Bonjour Tristesse: David Niven’s Coral Shirt and Sunglasses
David Niven as Raymond, bon vivant widowed father
French Riviera, Summer 1957
Film: Bonjour Tristesse
Release Date: January 15, 1958
Director: Otto Preminger
Costume Coordinator: Hope Bryce
Secluded for the summer at their villa in the Côte d’Azur, libertine Raymond and his equally free-spirited daughter Cécile (Jean Seberg) enjoy a comfortable and carefree season living la belle vie by the sea. In fact, Raymond and Cécile would have fared quite well had they needed to spend their summer in quarantine, as few outsiders enter their lives aside from whichever mistress (or two) Raymond is entertaining at the moment. These young women are typically no more than a few years older than Cécile, who grows particularly attached to his latest paramour, Elsa (Mylène Demongeot), to the extent that she joins Raymond in waking the vivacious blonde from her nude slumber and helps her apply sunscreen during one of their typical days spent on the beach.
While all may be cordial and close, there’s no getting between the fiercely intimate bond between Cécile and her father, of which Elsa comments: “You do not even need words… the perfect marriage!”
As one may imagine from this lifestyle, disruptions would be unwelcome, particularly when they arrive in the disciplined form of Anne Larsen (Deborah Kerr), a refined friend of Cécile’s late mother who can’t help but to be drawn despite herself to the playboy widow Raymond.
What’d He Wear?
On the Monday that Anne Larsen was set to arrive, Raymond—having ignored the telegram he received that morning, in typical fashion—spent far too long waiting for her at the station with Elsa, feeling “as limp as a piece of spaghetti” by the time he returns home after baking under the hot sun.
At least he’s dressed for such conditions in a coral-colored lightweight linen camp shirt, rakishly worn with the wide loop collar turned up in the back and with the sleeves unbuttoned at the cuffs and rolled up to the elbows. The shirt has six flat white buttons fastened through horizontal buttonholes up the plain front (with an additional button hidden under the right collar leaf that could connect with the loop on the left side), though Raymond only wears two buttons done toward the bottom of the shirt. The back is pleated on the sides, and the front is detailed with an open patch pocket on each side of the chest.
Raymond typically wears shorts or swim trunks for casual days at home, though his trip into town to pick up Anne mandated slightly more decorous trousers so he opts for classic summer trousers in beige linen.
These reverse-pleated trousers are styled with a fashionably long rise to Niven’s natural waist where they are held up by a nearly matching beige leather belt, seen only when the wind blows around the untucked hem of Raymond’s shirt.
The trouser bottoms are finished with turn-ups (cuffs), breaking high enough over the blue rope-soled espadrilles that appear to be Raymond’s go-to daytime footwear. These classic summer shoes date back to at least the 14th century, when they originated among peasants in France and Spain and even became a symbol of revolution by the late 1800s. Over the last century, espadrilles have emerged as a resort favorite, a classy European alternative to the venerable American boat shoes.
In the spirit of Niven’s comfortable and traditional rope-soled espadrilles in Bonjour Tristesse, you can find authentic Spanish-made espadrilles with blue canvas uppers and true jute soles from companies like Soludos and Viscata, though other retailers like ALDO, Geox, H&M, and TOMS also offer their own variations on this classic warm-weather footwear.
Bonjour Tristesse may be one of the earliest movies to feature a character wearing aviator-style sunglasses in a non-military context as Raymond returns home wearing a pair of classic gold-framed aviator sunglasses with a reinforced brow bar across the top, similar to the mil-spec AN6531 sunglasses that the U.S. military provided for Army and Navy aviators during World War II. This “anti-glare” eyewear had been developed by Bausch & Lomb, who patented their metal-framed shades as the “Ray-Ban Aviator” in 1939, creating what would become an iconic brand over the decades to follow.
Raymond wears a subtle and elegant gold dress watch on a dark brown leather strap which, based on Niven wearing Omega on- and off-screen through much of his life, led me to consider that the Bonjour Tristesse wristwatch may be a ’50s-era Seamaster like this.
How to Get the Look
Whether or not you’re on board with the rakish way Niv wears his holiday linen (i.e. turning up the collar of his half-buttoned, untucked shirt), the pieces themselves are timeless summer classics from his light, festive-hued camp shirt to comfortable off-white trousers and espadrilles.
- Coral linen long-sleeved shirt with camp/loop collar, plain front (with six white buttons), double chest pockets, and button cuffs
- Beige linen reverse-pleated trousers with belt loops, side pockets, and turn-ups/cuffs
- Beige leather belt with single-prong buckle
- Blue canvas rope-soled slip-on espadrilles
- Gold-framed aviator sunglasses
- Gold dress watch on dark brown leather strap
Do Yourself a Favor and…
Check out the movie and Françoise Sagan’s novel.
With its small cast in a mostly isolated setting, Bonjour Tristesse is an ideal summer movie for an unprecedented season under lockdown where our libertines soon discover that the only threat to their peaceful—if somewhat problematic—co-existence is an outsider!