Dennis Haysbert as Raymond Deagan, affable gardener and widowed father
Suburban Connecticut, Fall 1957
Film: Far From Heaven
Release Date: November 8, 2002
Director: Todd Haynes
Costume Designer: Sandy Powell
A recent Instagram post from my friend @chimesatmidnight reminded me of the fantastic fall style and autumnal aesthetic in Far From Heaven, Todd Haynes’ tribute to the incandescent melodramas directed by Douglas Sirk in the 1950s. Influenced by movies like All that Heaven Allows, Imitation of Life, and Written on the Wind, Haynes employed techniques from the era to provide the same idyllic mid-century look, feel, and sound, with the help of Elmer Bernstein’s original score, Kelley Baker’s sound, the richly detailed world created by production designer Mark Friedberg, and Edward Lachman’s thoughtful cinematography.
Due to its themes, Keith Phipps rightly stated in his A.V. Club review that Haynes “has crafted a feature-length homage to Sirk that succeeds both on its own terms and as the Sirk film that could never have been made in his own lifetime.” David Rooney expanded on this for Variety: “Equating the stigma of two such distinct ’50s social taboos as interracial relations and homosexuality, Haynes’ script eloquently illustrates themes with clear contemporary relevance about being an outsider in a world that tolerates minorities only while they remain innocuous and invisible on the margins.”
Cathy Whitaker (Julianne Moore) has been creating quite the stir among her societal pals in late 1950s Hartford due to her friendliness with Raymond Deagan (Dennis Haysbert), the son of her family’s late gardener Otis. Thanks to the progression of time, Haynes is able to spin a narrative with plots that the restrictive Hays Code would have never allowed during Sirk’s era, exploring Cathy’s growing intimacy with the black Raymond while her husband Frank (Dennis Quaid) comes to terms with his sexuality; A.O. Scott glibly concluded his glowing review for The New York Times with: “Its mild sexual content and language would never have been allowed in 1957, but times, thank Heaven, have changed.”
“It’s a difficult time…with my husband,” Cathy offers when Raymond spies her crying outside the house, providing one hell of an understatement given the bruise she’s unable to conceal on her forehead. Several nights earlier, she had surprised Frank at his office where he was “working late,” only to find him in the embrace of another man. In the days to follow, Frank began therapy, though whiskey provided him more comfort than his talk sessions with Dr. Bowman (James Rebhorn). After the Whitakers’ swanky soiree one evening, a drunken Frank tries to prove that he has overcome his “condition” by seducing Cathy on their couch, but he’s unable to follow through and becomes irritable, striking her in the head. Though he immediately regrets it, this furthers the divide in the Whitaker marriage that leads to Cathy’s sobbing outside the front door the following morning.
Raymond offers Cathy the opportunity to catch some much-needed fresh air by inviting her along to pick up shrubs outside of town, echoing Ron Kirby (Rock Hudson) making a similar journey with Cary Scott (Jane Wyman) in All That Heaven Allows, though the central division between the characters in Sirk’s film was based more on class and age as the slightly younger gardener Ron was looked down upon by Cary’s friends and family. In this case, the matter of race—magnified by the fact that Cathy is a married woman—raises the stakes considerably for the growing attraction between our two protagonists in 1950s America.
She finds herself able to only be completely honest with Raymond, allowing her “everything is perfect!” façade to fall as she admits to him that the shiner on her forehead was indeed the result of her husband’s aggression. “I’m so sorry,” Raymond responds, providing the empathy she needed rather than the platitudinous reassurances of her friends.
Despite the idyllic beauty of the lush, colorful autumnal scenery and Bernstein’s optimistic score, we the audience are more aligned with the maid, Sybil (Viola Davis), as she spies Cathy joining Raymond in his truck. To the bigoted residents of Hartford, it’s more than just an innocent ride through town, it’s an affront to their sense of order.
That affront is soon personified by the judgmental eyes—and eventually “vicious talk”—of Mona Lauder (Celia Weston), picking up her green Edsel from the shop across the street from the restaurant where Raymond takes Cathy for her to fulfill her “wondering what it must be like to be… the only one in a room.”
In the spirit of the movie’s setting, era, and themes, I present one of my favorite seasonal tracks, Nat King Cole’s masterful rendition of “Autumn Leaves,” penned by Johnny Mercer.
What’d He Wear?
“Costume designer Sandy Powell takes this color detail to a delirious new height,” wrote Marjorie Baumgarten for the Austin Chronicle, highlighting how the award-winning Powell’s masterful costume design was an essential piece for completing the Douglas Sirk aesthetic puzzle and bringing to life the colorful clothing that dressed the repressed suburbanites in those mid-century melodramas.
For the Los Angeles Times, Booth Moore wrote that “the costumes in Far From Heaven work to create a snapshot of America teetering on the edge.” She specifically calls out the warm tones that Raymond wears to complement Cathy’s wardrobe, specifically his “autumnal plaid coat” that recalls Rock Hudson’s buffalo check hunting coat in Sirk’s All That Heaven Allows.
Raymond wears Hudson-inspired red plaid earlier in the movie, but for his walk through the woods with Cathy, he layers against the increasing cold in a golden mustard-yellow thigh-length coat with an olive green, black, and red plaid pattern, similar in spirit if not exact detail to the classic plaid Woolrich coats that were a staple of ’50s rugged wear. Raymond’s coat is constructed from a heavy woolen flannel twill that reduces the need for additional layers.
The golden plaid coat has a shirt-style collar and four buttons spaced down the front from the collar to the waist, all the same copper metal shank buttons as seen on the pocket flaps and the shaped storm flap that extends over his left shoulder. The set-in sleeves are heavily roped at the sleeveheads but plain at the cuffs with no buttons, straps, tabs, or zips. The ventless coat has bellows pockets on the hips that each close with a single-buttoning flap.
Finding a yellow plaid men’s jacket of any sort is going to be a challenge, though this brighter yellow checked woven cotton “shacket” from River Island echoes the spirit of this coat but in a shorter, zip-up style more like the brown plaid jacket that Raymond would wear in a following scene, meeting Cathy at a local diner.
Under the coat, Raymond is dressed in one of his usual brushed chamois flannel work shirts, detailed with a wide camp collar, two patch chest pockets with horizontal yokes, plain cuffs, and a button front. This earthy shirt is pea green with a subtle yellow flecking, worn over a heathered gray cotton crew-neck T-shirt.
Shirts like Raymond’s were very popular for the working class or suburban weekenders during the 1950s, and the style has maintained life more than half a century later with “board shirts” like the cotton or woolen garments offered by Pendleton Woolen Mills. Aside from finding a vintage shirt (or waiting for Pendleton to add a green flecked board shirt to its venerated line), the closest items on the market to emulate Raymond’s hardworking aesthetic are these olive chamois flannel shirts with point collars and two buttoned-flap pockets from Amazon Essentials (in regular and slim fit), L.L. Bean, and Woolrich, though they tend to lack that atomic panache of Raymond’s Eisenhower-era garb.
Raymond wears thin-waled corduroy trousers in a warm shade of copper that complements the earthy shades of his work-wear. While many modern corduroy trousers are styled like jeans with rivets, frogmouth front pockets, and patch back pockets, these flat front trousers have slanted side pockets, jetted back pockets, and a small coin pocket with an opening just below the right side of the belt. He wears a well-worn brown leather belt with a squared brass single-prong buckle and a gardening tool sheathed in tan leather on the left side of the belt.
The trousers are finished on the bottoms with slim turn-ups (cuffs) that cover the tops of his tan leather moc-toe derby-laced work boots.
On his left wrist, Raymond wears a watch with a gold-toned case and round white dial on a tan leather strap that secures through a gold-toned single-prong buckle.
How to Get the Look
A highlight of Far From Heaven‘s fabulous ’50s fall style is Raymond Deagan’s autumnal approach to work-wear, particularly this colorful plaid coat for a pivotal sequence.
- Golden mustard yellow (with olive, black, and red plaid) heavy woolen flannel twill thigh-length hunting coat with shirt-style collar, four-button front, left-shoulder storm flap with single-button closure, bellows hip pockets with single-button flaps, plain cuffs, and ventless back
- Pea-green (with yellow fleck) chamois flannel long-sleeve work shirt with wide camp collar, plain front, patch chest pockets with horizontal yokes, and button cuffs
- Copper corduroy flat front trousers with belt loops, slanted side pockets, right-side coin pocket, jetted back pockets, and slim turn-ups/cuffs
- Thick brown leather belt with squared brass single-prong buckle
- Tan leather moc-toe derby-laced work boots
- Gold wristwatch with round white dial on tan leather strap (with gold single-prong buckle)
Do Yourself a Favor and…
Check out the movie.
Sometimes, it’s the people outside our world we confide in best.