Rear Window: James Stewart’s Pajamas

James Stewart and Thelma Ritter in Rear Window (1954)

James Stewart and Thelma Ritter in Rear Window (1954)

Vitals

James Stewart as L.B. “Jeff” Jefferies, bored photographer

New York City, Summer 1954

Film: Rear Window
Release Date: September 1, 1954
Director: Alfred Hitchcock
Costume Designer: Edith Head

WARNING! Spoilers ahead!

Background

April 16 is celebrated as National Wear Your Pajamas to Work Day, an observance that many would have considered unthinkable until the spread of the coronavirus pandemic last month found many around the world working from home for the first time, finding comfort in their lounge-wear while struggling with unfamiliar teleconferencing software. The idea of being confined to one’s home in pajamas while a growing terror lurks outside brought one movie to mind: Alfred Hitchcock’s damn-near-perfect thriller Rear Window.

Six weeks sitting in a two-room apartment with nothing to do but look out the window at the neighbors…

Based on a short story by Cornell Woolrich, Rear Window stars frequent Hitch collaborator Jimmy Stewart as “Jeff” Jeffries, a prolific photojournalist whose adventurous spirit is dampened by a broken leg, or rather its “plaster cocoon” keeping him confined to a wheelchair in his Greenwich Village apartment with Grace Kelly. Aside from the city’s heat wave, this is hardly a situation that many would complain about, but our energetic protagonist is the type who yearns to see—and photograph—as much of the world as he can, a wanderlust that sends Jeff spiraling into voyeurism as he watches his neighbors through their open apartment windows. (In fact, the apartment complex’s “courtyard” was actually an indoor set on Paramount Pictures’ Studio 18 with advanced lighting that could be converted from “day” to “night” in less than an hour.)

Alfred Hitchcock joins James Stewart and Grace Kelly on the set of Jeff's apartment, overlooking the courtyard set.

Alfred Hitchcock joins James Stewart and Grace Kelly on the set of Jeff’s apartment, overlooking the courtyard set.

Unfortunately for Jeff, life with a stylish socialite and the drama of his neighbors’ mundane lives is hardly the life of a self-professed “camera bum” whose vocation takes him everywhere from Brazil or Finland to Shanghai and Pakistan. Stella (Thelma Ritter), the witty nurse sent by Jeff’s insurance company to tend to him, is particularly unforgiving of his resistance to a comfortable life with the “too perfect” Lisa.

Jeff: She expects me to marry her.
Stella: That’s normal.
Jeff: I don’t want to.
Stella: That’s abnormal.

The banality breaks when Jeff believes he observes a murder across the courtyard, and our wheelchair-bound hero is thrusted into a race against time to convince his girlfriend, his nurse, and finally the police to take his suspicions seriously before his imposing neighbor, the burly Lars Thorwald (Raymond Burr), is the first to realize what Jeff has truly seen.

What’d He Wear?

Sweltering in his “swamp of boredom”, L.B. Jefferies rotates through four sets of pajamas that are likely among some of the simplest outfits to be featured on BAMF Style. This simplicity becomes particularly notable when James Stewart shares the screen with Grace Kelly, an already stylish woman playing a fashionista sporting some of Edith Head’s most iconic costume designs.

All of Jeff’s pajamas are styled relatively similar; the button-up tops have broad collars and three pockets while the bottoms are pulled tight around the waist with a thick white drawstring. These pajama pants seem to have no pockets, not that Jeff would be able to easily access them while in his wheelchair, and the lower pockets on each of the pajama tops would likely serve any purpose that would otherwise require pant pockets. Jeff’s pajamas have self-finished edges rather than the contrast-colored piping found on most modern pajama sets; indeed, it’s difficult even among higher-end manufacturers to find men’s pajamas without piping on the edges. (For some suggestions, check out “How to Get the Look” below.)

When we meet Jeff on this “ordinary, run-of-the-mill Wednesday,” he’s dressed in a khaki two-piece pajama set made from what may be a high-twist cotton that takes on an iridescent sheen. This sheen and the details of the longer top make this pajama set unique when compared to the other three he wears on screen.

The pajama top has a sharply pointed collar that almost resembles the large Prussian collar of an Ulster coat rather than the simpler, flat one-piece camp collar found on modern pajama sets. Five large off-white two-hole buttons are spaced up the front to the neck (where it would ostensibly close through a slanted buttonhole on the left side), though the temperatures bordering on 100°F advises Jeff to only button the second button, leaving the rest open over his torso and making it easier to remove when Stella arrives for his massage. The pajama coat also has a breast pocket with a pointed yoke across the top, hip pockets, and seams around each cuff. The plain pajama bottoms have no pockets and are tightened by a wide, flat off-white drawstring.

Jeff's photographic talents mean he has the kind of job security where he can berate his own editor for merely mistaking which week he would be returning to work.

Jeff’s photographic talents mean he has the kind of job security where he can berate his own editor for merely mistaking which week he would be returning to work.

From his Wednesday night date with Lisa through Thursday night (and again during the final vignette), Jeff wears his second pair of pajamas while trying to maintain his sleepy surveillance of the Thorwald apartment across the courtyard. These pajamas are woven in blue and white thread to create a subtle tonal grid check with a small circle effect in the center of each grid cell, as best illustrated in the below closeup of Jeff’s Tissot watch.

These blue pajamas have a shorter top than the previous set and thus only four buttons up the front, including the one at the neck that he leaves unfastened, wearing the collar flat against his chest like lapels. The pajama top also has three patch pockets, one over the breast and two on the hips, though the hip pockets are slightly smaller than they were on the previous set of pajamas to accommodate the shorter top. The sleeves appear to have no seams around the cuffs. Like the previous pajamas, the bottoms have a flat off-white drawstring and no pockets.

REAR WINDOW

On Friday, Jeff wears his third pair of pajamas. These are also light blue, though constructed in a simpler blue and white end-on-end woven cotton than the distinctive patterned weave of his previous sleepwear set. End-on-end offers a similar feel and appearance to poplin, per Hardy Amies’ recommendation in ABC of Men’s Fashion that the best pajama fabric “is almost certainly some form of cotton,” though beyond that, he “hesitate[s] to advise in such a private matter.”

"Careful, Tom."

“Careful, Tom.” Jeff advises his pal to stay out of private matters himself.
Note the fine end-on-end weave of Jeff’s blue pajamas.

These pajamas are styled nearly identical to the other blue set, though they have a five-button top and the sleeves are finished at the cuffs with pointed yoking.

REAR WINDOW

Jeff wears his fourth and final pair of on-screen pajamas on Saturday as the action rises to a climax during a flash bulb-heightened confrontation with Thorwald. Nearly identical in cut and styling to the previous blue end-on-end pajama set, these pajamas are pale pink, woven in a pink and white end-on-end cotton.

Flash bulbs in his lap, Jeff prepares for a confrontation with the approaching Thorwald.

Flash bulbs in his lap, Jeff prepares for a confrontation with the approaching Thorwald.

Worthy of mention is the “plaster cocoon” that keeps Jeff contained to his home. Having broken his left leg photographing an auto race, the entirety of the leg up the thigh is wrapped in a plastic orthopedic cast that’s been wittily signed:

Here lie the broken bones of L.B. Jefferies.

Who do we think scrawled this on Jeff's cast? Stella? His cheeky unseen editor?

Who do we think scrawled this on Jeff’s cast? Stella? His cheeky unseen editor?

Can you see me driving down to the fashion salon in a jeep wearing combat boots and a three-day beard? Would that make a hit?

Unfortunately for the adventurous Jeff, combat boots are out of the question while he’s convalescing and he doesn’t wear anything heavier than a dark leather slipper and black sock on his uninjured right foot. The style appears to be what was commonly marketed as an “opera slipper”, not to be confused with the patent leather opera pump accepted with black tie and white tie dress codes. The opera slipper refers to a slip-on house shoe with a two-piece upper, typically made of matching leather, with a long front vamp and a rear heel guard to prevent them from easily slipping off a wearer’s feet. Jeff’s slipper is detailed with a single row of perforated broguing around the opening of the front piece.

Promotional shot of James Stewart for Rear Window (1954)

Promotional shot of James Stewart for Rear Window (1954)

Most common through mid-century, these opera slippers have all but fallen by the wayside as more plush slippers have attained general popularity. However, you can still find leather opera-style slippers for men including the Tamarac by Slippers International (via Amazon) or the cowhide Radio Tyme by L.B. Evans (via Amazon or Nordstrom).

Little is seen of Jeff’s slipper on screen, though we get a glimpse of a gold crest imprinted on the heel of the hard leather sole as he’s tumbling out the window during his scuffle with Lars Thorwald.

Does anyone recognize the brand on Jeff's slipper?

Does anyone recognize the brand on Jeff’s slipper?

Jeff wears a stylish stainless steel Tissot watch on a worn brown leather strap with beige contrast edge-stitching. At the time of Rear Window‘s production, Tissot had just celebrated the 100th anniversary of the Swiss watchmaker’s founding by Charles-Félicien Tissot and his son Charles-Émile Tissot in 1853. Tissot merged with Omega in 1930 and, for the following decade or so, most Tissot watch dials were co-branded with “Omega Watch Co.”, though this practice was gradually phased out during the ’40s.

The silver dial of Jeff’s manual-winding Tissot has gold-filled hour markers in a distinctive Deco-style typeface and, closer to the outside of the dial, a smaller black-printed number at five-minute increments. The watch has gold hands with a red pointed arrow at the end of the narrow second hand.

Jeff's smart-looking Tissot is an appropriately reliable, no-frills watch for a well-traveled man who could be described in the same manner. Note also the unique weave of his second pair of pajamas.

Jeff’s smart-looking Tissot is an appropriately reliable, no-frills watch for a well-traveled man who could be described in the same manner. Note also the unique weave of his second pair of pajamas.

On Thursday, having noticed that his binoculars are less than effective, Jeff taps into the tools of his chosen profession and pulls out his Exakta Varex VX, though the “Exakta” logo on the top of this camera had been blacked out with production tape. Evidently, the property department was more willing to advertise Jeff’s Tissot watch than his Exakta camera, though this may have been to hide a product of Soviet origins! Indeed, these 35mm SLR cameras were produced from 1951 to 1956 (according to Camerapedia) in Dresden, which was then part of Soviet-occupied East Germany though still marketed in the United States as the Exakta VX. (“Ihagee Dresden” can still be seen etched above the lens, referring to the manufacturer: Ihagee Kamerawerk Steenbergen & Co.)

Jeff converts the camera into what Stella calls his “portable keyhole” by affixing a large Kilfitt fern-kilar f/5.6 400mm telephoto lens. You can read more about the camera and lens in this great entry at Look Back & Hanker… which has also become one of my new favorite websites to peruse!

Despite his exalted talents as a photographer who "can take pictures from a jeep or water buffalo if necessary," Jeff uses his camera only for the telephoto lens and not to actually take photos that would document the crime unfolding before him and thus provide stronger evidence of Thorwald's guilt.

Despite his exalted talents as a photographer who “can take pictures from a jeep or water buffalo if necessary,” Jeff uses his camera only for the telephoto lens and not to actually take photos that would document the crime unfolding before him and thus provide stronger evidence of Thorwald’s guilt.

What to Imbibe

In her infinite thoughtfulness and generosity, Lisa treats Jeff to a lobster dinner delivered from the storied 21 Club—of all places—kicking off their celebration with a Montrachet white wine. “A great big glassful,” Jeff requests, eventually raising it for a toast with a sadly oblivious MIss Lonelyhearts (Judith Evelyn), who is engaging in her own mock-date with an invisible suitor across the courtyard.

Luckily, 21's standing rule of requiring men to wear jackets and ties did not apply to the rare delivery customer, and a pajama-clad Jeff could enjoy his lobster and wine in relative comfort.

Luckily, 21’s standing rule of requiring men to wear jackets and ties did not apply to the rare delivery customer, and a pajama-clad Jeff could enjoy his lobster and wine in relative comfort.

“What do you say we all sit down and have a nice friendly drink too, hmm? Forget all about this. We can tell lies about the good old days during the war,” suggests Jeff’s friend, Tom Doyle (Wendell Corey), now an NYPD lieutenant who’s surprised to find his old war buddy adding to his caseload with stories of a murder he witnessed without actually witnessing it. Luckily for him, Lisa’s been warming up brandy for the trio to enjoy.

Discussing murder over brandy, just like a classic Agatha Christie mystery.

Discussing murder over brandy, just like a classic Agatha Christie mystery.

How to Get the Look

James Stewart as L.B. "Jeff" Jefferies in Rear Window (1954)

James Stewart as L.B. “Jeff” Jefferies in Rear Window (1954)


“A clean pair of pajamas each night is a luxury that makes riches worthwhile,” advised Hardy Amies in his 1964 volume ABCs of Men’s Fashion and even the luxury-eschewing L.B. Jefferies can appreciate having a variety of clean, comfortable, and well-made sleepwear at one’s disposal when recovering at home.

  • Light blue (or pink) woven cotton pajama set:
    • Five-button pajama top with Ulster-style collar, patch breast pocket, and patch hip pockets
    • Flat front pajama pants with flat off-white drawstring
  • Dark brown leather opera slippers with brogued vamp opening
  • Black socks
  • Tissot vintage steel manual-winding wristwatch with silver dial, gold Deco-style Arabic numeral hour markers, gold hands, and brown edge-stitched leather strap

Though it’s hard to find elegant sleepwear with the same retro-minded attention once placed on pajamas, there are still a few modern examples of Rear Window-style pajama sets with pockets (and no piping) that one could try before resorting to vintage sleepwear.

London clothier Derek Rose offers a wide range of luxurious pajama sets, many vintage-inspired with detailing straight out of L.B. Jefferies’ pajama drawer. My favorite for Rear Window enthusiasts would be this set of classic fit pajamas in “batiste blue” Amalfi cotton. The three-pocket top has the same long-pointed collar and button-up configuration as most of Jeff’s sleepwear, and the bottoms have been given the stylish update of a button closure rather than Jeff’s messy drawstring.

For a wider range of potential options, I offer the following:

  • Derek Rose pajama set in “batiste blue” Amalfi cotton (via Derek Rose)
  • Derek Rose Arran flannel pajama set in blue striped cotton flannel (via Amazon)
  • Fruit of the Loom pajama set in “French blue” cotton/polyester broadcloth (via Amazon)
  • Geoffrey Beene pajama set in “light blue” cotton/polyester broadcloth (via Amazon)
  • Paul Stuart pajama set in “lilac” blue solid brushed cashmere/cotton (via Paul Stuart)

Do Yourself a Favor and…

Check out the movie, the perfect choice for anyone currently in self-isolation at home. You can also read Cornell Woolrich’s original short story, “It Had to Be Murder”, here.

The Quote

It’s probably nothing important at all, it’s just your little neighborhood murder, that’s all!

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