Richard Burton’s Casual Big Sur Weekend in The Sandpiper
Richard Burton as Dr. Edward Hewitt, self-righteous Episcopal boarding school headmaster
Big Sur, California, Spring 1965
Film: The Sandpiper
Release Date: June 23, 1965
Director: Vincente Minnelli
Costume Designer: Irene Sharaff
After fighting his own urges for the better part of the movie, uptight headmaster Dr. Edward Hewitt succumbs to romantic temptation. Edward tells his loving wife Claire (Eva Marie Saint) that he must depart for San Francisco to conduct a fundraising drive for his church but instead arrives at the beach home of Laura Reynolds (Elizabeth Taylor), the Bohemian mother of one of his students and the object of his obvious affections, and the two embark on a three-day romantic interlude against the stunning backdrop of Big Sur.
The two share an idyllic picnic with white wine out of paper cups while Laura sketches Edward—without his knowing and to her great amusement!—and talk about how the “matrimony game” has been ribbed by “the whole male establishment,” which she agrees has been a conspiracy “ever since Adam stool-pigeoned on Eve!”
The next day finds a wistful Laura starting the “what are we?” speech all-too-familiar to new relationships, asking Edward, “does this happen to married people?”
“The critics were savage to The Sandpiper when it was released, and for good reason,” wrote David Talbot in his 2017 retrospective review for the San Francisco Chronicle, though he notes that “it’s no surprise why The Sandpiper has acquired an ardent cult following over the years. Yes, it’s a laughably fictitious version of California bohemia in the mid-’60s. But it still channels Taylor’s feisty spirit and the heartfelt bond she felt for the outcasts of the world. She might have been a Hollywood goddess, but she knew that her almost absurd beauty made her into some kind of freak.”
As Liz herself shared in her autobiography, “We never thought it would be an artistic masterpiece… We were playing two people in love, so it was not particularly difficult. I must say, when we looked at each other, it was like our eyes had fingers and they grabbed hold, and perhaps something special did happen.”
What’d He Wear?
After spending the first half of the story buttoned up in blazers and tweeds, Edward lets loose, dressing for casual days and nights on the beach in a comfortable blue sweatshirt and near-matching pants.
Edward’s slate-blue cotton sweatshirt has a wide crew neck, evoking the wide “boat neck” of classic maritime jerseys, and set-in sleeves with long, finely ribbed cuffs.
The ribbed, triangle-shaped patch stitched under the front of the neck is a holdout from the days when this reinforced “V-Stitch” insert served the functional purpose of a sweat-catching sponge, as explained by Mister Freedom owner Christophe Loiron for Valet. “By the ’60s, it often became just a flat overlock stitch on the collar, just for decoration,” explained Loiron, though the elasticized V-insert also is suggested to control the way the neckline stretches as a wearer pulls the sweatshirt over his head. You can read more about the history of the classic crew-neck sweatshirt at GQ and Sunspel.
As an added layer against the cool, Northern California climate, Edward brings a beige windbreaker down to the beach. While this zip-up jacket takes some style cues from the classic Baracuta G9 popularized as a “Harrington jacket” around this time in tribute to Ryan O’Neal’s Peyton Place character, Burton’s windbreaker has only a single button on the rounded tab extending from the standing collar (similar to the navy Tom Ford jacket that Daniel Craig would wear in Quantum of Solace), and the waist is partially elasticized rather than ribbed-knit all around the hem like the G9.
Burton’s jacket has slanted hand pockets that are unencumbered with flaps or buttons. The back is pleated at the shoulders (without a G9 or G4-style storm flap), and the sleeves end in ribbed-knit cuffs.
Edward wears sky blue cotton flat front trousers, just a shade lighter than his sweatshirt. The trousers evoke a similar pair worn by Sean Connery during the Crab Key beach scenes in his first James Bond movie, Dr. No (1962). Like Richard Burton in The Sandpiper three years later, Connery’s 007 would wear a similarly colored shirt, though Mr. Bond opts for a tucked-in short-sleeve polo rather than the more casual crew-neck sweatshirt.
Burton wears his sweatshirt untucked with the hem often covering the top of the trousers, concealing whether they have front pockets (as they decidedly do not have side pockets), though there is a jetted pocket on the back left. The trousers are cut straight through the legs to the plain-hemmed bottoms.
Edward’s navy slip-on beach shoes share characteristics with the classic espadrilles, though they have white rubber soles rather than the espadrilles’ traditional “jute” rope soles.
While you can’t go wrong with a pair of classic canvas rope-soled espadrilles like these authentic pairs by Soludos and VISCATA, you can go a Burton-inspired route with rubber-soled variants like the classic TOMS shoe or the more stylized Tommy Bahama “Jaali” slip-on shoe with mesh uppers. A compromise would be the ALDO “Vilfredo” with jute-like binding between the navy textile uppers and white rubber soles.
Embracing the freedom of his beach interlude, Edward leaves his gold watch behind. Some behind-the-scenes shots show Richard Burton in a pair of cool, mid-sixties sunglasses with thick black frames shaped straight across the top with thick arms. As these sunglasses are more consistent with the actor than the character, they did not make it on screen for the final cut.
How to Get the Look
For the first time in The Sandpiper, Richard Burton dresses for comfort as his button-up Dr. Edward Hewitt leaves behind the trappings of his married life as an Episcopal boarding school headmaster and allows himself the freedom (sartorial and otherwise…) that comes from a romantic beach interlude with the free-spirited Laura.
- Beige zip-up windbreaker with rounded single-button standing collar tab, slanted hand pockets, back shoulder pleats, and ribbed-knit cuffs
- Slate-blue cotton crew-neck sweatshirt with set-in sleeves
- Sky-blue cotton flat front trousers with frogmouth front pockets, jetted back-right pocket, and plain-hemmed bottoms
- Navy canvas slip-on beach shoes with white rubber soles
- Black thick-framed sunglasses
Do Yourself a Favor and…
Check out the movie or see a variety of movies that Liz and Dick made together with the Taylor and Burton Film Collection.