Dustin Hoffman as Benjamin Braddock, nervous and aimless college graduate
Los Angeles, Summer to Fall 1967
Film: The Graduate
Release Date: December 22, 1967
Director: Mike Nichols
Costume Designer: Patricia Zipprodt
WARNING! Spoilers ahead!
Like Casablanca, Citizen Kane, Thelma & Louise, and The Sopranos, I felt like I had seen or heard about the famous ending of The Graduate in depth before actually seeing the movie itself. Given that the iconic movie is over 50 years old, I hope I wouldn’t invite too much ire by discussing its famous ending openly in discussing Benjamin Braddock’s style as he desperately races through southern California in the hopes of halting Elaine Robinson’s wedding to the dreaded Makeout King.
Having recently gotten engaged myself (yay!), it felt appropriate to end this installment of #CarWeek with the cherry red Alfa Romeo that factored so significantly in Benjamin’s life following his graduation, whether it it was on his burlesque-and-burgers date with the bright-eyed Elaine (Katharine Ross), furtive assignations with her mother (Anne Bancroft), or on his gas-guzzling dash to get him to the church on time scored by Simon & Garfunkel’s enduring folk banger “Mrs. Robinson”.
What’d He Wear?
A rainy date with Elaine calls for Benjamin leaving his tweed and corduroy at home, pulling on a hooded windbreaker over his blue button-down shirt. However, the Robinson woman who eagerly runs up to Benjamin’s Alfa Romeo and sits beside him turns out not to be Elaine but her now-drenched mother who reinforces her order that Benjamin not see her daughter. Prompted by her threats, Benjamin makes his own mad dash into the Robinson house and up the stairs to where a half-dressed Elaine is soon to learn her latest suitor has, in fact, spent the last few months sleeping with her mother.
Up to this point in The Graduate, Benjamin’s wardrobe had primarily reflected a fashionable if conservative dress consisting of Ivy-inspired pieces like his navy blazer, tweed sack jacket, and corded sports coat, typically worn with OCBDs and knitted ties. Not coincidentally, he’s also spent this much of the film living his life at the behest of the generation that preceded him, whether that meant his parents or their seductive friends.
One of my favorite style accounts on Instagram is @berkeley_breathes, who was kind enough to add some additional perspective about how Benjamin is “being pigeonholed by all the adults, put into a box as a certain kind of person now that he’s graduated,” adding that “only with Elaine does he start to figure out who he really is, so he starts to lose his strict Ivy allegiance.”
It’s this scene that finally breaks the pattern as Benjamin makes a decision for himself that goes against the demands of a previous generation, in this instance represented by Mrs. Robinson ordering that he break things off with Elaine. Instead, Benjamin calls Mrs. Robinson’s bluff, bounding up that dramatic staircase to confront poor Elaine with the revelation that will change her life… and no doubt inspire a lifetime of therapy to follow.
Benjamin’s attire thus reflects this seismic shift in his motivations and respective action as he wears his arguably most youthful piece seen yet: a hooded zip-up windbreaker in beige nylon. This may be the first piece we’ve seen that wouldn’t have been worn by Benjamin’s parents when they were his age.
The light, thigh-length jacket has a zipper that begins a few inches from the bottom and zips up to the neck, where it meets a long shirt-style point collar. A lightweight hood extends out from inside the collar, flapping behind Benjamin’s head as he motors through the L.A. suburbs. The set-in sleeves close at the cuffs on one of two buttons to adjust the fit and potentially protect the wearer’s arms from the elements on a rainy day.
Like so many iconic menswear pieces that trace their origins to functional military garments, Benjamin’s windbreaker incorporates military field jacket sensibilities such as the drawstring hood, cinched waist, and the four external pockets. The two pleated pockets over the chest are large with mitred lower corners and a narrow rectangular flap across the top that seems to run flush on each side, closing each pocket through a single brown plastic button. Below the drawcord-cinched waist, the two large pleated hip pockets also have narrow rectangular flaps but they lack a button and have the traditional open sides.
Months after Elaine learned of Benjamin’s affair with her mother, he’s rejoined her at Berkeley after making amends (and then some!) to the point where he’s able to earnestly buy her an engagement ring. A visit from the angry and bitter Mr. Robinson (Murray Hamilton) changes Benjamin’s designs on matrimony and sends him desperately spiraling as he loses both his apartment and prospective fiancée in a matter of minutes.
Benjamin wears the same outfit from these scenes through the end of the movie, moving even further from his Ivy trappings by swapping out his OCBD for a black cotton polo shirt. The shirt’s two clear plastic two-hole buttons and gold-embroidered chest logo suggest that this is the same shirt he wore earlier with his tan corduroy sports coat and blue jeans. His casual trousers here could also qualify as jeans, albeit somewhat dressier in their cream-colored cotton. His tucked-in polo shows the medium brown leather belt with a gold-finished square single-prong belt buckle.
Another significant shift in Benjamin’s style can be found on his feet. Through most of The Graduate, Benjamin favored penny loafers, the all-American prep staple. Now, finally making his own decisions and dressing accordingly, former college track star Benjamin eschews the Ivy-approved kicks and wears a pair of dirty Jack Purcell sneakers, identifiable by the signature black “smile” bumped across the toes of the white outsoles and by the asymmetrical navy cutout on the bottom of each sole. He wears them with a pair of unfashionable but practical white ribbed crew socks.
Canadian-born badminton champion Jack Purcell introduced these athletic shoes for P.F. Flyers in 1935, curiously just a year before G.H. Bass & Co. launched the penny loafer in Maine. Of course, while the penny loafer could transcend its casual roots for acceptance with jackets and ties, only the most daring would attempt such incongruous formality with sneakers, particularly ones that have kicked as much dirt as Benjamin’s formerly off-white Purcells. After Converse’s parent company purchased the P.F. Flyers brand from B.F. Goodrich in 1972, Converse maintained the Jack Purcell brand and continues to make these sneakers today (available via Converse and Amazon.)
Benjamin’s Jack Purcells play a crucial role in the film’s final act, supplanting his exhausted Alfa Romeo as the final mode of transportation that allows him to arrive at the United Methodist Church of La Verne. It’s questionable whether Benjamin could have made such a dash on foot if he were still sporting his penny loafers, and it’s clear now why the Alfa Romeo—a gift from his parents symbolizing their intentions for him—would never bring him as far as he needed to go just to disrupt the older generation’s plan by absconding with Elaine.
On his left wrist, Benjamin wears his typical steel watch with its brown gradient dial, strapped to a black leather bracelet.
Benjamin Braddock returns home after college to his swanky graduation present, a cherry red 1966 Alfa Romeo Spider 1600, unofficially known as the “Duetto” model. Some could argue the little red roadster is less of a present and more of a subconscious bribe, an offering that as long as Benjamin lives out the life his parents expect of him, he can reach his destinations in style.
Indeed, the sleek Italian sports car is praised by the middle-aged members of the Braddock coterie at Benjamin’s graduation party, such as the blowhard Mr. Carlson (Laurence Haddon) who crudely shares his admiration for the “little red wop job” as well as how easily it will allow Benjamin to pick up “the girls, the chicks, the teeny-boppers!” Mrs. Carlson (Eve McVeagh), on the other hand, is quite sure that Ben has “gotten beyond the teeny-bopper stage.” Benjamin would be asked to prove that hypothesis that very evening when Mrs. Robinson approaches him for a ride home. “Do you know how to work a foreign shift?” he asks as he hands over the keys, though it isn’t the Alfa Romeo’s five-speed gearbox that Mrs. Robinson has her eye on.
The “Spider” or “Spyder” designation is used interchangeably by auto manufacturers—typically European—to denote a two-door, two-seat roadster. Brian Silvestro for Road & Track has traced the term back to the pre-automotive days in the 19th century when the thin-spoked wheels of lighter-weight horse-drawn carriages were likened to spider legs; as these carriages were essentially the sports cars of the Victorian era, the terminology evolved with technology as horses were replaced with horsepower.
Alfa Romeo announced their new Spider at the 36th Geneva Motor Show in March 1966, a successor to the Giulia Spider model. A contest to name their latest product yielded more than 100,000 ballots, though Guidobaldo Trionfi’s winning suggestion of “Duetto” was eventually rejected on trademark grounds, instead adopted as the first generation Spider’s unofficial moniker among fans and enthusiasts.
The Spider was introduced with a 1570 cc twin cam straight-four engine carried over from the Giulia that generated 108 net horsepower or 125 gross horsepower. More than 6,300 Spider 1600s were produced with this engine in 1966 and 1967 before it was supplanted by a larger 1779 cc engine for the 1750 Spider Veloce model. In the summer of 1968, Alfa Romeo introduced the lower-priced Spider 1300 Junior, powered by a 1290 cc mill that generated 88 net horsepower. Both the 1750 Spider Veloce and the Spider 1300 Junior would continue as the available options when the model received its first facelift in 1970 with the “Coda Tronca” Series 2 generation.
Nearly all Spiders across all four generations were mated to a five-speed manual transmission, and it wasn’t until the “Ultima” Series 4 generation in the 1990s that a limited number were available with a three-speed automatic transmission.
1966 Alfa Romeo Spider 1600 “Duetto”
Body Style: 2-door roadster
Layout: front-engine, rear-wheel-drive (RWD)
Engine: 1570 cc (1.6 L) Alfa Romeo Twin Cam straight-4 with dual Weber two-barrel side-draft carburetors
Power: 125 hp (93 kW; 126 PS) @ 6500 RPM (SAE)
Torque: 115 lb·ft (156 N·m) @ 3000 RPM
Transmission: 5-speed manual
Wheelbase: 88.6 inches (2250 mm)
Length: 167.3 inches (4250 mm)
Width: 64.2 inches (1630 mm)
Height: 50.8 inches (1290 mm)
Alfa Romeo would eventually capitalize on its famous connection to The Graduate when a “Graduate” trim level of the “Aerodinamica” Series 3 Spider was marketed in the United States during the 1980s.
According to IMCDB, it was Dustin Hoffman himself who brokered his way into Benjamin Braddock driving a Duetto as his uncle was an Alfa Romeo importer and helped secure two red ’66 Spider 1600 roadsters for one of their first and arguably most iconic appearances in a Hollywood production.
How to Get the Look
In the final act of The Graduate, Benjamin Braddock’s wardrobe significantly deviates from his celebrated Ivy roots as he dresses in youthful hooded windbreaker, polo, and sneakers to crash Elaine Robsinon’s wedding… and finally disrupt the plans of an older generation that has guided his actions to this point.
- Beige lightweight nylon thigh-length windbreaker jacket with drawstring hood, button-flapped pleated chest pockets, flapped pleated hip pockets, cinched waist (with drawstring), and adjustable button cuffs
- Black cotton short-sleeve polo shirt with two-button placket and gold-embroidered chest logo
- Cream cotton (or Bedford cord) flat front casual trousers with five jeans-style pockets
- Brown leather belt with gold-toned square single-prong buckle
- White canvas-and-rubber Jack Purcell sneakers
- White ribbed crew socks
- Steel wristwatch with brown gradient dial on black leather strap