Fred Astaire as Tony Hunter, musical comedy star
New York, Spring 1953
Film: The Band Wagon
Release Date: August 7, 1953
Director: Vincente Minnelli
Costume Designer: Mary Ann Nyberg
Today marks what would have been the 120th birthday of Fred Astaire, the renowned Nebraska-born dancer and singer whose prolific career on stage and screen extended more than three quarters of a century.
The Band Wagon (1953) is considered a highlight of the entertainer’s career, starring Astaire as a once-famous musical star who hopes to revive his career with a major Broadway production. Even if you’re not into musicals, it’s hard not to appreciate Astaire’s elegant footwork as he masterfully dances through the film’s culminating number, “Girl Hunt”, based on the novels of Mickey Spillane.
What’d He Wear?
In accordance with the noir-ish, Mickey Spillane-inspired theme of this number, Fred Astaire strolls out on stage looking like the classic hard-boiled screen gangster, though his narrated introduction as “Rod Riley, a detective,” informs us that he’s on the other side of the law.
His warm stone-colored suit bridges the beige and light gray spectrum and appears to be a luxurious soft serge. The two pieces are perfectly balanced, with the trousers rising to the buttoning point at the top of the single-breasted jacket’s two buttons. In keeping with the era’s trends, the jacket is somewhat oversized at the shoulders,
The ventless jacket has substantial notch lapels, four-button cuffs, straight jetted hip pockets, and a welted breast pocket where “Rod” wears his white linen pocket square.
Astaire wears a bold French blue cotton shirt with a button-down collar, plain front, and barrel cuffs that all fasten with white mother-of-pearl buttons. He wears a white knitted silk tie, knotted in a four-in-hand, that is held in place with a rakishly slanted gold tie bar just above the jacket’s buttoning point.
Astaire keeps his jacket fastened through the sequence, keeping the suit unified as he elegantly dances rather than having the jacket flap about his waist. Despite his jacket covering the top of his trousers, we can see that they have pleats—at the height of their fashionability in the early 1950s—and are worn with beige silk suspenders (braces) with gold adjusters. The trouser bottoms are finished with turn-ups (cuffs).
While beige or even light gray socks would harmonize with the suit, Astaire’s French blue socks coordinate with the shirt to create the image of a blue “bodysuit” under the suit so that, as the sleeves or trouser bottoms ride up as he dances, one sees the blue layer first. He wears black patent leather cap-toe five-eyelet oxfords with slightly raised heels, likely the same shoes he wore with his white tie and tails for an earlier dance sequence.
Despite his gangster-like appearance, Rod’s white hat provides visual assurance that he’s one of the good guys. This fedora is made of cream felt with a sharply pinched crown and black ribbed grosgrain silk band.
While also adding a Bogart-esque touch to the Rod Riley character, the fedora also adds a few inches to Astaire’s height as he dances with Cyd Charisse.
Though he’s in character as “Rod Riley”, Tony wears his usual gold signet ring on his right pinky and a gold curb-chain bracelet on his left wrist.
Astaire’s outfit for this sequence in The Band Wagon would influence Michael Jackson’s similar attire in the video for his 1988 hit single “Smooth Criminal” where he famously performed his anti-gravity lean in a white pinstripe suit, silky blue shirt, white knit tie, and white fedora, though MJ went a step further back in time with his classic spats that fit the 1930s vibe of the video’s setting.
Fred Astaire, with a gun? Sure, why not? Tony’s character in The Band Wagon, Rod Riley, is a detective, and he draws his own nickel-plated revolver as his voice-over reflects:
Somewhere in the city there was a killer, and that was bad… bad for the killer because I shoot hard.
The revolver appears to be a nickel-plated Smith & Wesson Model 10 with white pearl grips. This classic police sidearm is chambered in the venerable .38 Special round, though the short “pops” seen when Rod actually fires the revolver implies that it has been modified to function more like a cap gun than a blank-firing stage weapon.
He again draws the Smith & Wesson revolver when Cyd Charisse dances against him in a slinky red dress, hardly an occasion that would require firearms.
How to Get the Look
An elegant dresser in real life, Fred Astaire no doubt had significant input into the suit that his character Tony Hunter would wear for the pulp-inspired dance in The Band Wagon:
- Stone-colored serge suit:
- Single-breasted 2-button suit jacket with notch lapels, welted breast pocket, straight jetted hip pockets, 4-button cuffs, and ventless back
- Pleated trousers with turn-ups/cuffs
- French blue cotton shirt with button-down collar, plain front, and single-button cuffs
- White knitted silk tie
- Gold tie bar
- Black patent leather 5-eyelet cap-toe oxford shoes
- French blue socks
- Cream felt fedora with black ribbed grosgrain band
- White linen pocket square
- Gold signet pinky ring
- Gold curb-chain bracelet
Do Yourself a Favor and…
Check out the movie.
She was bad, she was dangerous, I wouldn’t trust her any farther than I could throw her… but she was my kind of woman.