Bonjour Tristesse: David Niven’s Chambray Shirt and Swim Trunks

David Niven and Jean Seberg as Raymond and Cécile in Bonjour Tristesse (1958)

David Niven and Jean Seberg as Raymond and Cécile in Bonjour Tristesse (1958)

Vitals

David Niven as Raymond, bon vivant single father

French Riviera, Summer 1957

Film: Bonjour Tristesse
Release Date: January 15, 1958
Director: Otto Preminger
Costume Coordinator: Hope Bryce

Background

Thanks to Otto Preminger’s direction and Georges Périnal’s lush color cinematography that captures the richness of the French Riviera, the visual delights of Bonjour Tristesse secure its place among the great “summer movies” of Hollywood’s celebrated golden era.

Based on Françoise Sagan’s 1954 novelBonjour Tristesse—which translates to “Hello, Sadness” in English—tells the story of the precocious but undisciplined teenager Cécile’s (Jean Seberg) summer holiday in the Côte d’Azur with her libertine father Raymond (David Niven) and his bevy of mistresses, often barely older than Cécile herself. While some storytelling tropes would dictate Cécile’s resentment toward her father dating women close to her own age, Cécile is delighted by the female companionship and eagerly gossips with her father about his active social life and sexual escapades.

Cécile begins by recounting “that wonderful summer on the Riviera” the previous year when she was 17 when she, Raymond, and his latest paramour Elsa (Mylène Demongeot) formed a “very happy household” complemented by a rotation of young French sisters (Albertine, Léontine, and Claudine, all played by Eveline Eyfel) serving as housekeeper. Cécile may be close in age to Elsa and the rotating sororal trio and Raymond may be sleeping with Elsa, but Bonjour Tristesse immediately establishes that no one is closer than father and daughter, who greet each other in the morning with a kiss while wearing near-matching monogrammed work shirts and referring to each other on a first-name basis.

Raymond: Good morning, Cécile.
Cécile: Good morning, Raymond.

Raymond and Cécile playfully team up to wake up the sleeping and sunburned Elsa, further blurring the boundaries as father and daughter flank the presumably nude woman in her bed while Raymond wakes Elsa with a kiss and a greeting eerily similar to his exchange with Cécile.

Raymond: Good morning, Elsa.
Elsa: Good morning, Raymond.

Despite her cerebral shortcomings, Elsa seems to be a good fit for this unorthodox family dynamic, unconcerned that her boyfriend is waking her up while his teenage daughter sits at the foot of the bed trying on one of Elsa’s new pins, but more perturbed by the fact that it was before she had a chance to wash her face.

Leaving the happily high-maintenance Elsa to her own devices, Raymond and Cécile get a head start on the day’s aerobic and aquatic adventures before they are joined by “the lobster lady” herself, with Cécile commenting that she likes Elsa for being “fun and unpretentious” unlike Raymond’s previous conquest.

Elsa, Cécile, and Raymond enjoy the good life on their beach outside Saint-Tropez.

Elsa, Cécile, and Raymond enjoy the good life on their beach outside Saint-Tropez.

Throughout the morning, all but Raymond are concerned with a piece of unopened mail that he received, the very communication that sets the film’s plot—and its tragic climax—into motion.

What’d He Wear?

Raymond arrives for his morning coffee in a sky blue chambray cotton shirt, an ironic choice given the garment’s traditional connotation as a work shirt and Raymond’s eschewal of all forms of labor during his Riviera holiday. The shirt has a long point collar, two button-through patch pockets with a blue “R” monogram embroidered on the left pocket, and button cuffs that he wears undone to roll up his sleeves to the elbows.

The rakishly laidback way that Raymond wears his chambray shirt draws attention to the letter in his breast pocket that goes unread through the duration of the scene.

The rakishly laidback way that Raymond wears his chambray shirt draws attention to the letter in his breast pocket that goes unread through the duration of the scene.

Raymond buttons only two of the white plastic buttons on the shirt’s front placket, situated just above the waist line to coordinate with where he curiously ties and knots the lower portion of the shirt.

Further muddying the boundaries between father and daughter, Cécile not only wears what is most likely one of Raymond’s chambray shirts (with the telltale “R” monogram on the left breast) but wears it in the same manner, barely buttoned and tied at the waist…though this practice is more commonly associated these days with women’s clothing so it looks somewhat more natural on Cécile.

Cécile and Raymond choose to begin their day by smelling it in concert.

Cécile and Raymond choose to begin their day by smelling it in concert.

Raymond wears a pair of simple black swimming trunks that, despite their amphibious lifestyle, appears to be his sole swimwear. These short-inseam trunks have a very short vent on each side and appear to be fitted with a single extended waist tab that fastens through a single black button with no adjustable tabs or drawstrings to modify their fit.

Raymond and Cécile work on their respective suntans.

Raymond and Cécile work on their respective suntans.

Raymond dresses his feet in blue canvas slip-on espadrilles, the classic and classy alternative to sandals with origins dating back to 14th century peasants in France and Spain, first mentioned in writing in 1322 by a Catalan text referring to “espardenyas”, according to Emily Lever’s August 2017 Esquire article “The Revolutionary History of Espadrilles”. Following its service protecting the feet of Basque and Catalan soldiers and revolutionary factory workers in the late 1800s, the casual rope-soled espadrille emerged during the 20th century as a fashionable favorite for those idling in the Riviera or other warm vacation spots as the elegant European alternative to the preppy American boat shoe.

In the spirit of Niven’s comfortable and classic rope-soled espadrilles in Bonjour Tristesse, you can find authentic Spanish-made espadrilles with blue canvas uppers and true jute soles from companies like Soludos or Viscata, though other retailers like ALDOH&M, and Orlebar Brown (including an exclusive espadrille based on Sean Connery’s on-screen footwear as James Bond in Thunderball) also offer their own variations on this classic warm-weather footwear.

Raymond and Cécile laugh as they barge in on his still-sleeping girlfriend, Elsa.

Raymond and Cécile laugh as they barge in on his still-sleeping girlfriend, Elsa.

Through his career, David Niven maintained a habit of wearing elegant, simple wristwatches. The Watches in Movies online database identified his timepiece in The Sea Wolves (1980) as a gold Omega Seamaster, and it’s possible that his gold dress watch worn on a dark brown leather strap in Bonjour Tristesse is also a 1950s-era Seamaster similar to this piece.

Raymond wakes the naked Elsa up with more than a few kisses, unmoved by his 17-year-old daughter's presence not only in the room but on the bed.

Raymond wakes the naked Elsa up with more than a few kisses, unmoved by his 17-year-old daughter’s presence not only in the room but on the bed.

Evidently, some versions of this early scene had been filmed with Niven’s character sporting a short, thigh-length light blue terry cloth robe with notch lapels and patch pockets instead, but this didn’t make the final cut. Perhaps Preminger or the costume team determined that it would be more meaningful to dress father and daughter alike in their monogrammed chambray shirts.

A lobby card from the era depicts Raymond and Cécile's morning greeting with Niven dressed in a short toweling robe rather than a chambray shirt tied at the waist.

A lobby card from the era depicts Raymond and Cécile’s morning greeting with Niven dressed in a short toweling robe rather than a chambray shirt tied at the waist.

This photo of Niven in his short toweling robe can also be found in greater resolution on Alamy.

How to Get the Look

David Niven as Raymond in Bonjour Tristesse (1958)

David Niven as Raymond in Bonjour Tristesse (1958)

David Niven’s hedonistic Raymond dresses solely for comfort for his Côte d’Azur vacation in Bonjour Tristesse, appropriating the classic chambray work shirt as a dressed-down accompaniment for his holiday-oriented swim shorts and espadrilles.

  • Sky blue chambray cotton work shirt with large point collar, front placket (with white buttons), two button-through patch chest pockets (with “R” monogram on left pocket), and button cuffs
  • Black short-inseam swim trunks with extended waist tab
  • Blue canvas rope-soled slip-on espadrilles
  • Gold dress watch on dark brown leather strap

Do Yourself a Favor and…

Check out the movie and Françoise Sagan’s novel.

The Quote

Look at that wonderful sea. High time we threw ourselves in.

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