Purple Noon: Alain Delon Tailored in Summer-Weight Gray
Alain Delon as Tom Ripley, charming American con artist and sophisticated sociopath
Italy, August 1959
Film: Purple Noon
(French title: Plein soleil)
Release Date: March 10, 1960
Director: René Clément
Costume Designer: Bella Clément
WARNING! Spoilers ahead!
Few movies so stylishly capture the intriguing possibilities of summer as Plein soleil, balancing a sun-drenched travelogue of beautiful coastal Italy with the provocative thrills and deception to be expected from the dangerous mind of Patricia Highsmith, whose 1955 novel The Talented Mr. Ripley formed the basis for this lush and haunting adaptation.
Alain Delon starred as the titular Tom Ripley, the devious and dapper American grifter whose vicious act against his pretentious playboy pal Philippe Greenleaf (Maurice Ronet) catalyzes an escalating series of lies and violence.
Highsmith herself praised the film as “very beautiful to the eye and interesting for the intellect,” particularly singling out Delon’s performance as Tom Ripley, though she reserved some criticism for the reimagining of the ending. Still, Purple Noon remains an absorbing thriller more than 60 years after its original release, immortalizing the evocative beauty of mid-century Italy through the skilled lens of cinematographer Henri Decaë.
What’d He Wear?
After Tom Ripley murders Philippe (I did warn about spoilers!), he abandons most of his own clothing in favor of the luxury garb from his deceased pal’s expansive wardrobe, which—as illustrated in an earlier scene—was one of many aspects of Philippe Greenleaf’s life that Ripley had so coveted.
However, Tom wisely maintains one piece of clothing from his previous life so that he doesn’t arouse the suspicions of his and Philippe’s mutual acquaintances, particularly the beguiling Marge (Marie Laforêt), making frequent use of a light gray tailored jacket that the third act reveals to be part of a two-piece suit. Though I had originally thought this suit to be made from linen or a linen blend, a closer lock reveals that it lacks linen’s typical texture and propensity of wrinkling and the suiting is likely a light summer-weight worsted.
This suit differs from the Neapolitan-tailored gray suit that Tom liberates from Philippe’s collection and wears when he is cornered by Freddy Miles at the Hotel Excelsior in Rome.
Outfit #1 – Boating from Mongibello
After the opening sequence of Tom’s antics in Rome with Philippe, they set sail with Marge aboard the yacht named after her, headed for Taormina on the east coast of Sicily. In his guise as the respectable Ivy Leaguer, Tom still wears the blue oxford cotton shirt he wore with his cream-colored jeans, now dressed up with gray trousers and light gray summer suit jacket.
Tom’s suit is tailored with a generally flattering full cut contemporary to the film’s late 1950s production, though most garments do tend to be flattering when worn by Alain Delon. The single-breasted jacket has a full chest with drape, short double vents, and wide, padded shoulders, styled with a classic three-button front with gray mixed horn buttons that mimic the three smaller buttons on each cuff. In addition to the traditional welted breast pocket, the jacket has sporty patch pockets on the hips that dress the garment down and allow it to be more effectively orphaned as an odd jacket.
Tom’s light blue OCBD, to be detailed more extensively in a future post, has a button-down collar, front placket, and barrel cuffs with the button placed closer to the wrist rather than centered on each cuff.
Tom wears the same mid-gray trousers that receive plenty of screen time as he peruses the Neapolitan marketplace, worn here with navy-and-white espadrilles that Philippe demands he remove before boarding Marge. Appropriately worn without socks, these slip-on summer shoes retain the classic rope sole associated with the quintessential espadrille, though the unique moc-toe uppers are navy blue canvas with contrasting white vamps, detailed with navy piping across the top of each instep. The soles appear to be a jute rope or braid rather than the traditional esparto rope.
Classic navy rope-soled espadrilles are plentiful across all price ranges, but—unfortunately for the modern shopper—a pair of two-toned espadrilles like Delon’s natty footwear is harder to find, both for its colorway and loafer-like styling.
The closest pair I’ve seen is from Soludos, consisting of dark navy uppers detailed with a thick white block stripe across the vamp and sides and on the back; while lacking the exact details of Tom Ripley’s espadrilles, they at least reflect the nontraditional spirit of his shoes.
Outfit #2 – To Naples with Marge
After Philippe’s murder, Ripley returns to see Marge who takes him to Naples in a brief but glamorous sequence that produced some of the most memorable and eye-catching imagery from Plein soleil. Delon never wears the gray summer suit jacket during these scenes, instead insouciantly slinging it over his shoulder for most of the sequence… though a rare behind-the-scenes shot available for purchase from Shutterstock here shows Delon wearing the jacket during the filming of this scene.
Apropos the setting in an epicenter of Italian fashion world, Tom graduates away from more rigid American and British-informed clothing and visits Marge in a dashing white pique long-sleeved shirt, only partially buttoned to reveal much of his chest. This casual shirt has a spread collar, button cuffs that he leaves unfastened and rolled up each forearm, and rolled edges. The front buttons are widely spaced up the plain front, and Delon leaves the top two undone.
Tom wears the same gray twill flat front trousers from the earlier scene, though his keeping the jacket off reveals more detail, particularly the four flapped pockets. The two back pockets are each covered with a gently pointed flap, and the slanted front pockets are also detailed with flaps, though these are narrow pointed strips that fasten to a black button in front of each pocket, leaving the pocket open behind it. Tom wears a black leather belt with a squared steel single-prong buckle.
In his ABCs of Men’s Fashion, published in 1964 four years after Plein soleil was released, Sir Hardy Amies explains that “the Italian style of dressing and above all their attitude to clothes and the wearing of them have a certain predatoriness, an air of masculine superiority softened with an almost feminine grace that intrigues women and has proved successful in the great game of sexual attraction.”
We see this Italian style at work as Tom lays on his continental confidence navigating the Neapolitan market and, eventually, Marge’s heart. Amies’ 1964 dissertation further explains that “in town shoes and particularly in those of the ‘slip-on’ variety, Italian styles are fashionable,” and we can safely assume that the black leather Venetian loafers are of Italian origin.
Tom would later wear the same shirt, trousers, belt, and shoes under Philippe’s striped regatta blazer when returning to Mongibello to fake Philippe’s suicide.
Though rotating through shirts, trousers, and shoes, Ripley continues to wear his usual wristwatch. The watch has a shining stainless steel case with a round silver dial, secured to his left wrist via navy blue canvas strap.
Outfit #3 – From Rome to Mongibello
After wearing the suit jacket orphaned for its first few appearances, Ripley finally introduces us to the full two-piece suit with its matching trousers when he travels to Rome to identify Freddy Miles’ corpse, followed by lunch with Marge and Philippe’s “jet set” friends. Once he realizes that an undercover policewoman is eavesdropping on their conversation, he lets it slip that he saw Philippe and believes him to be hiding out at Mongibello… then covertly returns to Mongibello where he dons the striped boating blazer to forge Philippe’s suicide note.
Aside from the suit’s matching trousers, this outfit blends the elements present for the suit jacket’s prior appearances, recalling Ripley’s signature light blue OCBD shirt as well as the black Venetian loafers from Naples. Since he keeps the jacket buttoned, we can’t positively discern many details of the pleated suit trousers aside from their tasteful rise to the jacket’s buttoning point and the plain-hemmed bottoms.
How to Get the Look
With one jacket, two shirts, two pairs of trousers, and two pairs of shoes, Tom Ripley is able to rotate through three different summer-friendly looks with ease, capitalizing on each piece’s versatility which suits his own chameleon-like ability to fit into whatever identity the situation requires.
- Light gray semi-solid worsted wool summer-weight suit:
- Single-breasted 3-button jacket with notch lapels, welted breast pocket, patch hip pockets, 3-button cuffs, and short double vents
- Pleated trousers with plain-hemmed bottoms
- Gray twill wool flat front trousers with medium-high rise, belt loops, button-flap slanted side pockets, pointed-flap set-in back pockets, and plain-hemmed bottoms (alternative to suit trousers)
- Black leather belt with squared steel single-prong buckle
- Gold pendant necklace on thin gold chain
- Steel watch with round silver dial on navy blue strap
- Light blue oxford cotton long-sleeve shirt with button-down collar, front placket, and button cuffs
- White cotton pique long-sleeve casual shirt with soft spread collar, plain rolled-edge front, and 1-button rounded cuffs
- Navy canvas moc-toe espadrilles with white navy-piped vamps and jute soles
- Black leather Venetian loafers
Do Yourself a Favor and…
Check out the movie. I also hope fans of Alain Delon are following the Instagram account @AlainDelonArchive, managed by my friend behind @thesilverclassics!
Excellent post! This film is a personal favorite, and it’s highly effective all these years later. And, of course, the style featured in the film is just fantastic.
Such a great film! Thank you for the article. Any thoughts on the watch more specifically? What brand, what type of cloth strap, etc.? I thought maybe a perlon strap that looks to be a tad narrow for the lug width of the watch. The dial appears to be very simple. The silver dials seemed to be more popular in the 1960s as I haven’t seen many from the 1950s (since the film was filmed in 1959). Maybe a Hamilton or Timex? He is playing an American after all. Although I don’t know if Timex made watches with silver dials until 1960. Any thoughts?