Fred Astaire as Tony Hunter, musical comedy star
Washington, D.C., to Baltimore via train, Spring 1953
Film: The Band Wagon
Release Date: August 7, 1953
Director: Vincente Minnelli
Costume Designer: Mary Ann Nyberg
In addition to being Mother’s Day, today also commemorates the birthday of the multi-talented song-and-dance legend Fred Astaire, born May 10, 1899, in Omaha. To honor this elegant dance legend and suggest an outfit that your mother may appreciate as you’re delivering flowers (or communicating via FaceTime, depending on your level of pandemic-informed social distancing today), let’s take a look at a pleasant but all-too-briefly featured outfit from Astaire’s 1953 musical The Band Wagon.
Tony Hunter (Astaire) should be feeling on top of the world, starring in a successful show written specifically for him by his friends, the Martons, that’s being warmly received on its national tour. However, our poor Tony admits to Lester Marton (Oscar Levant) en route their Baltimore performance that he’s still feeling unsatisfied, the result of what he believes to be a deep yet unrequited love for his glamorous co-star, Gaby Gerard (Cyd Charisse).
What’d He Wear?
Fred Astaire extended his dapper dressing tendencies in real life onto the silver screen, colorfully yet tastefully appointed by Mary Ann Nyberg’s Academy Award-nominated costume design that shone from the screen thanks to Harry Jackson’s cinematography.
For this brief train ride between performances, Tony wears a rich brown flannel sports coat, perfectly tailored with a two-button front that fastens at Astaire’s natural waist line, balancing the pink shirt and tie on top and the gray flannel trousers on bottom.
The single-breasted jacket has substantial notch lapels with a buttonhole through the left lapel should Fred determine the situation would call for a boutonnière. Slightly padded at the shoulders to build out Astaire’s lean frame, the jacket is finished at the ends of each sleeve with three woven brown leather buttons that echo the buttons on the front of the jacket. A flapped ticket pocket on the right side supplements the two flapped pockets positioned straight on the hips, and Tony wears a subtle navy-and-red printed silk pocket square that—per Astaire’s usual approach to pocket hanks—barely rises out of the welted breast pocket but adds a colorful dash that coordinates with his lighter shirt and tie.
“As for his shirts—they cost him from $12 to $25—he sometimes has them custom-made but usually picks them up from the counter. Except for full dress, he likes a soft shirt front, and light colors in the pink, blue, and tan range… He prefers a well-made buttoned cuff to French cuffs… As for the collars, he dislikes the tab and prefers the button-down and the wide-spread collar—braced by staves,” Astaire’s personal taste is described in a GQ exploration, with all of these preferences evident on screen.
Tony continues his pattern of wearing shirts and ties in the same color (e.g. his blue-on-blue with the opening gray double-breasted suit or yellow-on-yellow while “Dancing in the Dark”), this time in shades of pink. His pinpoint cotton shirt has an elegantly rolled button-down collar and single-button rounded cuffs, and his silk tie—perfectly dimpled below the four-in-hand knot—is just a shade darker, held in place with a thin gold bar positioned a few inches above the jacket’s buttoning point. “I’m narrow enough myself, too narrow,” Astaire joked to GQ about his preference for wider ties.
Tony grounds the colorful outfit with a pair of dark gray woolen flannel double reverse-pleated trousers with an appropriately high rise that meets the jacket buttoning point at the waist, so perfectly proportioned that the effect never falters even when Astaire slumps into a seat on the train, one leg hitched over the arm as he turns to allow pal Lester to light his cigarette. We get only the glimpse of his belt, which appears to be a more traditional strip of light brown leather that tapers to a squared gold single-prong buckle—pulled off to one side—rather than the colorful silk scarves Astaire frequently wore as belts while dancing.
The bottoms of Tony’s slacks are finished with turn-ups (cuffs), and Astaire’s posture while seated shows off his choice of cream-colored socks, a relatively subdued color choice when compared to his red, gold, and blue hosiery elsewhere in The Band Wagon, but still a high contrast that catches the eye between the bottom of his dark trousers and his dark brown suede English-made oxfords that have either a cap-toe or a brogued wingtip.
Astaire accessorizes with his usual affectations, a gold signet ring on his right pinky and a gold curb-chain bracelet on his left wrist.
How to Get the Look
“I know that once in awhile I’ve been on lists of best-dressed men,” Fred Astaire once told GQ,,”but it always comes as a surprise to me. I never think of myself as spic and span or all duded out—just as someone who wants to be comfortable and satisfy his own taste.” (Worth noting is that Astaire was also wearing a light pink shirt for said interview.)
One of the finest dressers of Hollywood’s fabled Golden Age, Astaire perfectly balanced color and taste in his well-tailored wardrobe, illustrated by his costumes in The Band Wagon like this grounded brown sports coat and gray flannel slacks with a pink-on-pink shirt and tie combination that follows his creed for dressing: “Be yourself—but don’t be conspicuous.”
- Brown woolen flannel single-breasted 2-button sport jacket with notch lapels, welted breast pocket, straight flapped hip pockets with flapped right-side ticket pocket, 3-button cuffs, and ventless back
- Light pink pinpoint cotton shirt with button-down collar and 1-button rounded cuffs
- Pink silk tie
- Thin gold tie bar
- Dark gray woolen flannel double reverse-pleated high-rise trousers with belt loops, side pockets, and turn-ups/cuffs
- Light brown leather belt that tapers to gold-toned squared single-prong buckle
- Dark brown suede oxford shoes
- Cream socks
- Gold signet pinky ring
- Gold curb-chain bracelet
- Burgundy silk pocket square
Do Yourself a Favor and…
Check out the movie.