Robert Redford’s Colorful Fair Isle Sweater in The Way We Were

Robert Redford as Hubbell Gardner in The Way We Were (1973)

Robert Redford as Hubbell Gardiner in The Way We Were (1973)

Vitals

Robert Redford as Hubbell Gardiner, privileged college student

Upstate New York, Spring 1937

Film: The Way We Were
Release Date: October 19, 1973
Director: Sydney Pollack
Costume Design: Dorothy Jeakins & Moss Mabry

Background

Happy birthday, Robert Redford! As the actor celebrates his 84th birthday today, and college students prepare to go back to school under surreal conditions, it feels right to take another look at Redford’s style as Hubbell Gardiner, a popular and privileged scholar athlete at “Wentworth College” (filmed at Union College in Schenectady, New York.)

Redford himself was born August 18, 1936, around the time that Hubbell would have been preparing to return to college for his senior year. Spain had been at war for just over a month while the rest of the world was gearing up for conflict, igniting the passions of radical students like Katie Morosky (Barbra Streisand), who splits her time between anti-war activism, creative writing coursework, and slinging Cokes and cheeseburgers at a campus diner. Meanwhile, Hubbell’s WASPy friends can’t be bothered by such trivia as world affairs as they glide between sports and dances with plenty of irreverent jokes along the way.

The ostensible ringleader of his pals, whom screenwriter Arthur Laurents had based on a Cornell undergrad known as “Tony Blue Eyes”, Hubbell hints that there may be more beneath the surface of his easy smile and expensive clothes as he allows his interest to drift from his vapid friends toward the politically motivated Katie. She, in turn, seems to gaze back at Hubbell from the other side of the cafe counter with an interest that blends both loathing and lust, only exacerbated by his carefree teasing while placing his “decadent and disgusting” group’s order…

Hubbell: Two cheeseburgers and four Cokes.
Katie: Onion?
Hubbell: Yeah. In the Cokes.

What’d He Wear?

Appropriate for his social standing, Hubbell Gardiner is one of the most fashionable men on the Wentworth College campus, layering for chillier evenings in a colorful sweater knitted in the Fair Isle tradition, which had been popularized after the trendsetting Prince of Wales (later Edward, Duke of Windsor) began publicly wearing Fair Isle jumpers in the early 1920s.

According to Alan Flusser in Dressing the Man, the Prince’s choice was a tactical one; aware of his reputation as an arbiter of style and “hearing that the Hebrian farmers were in economic trouble, the Duke of Windsor donned one as the captain of the Royal and Ancient Golf Club in Saint Andrews in 1922, catapulting the sweater and the island’s economy into fast-forward.” (Edward himself doesn’t go unmentioned in The Way We Were either as Katie would take the time twice in the same conversation to inform Hubbell of his nuptials to Mrs. Simpson during a later scene.)

Hubbell’s long-sleeved V-neck wool sweater, with its colorful bands knitted in red, yellow, and blue against a stone gray ground, appears to be a genuine example of a sweater knitted in the true Fair Isle technique from the Shetland Islands as opposed to how the term has been colloquially expanded as a marketing shortcut in recent years.

J.J. (Bradford Dillman), Pony (Sally Kirkland), and Carol Ann (Lois Chiles) round out Hubbell's core group of friends. Both women would later co-star with Redford in their subsequent films; Kirkland would appear as his date Crystal in The Sting (1973) and Chiles would play Jordan Baker in The Great Gatsby (1974).

J.J. (Bradford Dillman), Pony (Sally Kirkland), and Carol Ann (Lois Chiles) round out Hubbell’s core group of friends. Both women would later co-star with Redford in their subsequent films; Kirkland would appear as his date Crystal in The Sting (1973) and Chiles would play Jordan Baker in The Great Gatsby (1974).

Underneath, Hubbell wears a pale ice-blue cotton sports shirt with a very wide camp collar laid flat over the top of his sweater. Like many classic camp shirts, this has a small loop on the left side of the collar to fasten the neck if needed. This long-sleeved shirt with button cuffs appears to be the same one that he wears under his other collegiate sweater vests.

The College Grad Meets the Leningrad.

The College Grad Meets the Leningrad.

Hubbell wears a tan “newsboy” flat cap with an eight-panel top that meets at a covered-cloth button in the center of the crown.

THE WAY WE WERE

Hubbell’s golden tan corduroy trousers are rooted in the workwear of the era, co-opting the hard-wearing cloth that had been a staple for European sportsmen and laborers for decades. His flat front trousers have unique slanted pockets with button-down flaps, jetted back pockets, and turn-ups (cuffs) on the bottoms. Despite belt loops around the waist, he seems to forego a belt.

We don’t see Hubbell’s shoes with this sweater in the restaurant, but we can assume he is either wearing the same white sneakers (and white socks) from his earlier football game or the white bucks that were emerging as a campus staple throughout the 1930s, distinctive for their napped nubuck leather uppers and brick red outsoles.

Hubbell takes a tumble in his corduroy trousers during a casual game of football.

Hubbell takes a tumble in his corduroy trousers during a casual game of football.

As with most of Robert Redford’s movies made after 1968, he wears the silver etched ring he received as a gift from a Hopi tribe on the third finger of his right hand.

Clad in what appears to be the same shirt but a different sweater, Hubbell nervously gnaws on his pencil as his story, "The All-American Smile", is praised and read aloud by his writing professor.

Clad in what appears to be the same shirt but a different sweater, Hubbell nervously gnaws on his pencil as his story, “The All-American Smile”, is praised and read aloud by his writing professor.

While it makes sense that this colorful Fair Isle sweater would have been made or acquired for Redford’s character in The Way We Were, it makes a curious cameo appearance two years later in Three Days of the Condor (1975) where Redford’s CIA researcher Joe Turner is undoubtedly wearing the same sweater in his photo ID card!

Turner wears it in a similar fashion as Hubbell Gardiner, sporting it with an ice-toned button-up shirt with the wide collar points outside the sweater’s collar band, though the shirt in his ID photo appears to be a more contemporary ’70s dress shirt than the elegantly shaped loop-collar shirt from Hubbell’s collegiate days.

In Three Days of the Condor, Joe Turner's ID for the CIA cover organization "Tentrex Industries" features Redford wearing his sweater from The Way We Were, though his hair has grown out to Condor length.

In Three Days of the Condor, Joe Turner’s ID for the CIA cover organization “Tentrex Industries” features Redford wearing his sweater from The Way We Were, though his hair has grown out to Condor length.

Robert Redford and Barbra Streisand in The Way We Were (1973)

Robert Redford and Barbra Streisand in The Way We Were (1973)

How to Get the Look

A veritable prince of his campus, Hubbell Gardiner follows the fashion set fifteen years earlier by the erstwhile Prince of Wales by layering a classic and colorful Fair Isle sweater, though adding his own rakish panache by sporting it over an open-neck shirt and with sporty corduroy trousers.

  • Ice-blue cotton long-sleeve sport shirt with wide camp/loop collar, plain front, and button cuffs
  • Red, yellow, and blue-on-stone gray wool Fair Isle-knit long-sleeve V-neck sweater
  • Golden tan corduroy flat front trousers with belt loops, slanted side pockets (with button-down flaps), jetted back pockets, and turn-ups/cuffs
  • White nubuck leather “buck” shoes with brick red outsoles
  • White socks
  • Tan newsboy cap
  • Silver tribal ring

Do Yourself a Favor and…

Check out the movie.

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