Leonardo DiCaprio as Howard Hughes, eccentric and reclusive aviation mogul
Los Angeles, November 1947
Film: The Aviator
Release Date: December 25, 2004
Director: Martin Scorsese
Costume Designer: Sandy Powell
On this day in 1947, Howard Hughes successfully tested his H-4 Hercules flying boat after a half-decade of development. The 26-second flight off Cabrillo Beach defied critics who had decried the “Spruce Goose” as a waste of more than $23 million, including government funds allocated to the now-unnecessary craft during wartime. Though completed more than two years to late to be of any strategic value to the United States during World War II, Hughes was considered vindicated by the short but successful flight and continued to maintain the birch-framed aircraft for nearly three decades to follow with hundreds of employees working in secret in a climate-controlled hangar, finally disbanded after Hughes’ death in 1976.
This event served as the climactic finale in The Aviator, Martin Scorsese’s epic 2004 biopic that starred Leonardo DiCaprio as the eccentric mogul. The film shows Hughes called to testify in front of a Senate committee chaired by Senator Owen Brewster (Alan Alda, in an Academy Award-winning performance) to account for his seemingly capricious spending on the expensive project… reportedly at the direction of Hughes’ business rival, Pan Am chief Juan Trippe (Alec Baldwin).
After the flight on November 2, 1947, DiCaprio’s Hughes disembarks and greets well-wishers and allies, including his right-hand man Noah Dietrich (John C. Reilly), engineer Glenn Odekirk (Matt Ross), and glamorous former flame Ava Gardner (Kate Beckinsale), all against the backdrop of the lush big band standard “Moonlight Serenade”, which had been established as the signature anthem for Glenn Miller and his Orchestra after the band recorded it in April 1939.
What’d He Wear?
Among the five Academy Awards received by The Aviator was the Oscar for Best Costume Design, recognizing Sandy Powell’s recreation of Hollywood during its stylish “golden age” from the waning years of the roaring ’20s to the immediate post-WWII era. For the final scene, Powell took inspiration from what the actual Howard Hughes wore when successfully piloting the “Spruce Goose” during his historic November 1947 flight.
It makes sense that a figure so tied to the history and culture of early Hollywood would sport a jacket that carries its name. As American culture shifted its attention from the East to the West Coast over the early 20th century, Hollywood came in focus as a leading fashion center for the country as millions took their sartorial direction from the glamorous movie stars and their attire both on and off the silver screen. The warm weather and the laidback nature of the stars’ work meant an increasingly lax concern for formality as traditional business suits and neckties gave way to unstructured jackets and open shirt collars as well as untucked sport shirts and neck scarves.
The classic “Hollywood jacket” was a precursor to the leisure jacket that, for better or worse, would take the ’70s by storm and re-associate the term with that somewhat tackier Disco-era evolution. Most popular from the late 1940s through the 1950s, these classic unstructured sport jackets were characterized by their contrasting collars and sleeves. Their loose, shirt-like fit echoed the casual sport shirts that were increasingly worn during this postwar era and led to their alternative appellations of loafer jacket or slacker jacket. (Howard Hughes may have been eccentric, but his obsessive dedication to his work made him anything but a loafer or slacker!)
While some have argued that “Hollywood jackets” refer specifically to belted or half-belted leisure jackets, there is some consensus in the menswear community that all of these two-toned, unstructured leisure jackets of the era could be accurately called loafer jackets.
DiCaprio’s thigh-length loafer jacket as Howard Hughes follows the classic two-toned look with a brown collar and sleeves that contrast with the tweedy bronze-colored plaid body, which consists of a brown, rust red, and tan check on a warm light brown ground. The cloth appears to be a lightly napped wool gabardine.
The jacket’s characteristic camp collar resembles a sport shirt more than the traditional sport jacket. Hughes’ jacket has four brown sew-through buttons up the front, a single button on each cuff, and a welted breast pocket and open patch pockets. Manufacturers of these jackets would occasionally trim or cover the pockets in the same contrasting cloth as the collar and sleeves, though Hughes’ pockets match the plaid body of his jacket.
Hollywood jackets and loafer jackets continue to have a following today, as illustrated by this engaged forum on The Fedora Lounge that dates back to 2005 (with many references to this jacket specifically), and menswear writer Ethan M. Wong has also featured an outstanding gabardine-and-suede jacket in his post about unique vintage outerwear for Street x Sprezza. While the best option for gents interested in a true Hollywood jacket would be to shop vintage (like this piece from Vintage Haberdashers), reVamp Vintage Recreations offers the “Grant Jacket” in a variety of fabric and color combinations for modern men interested in evoking classic Tinseltown or adding a rockabilly touch to their wardrobe.
To balance the unique, multi-faceted jacket, Hughes wears a plain white cotton shirt with a dramatically large point collar, consistent with late 1940s fashions, worn open at the neck. One of more than 200 shirts made for the production by Geneva Custom Shirts, this shirt buttons up a plain front and has a breast pocket and button cuffs.
Apropos the Hollywood jacket, Hughes wears a pair of full-fitting, high-waisted trousers with dropped belt loops, a style colloquially known as “Hollywood trousers” (as demonstrated by how modern reproductions are marketed by Magnoli Clothiers.) These camel tan slacks have double reverse pleats with the first pleat on each side located directly under the first belt loop, dropped about a half-inch from the top of the waistband though Hollywood pants from the ’30s and ’40s were occasionally designed with more than an inch-wide gap between waistband and belt loops.
Hughes wears a brown woven leather belt with a brass double D-ring buckle, the infinitely adjustable fastening that developed in the military and became a fixture of civilian belts around this time.
As Hughes’ paranoia, agoraphobia, and obsessive tendencies are depicted increasing on screen, he begins wearing white Keds sneakers almost exclusively, though he appears to be wearing a pair of brown leather lace-ups for the 1947 flight of the “Spruce Goose”, though the shoes are draped by the full break of his trouser bottoms.
Hughes completes his look with a dark brown felt fedora, detailed with pinched “teardrop” crown, self-edged brim, and a low-contrast dark brown ribbed grosgrain band.
How to Get the Look
Hollywood jackets and loafer jackets evoke a distinctive era in American history during the post-World War II cultural boom, a style that transcends Hollywood glamour, the rise of rockabilly style, and eccentric workhorses like Howard Hughes, who famously wore his earthy two-toned loafer coat with a fedora and open-neck shirt during the brief 1947 flight of the “Spruce Goose” as depicted in The Aviator.
- Bronze-colored tweedy plaid 4-button loafer jacket with brown gabardine camp collar and sleeves (with single-button cuffs), welted breast pocket, and patch hip pockets
- White cotton shirt with long point collar, plain front, breast pocket, and button cuffs
- Camel tan double reverse-pleated high-rise “Hollywood trousers” with dropped belt loops, slanted side pockets, and turn-ups/cuffs
- Brown woven leather belt with brass double D-ring buckle
- Brown leather lace-up shoes
- Dark brown felt fedora with dark brown ribbed grosgrain band
Do Yourself a Favor and…
Check out the movie.
The way of the future… the way of the future.