Michael Caine as Alfie Elkins, charming part-time car service driver and full-time cad
London, Summer 1965
Release Date: March 24, 1966
Director: Lewis Gilbert
Wardrobe Supervisor: Jean Fairlie
Tailor: Douglas Hayward
Make a married woman laugh and you’re halfway there with her.
Right off the bat, we learn that the titular Alfie Elkins is no gentleman.
Although he had already featured in several major British films through the ’60s, it was his Academy Award-nominated breakthrough role in Alfie that led Michael Caine to global stardom.
The actor, who is celebrating his 84th birthday today, was born Maurice Joseph Micklewhite on March 14, 1933 in London. He took up acting at the age of 20, initially performing under the name Michael Scott(!) before he was inspired to take his better-known stage name from a marquee promoting The Caine Mutiny at the Odeon Cinema.
A decade later, Michael Caine had completed work as Len Deighton’s anti-Bond spy in The Ipcress File when he took over the role of Alfie from his friend and roommate Terence Stamp, who had originated the role on Broadway but declined to reprise it on screen.
The film was written by Bill Naughton, adapting his screenplay from his own 1963 play, and directed by Lewis Glibert, who also celebrated his birthday recently (March 6, 1920 – happy belated 97th, Lewis!) Gilbert would go on to direct his first of three Bond films, You Only Live Twice, the following year.
What’d He Wear?
In ABC of Men’s Fashion, published in 1964, Hardy Amies advises that “the navy blue [blazer] without club badge on pocket and very often double-breasted is now very popular for wearing in circumstances where a sports jacket in tweed or jersey would be too informal and an ordinary dark suit too formal.”
Two years after Amies’ seminal work was published, Michael Caine’s Alfie began and ended his lonely story in the same outfit: a navy serge double-breasted blazer, surprisingly emblazoned with RAF detailing and a RAF striped tie. The surprisingly traditional elements in this hip, caddish character are offset by the contemporary styling of Caine’s personal tailor, Douglas Hayward.
The worsted serge blazer has four chrome shank buttons with one to button (4×1), a double-breasted style that would later briefly enjoy popularity in the late 1980s, with a single shank button on the end of each cuff as well.
Based on Alfie’s badge and tie, I would imagine that these are the silver-finished chrome buttons engraved with the symbol of the Royal Air Force (RAF), available from Benson & Cregg, which confirms the diameter of his four large front buttons at 2.4cm with the smaller cuff buttons sized at 1.5cm.
Caine’s blazer incorporates elements of traditional British tailoring, including the well-padded shoulders and double vents, although the close, short fit and higher gorges also wink at Italian-influenced mod style.
Alfie’s blazer has patch pockets – one on each hip and one on the left breast, emblazoned with the badge of the Royal Air Force, a bit of stolen valor on Alfie’s part… not surprising, given his tendency for stealing virtue as well.
The RAF’s motto “Per ardua ad astra” (“Through adversity to the stars”) dates back to 1912 when it was used by the newly formed Royal Flying Corps, six years before it was merged with the Royal Naval Air Service to create the RAF. The badge consists of the motto inscribed in gold on a navy circle, itself bordered by gold with an Imperial crown on top. A gold volant eagle flies out of the light blue center of the circle.
I’ve never served in the RAF – partially due to my American citizenship and also my total inability to fly a plane – but I would feel very distinguished in a blazer sporting its attractive badge on the breast. Benson & Clegg offers the hand-stitched badge for £30.
Alfie wears a pale cream poplin shirt with a plain front and squared double (French) cuffs that Alfie wears with etched gold oval links. The shirt’s narrow English spread collar is rounded on the corners, similar to the classic club collar.
The etching on Alfie’s gold-toned cuff links is difficult to ascertain in the finished film, but a set of gilt RAF-engraved cuff links – like this pair currently available on Benson & Clegg – would certainly follow the theme of his attire.
Alfie’s striped silk repp tie is fittingly slim to coordinate with his narrow shirt collar. Naturally, he wears an RAF-striped tie, consisting of three repeating stripes in thick navy, thick burgundy, and thin pale blue, all crossing from the right shoulder down to the left hip.
Alfie’s gray flannel trousers have a contemporary low rise, but the tapered leg works with Michael Caine’s tall, 6’0″ frame to make his legs look long and lithe… at least until he takes off his blazer and tie for a night of slumming at Gilda’s flat. The trousers have straight side pockets, jetted back pockets, and cuffed bottoms.
The trousers also have belt loops, through which Alfie wears a slim black leather belt that is nearly concealed by his billowing shirt after he gets to Gilda’s. The belt has a gold-tone single-prong square buckle.
In the aforementioned ABC of Men’s Fashion, Hardy Amies observed that “when Chelsea boots first appeared in the late 1950s it quickly became certain that they were the most appropriate form of footwear to wear with narrow trousers,” illustrated by Michael Caine in Alfie as he wears his black leather ankle boots with black elastic side gussets and pull tabs.
Alfie could’ve gone full RAF with this natty pair of regimental striped socks available from Benson & Clegg, but he went with plain black socks instead. Pity.
“Watch your ring with my stockings!” warns Alfie’s first on-screen paramour, Siddie (Millicent Martin), referring to the gold ring he wears on his left pinky, set with a brown oval stone. It’s surprising that Alfie wears something that could get in the way of his favorite activity.
Alfie also wears an elegant stainless watch, possibly an Omega, with a black dial and a steel bracelet with a deployable clasp.
Benson & Clegg, the London menswear house mentioned throughout this post, was granted a Royal Warrant from The Prince of Wales in 1992 to supply official buttons, badges, and military neckwear. It is for this reason that I so frequently hyperlinked to the Benson & Clegg site.
How to Get the Look
Alfie appropriates the Royal Air Force for his snappy but Mod-influenced navy blazer ensemble worn for the film’s prologue and conclusion, delivering a very British look for a character who indeed became emblematic of swinging ’60s London.
- Navy worsted serge double-breasted blazer with peak lapels, 4×1 chrome RAF shank buttons, patch breast pocket with RAF badge, patch hip pockets, 1-button cuffs, and double vents
- Pale cream poplin dress shirt with narrow spread club collar, plain front, and squared double/French cuffs
- Slim silk RAF-striped repp tie in navy, burgundy, and pale blue
- Gray flannel low-rise trousers with belt loops, extended front waist tab, straight/on-seam side pockets, jetted back pockets, tapered leg, turn-ups/cuffs
- Slim black leather belt with small gold-toned single-prong buckle
- Black leather Chelsea boots with black elastic side gussets and pull tabs
- 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.
You know what? When I look back on my little life and the birds I’ve known, and think of all the things they’ve done for me and the little I’ve done for them, you’d think I’ve had the best of it along the line. But what have I got out of it? I’ve got a bob or two, some decent clothes, a car, I’ve got me health back and I ain’t attached. But I ain’t got me peace of mind, and if you ain’t got that, you ain’t got nothing. I dunno. It seems to me if they ain’t got you one way they’ve got you another. So what’s the answer? That’s what I keep asking myself: what’s it all about? Know what I mean?
Michael Caine shares more than just his original stage name with Steve Carell’s character from The Office; Carell’s Michael Scott mentions that his birthday is March 15th, the day after Michael Caine. Weird!