All That Heaven Allows: Rock Hudson’s Red Holiday Plaid
Rock Hudson as Ron Kirby, ambitious and independent-minded landscaper
New England, Fall to Winter 1955
Film: All That Heaven Allows
Release Date: August 25, 1955
Director: Douglas Sirk
Among the many classic movies commonly associated with Christmas – It’s a Wonderful Life, Miracle on 34th Street, and White Christmas to name a few – there are countless additional fine films from that same nostalgic postwar era that relied on the warmth of the holidays to set the scene.
Though it was released in London four months earlier, the Douglas Sirk-directed melodrama All That Heaven Allows made its United States debut on Christmas Day 1955.
Our story begins in the fictional New England town of Stoningham, the quintessential American small town that provides a scenic backdrop as the seasons transition from fall to winter. After starring together in Sirk’s Magnificent Obsession (1954) the previous year, Jane Wyman and Rock Hudson were reteamed to play the leads whose “May to December romance” – despite Wyman only being eight years Hudson’s senior – scandalize the tight-knit Stoningham community.
Rock Hudson, who would turn 30 a month before the film was released in the U.S., starred as the young, hardworking landscaper Ron Kirby whose ambitions of growing a tree farm are sidetracked after he falls for the classy widow Cary Scott (Wyman). The film follows their romance from fall into winter, a passage of time visually noted as the lush scenery transitions from autumnal leaves to freshly falling snow and even a gratuitous vignette of über-outdoorsman Rock Hudson feeding a reindeer.
What’d He Wear?
From its title to its description, All That Heaven Allows may not sound like a sanctum of badass men’s style, but Rock Hudson’s laconic landscaper proves otherwise with his rugged wardrobe of plaid flannel shirts and coats, wool jackets, chinos, and corduroys.
“Shirts came in plaid, plaid, plaid, and more plaid,” writes Debbie Sessions in VintageDancer.com’s overview of 1950s men’s fashion. “What sets 1950s men’s casual clothing apart is the sheer variety of options, the bold splash of colors, and the overwhelming use of new textures and materials. The cost of clothing plummeted after the war. New synthetic materials made clothes easy to wash and wear and the movies helped spread new fashions faster than ever before.”
During the postwar era of American consumer optimism, these durable plaid shirts came to symbolize the jack-of-all-trades everyman who could cut down a Christmas tree, repair a leaky pipe, and fix your roof…all in the same day. While Ron Kirby could ostensibly be a walking catalog for Pendleton Woolen Mills, whose specialty remains classic 1950s-style flannel “board shirts”, the popularity of this ubiquitous style during the fabulous fifties rose to the point where even companies like Amana – known for their refrigerators and furnaces – were selling plaid flannel shirts with their brand on the label. In fact, it’s likely that many a repairman called to service an Amana stove 60 years ago was wearing an Amana plaid flannel shirt as he did it.
#1 – Burgundy Shadow Plaid Shirt
If you’re impatient, you have no business growing trees.
It’s autumn 1955. Ron is nearly finished with his job pruning Cary’s trees and announces to the lovestruck widow – who’s been crushing on him hard – that she won’t be seeing him again until the following spring. On an impulse, she agrees to a date with the younger man at his home, just a woodie wagon’s ride away into the woods.
“I can see that a woman might not like it, but it does very well for me,” Ron explains of his rustic home. Perhaps it’s because I’ve just been rereading about Ed Gein’s crimes, but I was a bit uneasy to see Cary so enthusiastically accompanying a man she didn’t know very well into his secluded home in the woods. However, the world of Douglas Sirk-directed Technicolor melodrama is far from that of the Butcher of Plainfield… at least until you compare Gein’s plaid-capped outfit from his 1957 arrest to Ron Kirby’s ear-flapped outfit during the finale. But we’re getting ahead of ourselves…
Ron dresses for his last day of work as Cary’s landscaper in a low-contrast two-toned burgundy-and-red shadow plaid flannel shirt with a point collar lined with burgundy satin-finished nylon. This type of lining remains a fixture of woolen flannel shirts and shirt-jackets like these vintage examples: here and here.
The shirt has dark red plastic sew-through buttons on the front placket, the cuffs, and to close the pointed flap over each of the two chest pockets. Ron wears it over a white cotton crew-neck undershirt.
As the seasons are still changing, Ron is still wearing his lighter weight khaki chinos. These flat front trousers have on-seam side pockets, jetted back pockets, and plain-hemmed bottoms that he wears self-cuffed to reveal his tall white socks with a wide red band around the top. He wears a wide russet leather belt that coordinates with his brown leather moc-toe work boots.
Ron’s jacket is a dark navy fleeced wool zip-up blouson with an elastic waistband, button-closed cuffs, and two chest pockets that each close with a single-button flap.
#2 – Red and Green Tartan Plaid Shirt
Later that fall, Ron returns from his tree-buying journey upstate and invites Cary to join him for a lobster-and-wine “clambake” at the house of his friends, Mick and Alita Anderson:
Alida: Make Cary comfortable, will you, Ron?
Ron: Alright… sit down, Cary.
I guess telling Cary to sit down is one way of making her comfortable… either way, Ron dresses for comfort himself in his second flannel shirt of the movie, this time in the traditional Royal Stewart Tartan plaid of a red ground with a green-and-navy plaid and thin white-and-yellow overcheck. The shirt plays up its Christmas aesthetic with a hunter green satin-finished nylon neck and placket lining.
Like the previous red duo-toned shirt, this shirt has a front placket, button cuffs, and two flapped pockets with pointed button-down flaps.
The weather has been getting colder, so Ron swaps out his usual work khaki chinos for a pair of heavier corduroy trousers in rust brown. These flat front pants have straight side pockets, jetted back pockets, and plain-hemmed bottoms. He wears the same russet leather belt with the slim-framed, gold-toned rectangular single-prong buckle.
As he’s attending a party and not working in someone’s yard, Ron seems to have swapped out his usual work boots for a pair of brown leather derby shoes.
Ron again wears the dark navy fleece wool blouson, though he also wears a dark blue wool scarf and black leather gloves for added protection against the chilly weather of a late autumn day in New England.
#3 – Red Plaid Hunting Coat
I’m learning right now how easy it would be to let myself be changed.
It’s now deep in December and there’s no doubt that a white Christmas is in the cards as the whole region is covered with snow.
Ron’s staple outerwear during the holidays is a black-on-red buffalo check plaid hunting coat, similar to those produced by Woolrich. Known as “the original outdoor clothing company”, Woolrich takes credit for the development of buffalo check plaid in 1850, twenty years after John Rich started the company with his first woolen mill in Plum Run, Pennsylvania. Countless vintage Woolrich hunting coats in red-and-black plaid can be found on sites like eBay, including this wool/nylon-blended 1970s jacket (here) that – save for the snap-up front – resembles the details and plaid pattern of Rock Hudson’s on-screen hunting coat.
Ron’s thigh-length coat fastens with five black snaps up the front to a wide, sharp shirt-style collar. The coat has set-in sleeves with single-button cuffs, and four patch pockets with mitred corners. All four pockets have a flap that closes with a single black snap, and the lower pockets have additional hand pockets behind them accessed through long vertical welts.
Ron wears a taupe canvas hunting cap with brown fleece-lined ear flaps that he wears fastened to the top of his head. Hunting caps like this were developed through the early-to-mid 20th century as a modern alternative to the antiquated deerstalker.
Ron is engaged in the very wintry activity of feeding a reindeer when Cary arrives for an impromptu Saturday evening date to see his progress on converting his barn into a livable home for them… and to ask her to marry him. He removes his plaid hunting coat and dark blue wool scarf to reveal… a red plaid flannel shirt – his third of the movie.
Unlike the others, however, this shirt has a primarily navy blue ground with a complex plaid pattern in red, black, and hunter green. The shirt is styled like his others with its substantial point collar, front placket, button cuffs, and flapped chest pockets. The strip lining the inner neck and placket is dark green nylon.
Ron and Cary’s love story continues along a rocky path; she is issued an ultimatum, choosing between Ron and her kids. When she visits Ron’s home to make the decision, he is wearing a solid navy flannel long-sleeve shirt, styled the same as his others with point collar, front placket, button cuffs, and button-flapped chest pockets.
Ron sports the same brown corduroy trousers that he wore with the red-and-green Royal Stewart tartan plaid shirt, worn with his usual wide russet brown leather belt, brown leather moc-toe work boots, and those tall white socks with the red band around the top.
From that point on, Ron subconsciously rejects his festive red plaid and sticks with his navy shirt to match “the blues” of his mood. He is wearing the same shirt under his red plaid hunting coat for a scene of Christmas pheasant-hunting with his pal Mick, who offers terrible advice like: “She doesn’t want to make up her own mind, no girl does.”
Luckily, Cary proves Mick wrong by driving to Ron’s idyllic winter homestead on her own… but the couple’s luck soon runs out when Ron falls off an embankment after failing to get her attention.
Go Big or Go Home
Ron Kirby almost slid in as a Car Week contender for his “woodie wagon”, a maroon 1946 Ford. Though wood had been infrequently tapped as a resource for car bodies during the automotive industry’s formative years, it wasn’t mass-produced until Henry Ford – who had more than 400,000 acres of Michigan’s Iron Mountain forest at his disposal – introduced it as a body option for the 1929 Model A wagon. Thus, the woodie style emerged during the 1930s as automakers – particularly American manufacturers – augmented their steel-bodied vehicles with wood construction for a unique touch passenger compartments and panels.
After enjoying nearly a quarter century of popularity on American roads, the distinctive but labor-intensive woodie wagon had all but vanished for the 1953 model year, with only Buick holding out. Automakers who appreciated the woodie aesthetic – but not the cost – developed faux wood shortcuts with vinyl, plastic, and steel alternatives. (Read more about the history, making, and maintenance of woodie wagons here.)
And what to listen to?
1955 was a significant year for music as the tide started turning toward rock and roll: Chuck Berry recorded his first single (“Maybelline”), Elvis Presley was shooting to stardom with riots at his concerts and Colonel Tom Parker as his manager, and Bill Haley and the Comets’ “Rock Around the Clock” was shaking the world through its use as the first rock song in a major film (Blackboard Jungle) and becoming the first rock single to hit #1 on the U.S. charts.
Rock had yet to reach the sleepy hamlet of Stoningham, though. Our story plays out against the dulcet tones of “Consolation No. 3 in D flat major,” one of Franz Liszt’s six solo compositions for the piano from 1849-1850 known as Consolations, S. 172.
What to Imbibe
Mick Anderson (Charles Drake), Ron’s friend and war buddy, serves up “The Anderson Special” for the guests, though this particular concoction goes undefined.
Unlike many party guests, Ron shows off not by how much he can drink but by using his teeth to uncork one of the 16 bottles of wine purchased for the party.
How to Get the Look
Put the “Rock” in “Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree” by channeling Rock Hudson’s impressive red holiday plaid and flannel game this year!
- Red plaid woolen flannel shirt with nylon-lined wide point collar, patch chest pockets (with button-down pointed flaps), front placket, and button cuffs
- Red and black “buffalo check” plaid wool hunting coat with five-snap front, point collar, set-in sleeves, and four patch pockets (with snap-closure flaps)
- Brown corduroy flat front trousers with belt loops, straight/on-seam side pockets, jetted back pockets, and plain-hemmed bottoms
- Russet brown wide leather belt with thin-framed gold rectangular single-prong buckle
- Brown leather lace-up moc-toe work boots
- White socks with red top band
- Taupe canvas hunting cap with brown fleece-lined ear flaps
While a solid collection of red plaid work shirts and jackets perfectly bridge your fall to winter wardrobe, one would be advised not to go overboard. As the great Twitter user @NitrateDiva points out, it’s rather difficult for anyone but Rock Hudson to “look this good while dressed as Elmer Fudd.”
In fact, Northern Hats even markets similar-looking headgear in various shades of brown sheepskin leather as “Elmer Fudd” hats.
Do Yourself a Favor and…
Check out the movie, and keep an eye out for fifties flannel shirts available from sites from Ballyhoo Vintage Clothing.
I’ve met plenty of girls, nice and otherwise.
Thank you for drawing my attention to this wonderful film – have just finished watching it and will put it on my annual Christmas viewing list.
Remarkable to see a film that includes such grounded, thoughtful characters, and leads from brittle cocktail conversations to a peaceful plant-nursery and regular country folks having a celebration.
I noticed the finely-knitted headscarves/shawls Jane Wyman wore – much like the fine work in the famous Shetland “clouds”.
Always good to see Rock Hudson of course, who looked good in a variety of settings!
Compliments of the season to you, and thank you again for your most interesting blog.
Great coverage of a romantic Christmas classic. BAMFers may or may not agree, but I think Sirk was offering a socialist or leftist commentary on US society of that time. The plaid shirts and jacket Ron favors are v.similar to the winter wear of outdoorsmen in Australia, but we call it lumberjack gear. I had a few shirts in this style and I’d love a dollar for every time I was asked “where’s your axe?”. Never got any interest from rich widows, however. And we even had our own woodie wagon! Morris built more that 200,000 Travellers and many of them were shipped out to Australia.