Sidney Poitier as Homer Smith, helpful handyman
Arizona, Summer 1963
Film: Lilies of the Field
Release Date: October 1, 1963
Director: Ralph Nelson
Wardrobe Credit: Wesley Sherrard
“That is your car?” Mother Maria asks Homer Smith, to which he proudly corrects: “That’s my home!” With that attitude, Homer would have been well-prepared for a road trip decades later in the 2020, when the coronavirus pandemic found Americans taking to the road for their summer getaways in increased numbers said to recall the age of the mid-century “great American road trip.”
In his Academy Award-winning role, Sidney Poitier plays handyman Homer Smith, traveling through the Arizona desert when his station wagon’s dire need for water brings him to the Catholic convent overseen by the solemn Maria (Lilia Skala), who requests that the newcomer stop to assist with a roofing repair. His initial reluctant assistance leads to staying for dinner and an enthusiastic English lesson (“phonograph… record!”) to the German sisters, parlayed into spending the night camped out in the back of his Plymouth, where Mother Maria corners him the next morning and asks—er, orders—him to stay and build the nuns a chapel.
Lots of luck, Mother, I ain’t buildin’ no sha-pel!
Mother Maria weakly tries to cite their language barrier as the reason Homer hasn’t been paid after two days of hard work on the “shap-el”, but he turns the tables by citing Luke 10:7 in both English and German: “And in the same house remained eating and drinking such things as they give the laborer is worthy of his hire.” In response, Maria cites Proverbs 1:4 (“Cast in thy lot amongst us, let us all have one purse”) and Matthew 6:28:
Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they toil not, neither do they spin. And yet I say unto you that even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these.
What’d He Wear?
Homer Smith dresses for the road in what could be argued as a major forebear of the leisure suits that would, for better or worse, dominate men’s fashion during the following decade. The individual pieces themselves work well on their own and have explored in some extent on BAMF Style earlier this summer, such as Johnny Depp’s off-white trucker jacket in The Rum Diary and Jean-Paul Belmondo’s beige Lee jeans in Pierrot le Fou.
Sidney Poitier brought both together for Homer’s desert journey, uniting the Lee 101 Westerner jacket and jeans just as the Kansas-based outfitter had intended when they first marketed these “Lee-sures” in the late 1950s, the moniker alone suggesting the connection to its more garish offspring that would become emblematic of Disco-era kitsch. Unlike those polyester monstrosities of the 1970s, the Lee Westerner jacket and jeans could still be worn together as tasteful and practical casual wear with a rugged and ranch-inspired flair.
The beige Lee Westerner jacket was styled like the brand’s standard blue denim “Lee Rider” trucker jacket, differentiated by its Levi’s and Wrangler competition by the chest yokes that cut from mid-armhole to mid-chest on a slight slant toward the center, forming the top seam above each pocket flap. On each side, a wide vertical pleat extends down from under the pocket flap, over the chest pocket, and down to the waistband on each side.
The slim pocket flaps close through a single steel rivet button that matches the six up the front of jacket from waistband to neck via Lee’s signature “zig zag” placket on the left side. Toward the back on each side of the waistband is a short tab that adjusts the fit through one of two similarly branded buttons.
The jacket is also subtly branded with a small black patch with “Lee” embroidered in yellow thread, sewn onto the bottom of the left chest pocket flap and standing out against the light beige sanforized “Westweave” cotton sateen material.
Homer’s Lee Westerner jeans are made from the same beige sanforized cotton cloth, cut and styled like the familiar Lee 101 Riders that the brand had innovated forty years earlier during the 1920s. The layout follows the same format standardized by most five-pocket jeans, though the Lee front pockets traditionally have a deeper curve to them and, of course, the back pockets are detailed with the “lazy” S-curve stitch.
In addition to the small black branded patch sewn against the top of the back right pocket to match that on the jacket’s pocket flap, the jeans are additionally decorated with a Lee-branded leather patch along the back right waist line, covered in this instance by Homer’s slim black textured leather belt.
When he first arrives, Homer is dressed solely for road comfort, wearing only a plain white cotton short-sleeve crew-neck T-shirt under his Westerner jacket.
The first evening, Homer dresses for dinner with the sisters by layering a light plaid short-sleeved sports shirt over his undershirt, seen rotated through his wardrobe as his days with the nuns grow into weeks. Suggested to be two shades of blue by some contemporary artwork, the shirt has a breast pocket, a plain “French placket” front with clear plastic buttons, and a “convertible” point collar worn open and flat like the more casual camp or “revere” collar.
Homer’s sandy tan roughout leather boots are likely civilian-made ankle boots inspired by mil-spec service boots of a generation earlier like the Army’s Type III Roughout Service Shoes or USMC’s famous N1 “Boondockers”. Homer’s plain-toe derby boots are differentiated by the triple sets of speed hooks above the five-eyelet open lacing on each boot.
Close modern equivalents I’ve found are the Chippewa 1939 service boots, preferably in “Dublin tan” and the now-discontinued J. Crew “Kenton” plain-toe boots in sahara-colored suede, the latter worn by Daniel Craig in Spectre.
Given how busy the nuns keep Homer, we almost exclusively see him wearing those suede-finished work boots, but he does pull on a pair of black leather Chelsea boots when joining the sisters for “a Catholic breakfast” the morning after his arrival.
Homer cycles through several different pairs of crew socks in various shades, including a medium shade (likely taupe), white, and black as seen when Mother Maria finds him in the back of his station wagon that morning, clad only in his hosiery and white cotton undershorts.
If Homer’s boots suggested past service in the military, his other garb all but confirms it. The other shirt he wears with this outfit is a tonally appropriate khaki cotton U.S. Army long-sleeved service shirt, styled with the traditional convertible collar, shoulder straps (epaulettes), and mitred-corner pocket flaps. While this may have just been a military-inspired work shirt, his sleeves show the traces of staff sergeant insignia (three chevrons and a lower rocker) having been removed.
Whether also meant to be a holdout from his days in the military or merely another pair of trousers in his collection, Homer also wears a pair of khaki flat front trousers, styled with belt loops, side pockets, jetted back pockets, and full, straight legs down to the plain-hemmed bottoms.
Aside from his old Army shirt, which he seems to wear almost exclusively with the matching khaki trousers, Homer tends to mix and match from his small but durable “road closet”, rotating through his undershirts and plaid sport shirt with both the beige Lee jeans and his old khaki slacks. He also wears the Lee jacket with his khaki shirt and slacks on at least one occasion.
The night before the newly completed “sha-pel” is ready to hold its first services, one of the sisters comments to Homer that it’s just like the night he had first arrived and, indeed, he’s even dressed the same, back in the matching off-white Lee Westerner jacket and jeans with just his undershirt. Poetically, he takes that moment to slip away.
Homer’s home on wheels is a 1959 Plymouth Sport Suburban wagon, designed during that glorious mid-century era when station wagons received almost as much attention from automotive designers as the sleekest sports cars, a time that saw families hitting the road in stylish wagons like the Chevy Nomad, Ford Del Rio, and Mercury Commuter.
The Plymouth Suburban was introduced in 1949 as the first all-steel bodied passenger station wagon in the U.S., leading the charge away from the venerated but expensive “woodie” wagon’s hold on the market. The Suburban range expanded to a number of both two- and four-door models over the course of the decade, aesthetically evolving in accordance with the sleek, elongated, and fin-accented designs of the fabulous fifties.
By decade’s end, the 1959 Sport Suburban was the top of Plymouth’s four-door wagon line with the aging L-head six-cylinder engine now edged out in favor of a trio of V8 engine options. Cosmetic changes from the 1958 model year most significantly included an “egg-crate” front grille and larger tail lamps befitting “the year of the fin”.
The most powerful engine option, the “Golden Commando”, was rated at 305 horsepower and exclusively mated to Chrysler’s three-speed TorqueFlite automatic transmission. The other two engine options were the 318 cubic-inch “Dual Fury V-800” with either a 2-barrel carburetor offering 230 horsepower or a 4-barrel that added an extra 30 horses; both 318s could be mated to the TorqueFlite, two-speed PowerFlite automatic, or four-speed manual transmissions.
Beginning in the 1962 model year, the Suburban model was discontinued and reincorporated as a trim line in Plymouth’s Belvedere, Fury, and Savoy lines, then exclusively under the Fury line from 1968 through 1978 when Plymouth finally retired the Suburban nomenclature.
How to Get the Look
Homer Smith passes through Arizona in his matching Lee Westerner jacket and jeans, a rugged precursor to the leisure suit with workwear origins apropos the hardworking character’s background and his new vocation as a chapel builder.
- Blue two-tone plaid short-sleeve sport shirt with convertible collar, plain front, and breast pocket
- White cotton crew-neck short-sleeve undershirt
- Beige cotton sateen Lee Westerner trucker jacket
- Beige cotton sateen Lee Westerner jeans
- Slim black textured leather belt with rectangular single-prong buckle
- Tan roughout leather civilian service boots (with 5-eyelet derby lacing and 3 sets of speed hooks)
- Taupe ribbed crew socks
For their SS19 collection last year, Lee reissued the Westerner jacket and jeans with an “alabaster stone” satin twill set that also included a matching snap-front shirt, as covered by His Knibs, Long John, and Retro to Go. The shirt and jeans are still available from Lee’s site as of August 2020, though the jacket appears to have been a short-lived or limited-edition addition.
Do Yourself a Favor and…
Check out the movie.
If you also want to see a Lee Westerner jacket and jeans in full vibrant color, check out the King wearing it with a bright red shirt in the 1964 Elvis Presley vehicle Kissin’ Cousins… though I would argue that Lilies of the Field is a considerably more rewarding viewing experience!
Can’t do good work without good tools!