Alain Delon as Tom Ripley, charming American con artist and sophisticated sociopath
Italy, August 1959
Film: Purple Noon
(French title: Plein soleil)
Release Date: March 10, 1960
Director: René Clément
Costume Designer: Bella Clément
WARNING! Spoilers ahead!
Purple Noon, released in France as Plein soleil, was the first cinematic adaptation of Patricia Highsmith’s 1955 psychological thriller The Talented Mr. Ripley. Released five years after Highsmith’s novel was published, the film shot 24-year-old Alain Delon to stardom as the charming sociopath who envies the luxurious lifestyle of expatriate playboy Philippe Greenleaf (Maurice Ronet).
With all of the summery Riviera style on display throughout Purple Noon, one item that has been frequently requested for exploration is the first piece of clothing that Delon’s Tom Ripley appropriates from Philippe Greenleaf after an “accident” at sea.
What’d He Wear?
“How can I go on a cruise with out my cabana wear?” screams Frank Costanza (Jerry Stiller) in “The Raincoats”, a fifth season episode of Seinfeld. Perhaps in another lifetime, master of deception Tom Ripley would have reinvented himself as the cantankerous patriarch of a neurotic family in Queens. Either way, there is one thing that Tom Ripley and Frank Costanza share: a passion for taking to the sea in classic cabana wear.
After killing Philippe and disposing of his corpse in the waves, a drenched Tom Ripley reboards Marge (the boat, not the woman) and grabs the first dry garment he can find, a batik-dyed cabana shirt whose soft terry texture would have been an instant comfort for the wet murderer, while also symbolizing the beginning of Ripley’s transformation into assuming Philippe Greenleaf’s identity.
Interestingly, this is also the very shirt that Philippe had been wearing early when he “discovered” Tom’s initial plan.
Batik production is an Indonesian technique for hand-dyeing cloth using a wax-resist process that allows the artisan dyeing the clothing to be more selective about how and where the colors and patterns are applied.
Philippe’s batik shirt consists of white tropical patterns and shapes dyed onto a soft, terry-textured brick red cloth. Like many cabana shirts of the era, this shirt has a camp collar with brown nut buttons down the plain front. The shirt is fitted with pleats on the back shoulders and side vents. There is a breast pocket, and the short sleeves are cuffed at the ends.
From the first shot in Purple Noon, the American faux-Ivy Leaguer Tom Ripley had almost exclusively worn cream-colored cotton jeans with the bottoms cuffed up. These are configured with the traditional five-pocket layout of two in the back and two in the front plus a coin pocket on the right side. They have a button fly and belt loops for Tom’s black leather belt with its squared steel single-prong buckle.
Tom wears his usual accessories, a gold necklace with a round gold pendant and his plain steel wristwatch on a dark navy strap. His shoes are the same navy-and-white rope-soled espadrilles that Philippe had forced him to remove before boarding Marge a few days earlier.
Tom makes a habit of, perhaps unconsciously, flaunting his crime, selecting some of the louder items from Philippe’s wardrobe from this batik shirt to a boldly striped regatta blazer during the film’s final act.
How to Get the Look
If Tom Ripley is going to assume the identity of a hedonistic Riviera playboy, he may as well look the part, right? The introduction of a boldly patterned and undoubtedly comfortable batik-dyed cabana shirt does the trick.
- Brick red, with white tropical batik-dyed design, soft terry-textured short-sleeve shirt with camp collar, nut buttons, and breast pocket
- Cream cotton jeans with belt loops, button-fly, five-pocket layout, and self-cuffed bottoms
- Black leather belt with squared steel single-prong buckle
- Navy-and-white rope-soled espadrilles
- Gold pendant necklace on thin gold chain
- Steel watch with round silver dial on navy blue strap
The unique dyed pattern and material makes shirts like this particularly difficult to find, especially on a low budget. If you want to reflect the spirit of the shirt, you could certainly find a red-and-white printed shirt with a tropical motif, like the low-priced offerings of La Leela (here, here, and here).
Otherwise, your best bet for a Ripley-like batik shirt would be to search vintage shops or sites like eBay for classic cabana wear from brands like Jantzen who popularized them in the ’60s and ’70s. (Like this Jantzen example here or more modern example here.)
Do Yourself a Favor and…
Check out the movie.