David Niven’s Taupe Suit in Death on the Nile
David Niven as Colonel Johnny Race, lawyer and war veteran
Egypt, September 1937
Film: Death on the Nile
Release Date: September 29, 1978
Director: John Guillermin
Costume Designer: Anthony Powell
WARNING! Spoilers ahead!
Following the grand success of 1974’s Murder on the Orient Express, one of the few adaptations of her work actually endorsed by Agatha Christie herself, producers rushed to find the next of her books to be adapted into a lavish, star-studded affair.
Death on the Nile was published in 1937, three years but ten books after Murder on the Orient Express, and included all of the necessary ingredients for success: the return of eccentric detective Hercule Poirot, an exotic location, and a glamorous victim among an international cast of characters… all of whom had the motive and means to commit the crime.
Poirot’s “boy Friday” to help him solve the case came in the form of Colonel Race, a steadfast Brit who first appeared in Christie’s earlier novel The Man in the Brown Suit. David Niven affably portrays the capable colonel with dignified charm and deadpan wit, often serving as the straightforward foil to Peter Ustinov’s more bombastic Poirot.
What’d He Wear?
The dignified Colonel Race shows an equally dignified approach to his wardrobe, dressing in timeless and well-tailored menswear staples including a classic black tie ensemble and a well-cut navy blazer. When boarding the Karnak for the group’s Nile voyage, Race sports a light taupe gabardine suit, straw boater, and regimental stripes.
Colonel Race’s suit jacket is in the traditional double-breasted style of six smoke buttons with two to button, although Niven occasionally wears the jacket à la Kent with just the bottom button fastened, allowing for a longer lapel roll. The peak lapels themselves are quite wide and full-bellied with long gorges and an especially long buttonhole on the left lapel.
The jacket is ventless, per 1930s fashions and the typical double-breasted cut, with padded shoulders and roped sleeveheads. The hip pockets are jetted, and the welted breast pocket contains a white linen pocket square that would serve a useful function for a gentleman sweating it out during a hot Egyptian expedition.
When wearing the full suit with matching trousers, Colonel Race also sports a natty pair of black-and-white leather spectator shoes with black laces and a black toe cap.
When the excursion party goes inland by camel for a day of exploring the wonders of ancient Egypt, Colonel Race dresses down with white ducks and white bucks. The cream gabardine trousers have double forward pleats and a wide straight leg for a comfortably large fit. The bottoms are finished with cuffs (turn-ups). Assuming that they’re the same trousers he later wears with his navy blazer aboard the Karnak, they would have four white buttons – two on the front, two on the back – that connect with his brown woven suspenders.
Colonel Race also leaves his black-and-white spectator shoes in his stateroom, opting for a pair of white leather five-eyelet perforated cap-toe derby shoes that, with his light tan socks, nicely complement his cream trousers.
Colonel Race wears a white poplin shirt with a semi-spread collar, front placket, and double (French) cuffs with gold cufflinks.
As he proudly and correctly uses his rank in civilian life, Colonel Race wears only one long tie throughout Death on the Nile – the Royal Green Jackets’ regimental striped tie of red and black stripes on a forest green ground (like this one), an obvious choice for a proud officer that served in that regiment. Even the wide band on Colonel Race’s stiff straw boater is striped with the distinctive Royal Green Jackets regimental stripe.
There’s only one problem: the Royal Green Jackets weren’t formed until 1966, three decades after Death on the Nile is set.
Niven himself had served with the Rifle Brigade, the light infantry regiment from which the Royal Green Jackets descended. Niven almost certainly wears the Royal Green Jackets’ regimental stripe throughout the film as a tribute to his service in the Rifle Brigade.
Colonel Race wears all of his jewelry on his left hand – a gold signet ring on his left pinky and a gold wristwatch with a gold bracelet.
How to Get the Look
Colonel Race dresses with the sophisticated dignity that one would expect from David Niven. His timeless outfit pays homage to British military heritage while also exploring the virtues of versatility when dressing for warm weather.
- Light taupe gabardine double-breasted 6×2-button suit jacket with full-bellied peak lapels, welted breast pocket, straight jetted hip pockets, 4-button cuffs, and ventless back
- Cream gabardine double forward-pleated trousers with suspender-button waistband, straight side pockets, jetted back pockets, and turn-ups/cuffs
- White cotton poplin dress shirt with semi-spread collar, front placket, and double/French cuffs
- Gold cuff links
- Royal Green Jackets regimental striped necktie
- Brown two-tone woven suspenders with gold adjusters and brown button-loop straps
- White leather 5-eyelet perforated cap-toe bluchers with black leather soles
- Light tan ribbed cotton socks
- Stiff straw boater hat with wide Royal Green Jackets regimental striped ribbon
- White ribbed cotton sleeveless undershirt
- Gold wristwatch on gold bracelet, left wrist
- Gold signet ring, left pinky
Do Yourself a Favor and…
Buy the movie.
It’s a nice touch that he reuses the jacket as a casual separate. If anything, it might look better that way than as part of a suit.
On a different topic, I think Colonel Race first appeared in The Man in the Brown Suit rather than Cards On The Table, not that I’d particularly recommend bothering with it.
You’re quite right – I overlooked The Man in the Brown Suit! Thanks for catching the mistake.
Sir , how can you be sure that the cream trousers are Gabardine ? Couldn’t they also be linen ?
The taupe suit itself is Gabardine .