The Apartment: Jack Lemmon’s New Suit and Bowler

Jack Lemmon as C.C. Baxter in The Apartment (1960)

Jack Lemmon as C.C. Baxter in The Apartment (1960)

Vitals

Jack Lemmon as C.C. “Bud” Baxter, mild-mannered insurance accountant

New York City, Christmas Eve through New Year’s Eve 1959

Film: The Apartment
Release Date: June 30, 1960
Director: Billy Wilder
Men’s Wardrobe: Forrest T. Butler (uncredited)

WARNING! Spoilers ahead!

Background

The Apartment stars one of my favorite actors, Jack Lemmon, as bored, lonely office drone Calvin Clifford Baxter who, after nearly four years at the toxic Manhattan insurance company where he works (“one of the top five in the country!” he boasts), manages to climb the corporate ladder by lending out his West 67th Street apartment to his superiors for their extramarital affairs… though many of them don’t regard him any higher than “some schnook who works in the office.”

Still, Baxter’s behavior gains him the attention of personnel director Jeff Sheldrake (Fred MacMurray), whom Jeremy Arnold suggests in TCM’s Christmas in the Movies could have been a 20-year flash forward of who Walter Neff would have turned out to be, had he survived the events of Double Indemnity. The smooth Sheldrake promotes Baxter into an executive position in exchange for exclusive use of the timid young accountant’s apartment for trysts with his own secret mistress.

Embracing his position as “second youngest executive in this company,” Baxter continues his charmingly nervous pursuit of the quick-witted elevator operator Fran Kubelik (Shirley MacLaine), only to learn during the company’s Christmas Eve party that the object of his affection is one of the many women in the office who have been duped into affairs with the married Sheldrake.

You can almost hear Dean Martin’s “The Christmas Blues” as Baxter takes his heartbreaking revelation—courtesy of Fran’s telltale shattered mirror—and heads to a cheap Columbus Avenue watering hole, where he attempts to drown his sorrows in more than a half-dozen martinis. The joint is filled with holiday revelers, including a thirsty Santa Claus (Hal Smith, best known as Otis from The Andy Griffith Show) who demands a quick shot of bourbon as “my sleigh is double-parked!”, though Bud Baxter’s contagious sadness instantly rubs off on our bearded merry-maker, and he departs without his desired whiskey.

C.C. Baxter's depression is even enough to deflate Santa Claus' holiday spirit.

C.C. Baxter’s depression is even enough to deflate Santa Claus’ holiday spirit.

Luckily, Baxter finds his partner in misery for the evening in the form of Margie MacDougall (Hope Holiday), the rum-guzzling wife of a jailed jockey who engages our hero in small talk about “Castro… that big shot down in Cuba with the crazy beard,” as “O Come All Ye Faithful” serenades them from the jukebox.

Margie: Where do we go, my place or yours?
Baxter (checks his watch): Might as well go to mine. Everybody else does.

Billy Wilder’s direction, the screenplay he co-wrote with I.A.L. Diamond, and the bravura Academy Award-nominated performances of Jack Lemmon and Shirley MacLaine perfectly balance the lines of dark comedy and romantic melodrama to deliver a thoughtful and witty character study of two broken people, both tortured to the point of self-loathing and invisible in the booming postwar society except for the ways in which they can advance the wishes of “takers” with more power than them… and both finally able to break free from their self-destructive impulses by supporting the other with one of my favorite movie endings of all time.

"Shut up and deal."

“Shut up and deal.”

What’d He Wear?

The Apartment begins on November 1, 1959, when—as we learn via narration—there were 8,042,783 people living in New York City. One of these millions is Calvin Clifford “Bud” Baxter, who spends his nine-to-five (and often longer) trudging through life “on the 19th floor, ordinary policy department, premium accounting division, section W, desk number 861” for Consolidated Life, the national insurance corporation where he’s worked for the last three years and ten months… but who’s counting?

According to Billy Wilder and I.A.L. Diamond’s screenplay, our quintessential office drone is “thirty, serious, hardworking, unobtrusive. He wears a Brooks Brothers-type suit, which he bought somewhere on Seventh Avenue, upstairs.” Baxter makes good use of this suit, as going home to change would often mean interrupting one of the illicit assignations his sleazy co-workers have arranged in Baxter’s apartment. Eventually, this inconvenient business arrangement pays out for Baxter, who accepts Sheldrake’s promotion to the position of “second administrative assistant” and its associated perk of an actual office.

Naturally, the promotion also means an increase in pay from Baxter’s previous $94.70 per week and his style evolves with his success. Wilder and Diamond also took care to describe Baxter’s updated look for Consolidated Life’s office party on Christmas Eve:

Bud comes shouldering his way out of the crowded cubicle, holding aloft two paper cups filled with booze. Since his promotion he has bought himself a new suit, dark flannel, and with it he wears a white shirt with a pinned round collar, and a foulard tie. He also has quite a glow on. Detouring past necking couples, he heads in the direction of the elevators.

THE APARTMENT

The dark flannel suit in question has a barely discernible hairline stripe. The long single-breasted jacket is rigged with notch lapels that fold over the top button for a 3/2-roll. The sleeveheads are roped, and each sleeve is finished with two non-functioning buttons spaced apart on each cuff, a trend that was particularly fashionable in American tailoring of the early 1960s.

In addition to a single vent in the back and straight flapped hip pockets, the jacket has a welted breast pocket where Baxter either clips a pen or tucks away a few well-sharpened pencils in lieu of the traditional pocket square.

C.C. Baxter models his latest fineries for an unenthused Miss Kubelik.

C.C. Baxter models his latest fineries for an unenthused Miss Kubelik.

The flat front suit trousers have a lower rise than the natural waist-high trousers that had been de rigueur for decades prior, though they fall lower on Baxter’s waist over the course of his consecutive holiday bacchanals and his subsequent all-nighter keeping an eye on a convalescing Fran. His trousers are worn with a dark leather belt with a single-prong buckle.

THE APARTMENT

One prominent part of Baxter’s “Brooks Brothers-type” wardrobe that he left behind after his promotion was his rotation of button-down collar shirts. As stipulated by Wilder’s screenplay, Baxter spends much of the 1959 holiday season in a white cotton shirt with both rounded leaves of the club collar pinned together with a “safety pin”-style collar bar.

These natty pins, available on Amazon if you’d like to give them a shot, can technically be worn with any shirt though it’s recommended to wear a shirt where the collar has been manufactured with an eyelet already cut into each leaf. Pinned collars are also an “all or nothing” type look; if you’re going to wear a shirt and tie with a pinned collar, you’d best keep the shirt buttoned to the top and the tie tightened or risk the incomplete look of a haphazardly hanging collar bar.

After the day that C.C. Baxter's had, I wouldn't be too concerned about how my shirt collar was looking either.

After the day that C.C. Baxter’s had, I wouldn’t be too concerned about how my shirt collar was looking either.

At the height of his stardom, Frank Sinatra was rarely seen in anything less than a pinned collar and tie, and the style icon earned his status by keeping both perfectly in place while in the public eye. Baxter, on the other hand, has less experience or interest in the sartorial arts and treats his pinned collar like his usual button-down collars, unfastening the top button and loosening his tie (and thus, his collar bar) at the end of his decidedly rough day.

In addition to the pinned club collar, Baxter’s shirt has a front placket, single-button rounded cuffs, and a breast pocket detailed with a pointed yoke, a pocket that comes in handy when he decides to hide the razor in his bathroom cabinet from a suicidal Fran.

A frazzled Baxter fields one of many calls to and from his apartment, this one to Sheldrake as the executive plays family man on Christmas.

A frazzled Baxter fields one of many calls to and from his apartment, this one to Sheldrake as the executive plays family man on Christmas.

Baxter’s dark foulard-patterned tie epitomizes the “skinny tie” fad associated with the early 1960s that enjoyed a revival a decade ago as the early seasons of Mad Men aired. Not only does Baxter wear the tie without a pin, tack, bar, or clip to keep it in place, but there appears to be no keeper loop to hold the tail in place. As Baxter loosens up, his free-flailing tie flips around in one shot to reveal a glimpse of the manufacturer’s white label, vertically positioned along the inside of the blade.

As Baxter enjoys one final moment of drunken bliss before it turns to drunken misery, also note his Chesterfield hanging on the coat rack between him and Fran.

As Baxter enjoys one final moment of drunken bliss before it turns to drunken misery, also note his Chesterfield hanging on the coat rack between him and Fran.

“Miss Kubelik, I would like your honest opinion,” Baxter nervously chatters, having escorted the young elevator operator back to his office only to find yet another couple using it for a makeout session… even at work, Baxter isn’t free from strangers taking amorous advantage of his personal space.

Oblivious to Fran’s melancholia, he pulls out a hatbox, continuing, “I’ve had this under my desk for a week. Cost me fifteen dollars! I haven’t been able to get up enough nerve to wear it.” He turns to face her, bug-eyed and topped with a black bowler hat. “It’s what they call the junior executive model… what do you think?” Unable to read her blank stare, he internalizes that “I guess I made a boo-boo, huh?”

Finally, she musters, “I like it,” and he explodes with excitement: “Really? You wouldn’t be ashamed to be seen with somebody wearing a hat like this?” He continues on, still completely ignorant to her emotions, suggesting that “the three of us [are] goin’ out tonight: you, me and, the bowler! We’ll stroll down Fifth Avenue, sorta break it in.”

Baxter proudly shows off his "junior executive" bowler.

Baxter proudly shows off his “junior executive” bowler.

Baxter’s shoes are presumably the same wingtip derby brogues he had worn throughout the movie, best seen when he is knocked down by Fran’s brother-in-law in front of his Christmas tree after an aborted yuletide dinner with Fran. While dark brown leather is a possibility, I would expect Baxter’s shoes—and belt, for that matter—to be black.

Despite how high his corporate position has risen, Baxter finally takes stock of how low his moral position has fallen... and recognizes the obvious correlation.

Despite how high his corporate position has risen, Baxter finally takes stock of how low his moral position has fallen… and recognizes the obvious correlation.

Given the chilly December air of a New York Christmas, Baxter layers a classic Chesterfield coat over his suit. “One of the most basic of twentieth century overcoat styles,” wrote Hardy Amies of the venerable Chesterfield in ABC of Men’s Fashion, published four years after The Apartment was released. “It was originated by the Earl of Chesterfield in the middle of the nineteenth century. Then, it was single-breasted, close-fitting and shaped at the waist, velvet-collared and very long, often down to the ankles.” Sir Hardy goes on to explain the Chesterfield’s natural evolution into single- and double-breasted styles with the one hard rule for a genuine Chesterfield to be “the conventional type of semi-fitted town coat with set-in sleeves,” as opposed to the looser raglan coat.

Baxter’s dark overcoat indeed fits the criteria for a traditional Chesterfield, right down to the velvet collar on the notch lapels. “A contrasting fabric collar—most often velvet…is a hallmark of the dressier Chesterfield coat that’s best for formal occasions and evening wear,” described Esquire‘s The Handbook of Style, providing a more contemporary context. While Chesterfields have long been appropriate outerwear for evening attire, they would have still been acceptable in mid-century America over a tasteful lounge suit worn for business or an evening out.

Baxter’s knee-length coat has three buttons on the single-breasted, covered-fly front and two vestigal buttons spaced apart at the end of each set in sleeve. The back is split with a single vent, and the two large hip pockets are each covered with a straight flap. A brief shot of Baxter removing the coat in his office flashes the manufacturer’s label stitched below the inner right pocket.

Baxter shows off for Margie.

Baxter shows off for Margie.

Baxter protects his martini-drinking hands on Christmas Eve with a pair of light-colored leather three-point gloves that he smoothly removes upon escorting Margie back up to his apartment.

Nearly a week later, two days before New Year’s Eve, an indignant Baxter storms into the Consolidated Life offices in his new suit and its usual accompaniments in addition to a pair of dark-framed sunglasses, tactfully oversized to conceal his freshly obtained black eye, courtesy of Fran’s brother-in-law Karl. The shape of his eyewear is a mix between the traditional wayfarer and the more feminine “cat eye” frame that was popular during the era, flaring out at the temples for greater ocular coverage.

Getting ready to read Sheldrake the riot act, Baxter is stunned to learn that he's actually being promoted to assistant director... landing him a position on the coveted 27th floor.

Getting ready to read Sheldrake the riot act, Baxter is stunned to learn that he’s actually being promoted to assistant director… landing him a position on the coveted 27th floor.

Baxter wears a simple wristwatch throughout the movie, a classic metal dress watch with a large light-colored round dial on a dark leather strap.

The telltale compact... Fran is oblivious to the implications when Bud recognizes the cracked compact she handed him to admire his "junior executive" bowler.

The telltale compact… Fran is oblivious to the implications when Bud recognizes the cracked compact she handed him to admire his “junior executive” bowler.

Baxter wears the same suit on New Year’s Eve when Sheldrake demands his apartment key again and Baxter quits his job on the spot, simultaneously quitting the “junior executive” bowler that went with it by plopping it on the head of a janitor as he boards the elevator to leave the building one last time.

What to Imbibe

At Consolidated Life’s “swingin’ party on the 19th floor” to celebrate the holidays, C.C. Baxter works up enough liquid courage to approach Fran for the first time in six weeks, taking her by the arm to escort her into the party that he describes as the scene of “human sacrifices… white-collar workers tossed into the computing machines and punched full of those little square holes.”

“How many drinks did you have?” an amused Fran inquires. “Three,” he responds, holding up four fingers. “I thought so…” she laughs.

But if Baxter thought he was drinking before, he has a whole lot of drinking ahead of him, drowning the sorrows of his latest revelation about Fran’s secret love life. At a nearby watering hole, he keeps track of his seven (and counting!) martinis by placing each olive-impaled toothpick in a circle like spokes on a wheel.

THE APARTMENT

When we the audience find Baxter at the bar, there are already six toothpicks in front of him, but the martini in his hand puts him one ahead of the amount that William Powell’s Nick Charles had prescribed for Christmas Eve in The Thin Man and one ahead of the six that an insomniac James Bond (Daniel Craig) would imbibe when trying to forget a betrayal in Quantum of Solace.

Baxter’s sadness may have scared off Santa, but he attracts a kindred soul in Margie MacDougall. “You buy me a drink, I’ll buy you some music,” she offers, setting her glass down. “Rum collins.”

After considering the offer, Baxter agrees and gets the bartender’s attention: “Uh, rum collins, and another of these mothers,” bringing his grand total for the evening up to eight martinis… not to mention the multiple times he refilled his Dixie cup of booze at the office party.

We've all been there, Baxter.

We’ve all been there, Baxter.

We don’t know if Baxter prefers gin or vodka for his martinis at the bar, though he does cycle through bottles of Smirnoff “Red Label” vodka at his apartment, which guys like Al Kirkeby request for their own extra dry martinis. Baxter also keeps a bottle of champagne for his solitary New Year’s Eve observance, though the sound of the cork popping off camera fools both the audience and a nearby Miss Kubelik into thinking our lonely protagonist was acting on his more tragic self-destructive impulses. Which brings us to…

The Gun

While the spies and detectives littering the posts of BAMF Style are expected to carry and use at least one firearm in their cinematic adventures, it may be a surprise for some to see this category in play for the timid accountant played by Jack Lemmon.

C.C. Baxter first mentions his gun when discussing his attempted suicide years earlier when he felt hopeless after falling madly in love with his friend’s wife:

I went to a pawnshop and I bought a .45 automatic and I drove up to Eden Park… hey, you know Cincinnati?

Unable to go through with shooting himself in the head, mouth, or heart, he settled for his left thigh… firing the pistol by accident when trying to hide the piece from a police car pulling up beside him.

THE APARTMENT

With minutes to spare in the movie itself, we find a melancholy Baxter packing up his apartment on New Year’s Eve. He pulls open a drawer above the mantle, pulling out a large semi-automatic that is undoubtedly the .45 from his story. In the short screen time we get with the gun, it appears to be a standard Colt Government Model, likely an early Colt M1911 before the M1911A1 was developed in the 1920s, evident by the pre-A1 extended trigger.

How to Get the Look

As he works his way up the corporate ladder, C.C. Baxter affects the look of a traditional London gentleman with his bowler, Chesterfield, and fussy shirt collar, evolving his style beyond the rumpled all-American look of a well-traveled raincoat, button-down collar, and striped repp tie that he barely had to loosen before settling down on his couch with a TV dinner.

Jack Lemmon as C.C. Baxter in The Apartment (1960)

Jack Lemmon as C.C. Baxter in The Apartment (1960)

  • Dark flannel hairline-striped suit, likely in a traditional business color like charcoal gray or navy blue:
    • Single-breasted 3/2-roll jacket with notch lapels, welted breast pocket, straight flapped hip pockets, spaced 2-button cuffs, and single vent
    • Flat front trousers with belt loops, side pockets, two back pockets, and plain-hemmed bottoms
  • White cotton shirt with pinned club collar, front placket, breast pocket, and single-button rounded cuffs
    • Safety pin-style collar bar
  • Dark foulard slim tie
  • Black leather belt with single-prong buckle
  • Black leather wingtip derby brogues
  • Black dress socks
  • Black felt bowler hat with black grosgrain silk band
  • Dark wool single-breasted Chesterfield overcoat with notch lapels and velvet collar, covered-fly 3-button front, straight flapped hip pockets, 2-button cuffs, and single vent
  • Light-colored leather three-point gloves
  • Oversized dark plastic-framed sunglasses
  • Plain wristwatch with white round dial on dark leather strap

Do Yourself a Favor and…

Check out the movie. Joseph LaShelle was deservedly Oscar-nominated for Best Cinematography (Black-and-White) in an era that was increasingly converting to color photography, working in tandem with the jazzy score to heighten the noir-like aspects of the film that served to enhance the dark comedy of The Apartment.

Also nominated for Academy Awards were Jack Lemmon (Best Actor), Shirley MacLaine (Best Actress), and Best Sound (Gordon E. Sawyer), with the film ultimately winning Best Picture, Best Director, Best Writing (Original Screenplay), Best Film Editing, and Best Art Direction/Set Direction (Black-and-White).

The Quote

Well… that’s the way it crumbles, cookie-wise.

3 comments

  1. Rob Sundquist

    This has been my favorite holiday movie for at least the last decade. Though I still can’t figure out how Baxter manages to sober up so quickly after eight martinis!

    Like

  2. VR

    Great film, I watched my dvd copy within the past couple of weeks for its Christmas and New Year references.
    Many thanks, and all the best for 2020.

    Like

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