For my birthday today (July 21, same as Ernest Hemingway and Robin Williams), I hope you’ll excuse an indulgent post as I explore the suits that grabbed my attention from a young age and stirred my early interest in men’s style. Though, given the dapper white jacket that Sean Connery wore on the cover of GQ the month I was born, I should have known what direction my life would eventually take!
While not necessarily the greatest suits to every appear in the movies, these five each contributed to my interest in menswear that led to the eventual creation of BAMF Style a decade later. Interestingly, all of the featured outfits are from period films, highlighting fashion of an earlier era (the 1930s, in more cases than not) and accentuated by a musical soundtrack designed to emphasize the character and the moment.
Bonnie and Clyde: Warren Beatty’s Brown Herringbone Tweed Three-Piece Suit
“All dressed up to rob a bank,” was costume designer Theadora Van Runkle’s note accompanying her early sketches of Clyde Barrow’s brown herringbone suit for the gang’s successful heist. Van Runkle must have had a soft spot for this classic but unseasonably warm tweed three-piece suit, as virtually the exact same suit appeared in the final version of the film itself with a green polka-dot tie, Panama hat, and spectator shoes. In a film renowned for its classic-inspired but modern-influenced fashion sense, this suit with its half-belted “action back” jacket is one item straight out of 1933.
The Suit: Brown herringbone tweed three-piece suit with a half-belted ’30s “bi-swing action back” and high-fastening vest. White shirt with point collar and button cuffs. Green tie with bold yellow polka dots. White Panama hat with a black band. Black-and-white wingtip spectator brogues with black socks.
Check out my BAMF Style post from November 2014 for more information.
The Music: Lester Flatt & Earl Scruggs – “Foggy Mountain Breakdown”
The Story: I can’t remember what drove my early interest in Depression-era outlaws, but Bonnie and Clyde had always been on my cultural radar as I delved into my countless books about outlaws of the era, including Clyde Barrow and Bonnie Parker themselves. I first caught Bonnie and Clyde during a TCM movie marathon in the summer before I entered seventh grade. The next day, I bought the DVD at Media Play… and immediately rewatched it.
How old was I? 7th grade (2002)
Did I ever try to pull it off? Yes. I had purchased a similar suit on eBay and wore it for a few scenes of a student film I made about the life of 1930s bank robber “Pretty Boy” Floyd, one of Clyde Barrow’s contemporaries.
Chinatown: Jack Nicholson’s Light Gray Gabardine Three-Piece Suit
As “nosy” investigator J.J. Gittes in Chinatown (1974), Jack Nicholson refreshed the classic private eye “uniform” of a trench coat and dark suit with his bold wardrobe of earth tones, cream linen, and creative gray suits. In an example of the latter, a light gray gabardine three-piece suit, Nicholson looks cool and calm while conducting some surveillance on some suspicious behavior at Echo Park Lake.
The Suit: Light gray gabardine three-piece suit with a sweeping six-on-two button double-breasted front. Pink shirt with a contrasting white point collar and double/French cuffs with gold cuff links. Black-and-white glen plaid tie with pink overcheck. Dark gray felt fedora with a black band. Brown suede wingtip brogues. Dark red silk display kerchief.
Check out my BAMF Style post from June 2017 for more information.
The Story: Chinatown is one of many great films that I must thank my parents for introducing me to a young age. It was the first movie that ever sent me searching for the screenplay as quickly as possible after the credits rolled… although I did need some time to process the film’s famous finale before scrambling to the Internet.
If you haven’t yet read it, Robert Towne’s screenplay is a masterpiece in itself and encouraged me to embrace the medium of screenwriting and fully explore my own potential with it.
How old was I? 9th grade (2003)
Did I ever try to pull it off? Not to this degree. I had a light gray gabardine three-piece suit and a light gray birdseye double-breasted suit but never the twain have met. (Yet.)
Evil Under the Sun: Nicholas Clay’s Powder Blue Double-Breasted Summer Suit
After spending the majority of Evil Under the Sun (1982) masquerading as a philandering husband who abuses his desperate and destitute wife, Patrick Redfern (Nicholas Clay) makes a grand appearance with his wife Christine (Jane Birkin) in stylish duds that no one on the remote resort island would have ever pictured in the couple’s wardrobe. The emphasis is on Christine’s “transformation”, but Patrick’s affluent-looking traveling suit completes the impact of the duplicitous couple’s fashionable revelation.
The Suit: Powder blue lightweight worsted double-breasted suit in a wide-shouldered ’30s cut. White shirt with double (French) cuffs. Azure blue striped scarf swapped out for a low-contrast striped tie. White bucks and powder blue socks to match the suit.
Check out my BAMF Style post from August 2013 for more information.
The Music: John Lanchberry – “The Grotto” (arranged from Cole Porter’s “My Heart Belongs to Daddy” and “Just One of Those Things”)
The Story: I was in fifth grade when my sister tossed me a book she was reading for her ninth grade English class. It was Agatha Christie’s And Then There Were None, and it instantly instilled a love of old mysteries that remains to this day. After finishing the book in one sleepless night, I quickly began scouring my local Borders for as many Christie mysteries as I could find as well as their cinematic adaptations.
Evil Under the Sun, one of the more stylish if less thrilling movies based on Agatha’s books, was one of the first movies I owned on DVD, and my grandma and I must have watched it every other weekend for a year. The instrumental Cole Porter soundtrack, scored and arranged by John Lanchberry, remains one of my favorite albums to queue up for summer relaxation.
How old was I? 5th Grade (2000)
Did I ever try to pull it off? Not yet.
Goodfellas: Ray Liotta’s Gray Silk Suit
Among his many other skills, Martin Scorsese is a master of using music to create his moments on screen. After spending some time with the teenage Henry Hill and his cronies in 1950s Brooklyn, the scene freezes and the booming vocals of Billy Ward and the Dominoes’ “Stardust” takes over… transporting the viewer from a 1955 courtroom to “Idlewild Airport, 1963” and a pair of snappy alligator loafers.
“You look like a gangster!” were the horrified words of Henry’s mother when she sized her teenage son up from his pointy shoes to his double-breasted suit. Now, less than a decade later, we come to the same realization ourselves as we pan up the sharp silk suit and casually unbuttoned knit shirt to reveal the adult Henry, now far more a gangster than his mother could have feared.
The Suit: Dark gray silk suit with slim Jet Age styling. Black knit shirt with gray gradient stripes and straight-cut bottom. Olive alligator tassel loafers.
Check out my BAMF Style post from October 2012 for more information. (NB: This post, like many others, is in sore need of an update.)
The Music: Billy Ward & his Dominoes – “Stardust”
The Story: I received Goodfellas as a Christmas gift when I was in eighth grade. I had never seen it and had only barely heard of it, although The Godfather and The Godfather Part II were regulars on my watch list and my bookshelves were full of volumes about gangland lore from the Castellammarese War to Peter Maas’ biographies of mob informants. From the first scene (and you all know the one I mean), my notion of how movies could entertain changed forever.
How old was I? 8th grade (2002)
Did I ever try to pull it off? Not yet. Would that I could find a shirt like that, though…
The Sting: Robert Redford’s Russet Brown Chalkstripe Suit
Thrilled from the unexpectedly large yield of his latest con, the first thing that Johnny Hooker (Robert Redford) does with his new loot is to head straight to a haberdashery to pick up the finest duds that a small-time grifter would want in 1936 Joliet, Illinois. Emboldened by his skid row suit and the requisite flowers and champagne, Hooker struts off to the local burlesque theater to pick up his date for the night and show her a good time… and by that I mean pissing away the rest of his income in a mob-owned basement gambling den.
The Suit: Russet brown chalkstripe suit with single-breasted, peak-lapel jacket and pleated trousers worn with suspenders. Pale blue geometric patterned shirt with long collar. Maroon, blue, and gray abstract-striped “kipper tie”. Brown mixed tweed newsboy cap. Brown leather wingtip brogues.
Check out my BAMF Style post from January 2013 for more information. (As noted in the Goodfellas post above, this early post could certainly use a rewrite… or at least a tune-up.)
The Music: Marvin Hamlisch – “The Easy Winners” (written by Scott Joplin)
The Story: For as influential as the above suits were for me, it was The Sting that truly stirred my sartorial interest from the moment I saw it. Edith Head’s well-deserved Academy Award for Best Costume Design radiated from every frame and led to an overhaul of my wardrobe from oversized Abercrombie & Fitch t-shirts, basketball shorts, and Vans to pinstripe suits, waistcoats, and flat caps… which made sixth grade even more awkward than it should be.
Despite the social setbacks that may have resulted from insisting on wearing a three-piece suit to school field trips, a lasting appreciation for menswear was developed after my parents first introduced me to The Sting, and my closet would never be the same.
How old was I? 6th grade (2001)
Did I ever try to pull it off? Indeed. I found a similar brown pinstripe suit at Value City – although it was a more neutral brown and it was double-breasted – and wore it for Halloween in 7th grade. Arguably my most esoteric costume to date.