Alain Delon as Tom Ripley, charming American con artist and sophisticated sociopath
Italy, Late Summer 1959
Film: Purple Noon
(French title: Plein soleil)
Release Date: March 10, 1960
Director: René Clément
Costume Designer: Bella Clément
WARNING! Spoilers ahead!
Adapted from Patricia Highsmith’s 1955 thriller The Talented Mr. Ripley, Purple Noon put French actor Alain Delon on the international map. Only 24 years old when Purple Noon was released, Delon earned the endorsement of Ms. Highsmith herself for his performance as the smooth and wily young con artist whose petty crimes and deceptions graduate to multiple murders over the course of the film.
“It’s insidious, the way Highsmith seduces us into identifying with him and sharing his selfishness,” Roger Ebert wrote of both the novel and this cinematic adaptation in his 1996 review. “Ripley believes that getting his own way is worth whatever price anyone else might have to pay. We all have a little of that in us.”
Purple Noon is an aesthetic treat from Henri Decaë’s lush cinematography to the stylish costumes of Bella Clément, for whom Purple Noon remains her sole credit and whose possible relation to director René Clément remains a mystery to me. One particular item receives significant on-screen attention: Philippe Greenleaf’s boldly striped regatta blazer that betokens Tom Ripley’s wish to become him.
What’d He Wear?
Today, the most universal description of a blazer would be a jacket tailored like a suit coat but with a more casual cut, with ornamental buttons and made from a durable yet formal fabric like wool. Navy remains the most traditional color, though it’s not uncommon to see correctly described blazers in shades of gray, red, green, and brown.
Unfortunately, contemporary nomenclature has complicated the term for menswear enthusiasts, shrouding the once-specific garment terminology in the muck and mire of modern shortcuts that classify any odd jacket under the “blazer” umbrella. Strip away the decades of uninformed labeling and Macy’s marketing tactics, and you’re left with a vibrantly colored – and often boldly striped – jacket.
Like many menswear staples, the blazer’s origins can be traced to the sea. In post-Regency era England, the gentlemen of Oxford and Cambridge rowing clubs sported bright club jackets that took the venerable appellation of “blazers” based on their bold hue. In particular, the Lady Margaret Boat Club of St. John’s College is frequently cited as a major influence for its seminal red flannel blazers.
Over the 19th century, the terminology evolved to include the variety of boldly colored and striped jackets favored by nautical sportsmen to the point that “by the 1890s, all flannel, loose-fitting casual jackets (which were at the time generally brightly colored) began being known as blazers,” according to Town & Country Magazine. The blazer crossing the Atlantic at the dawn of the 20th century saw the rise of a more subdued style, the navy single-breasted blazer that remains a classic American staple to this day.
More than a century after their genesis, the original garment found popularity among English mods and bands of the British Invasion who often sported striped boating blazers or piped-collar rowing jackets for their performances. It was just before this resurgence in the 1960s that a striped boating blazer appeared in Purple Noon, first seen as Tom Ripley (Alain Delon) eagerly tears through the closet of his wealthy pal, Philippe Greenleaf (Maurice Ronet).
A few murders and many deceptions later, Tom inexplicably dons the same garment when he returns to Phillippe’s home to frame the deceased man for the murder of their mutual pal Freddie. Of his newly expanded wardrobe, he couldn’t have picked a more conspicuous outfit while trying to lay low.
Philippe’s striped regatta blazer is actually subdued when compared to some of the stripes seen on early examples. Contrasting with the blazer’s navy ground is a pattern of bold red stripes, each shadowed along the right side with a slimmer “old gold” yellow stripe.
The single-breasted blazer has substantial notch lapels that roll to three flat gold shank buttons with two matching buttons on each cuff.. Tom wears the blazer with the center button fastened, correctly meeting the trouser waist line.
The blazer is always a little big on Tom as it was ostensibly made for Philippe’s broader, more athletic frame, most evident when looking at the shoulders. Per the film’s Italian setting, this regatta blazer shows indications of Neapolitan tailoring including a distinctive “Neapolitan shoulder” treatment. This con rollino (or “with roll”) shoulder is unpadded with excess fabric rolled around the sleevehead to create a pronounced bump similar to the roped sleevehead. (You can read more about Neapolitan tailoring, including the con rollino and spalla camicia shoulder styles, in Sonya Glyn Nicholson’s article for Parisian Gentleman.)
After Tom’s lack of success sporting the blazer with his own blue button-down collar shirt and Philippe’s striped tie, he wisely opts for a more dressed-down approach for his nighttime return to Mongibello and the forging of Philippe’s suicide note.
Tom’s white cotton pique shirt has a soft, one-piece spread collar worn open at the neck with a plain button-up front and rounded cuffs that each close with a button.
Both the shirt and the trousers were previously worn during Tom’s trip to Naples with Marge, with which he wore the blazer-style three-button jacket from his light gray linen suit. These gray wool flat front trousers have a medium-high rise and a straight fit through the legs to the plain-hemmed bottoms. The blazer covers the slanted side pockets with buttoning flaps and the set-in back pockets also with pointed flaps.
Tom wears a black leather belt that coordinates with his black leather Venetian loafers, worn sans socks as usual.
Despite assuming Philippe Greenleaf’s identity and much of his clothing, Tom Ripley sticks with the same wristwatch he’s been wearing since the beginning, a plain steel timepiece with a round silver dial on a dull dark navy strap.
How to Get the Look
You have to respect Tom Ripley’s sartorial savvy, even if there’s little else about him deserving of respect. He chooses a classically inspired striped boating blazer from his late buddy’s wardrobe… though he also chooses an unusual time to sport this attention-getting piece.
- Navy and yellow/red-striped single-breasted regatta blazer with notch lapels, three gold buttons, welted breast pocket, patch hip pockets, 2-button cuffs, Neapolitan con rollino shoulders, and double vents
- White cotton pique long-sleeve casual shirt with soft spread collar, plain rolled-edge front, and 1-button rounded cuffs
- Gray twill wool flat front trousers with medium-high rise, belt loops, button-flap slanted side pockets, pointed-flap set-in back pockets, and plain-hemmed bottoms
- Black leather belt with square steel single-prong buckle
- Black leather Venetian loafers
- Steel watch with round silver dial on navy-blue strap
Do Yourself a Favor and…
Check out the movie.
If you’d like to learn more about the history of these distinctive boating, rowing, and regatta blazers, delve into Jack Carlson’s extensively researched and exquisitely illustrated volume Rowing Blazers, published in 2014.