Alain Delon as Tom Ripley, American con artist and sophisticated sociopath
Rome, 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!
Whether or not you subscribe to the mindset that it’s only appropriate in the Northern Hemisphere after Memorial Day, there’s a strong chance you’ll be seeing a lot more white over the summer months to follow. For gents interested in standing out with a white suit this summer, Alain Delon sets a characteristic gold standard in Plein soleil, itself a paean to elegant summer style. This French adaptation of Patricia Highsmith’s famous psychological thriller novel The Talented Mr. Ripley was released as Purple Noon to English-speaking audiences.
Delon’s Tom Ripley wears the white suit, undoubtedly a piece from his late pal Philippe Greenleaf’s wardrobe, while establishing his identity as Philippe and checking into the elegant Hotel Excelsior in Rome. Opened in 1906, this famous hotel was evidently a popular location for stylish European films in 1960 as it also featured prominently in Fellini’s La Dolce Vita.
What’d He Wear?
Of white suits, the venerable Hardy Amies wrote in 1964 that “there is certainly nothing smarter than this, but it is difficult in a white suit to have the air of nonchalance that I think real good dressing requires.” Enter Alain Delon as Tom Ripley, who would most assuredly assuage the late Sir Hardy’s fears.
Like the striped regatta blazer, Tom Ripley’s white suit gets comparatively little play on screen but remains memorable to sartorially minded viewers. “Borrowed” from the luxurious closet of the recently deceased Philippe Greenleaf, the suit is a shade of white with just enough of a yellow cast that leans toward ivory. The suiting has the irregular slubs indicative of dupioni silk, described in Alan Flusser’s Dressing the Man as “a luxurious shantung-style silk fabric made from a double silk fiber from two cocoons nested together… combining the best of natural fiber worlds.”
Cut the same as his navy dupioni silk suit, the white suit jacket is single-breasted with notch lapels that roll to the center button of the 3/2 roll front. The ventless jacket has a welted breast pocket, straight flapped hip pockets, and three-button cuffs that are likely also functioning “surgeon’s cuffs.”
The trousers, which correctly rise to the buttoning point of his jacket on his waist, have double reverse pleats and are finished on the bottoms with turn-ups (cuffs).
Unlike Fitzgerald’s dashing romantic hero Jay Gatsby, who counters the stark whiteness of his suit with a flashy silver shirt and gold tie in his quest for exemplifying wealth and elegance, Ripley keeps his underpinnings simple with a plain white cotton shirt and solid navy silk tie that would look just as appropriate with a navy or charcoal business suit.
Some gentlemen’s complexions may make such a high-contrast tie inadvisable with an all white outfit, but Alain Delon’s dark hair and features add a complementary balance. The ensemble would no doubt receive a passing grade from Alan Flusser, who featured two side-by-side photos of identically dressed men in an off-white suit, white shirt, and dark striped tie, noting that “the necktie’s high-contrast format actually invites the eye to look at his face because of its compatibility with his [black] hair and light skin.”
The informed dresser has plenty of room to experiment with shirts and ties when pairing with his white suit, but regarding footwear I offer one simple suggestion: no black shoes. I once saw a community theater production of Cat on a Hot Tin Roof where a very capable actor took the stage as Southern patriarch “Big Daddy” Pollitt in a sharp white suit… but the outfit’s balance was completely upset by the actor’s black oxfords. As the gentleman commanded the audience’s attention with his powerful delivery of Tennessee Williams’ “mendacity” lines, I found myself distracted by the fact that the man looked like he had stepped in mud and was stomping all over the stage with it.
While shoes in the brown spectrum would no doubt harmonize with a white suit, Delon sports a pair of white penny loafers… the very shoes that Philippe had admonished Tom for pulling from his closet earlier in the film during his playful—and private—roleplay as Philippe.
How to Get the Look
Though Tom Ripley is impressed and seduced by his friend’s luxurious clothing, once he has stepped into Philippe’s white loafers, he must play the part of his deceased playboy pal by appearing to pay little attention to what he is actually wearing, even when decked out in a sharp, eye-catching ensemble like a white silk suit.
- White dupioni silk suit:
- Single-breasted 3/2-roll jacket with notch lapels, welted breast pocket, straight jetted hip pockets, functional 3-button “surgeon’s cuffs”, and ventless back
- Double reverse-pleated trousers with turn-ups/cuffs
- White cotton shirt with spread collar, plain front, and button cuffs
- Navy silk tie
- White leather penny loafers
- Gold pendant necklace on thin gold chain
- Steel watch with round silver dial on navy blue strap
Do Yourself a Favor and…
Check out the movie.