Dustin Hoffman as Benjamin Braddock, nervous and aimless college graduate
Los Angeles, Summer 1967
Film: The Graduate
Release Date: December 22, 1967
Director: Mike Nichols
Costume Designer: Patricia Zipprodt
Dustin Hoffman may be turning 83 today, but for many he’ll always be the young Benjamin Braddock, freshly home from college with his entire adult life—with all of its expectations and inevitable disappointments—to follow.
Benjamin’s first summer as a college graduate is spent with lazy days by the pool and covert nights with Mrs. Robinson (Anne Bancroft), the domineering yet vulnerable wife of his father’s law partner. The Braddocks, obviously unaware of their son’s ongoing assignations with her mother, pressure him into taking Elaine Robinson (Katharine Ross). A Berkeley student, Elaine would be a more suitable partner for Benjamin due to age, temperament, and several other factors, but the formidable Mrs. Robinson—we never do learn her first name—won’t have it.
Like everything else in his life, however, the situation is out of his hands and he finds himself calling on the Robinson household one summer evening to escort Elaine on a date. Draped in an animal-skin blanket and resentful scowl, Mrs. Robinson can barely hide her fury, with Bancroft beautifully adding a threatening menace behind her simple declaration: “I’m extremely upset about it, Benjamin.”
Reading between the lines, Benjamin knows his best opportunity out of the situation is to sabotage the date and, one wordless and reckless ride in his Alfa Romeo later, he’s sitting across from her at a burlesque club as a dancer presses her ample embonpoint into service, fervently brushing the top of a humiliated Elaine’s head with the tassels of her pasties. Benjamin tries to remain aloof, but Elaine’s pain breaks through the lenses of his sunglasses and he makes a 180° to salvage both the date and Elaine’s dignity. An earnest apology is followed by a kiss and fast food from the Hamburger Hamlet, where we see him feeling free to genuinely express his emotions for the first time since we met him:
I’ve had this feeling ever since I graduated. This kind of compulsion that I have to be rude all the time… it’s like I was playing some kind of game, but the rules don’t make any sense to me. They’re being made up by all the wrong people. I mean no one makes them up. They seem to make themselves up.
He’s on the potential verge of a revelation when they continue the date by going for drinks at the Taft Hotel, where Benjamin’s instant recognition to the staff as the frequent guest “Mr. Gladstone” forces Benjamin to admit to Elaine that he’s been having an affair with an older, married woman, but that he would be ending it.
What’d He Wear?
Benjamin’s agenda for his first date with Elaine may lack class, but he seems to be reserving his sense of good taste for his date night duds, a stylish Ivy-inspired ensemble that would be just as effective for a warm evening engagement more than 50 years later.
While seersucker had long been a staple of men’s workwear, it wasn’t until 1909 that tailor Joseph Haspel Sr. revolutionized the seersucker suit for men as a comfortable, cool-wearing alternative for businessmen baking in the New Orleans heat. Over the next half-century, the trend spread across the country and was firmly an Ivy League staple by the 1950s and ’60s when students like Benjamin wore orphaned seersucker jackets with odd trousers.
Benjamin’s single-breasted cotton sports coat for his date with Elaine is patterned in the classic seersucker white-and-blue “railroad stripe”. The notch lapels, which are welted with sporty swelled edges, neatly roll to the two flat clear plastic button closure, matching the two downscaled buttons spaced apart on each cuff. The jacket is also detailed with a single vent, roped sleeveheads, welted breast pocket, and flapped hip pockets that gently slant toward the back.
Benjamin illustrates the versatility of a light blue oxford-cloth button-down (OCBD) shirt and dark navy knitted silk tie when he effectively wears the same shirt and tie here as we had also seen with his tweed jacket when he first joined Mrs. Robinson at the Taft. In both cases, the textured shirt and tie complement the jackets, be it the coarser tweed or the puckered seersucker.
As mentioned in the previous post about Benjamin’s tweed jacket but all the more relevant here, blue-and-white seersucker with a light blue OCBD and navy knitted tie would later be the signature look worn by Darren McGavin on Kolchak, though with matching seersucker suit trousers and a tattered, open-woven straw hat.
Benjamin’s gray flat front trousers provide a neutral balance with his more eye-catching top half. The trousers rise to Hoffman’s natural waist, where they’re held up by a black leather belt with squared silver-toned single-prong buckle.
I don’t believe that Benjamin’s footwear get any screen time during this sequence, but I’m inclined to believe that he likely sported the same dark cordovan derby shoes and charcoal socks from his first date with Mrs. Robinson.
On Benjamin’s left wrist, he wears his usual steel wristwatch with its brown gradient dial and black leather strap, though his black wraparound sunglasses steal the spotlight as his most significant accessory during this sequence. This “wraparound” style was quickly becoming popular and 1967 was the same year that Ray-Ban introduced its wraparound Balorama frame which would be most famously worn by Clint Eastwood in the first two Dirty Harry movies.
What to Imbibe
“What would you say to a short one?” the oblivious Mr. Robinson (Murray Hamilton) asks Benjamin before his date with Elaine. “Scotch still your drink?”
“Bourbon,” Benjamin corrects him, but—again—Mr. Robinson just continues pouring Scotch into Ben’s glass. With Mrs. Robinson staring icy daggers across the room, Benjamin was probably just grateful for any booze he could get!
How to Get the Look
Benjamin Braddock dresses to impress, even if that’s antithetical to his original goal for his date with Elaine, clad in American Ivy staples like seersucker sport jacket and tonally coordinated OCBD and knitted tie.
- White-and-blue railroad stripe seersucker cotton single-breasted 2-button sport jacket with “swelled edge” notch lapels, welted breast pocket, gently slanted flapped hip pockets, spaced 2-button cuffs, and single vent
- Pale blue oxford cotton shirt with button-down collar, front placket, and button cuffs
- Dark navy knitted silk tie
- Gray flat front trousers with belt loops, side pockets, and plain-hemmed bottoms
- Black leather belt with squared silver-toned single-prong buckle
- Dark cordovan derby shoes
- Charcoal socks
- Steel wristwatch with brown gradient dial on black leather strap
- Black wraparound sunglasses
Do Yourself a Favor and…
Check out the movie.
My whole life is such a waste. It’s just nothing.