Pal Joey: Sinatra’s Red Fleck Mess Jacket
Frank Sinatra as Joey Evans, womanizing nightclub singer
San Francisco, Spring 1957
Film: Pal Joey
Release Date: October 25, 1957
Director: George Sidney
Costume Designer: Jean Louis
Joey Evans’s first night with the band finds him already complicating his romantic life, balancing his attraction to the demure singer Linda English (Kim Novak) with the vivacious ex-stripper Vera Prentice-Simpson (Rita Hayworth) when the band is hired to play a gig at Vera’s place as a fundraise for the local children’s hospital.
Speaking of which, the children’s hospital in my hometown is currently sponsoring a terrific fundraiser for sports fans. Learn more about how you can enter to win autographed gear from Steelers and Penguins and support the cancer programs at UPMC Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh here!
But back to Joey, who can’t hold his tongue after sizing up the glamorous Vera…
Joey: Not a bad-looking mouse.
Ned: Yeah. Too bad you can’t afford her brand of cheese.
Sappy romantic that I am, I was inspired to draft this post in the spirit of Valentine’s Day this past week, though my work at the hospital has also informed me that February is Heart Month, an observance to raise awareness of cardiovascular diseases that kicks off with #NationalWearRedDay on the first Friday of the month.
What’d He Wear?
Red is the uniform color for Ned Galvin and his Galvinizers, from the mens’ mess jackets to Linda’s satin dress.
Per Alan Flusser in Dressing the Man: “The white mess jacket represented the first radical change in male evening wear and received such broad national acceptance that it was immediately adopted for the uniforms of bellhops and orchestra members.” The decision to dress the gents of the band in matching mess jackets was a common practice in mid-century America, though it can arguably be linked to the reduced popularity of the mess jacket as an alternative to traditional black tie due to its growing connotation implying that its wearer was among “the help”.
The red wool waist-length mess jackets worn by Joey and the boys are covered with three-color flecking in burgundy, gold, and white. The jackets are double-breasted with flat black plastic two-hole sew-through buttons in the classic six-on-two formation with a seventh button along the edge of the right side; evidently, unlike some mess jackets, this one was built with functioning buttons that could be closed, though Joey wears his open for a slightly more relaxed appearance.
“While it resembled a tailcoat cut off at the waistline, the mess jacket was not flattering to many figures, particularly those that didn’t happen to resemble that of Adonis,” comments Flusser. Like the traditional mess jacket, Joey’s band uniform coat ends at the waist, gently coming to a point in the center of his back.
Befitting the semi-formal nature of mess jackets, Joey wears his with a plain white cotton shirt without the frilly lace trim or fancier pleats of the dress shirts he would later wear with more formal dinner jackets. Instead, the shirt has a plain front with mother-of-pearl sew-through buttons and double (French) cuffs fastened in place with his usual large silver-toned ridged round silver cuff links. The shirt has a large point collar where he has knotted a long, straight black silk bow tie.
Though Joey’s mess jacket was made with functional buttons to allow the wearer to close the front, he wears it open, revealing the wide black pleated silk cummerbund that elongates his waist for a considerably high rise. The cummerbund conceals the top of his black wool formal trousers, which have double reverse pleats flanking the fly, side pockets, and the usual black grosgrain silk braid down each side to the plain-hemmed bottoms.
Joey’s shoes are black patent leather oxfords, worn with black socks.
Though Joey would later wear a gold tank watch not dissimilar to Sinatra’s own, he doesn’t appear to have a visible timepiece in this sequence.
How to Get the Look
By the time of Pal Joey‘s production in the mid-1950s, the role of the mess jacket had been mostly subjugated to slick bands and the service industry, with Joey and his fellow Galvinizers falling under the former category.
Yet, it’s hard to beat Frank Sinatra in formal attire and Joey still dresses to impress in the band’s issued duds.
- Red flecked wool waist-length mess jacket with shawl collar, six-button double-breasted front, and plain cuffs
- White cotton dress shirt with long point collar, plain front, and double/French cuffs
- Round silver ridged cuff links
- Black straight bow tie
- Black pleated silk cummerbund
- Black double reverse-pleated formal trousers with satin side stripes, straight/on-seam side pockets, and plain-hemmed bottoms
- Black patent leather oxfords
- Black silk socks
Do Yourself a Favor and…
Check out the movie!
This article has encouraged me to “upgrade” – I still only own “Pal Joey” on VHS.