White Christmas: Bing’s Brown Striped Suit

Bing Crosby as Bob Wallace in White Christmas (1954)

Bing Crosby as Bob Wallace in White Christmas (1954)

Vitals

Bing Crosby as Bob Wallace, Broadway crooner and World War II veteran

Pine Tree, Vermont, December 1954

Film: White Christmas
Release Date: October 14, 1954
Director: Michael Curtiz
Costume Designer: Edith Head

Background

Happy December! To some, the start of December after Thanksgiving marks the start of the Christmas season, while others (like Mariah Carey) kick off their holiday season a month earlier as soon as Halloween is over. To compromise, today’s post for December 1 explores Bing Crosby’s style in White Christmas, arguably a holiday classic, though the outfit in question is his only on-screen ensemble (aside from his army uniforms) that doesn’t include a single piece of holiday red.

Bing Crosby brought his tasteful and interesting sense of dressing to the screen, following many established sartorial conventions while not being afraid to experiment with color. One color convention he doesn’t defy is the somewhat outdated English maxim of “no brown in town”, reserving Bob Wallace’s natty brown striped suit for occasions outside the city that still call for a full suit, such as a dinner with his colleague Phil Davis (Danny Kaye) and the Haynes sisters at his former commanding officer’s Vermont hotel.

Much later, after Bob and Phil have joined forces with the sisters to develop an act to perform at the hotel, he again pulls out the suit for a cast party where Phil and the younger Haynes sister, Judy (Vera-Ellen) announce their surprise engagement, proving that the best things really do happen while you’re dancing! Unfortunately for our protagonists, the “engagement” was only a sham in order to get Bob and older sister Betty (Rosemary Clooney) to commit to each other, backfiring horribly when Betty returns to the Big Apple just before the Christmas Eve show.

What’d He Wear?

This suit that Bing frequently wears during his adjournment in Vermont is made from a cool shade of chocolate brown suiting with a subdued stripe pattern that alternates between a chalk stripe and a wider stripe. The suit is tailored with a flatteringly full fit common to the era, from the wide-shouldered suit jacket to the pleated trousers finished on the bottoms with turn-ups (cuffs). I’m not sure how much of his look in this film was influenced by its venerable costume designer Edith Head or by Crosby’s preferred tailor at the time, H. Huntsman & Sons of Savile Roe, but we can be assured that he was in good hands either way.

The single-breasted suit jacket has notch lapels that roll to a point above the low, two-button stance. There is a straight flapped pocket on each hip with a flapped ticket pocket higher on the right side, in line with the top button. There are three buttons on each cuff and a welted breast pocket, where Bing rakishly wears a white linen hank neither puffed nor creased into any of the traditional pocket square folds.

Bob warily considers Betty's cold-hearted dismissal of him after the news of Phil and Judy's "engagement".

Bob warily considers Betty’s cold-hearted dismissal of him after the news of Phil and Judy’s “engagement”.

Bing’s pale ecru cotton shirt coordinates with the warmth of his brown suit, worn with a light “old gold” silk tie with a hairline uphill-direction repeating stripe. Like his other button-up shirts, this plain-front shirt has a spread collar with leaves that come to a point at the neck to create a triangle under the tie knot and double (French) cuffs, worn first with flat gold disc cuff links (during dinner) and again with blue glass cuff links (after the engagement party), ostensibly the same ones he wore earlier with his powder blue sport jacket.

WHITE CHRISTMAS

One could be forgiven for thinking Bob’s suit to be a full three-piece, as Bing curiously wears an odd waistcoat made from a solid brown cloth that’s just a shade warmer than the rest of the suit. The waistcoat (colloquialized as a “vest” here in the United States) doesn’t contrast enough with the rest of the suit to be a recommended direction, though Crosby wears his with unapologetic panache. Sporting an odd waistcoat in a similar color as a suit threatens to make its wearer look uninformed, attempting too hard to transform a two-piece suit into a three-piece without the matching garments to do it.

Bing’s waistcoat further sets itself apart from the suit with its six flat gold-toned buttons, echoing the tie color and correctly worn with the lowest undone over the notched bottom.

"How much is 'wow'?"

Phil: “How much is ‘wow’?”
Bob: “It’s right in between, uh, between ‘ouch’ and ‘boing.'”
Phil: “Wow!”

Bing wears black leather cap-toe oxfords that harmonize with the suit’s cooler, city-friendly shade of brown. Throughout White Christmas, Crosby wears colorful hosiery that pops from his ankles in bright hues like red and yellow, in this case sporting a more subdued tan that are tonally coordinated with his outfit while still contrasting from his trouser cloth and shoe leather enough to catch the eye.

WHITE CHRISTMAS

When Bob leaves Vermont to return to New York City and settle his disagreements with Betty, he carries his coat and hat, in this case a rich camel peak-lapel overcoat and dark brown fedora, just a shade warmer than his brown suit, with a brown grosgrain ribbon.

Coat and hat in hand, Bob recovers from his spat with Phil by endorsing his plan to distract General Waverly: "Break your arm, your ankle, or your neck... but don't break anything valuable."

Coat and hat in hand, Bob recovers from his spat with Phil by endorsing his plan to distract General Waverly: “Break your arm, your ankle, or your neck… but don’t break anything valuable.”

On his left wrist, Bing Crosby wears a gold watch with a curved brown tooled leather strap that appears to be his own timepiece as it appeared in some of Crosby’s other movies of the period, including High Society, where he follows the same practice of wearing it with the dial on the inside of his wrist.

How to Get the Look

Bing Crosby as Bob Wallace in White Christmas (1954)

Bing Crosby as Bob Wallace in White Christmas (1954)

Bing Crosby shows us an interesting way to wear brown in White Christmas, blending city-inspired sartorial sensibilities with a low-contrast waistcoat for a unique and eye-catching ensemble.

  • Chocolate brown alternating-stripe wool tailored suit:
    • Single-breasted 2-button jacket with notch lapels, welted breast pocket, straight flapped hip pockets and flapped ticket pocket,
    • Pleated trousers with turn-ups/cuffs
  • Brown solid waistcoat with six flat gold buttons and notched bottom
  • Pale ecru cotton shirt with spread collar, plain front, and button cuffs
  • Light old gold hairline-striped silk tie
  • Black leather cap-toe oxford shoes
  • Gold wristwatch on tooled brown leather curved strap
  • Brown felt short-brimmed fedora with brown grosgrain band
  • Camel wool overcoat with peak lapels

Bing’s low-contrast shirt and tie and the low-contrast odd waistcoat against his suit are two sartorial gambles that he somehow manages to pull off, though a safer tactic for one inspired by Bob Wallace’s style may be to swap the tie and waistcoat in favor of a darker tie and a lighter waistcoat, perhaps tan.

Do Yourself a Favor and…

Check out the movie, and have a very happy holiday season!

The Quote

You oughta consider yourself lucky… you might have been stuck with this weirdsmobile for life!

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