Torn Curtain: Paul Newman’s Charcoal Brown Flannel Suit

Paul Newman as Professor Michael Armstrong in Torn Curtain (1966)

Paul Newman as Professor Michael Armstrong in Torn Curtain (1966)

Vitals

Paul Newman as Michael Armstrong, American physicist and amateur spy

East Berlin, September 1965

Film: Torn Curtain
Release Date: July 14, 1966
Director: Alfred Hitchcock
Costume Supervisor: Grady Hunt

WARNING! Spoilers ahead!

Background

Alfred Hitchcock’s 50th film, Torn Curtain, marked his one and only collaboration with Paul Newman. Production on the Cold War spy thriller was plagued by the veteran director clashing with his leads, unused to method actor Paul Newman’s constant questioning of his character’s motivation. “Your motivation is your salary,” Hitch reportedly replied.

The famously easygoing Newman was a little more enthusiastic, later recalling, “I think Hitch and I could have really hit it off, but the script kept getting in the way.”

Indeed, the serious political thriller was a departure from Hitchcock’s usual scripts, developed in response to the growing popularity of the James Bond franchise through the ’60s. Hitch had already been a presence in the genre with the now iconic North by Northwest in 1959, an instant success for the suspense, style, and wit for which the director was known.

Hitchcock had hoped to replicate his success from North by Northwest by casting Cary Grant as the lead in Torn Curtain, but the actor was making good on his recent retirement, and so Universal Pictures executive Lew Wasserman cast Paul Newman and Julie Andrews – highly bankable as two of the most popular rising stars of the decade.

Newman and Andrews played American physicist Michael Armstrong and his assistant and fiancée Sarah Sherman, respectively, traveling through Europe on what turns out to be Armstrong’s defection to the East German government. Of course, Armstrong is actually an amateur double agent whose “defection” is only a ruse to steal secrets from the Soviets.

Armstrong’s plans to return to his American spymasters via the secret π escape network are uncovered by East German security officer Hermann Gromek (Wolfgang Kieling), who follows Armstrong to the farm where Armstrong is meeting with the masters of his spy ring. What follows is a sloppy, brutal fight that Hitchcock told François Truffaut he deliberately included as a contrast to the era’s popular spy thrillers that made killing look easy.

What’d He Wear?

“It used to be said that no gentleman should wear brown in London. The increasing popularity of the color over the past years has been, presumably, proportionate to the increase in the disappearance of the gentleman,” wrote Hardy Amies in 1964, reflecting the traditional “no brown in town” attitudes that continue to influence menswear to this day.

Brown suits had long been restricted to “country wear” rather than proper business attire. By the late 1930s, men’s clothiers had developed a happy compromise for men seeking the flattering benefits of brown suiting without drawing the ire of those who stand on ceremony in the enforcement of traditional dress codes. Charcoal brown incorporates black or charcoal threads that mute the suiting into a shade of brown more acceptable to conservative dressers. (You can read more about charcoal brown at Gentleman’s Gazette.)

"A brown suit in the city? Surely you jest," the man in gray seems to be saying to our protagonist.

“A brown suit in the city? Surely you jest,” the man in gray seems to be saying to our protagonist.

A charcoal brown flannel suit à la Paul Newman’s Michael Armstrong in Torn Curtain is the perfect business suit as the October weather gets cooler here in the Northern Hemisphere, keeping you warm while offering just enough gray to satisfy the sartorial traditionalists in your office.

Professor Armstrong’s suit follows the classic American cut with its full “sack jacket” with natural shoulders and a single back vent. The notch lapels are fashionably slim for the mid-1960s, ending high to accommodate the jacket’s three-button front. The jacket has a welted breast pocket, straight flapped hip pockets, and two non-functioning cuff buttons spaced about a half-inch on the end of each sleeve.

Armstrong recovers after an unexpected bout of fisticuffs.

Armstrong recovers after an unexpected bout of fisticuffs.

Armstrong’s flat front trousers with their medium rise are also consistent with American suits of the era, a contrast to the higher pleated trousers worn by his British contemporary, James Bond. Armstrong’s trousers are straight through the legs down to the bottoms finished with turn-ups (cuffs). They have straight pockets along each side seam but appear to have no back pockets.

Michael Armstrong turns on the charm for Dr. Koska (Gisele Fischer).

Michael Armstrong turns on the charm for Dr. Koska (Gisele Fischer).

The trousers are worn with a black leather belt with a gold-toned single-prong buckle in a semi-rounded reverse “D” shape.

Paul Newman was a master of the all-American Ivy League staple, the oxford cloth button-down shirt. His white cotton OCBD shirt in Torn Curtain has a button-down collar with moderate spread, front placket, rounded button cuffs, and a single inverted box pleat in the center of the back.

Armstrong re-dresses after a visit to the helpful Dr. Koska.

Armstrong re-dresses after a visit to the helpful Dr. Koska.

Per this post on the company Instagram page, Newman’s shirt was likely made by Frank Foster, the London shirtmaker who has created countless bespoke shirts for royalty and stars including at least three James Bond actors.

Armstrong’s woven grenadine silk tie is a slightly bolder shade of brown. The mid ’60s were the era of the “skinny tie”, and Armstrong’s neckwear appears to be no wider than 2.5″ and tied in a half-Windsor knot to fill the tie space of his button-down collar.

TORN CURTAIN

Professor Armstrong appears to only wear this brown tie when wearing his charcoal brown suit (and vice versa), cycling through navy and red-toned ties when wearing his blue-gray suit or his herringbone jacket.

Not held in place by a bar, clip, or pin, Armstrong’s tie flops around freely and one shot through the bus window while he makes his way to the farm reveals the manufacturer’s tie tag on the back that may clue in a more eagle-eyed viewer into who made Newman’s tie.

The tie maker's tag is visible just above the bottom of the frame.

The tie maker’s tag is visible just above the bottom of the frame.

Armstrong wears a pair of well-traveled brown leather plain-toe derby shoes with round laces through four eyelets. The footwear is an interesting choice as it doesn’t coordinate with his black belt – an incongruity often considered a no-no – and black shoes are considered to be acceptable with brown suits, particularly charcoal brown suits that have black thread.

His dark ribbed socks appear black but may be a very dark brown to coordinate with his trousers and shoes.

TORN CURTAIN

The earthy tones of his suit contrast with his city-friendly topcoat, a knee-length car coat in black and white houndstooth check.

TORN CURTAIN

The single-breasted car coat has a flat Ulster collar with four black buttons down the plain front from the neck to just below his waist. There is a flapped pocket on each hip, and a pointed half-tab on each cuff that closes with a single button. The back has a single vent.

Armstrong vs. Gromek.

Armstrong vs. Gromek.

Having lost his houndstooth car coat at the “farm” when it was stained with the deceased Gromek’s blood, Armstrong goes coat-less until the final act of the film when he is escaping East Berlin with Sarah.

Armstrong is given a heavy black wool topcoat on the π network decoy bus. This second coat has a tall Ulster collar, horizontal front yokes, and brown buttons down the single-breasted plain front. Each sleeve is finished with a distinctive flared half-tab that closes on two black buttons on the outside of each cuff.

Armstrong in disguise as he makes his escape.

Armstrong in disguise as he makes his escape.

Michael Armstrong wears a dress watch typical of the 1960s with a round stainless steel case, silver dial, and flat black leather strap.

Armstrong flips through a pamphlet welcoming him to Berlin.

Armstrong flips through a pamphlet welcoming him to Berlin.

Paul Newman wouldn’t receive the first of his famous Rolex Cosmograph Daytona watches until a few years later when he received one as a gift from his wife Joanne Woodward. Newman would continue to wear these watches – with the very specific “Paul Newman” dial that horologists can easily spot – every day from 1972 through his death in 2008. One of these Rolex watches, which he gifted to his daughter Nell’s then-boyfriend James Cox in the summer of 1984, will be auctioned next Thursday, October 26, at Phillips in New York and is expected to yield several million dollars.

How to Get the Look

Paul Newman taps into his own Ivy League-inspired sense of classic style to present an undeniably fashionable way of sporting a brown suit appropriate for both town and country.

  • Charcoal brown flannel “sack suit”:
    • Single-breasted 3-button suit jacket with slim notch lapels, welted breast pocket, straight flapped hip pockets, spaced 2-button cuffs, and single back vent
    • Flat front medium-rise trousers with belt loops, straight/on-seam side pockets, and turn-ups/cuffs
  • White oxford cotton shirt with button-down collar, front placket, and button cuffs
  • Brown woven grenadine silk tie
  • Black leather belt with gold-toned rounded single-prong buckle
  • Brown leather plain-toe 4-eyelet derby shoes
  • Black ribbed socks
  • Steel round-cased wristwatch with plain silver dial on black leather strap
  • Black-and-white houndstooth wool single-breasted 4-button car coat with Ulster collar, hand pockets, 1-button half-tab cuffs, and single vent

Do Yourself a Favor and…

Check out the movie.

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