Revolutionary Road: Frank Wheeler’s Gray Business Suit
Leonardo DiCaprio as Frank Wheeler, disillusioned businessman and suburban dad
New York City, Spring 1955
Film: Revolutionary Road
Release Date: December 15, 2008
Director: Sam Mendes
Costume Designer: Albert Wolsky
Happy birthday, Leonardo DiCaprio!
As today is Leo’s actual birthday, I’m exploring the suit he wore for his character Frank Wheeler’s on-screen birthday in Revolutionary Road, the cinematic adaptation of Richard Yates’ 1961 novel that re-paired DiCaprio with Kate Winslet more than two decades after their iceberg-melting chemistry in James Cameron’s Titanic.
Unfortunately for Kate and Leo, the Wheelers are far less passionate than the star-crossed Jack and Rose. As the couple approaches seven years together, neither is feeling particularly fulfilled in their sanitized suburban life.
We follow Frank Wheeler as he makes his commute from Connecticut into Manhattan for yet another mind-numbing day of selling business machines, holding no greater promise than usual despite it being his 30th birthday. Frustrated, powerless, and unsatisfied, Frank eyes a secretary in the typing pool…
What’d He Wear?
Per Sloan Wilson’s seminal 1955 novel that lent its title to the trope, Frank Wheeler rides into work as the archetypal “man in the gray flannel suit,” the discontented businessman who spends his life traveling between suburbs and skyscrapers with nary an opportunity to address the artistic promises of his youth.
Thus, Frank is neatly attired in the standard gray wool business suit that could be found in any American businessman’s closet during the Jet Age. The cut is boxy without being unflattering, the jacket shoulders are padded and wide, and the narrow notch lapels roll to a two-button front. His jacket also has a welted breast pocket, straight flapped hip pockets, three buttons on each cuff, and a short single vent in the back.
The trousers have a higher rise than is fashionable today but still rise to just below his natural waist. The full cut echoes the jacket with additional roominess provided with the double reverse pleats on each side. The trousers have straight pockets along each side seam, no back pockets, and turn-ups (cuffs) at the bottoms. Through the short belt loops, Frank wears a slim black cowhide belt with a small gold-toned single-prong buckle.
Frank’s dress shirt is the standard white poplin “businessman’s special” that Don Draper kept a backup stash of in his office drawer. Frank’s shirt has a spread collar, plain front, breast pocket, and simple button cuffs, just like a modern man could easily find on the shelves at Macy’s.
Frank’s dark blue tie is full of fifties fun with its abstract Saul Bass-like print of two thick gray squares colliding in the center, a field of light gray dots, and a series of white vertical brush strokes. He wears the tie clipped into place with a plain silver tie bar fastened high on his chest above the third button of his shirt.
Visible through the lightweight cotton of Frank’s dress shirt is the outline of his white ribbed sleeveless “A-shirt” undershirt.
Frank’s shoes are dark brown leather derbies (a mismatch with his black leather belt!) that appear to be worn with black socks.
No self-respecting suburban dad would dare venture to the office without the proper headgear, so Frank Wheeler wears a brown felt trilby to and from work. As costume designer Albert Wolsky told Elle in February 2009:
I’m happy with the broader strokes—for instance, the people going to work—all the men in suits and hats. Every single person back then did not wear a hat, but most people did. And I pushed it. I had everybody in hats and suits and ties. It created an atmosphere for Leo DiCaprio’s character to disappear in this crowd. Many times you can’t even find him because he looks like everybody else. And I thought that was very successful.
Rather than the traditional grosgrain band as worn by his fellow commuters, Frank’s trilby has a thick brown fabric triple-ribbed band.
The practice of men wearing wedding rings became most popular around the 1950s, and our married protagonist wears his plain gold wedding band on the third finger of his left hand.
On the same hand, Frank wears his everyday wristwatch, a steel timepiece with a round case and a white dial on a black-filled bracelet.
Every element of the outfit, from the hat and shoes to the design of the tie, can be found in costume designer Albert Wolsky’s original concept sketches for the character. Wolsky was nominated for an Academy Award for his Revolutionary Road costume design.
What to Imbibe
Frank commemorates his birthday during the work day with that most celebrated of mid-century office traditions, the “three martini lunch”.
He immediately follows it up with one of the era’s more shameful practices, skipping the rest of the workday for an adulterous affair with his secretary.
How to Get the Look
Frank Wheeler makes the ideal image of the quintessential young American businessman as he heads off to work on his 30th birthday.
- Gray wool business suit:
- Single-breasted 2-button jacket with notch lapels, welted breast pocket, straight flapped hip pockets, 3-button cuffs, and short single vent
- Double reverse-pleated trousers with belt loops, straight/on-seam side pockets, and turn-ups/cuffs
- White cotton poplin shirt with spread collar, plain front, breast pocket, and button cuffs
- Dark blue abstract-patterned silk tie
- Silver tie bar
- Black cowhide leather belt with gold-toned single-prong buckle
- Dark brown leather derby shoes
- Black cotton lisle dress socks
- Brown felt trilby with narrow triple-ribbed self-fabric band
- Gold wedding ring
- Steel wristwatch with white dial on black-filled bracelet
Do Yourself a Favor and…
Check out the movie and read Richard Yates’ original 1961 novel.
I really Leo. His acting is so gorgeus. He plays all the roles very well.