Ryan Reynolds as Curtis Vonn, charismatic drifter and gambler
Iowa to New Orleans, March 2014
Film: Mississippi Grind
Release Date: January 24, 2015
Director: Anna Boden & Ryan Fleck
Costume Designer: Abby O’Sullivan
I was honored to correspond with Abby O’Sullivan, the talented costume designer who worked on Mississippi Grind, to learn firsthand insight about the inspiration, concept, and execution of the costumes that gave the film its distinctive look.
Abby recalls Mississippi Grind as “a special film” that stands out on her impressive resume due to the talents of the creative team, particularly directors Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck and cinematographer Andrij Parekh, who all contributed to developing the “distinctive 1970s Americana road movie” attitude that radiates off the screen like neon bar lights through Marlboro smoke.
Indeed, Curtis and Gerry’s journey through the country on Mississippi Grind also takes viewers on a journey reflecting gambling addiction with startling authenticity and dark humor… both aspects of classic ’70s cinema like California Split, Five Easy Pieces, and The Gambler.
In fact, BAMF Style reader Shea Robison noted many similarities with The Gambler when recommending Mississippi Grind to me (something to which I will be forever grateful to Shea!) In The Gambler, written by James Toback and released in 1974, James Caan plays an English professor addicted to gambling. Shea, who has seen both films, told me that: “In The Gambler, the treatment of gambling addiction is more nuanced in a different way (and explained in a fantastically literary way), which is another aspect of Mississippi Grind that I appreciate because of the way it extends the ‘gamblers are just looking to lose’ theme.” A further indication of a connection between these these two films is that Toback notably also makes a brief cameo in Mississippi Grind.
Mississippi Grind begins in the manufacturing town of Dubuque, Iowa, situation along the Mississippi River. Down-on-his-luck Gerry (Ben Mendelsohn) is sitting down to a poker game and finds himself across from Curtis (Ryan Reynolds), a magnetic gambler who soon wins over the table with his stories and offers of “Woodford!” (Having had the good fortune of working firsthand with Ryan Reynolds when I was an extra in Adventureland, it’s very easy to see how this actor’s charisma would have contributed to Curtis’ amiable onscreen persona.)
Says Shea: “The reviews I read described Curtis as the happy-go-lucky bon vivant who hooks up with the sad sack Gerry as a kind of mission of mercy. What none of them saw is that Curtis had the same issues with women and intimacy that Gerry had with gambling, in that it was the high of love he was chasing, and he was letdown by the ‘winning’ with women, and so was always chasing that next high. I thought the writers did a particularly good job of showing that at some level both Curtis and Gerry were the same and both aware of their fatal flaws but not willing or able to change, though with Curtis it was much more subtle.”
After a number of chance meetings, Curtis finds himself a passenger in Gerry’s Subaru, headed along the Mississippi River toward a $25,000 buy-in poker game in New Orleans.
What’d He Wear?
The concept for Curtis’ look was developed by Abby O’Sullivan as a tribute to the style icons who defined individualism in the ’60s and ’70s: Paul Newman, Dennis Hopper, Steve McQueen, and Robert Redford. “[Curtis] is from ‘The City that Care Forgot’,” explained Abby. “My assumption is he was left to his own devices and his plans in life are more based on adventure and idealism than on middle-class mile markers.” Using the directors’ visualization of a 1970s Americana road movie, the creative team worked in tandem with both directors to create “a visual that read both heavily nostalgic of the aesthetic yet contemporary and plausible.”
With one brief exception when dressing for an exclusive riverboat game, Curtis wears essentially the same outfit throughout Mississippi Grind: a mixed wool tweed checked sport jacket, light jeans, and worn brown boots. This is clearly his “uniform” through life, anchored by the jacket that BAMF Style reader Shea Robison referred to as “a security blanket.” Indeed, Abby’s original concept book for the character referred to each man wearing his version of “armor” that would be tarnished as their journey goes along.
“My idea was for one coat throughout – a coat for all times – that should be a bit impractical for the adventures he takes,” explained Abby. “An idealization of a certain type of man and visually complex enough to stare at on screen for long periods.”
Curtis’ jacket is a small-scale brown-and-black (on tan) tattersall check sportcoat in handwoven Harris tweed from the Outer Hebrides of Scotland, purchased from Lands’ End. The Lands’ End jacket was chosen for its boxy fit that resembled the ill-fitting “sack suit” of early American menswear, another visual callback to Americana.
Despite its outdoor sports origins, tweed has come to be associated (among the lesser-informed set) with professorial old men. Curtis keeps his collar popped at all times, transforming what could otherwise be a bookish, scholarly staple into a uniquely rebellious statement that screams “skid row punk”.
In addition to the navy felt under-collar, Curtis’s popped collar shows off the throat latch (also known as a storm tab) that would ostensibly connect across the neck to fasten to a button under the collar on the right side.
In addition to the throat latch, the jacket’s sporty details include three patch pockets: a rounded breast pocket and flapped hip pockets. The three-button cuffs are smaller versions of the two buttons on the front, which Curtis wears open throughout Mississippi Grind.
The crested navy Lands’ End label is on the inside left panel of the jacket, stitched in the tan satin lining, just above where an inner breast pocket would be.
“I wanted the coat to be tightly tailored but not great quality,” said Abby. “He should have taken the time to tailor a Lands’ End coat – a bit like shining a penny.”
The jacket is split on the sides with short double vents. With its short length and high button stance, the jacket is reflective of current fashions; Curtis, however, does not seem the type to fret about what’s fashionable and what isn’t.
“Ryan has a very similar stature to his character references – Newman, Redford, and McQueen – which was a lucky turn for us,” said Abby. “If anything, he fit into the look better than we could have hoped. His height can carry the looks off and immediately echo the silhouette of those iconic 1970s characters.”
Curtis wears a pair of slim Levi’s denim jeans. The light blue wash nicely contrasts with the rugged textures of his tweed-draped upper half while also adding a degree of passé since darker denim is more fashionable these days. “We had to fight against Curtis reading too stylized,” explained Abby. “So the light jeans were a conscious move to authentify the character.”
Curtis wears a mahogany leather belt with a fancy “figure 8” stitch and a rectangular buckle created from the leather itself. This type of “scratchbless belt” connects with plastic hooks behind the buckle and was developed in 2000 for workers like movers, mechanics, and electricians, such as this $18 Dickies belt or this $25 belt from Boston Leather.
The belts were eventually co-opted by musicians who were tired of their belts scratching their instruments. Abby O’Sullivan made a conscious decision to place Curtis in a musicians belt as a nod to his’ origins in the Birthplace of Jazz and his musical mother. You can learn more about or pick up your own musicians’ belt here.
On his feet, Curtis rocks a pair of well-worn brown leather apron-toe lace-up boots. As I’ve noted, fashionability isn’t exactly at the top of Curtis’s list of priorities, but he at least manages to coordinate the color of his belt and shoes…if not matching the exact shades of brown leather used for each.
For someone spending a week on the road, Curtis refreshingly changes his underwear and socks throughout the film. (And, also refreshingly, that process is not depicted on screen.)
His tube socks range from dark brown after Gerry first spends the night on Denise’s couch to a white pair in the final scene. When changing into his “riverboat gambler” attire in St. Louis, we see the waistband of his gray cotton boxer briefs, but he appears to be wearing a pair of dark navy briefs at the film’s finale.
Since Curtis’ bag is his “closet” when on the road, he only has the clothes inside it at his disposal and the variations of what he wears reflects both his own economic and emotional state as he and Gerry travel from Dubuque to NOLA. In addition to the previously mentioned brands of Lands’ End and Levi’s, Curtis’ clothing was a mix of Billy Reid, vintage items, and items draped and created in-house specifically for the production.
“All of Curtis’s life had to fit in one bag so that was a big part of editing down his wardrobe,” explained Abby. Curtis saves himself some space in his bag by wearing the same jacket, jeans, belt, and boots throughout the movie, cycling through only four main shirts over the course of the eight days shown on screen, all worn over a series of undershirts, including a vintage-styled off-white cotton short-sleeve henley with a slim, three-button placket.
Most of Curtis’ shirts are button-up shirts, a pattern consistent with “the looks canonized in the mid 20th century… men’s sportswear stuck to a very specific formalized silhouette” as opposed to leisurewear.
For the first scene at the Dubuque poker table and for his arrival with Gerry at Simone’s in St. Louis, Curtis wears a blue-and-taupe plaid long-sleeve shirt on a white cotton ground. The shirt has two patch chest pockets with pointed, button-down flaps and squared button cuffs that are worn unbuttoned, though not rolled up. He leaves the first few buttons of the front placket undone, revealing his off-white henley undershirt (on day 1, in Dubuque) or a dark crew-neck t-shirt with white screen-printed text (on day 4, in St. Louis).
Curtis’ next shirt that we see is a faded blue long-sleeve shirt with eight mixed tan plastic buttons down the plain front, a breast pocket on the left, and squared cuffs worn unbuttoned. Both days that he wears it are on days that he goes to the track with Gerry.
When in Dubuque, Curtis wears his blue shirt with the collar popped to coordinate with the raised collar of his jacket. The top few buttons are always undone, revealing the white ribbed cotton sleeveless undershirt beneath it.
In Memphis, Curtis wears a salmon pink cotton shirt with a grid overcheck in rust, light blue, and navy. This long-sleeve shirt has a long pointed collar, front placket, two patch pockets, and mitred cuffs with two buttons to adjust the fit, although Curtis naturally leaves both buttons undone and often rolls up the sleeves.
For a night of clubbing in Memphis, Curtis wears a sleeveless undershirt, but he wears the henley as his undershirt for his drive to Little Rock the next day, where he believes Gerry is trying to reconcile with his ex-wife.
The only one of Curtis’ shirts that isn’t a button-up is this dark navy cotton long-sleeve crew-neck jumper with bold red horizontal stripes and ribbed cuffs. The bold stripe evokes 1950s insouciance, particularly counterculture icons like James Dean and Pablo Picasso who were noted fans of the similar Breton stripe.
Curtis always seems to wear this shirt just before embarking on a journey, wearing it the night before his impulsive road trip with Gerry and at the film’s finale when inviting the hotel desk clerk to Peru for the ultimate “Machu Picchu time”.
Curtis wears a pair of Tom Ford Snowdon TF0237 sunglasses with mottled tortoise acetate frames in “Dark Havana” (color code 52N). These Tom Ford frames made the rounds in 2015 cinema, with Reynolds himself wearing them later that year in Self/Less and Daniel Craig sporting a pair as James Bond in Spectre. You can still pick up a pair from the Tom Ford website for $415.
To emulate Curtis’ look without necessarily copying it detail-for-detail, Abby O’Sullivan recommends finding a Milano cut jacket “which echoes an American ‘sack suit’ but pulls more to the shrunken fit you see here on Ryan… If you can’t find a Milano cut, purchase an athletic cut suit and have it tailored to a half-size smaller” in the spirit of director Wes Anderson‘s preferred suit cut.
Curtis Vonn’s wardrobe in Mississippi Grind adds a contemporary touch to the celebrated style of mid-20th century’s counterculture icons, anchored by a complex mini-check tweed jacket that serves Curtis like armor.
- Brown-and-black mini-tattersall check wool tweed Lands’ End single-breasted 2-button sportcoat with notch lapels (with throat latch), rounded patch breast pocket, flapped patch hip pockets, 3-button cuffs, and short double vents
- Blue faded cotton button-up shirt with breast pocket and unbuttoned cuffs
- White cotton henley or sleeveless undershirt
- Light blue wash Levi’s denim jeans
- Brown mahogany “figure 8”-stitched scratchless self-buckled Musicians Belt
- Brown leather apron-toe lace-up boots
- Tom Ford “Snowdon” TF0237 mottled tortoise-framed wayfarer-style sunglasses (“Havana”, color code 52N)
eBay tends to have Lands’ End tweed jackets with this “Tailored Fit” jacket sharing many details of the one worn by Reynolds on screen.
Do Yourself a Favor and…
Check out the movie.
We can’t lose.
Despite the fan interest in the tweed jacket that Ryan Reynolds wore on screen in Mississippi Grind, most online searching yields only replicas for a maroon suede bomber jacket he evidently wore in real life around the time of the film’s release.
Since there’s been some increased attention in this jacket, I wanted to include some of the behind-the-scenes photos I found around the Internet for a more complete look at the outfit. Perhaps one of these was taken by “a paparazzi dressed up as an old woman from the Eastern Bloc ” that Abby recalled from the production.