

Reilly takes Eugenie for a ride… although it ends on a decidedly more positive note than the one-way ride she takes toward the end of the episode.

Reilly’s final outerwear accessory in “The Trust” (Episode 10) is a black-and-cream checked silk scarf, worn loosely around his neck.

Reilly shows Eugenie his piece.

Reilly shows Eugenie his piece.

Fashionably ahead of his time, Reilly abandons his pocket watch after his Russian escapades and begins wearing a wristwatch with everything from casual sweaters to black tie. His gold tank watch has a white square dial and a black leather strap.

Reilly's tank watch is best seen as he embraces his pal Savinkov in "After Moscow" (Episode 9).

Reilly’s tank watch is best seen as he embraces his pal Savinkov in “After Moscow” (Episode 9).

In Other Episodes

Reilly’s black lounge in the previous episode, “After Moscow” (Episode 9), is similar but with a narrower tie in solid black. Reilly also wore a more formal white silk scarf and a black homburg, also appropriate for black tie.

The context of this episode is an inquiry into Reilly’s Russian operation after he returned to London shortly before the end of World War I in November 1918.

"After Moscow" (Episode 9)

“After Moscow” (Episode 9)

For Reilly’s wedding to Pepita Bobadilla in “The Last Journey” (Episode 11), Reilly again wears his single-breasted black lounge coat but with a dove gray vest, gray striped tie, and white shirt with a turndown collar. These accepted variations of black lounge are also more commonly seen with modern interpretations.

Another scene later in “The Last Journey” finds Reilly wearing the same single-breasted stroller and turndown collar shirt fro his wedding but with the white-slipped black waistcoat and black-and-white striped tie featured in today’s post.

Reilly and Captain George Hill (Hugh Fraser, also known to audiences as Captain Hastings in Poirot.)

Reilly and Captain George Hill (Hugh Fraser, also known to audiences as Captain Hastings in Poirot.)

Black lounge has fallen considerably from popularity since Reilly’s day and has often been used as a costuming cue to denote a stubborn, stodgy, or old-fashioned character. Even by the time of It’s a Wonderful Life (1946), the miserly Mr. Potter (Lionel Barrymore) was portrayed wearing nothing but black lounge; like Reilly, Potter’s waistcoat had white slips.

More information about black lounge can be found in Black Tie Guide’s Morning Dress section or on Wikipedia’s stroller entry.

How to Get the Lookreillystroller-crop

Sidney Reilly’s traditional black lounge in the latter episodes of Reilly: Ace of Spies serve to note not only the fashions of the setting but also to establish Reilly’s societal position as he has matured in the decades since the first episode.

  • Black worsted wool single-breasted 1-button lounge coat with peak lapels, welted breast pocket, straight jetted hip pockets, 1-button turnback cuffs, and ventless back
  • Black single-breasted 6-button waistcoat with white slips and notched bottom
  • Gray wool double reverse-pleated trousers with straight/on-seam side pockets and plain-hemmed bottoms
  • White cotton formal shirt with wing collar, plain front, and double/French cuffs
  • Black tie with thin white left-down-to-right stripes, tied in four-in-hand knot
  • Silver horseshoe-shaped tie pin
  • Black patent leather plain-toe balmorals/oxfords
  • Black silk dress socks
  • Gold tank watch with white square dial on black leather strap
  • Black wool single-breasted knee-length overcoat with notch lapels, slanted jetted breast pocket, slanted flapped hip pockets, belt, and single vent
  • Black-and-cream checked silk scarf
  • Black leather gloves

Although not needed for correct black lounge, Reilly wears a white linen display kerchief in his stroller’s breast pocket. He also wears a black homburg atop his head in an earlier episode, “After Moscow” (Episode 9).

The Gun

While giving his duplicitous new secretary, Eugenie (Eleanor David), a brief tour of his New York home, Reilly pauses to show her where he keeps his sidearm, a 9mm Browning Hi-Power semi-automatic pistol. As this is an anachronism, it’s likely meant to stand in for the cosmetically similar M1911 pistol, also designed by John Browning.

"You know how to use one of these things? I always keep it handy... you never know when they may decide to pay us a visit."

“You know how to use one of these things? I always keep it handy… you never know when they may decide to pay us a visit.”

Though John Browning had filed a patent for the Hi-Power in 1923, a year before this scene is set, the design wasn’t completed and the pistol wasn’t produced until more than a decade later when it was adopted for Belgian military service as the Browning P-35. Sadly, Browning never lived to see the finalization of the pistol that would become famous as Serpico’s sidearm of choice; he died in 1926.

Do Yourself a Favor and…

Buy the series. This outfit is featured throughout the tenth episode, “The Trust”, although Reilly’s black lounge ensembles are also featured in “After Moscow” (Episode 9) and “The Last Journey” (Episode 11).

The Quote

In that case, Commander… you’re in trouble.

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