It Started in Naples: Clark Gable’s Taupe Suit
Clark Gable as Michael Hamilton, Philadelphia lawyer and World War II veteran
Naples to Capri, Italy, Late Summer 1959
Film: It Started in Naples
Release Date: August 7, 1960
Director: Melville Shavelson
Costume Designer: Orietta Nasalli-Rocca
Screen legend Clark Gable was born 119 years ago today on February 1, 1901, the start of a storied life that included an Academy Award for It Happened One Night (1934), acclaimed performances in iconic movies like Gone with the Wind (1939) and Mogambo (1953), and decorated service with the U.S. Army Air Force during World War II. While The Misfits (1961) co-starring Marilyn Monroe was Gable’s final film to be theatrically released, It Started in Naples was his final performance released during his lifetime.
It Started in Naples was filmed on location in the beautiful Isle of Capri and paired Gable with the equally beautiful Sophia Loren. Gable and Loren reportedly did not get along during the filming, a conflict exacerbated by Loren’s suspicion that Shavelson was filming her “bad side” in order to favor Gable’s good side, to which the actor retorted: “What the hell is she talking about? Both sides of my face are lousy and my backside isn’t much better.” Though this didn’t endear either star to the other, Gable was reportedly helpful in smuggling her husband Carlo Ponti onto the Isle of Capri to help Loren celebrate her 25th birthday in September 1959, and the actress herself praised Gable’s professionalism in her memoir Yesterday, Today, and Tomorrow.
On screen, however, Gable and Loren are charming as the mismatched American lawyer and free-spirited Italian cabaret singer who has been taking care of the nephew he never knew he had.
“For a while in this town, Spam took the place of spaghetti,” recalls Michael Hamilton (Gable) of his return to Naples to settle his brother’s estate. Hamilton’s last visit to the town had been 15 years prior when he was serving with the United States Fifth Army during World War II. His ostensible overnight trip grows increasingly complicated when he learns that not only was his fireworks-enterprising brother in a bigamous marriage to a now-deceased Italian woman but that the departed Hamilton had left behind an eight-year-old son, the cigarette-smoking Fernando—”Nando”—now in the care of his aunt, the vivacious Lucia (Loren).
Mike spends “two seasick hours” following Lucia out to Capri, where he ends up stuck when the last boat to the mainland leaves earlier than scheduled. The ceaseless celebrations from the street keep him awake at 1 a.m., so Mike joins the carousers in the town square and orders coffee, asking the waiter: “How are people supposed to sleep on this island?” “Together,” the waiter cracks. Any remaining amusement grows to concern when Mike encounters Nando (Carlo Angeletti) handing out cabaret fliers, advertising the talents of his voluptuous aunt. Mike heads to Club Capriccio in time to find the scantily clad Loren serenading the audience with her famous performance of “Tu vuò fà l’americano”.
The movie was released in August 1960, three months before Gable would suffer his third and ultimately final heart attack. In addition to his daily routine of copious cigarettes and alcohol, the Italian production reportedly contributed to Gable’s declining health as the actor became reasonably—if unhealthily—addicted to the hearty Italian food that ballooned his weight up to more than 230 pounds, a fluctuation noticeable on screen as Gable’s character ranges from 190 to 235 pounds over the course of a few weeks’ worth of action.
What’d He Wear?
Clark Gable typified the class of “golden era” actors who put attention into how he dressed, rarely appearing in public in anything less than a finely tailored and stylishly appointed suit, looking every bit the gentleman when he took the stage in resplendent white tie to accept his Best Actor Oscar in February 1935.
A quarter of a century later, Gable’s style adapted with the times, favoring suits consistent with the era’s shifting fashion sensibilities while also regarding that his aging physique would need a little more effort to flatteringly tailor than the leaner young actor who so daringly appeared sans undershirt in It Happened One Night.
“While working for the legendary tailor Gennaro Rubinacci, Attolini designed a completely revolutionary men’s suit jacket featuring a slimmer fit, higher armholes, and a boat-shaped breast pocket. The new coat was more comfortable than the stiff English Savile Row silhouettes that the Italians were duplicating at the time. The design also had a more natural fit and held its shape longer, which is why that jacket became the prototype for what is today known as the Neapolitan style,” wrote William Kissel in his 2002 article for Robb Report, explaining that Attolini had first crafted this style in the 1930s. “But the Neapolitan look didn’t truly gain international attention until Clark Gable and Vittorio De Sica sported Attolini suits for the 1960 film, It Started in Naples.”
But is that really the case?
Gable’s Michael Hamilton arrives in Naples wearing a lightweight two-piece traveling suit in olive-tinted taupe gabardine, which would be the more frequently seen of his two suits. While the stylish De Sica had famously been an Attolini client for years and Gable most likely had some suits made for him during his sojourn in southern Italy, I don’t believer his screen-worn suits were tailored by Attolini as Kissel stated in his article. In fact, I would suggest that—more consistent with his character and the details of his tailoring—they are American-made and quite possibly products of American menswear bastion Brooks Brothers.
The taupe suit jacket has moderately narrow notch lapels that cleanly roll over the top of the 3/2-roll button formation. The edges are swelled on the lapels and pockets, including the flaps and patches of the hip pockets and the welted breast pocket. The straight shape of this pocket suggests that this is not a Neapolitan style suit, which would be rigged with the more gently curved “barcetta” pocket. That said, the soft, natural shoulders are suggestive of the Neapolitan spalla a camicia shoulder developed to resemble a shirt sleeve, characterized by its more natural appearance than the heavily roped con rollino or “pagoda” shoulder also favored by some Italian tailors. (That said, it also lacks the shirring of a signature Neapolitan jacket.)
The verdict? The 3/2-roll and natural shoulders are a common trait to both American and Italian suits, but the specific shoulders, looser fit, lower armholes, pocket detailing, and single vent are all far more suggestive of an American-made suit… which makes more character sense as we’re to believe that Michael Hamilton hasn’t been in Naples since World War II, fifteen years earlier.
Gable wears flat front trousers that hug his hips, indicating an instance where pleats may have been a more flattering—if not more comfortable—choice to accommodate the actor’s fluctuating waist line. The tightness around the hips causes the vertical side pockets to flare out at times, a phenomenon that tailors would briefly attempt to rectify with the boom of “frogmouth” pockets through the ’60s and most prominently into the ’70s before pleats would again become the predominant style during the 1980s, giving men more room through the hips and nullifying the benefits of frogmouth pockets.
Gable wears a burgundy leather belt that closes through a rounded gold-toned single-prong buckle. The trousers have two button-through back pockets and are finished with turn-ups (cuffs) on the bottoms.
While there may have been some confusion about the provenance of Mike Hamilton’s tailoring, Mike’s white button-down shirt leaves little question that he dresses like the “Americano” that the subject in Loren’s famous song aspires to be. Brooks Brothers had introduced the classic polo shirt with its button-down collar to the American market at the turn of the 20th century after John E. Brooks had admiringly noted the hidden buttons securing the shirt collars worn by English polo players.
Over the course of the early 20th century, Brooks’ sporty shirt with its admittedly elegant collar roll evolved into a staple worn casually with insouciant pride by Ivy Leaguers and more formally with suit and tie by dashing Americans, including Gable himself who was a Brooks Brothers customer from the 1940s on. In fact, Josh Sims writes in Icons of Men’s Style that “Clark Gable, Hollywood superstar, may have killed the vest… but he helped make the button-down shirt. With his 112-centimetre chest and 81-centrimetre waist, he was generally ill-suited to most ready-to-wear clothing of the time—with the exception of the Brooks Brothers button-down shirt.
The white oxford cloth cotton shirt in It Started to Naples with its enduring fold lines from hours tucked away in Mike’s suitcase is almost certainly a Brooks Brothers product, detailed with that distinctive button-down collar, front placket, and rounded cuffs that Gable wears unbuttoned and rolled up his forearms when hanging around his hotel room.
Aside from the dressed-down wardrobe he briefly adopts during his romance with Lucia, the only other shirt that Mike wears is a short-sleeved version of the white button-down shirt, best seen when he’s boating, baseballing, and bonding with Nando. He wears that shirt with these orphaned suit trousers, burgundy belt, and monk strap shoes.
Gable’s skinny bronze woven silk tie is patterned in a mini tic-check.
The least traditionally American element of this ensemble are Mike’s chestnut brown leather monk strap shoes, each detailed with a single strap that closes through a large rectangular gold-toned buckle. The current popularity of both single- and double-monk strap shoes mean that most modern shoemakers offer quality versions of at least one or the other, with the Clarks “Tilden” single-strap monk in dark tan leather (via Amazon) likely being your best bet for an affordable update of Gable’s screen-worn kicks.
Gable wears tonally coordinated chocolate brown cotton lisle socks.
As an American traveling on business who has yet to be enveloped in the leisurely Capri culture, Mike rarely ventures outside at first without his dark olive felt short-brimmed trilby. The self-edged hat has a high crown devoid of pinching, finished with a wide black grosgrain band.
Clark Gable had been photographed wearing a few gold chain-link bracelets over his career and one makes a few flash appearances on his right wrist in It Started in Naples. Based on the curb-chain linkage and the long flat tag on the top of his wrist, we can deduce that this was the medical ID bracelet he started wearing in middle age—likely in tandem with his military service—and not the gold bracelet engraved with his initials that Carole Lombard had gifted to him in the 1930s (which you can read more about at Dear Mr. Gable.)
Assuming that this was Gable’s own medical ID bracelet, it’s likely the same one included in a September 2010 Guernsey’s auction and a September 2012 Nate D. Sanders auction that both described the 14-karat yellow gold bracelet as inscribed with “CLARK GABLE” on one side and “O-565390” on the reverse.
Mike wears a gold signet ring on his left pinky, likely also Gable’s own ring as this was affectation shared by many of his contemporaries.
Of greater plot significance is Mike’s wristwatch, a plain steel watch with a round silver dial worn on a black leather strap. Mike himself identifies it as an American watch during his lunch with Nando, though—at the time—the few watches to feature alarms included the Vulcain Cricket, Jaeger-LeCoultre Memovox, and the Tudor Advisor. Of those options, I propose that Gable’s screen-worn watch most resembles the Vulcain, but I’d welcome the feedback of stronger horological eyes and minds than I have. (You can read more about the development of alarm watches at Timepiece Chronicle or some of Gable’s own watches at Horologium.)
“Gable was and wasn’t there,” Loren recalled in Yesterday, Today, and Tomorrow. “He’d get to the set very early, right on time and very professional. He was always perfect. Perfect with his lines, perfect with his makeup, perfect with his schedule. So perfect that when five in the afternoon came around you’d hear the ringing of his wristwatch. Which meant that it was over and he could leave the scene midway through and just take off.” Perhaps the alarm watch was one of Gable’s own?
“What for you got campanile on your hand?” asks Nando, referring to the Italian term for a bell tower. “Well, time can be a very important thing,” explains Mike. “Sometimes on a little island like this we forget about it, but forgetting about it isn’t going to stop it.”
During his campaign to “Americanize” Nando by endearing him to the country’s great American pastime and enforcing a rigid scholarly schedule, Mike goes so far as to give the boy his watch and begins wearing a plain gold tank watch instead, perhaps symbolizing Mike’s growing disregard for American punctuality as he comes to appreciate the easier pace of Capri life.
Per the original purpose and duration of his trip, Mike packs only this sporty suit and a more businesslike black pinstripe suit, briefly eschewing both in favor of more casual, leisure-oriented clothing, notably an untucked blue-striped “Italian collar” shirt worn with khakis and espadrilles.
What to Imbibe
Apropos the actor’s rugged reputation that MGM had encouraged with their “lumberjack in evening clothes” publicity in the ’30s, Gable’s character finds the tap water in his Capri hotel room to be below his drinkability standards so he instead opts to brush his teeth with a bottle of Kentucky Tavern bourbon whiskey from his suitcase.
Kentucky Tavern was first distilled by the R. Monarch Distillery in Owensboro, Kentucky, in 1880, though ownership transferred to James Thompson’s Glenmore Distillery Company around the turn of the century. Available in 80- and 100-proof varieties, Kentucky Tavern remains well-regarded among affordable bourbons, recently awarded the Bronze Medal in the 2019 World Whiskies Awards.
How to Get the Look
Clark Gable dressed for his penultimate screen appearance in It Started in Naples wearing the quintessential “Americano” garb of a lightweight sport suit, button-down shirt and tie, and businesslike trilby with his natty brown monk-strap shoes adding a natty continental flair.
- Olive-tinted taupe gabardine tailored sport suit:
- Single-breasted 3/2-roll jacket with spalla a camicia-style natural shoulders, notch lapels, straight welted breast pocket, flapped patch hip pockets, 4-button cuffs, and single vent
- Flat front medium-high rise trousers with belt loops, straight side pockets, button-through back pockets, and turn-ups/cuffs
- White cotton shirt with button-down collar, front placket, and rounded button cuffs
- Bronze mini tic-checked woven silk skinny tie
- Burgundy leather belt with curved gold-toned single-prong buckle
- Chestnut brown leather single-monk strap shoes with gold buckle
- Chocolate brown cotton lisle socks
- Dark olive felt trilby with black grosgrain band
- Gold signet ring
- Gold medical ID bracelet with curb-chain links
- Steel-cased alarm watch with round silver dial on black leather strap
Do Yourself a Favor and…
Check out the movie.
When a man’s been a bachelor as long as I have, marriage is neither a convenience nor a necessity… just a means of reducing the tax rate.
I’m of the opinion that Clark Gable was a better dresser than Cary Grant.
In fact the only other person who would probably agree with me would be Cary Grant.
A great actor in a very funny film. It could be that the suit is Brioni. I understand Gable had Brioni suits made for his personal use in the late ’50s. A number of actors have stacked on the pounds when filming in Italy. Must be a giant headache for the wardrobe folk.
Don’t forget the Milanese buttonhole cleary visible on his lapel. Not very usual on Neapolitan jackets, nor Attolini suits. But could’ve been at that time, not sure..