Christopher Plummer as Captain Georg von Trapp, widowed ex-Imperial Austro-Hungarian Navy officer
Salzburg, Austria, Spring 1938
Film: The Sound of Music
Release Date: March 2, 1965
Director: Robert Wise
Costume Designer: Dorothy Jeakins
Happy birthday, Christopher Plummer! Born 91 years ago in Toronto, the distinguished actor continues to be a familiar face on screen, most recently as the doomed mystery writer at the center of Knives Out (2019). Plummer’s most recognizable performance remains arguably that of Georg von Trapp, the Austro-Hungarian patriarch whose family of young singers was depicted in The Sound of Music.
Considered one of the best movie musicals of all time, The Sound of Music was nominated for ten Academy Awards, winning five including Best Picture and Best Director, and remains one of the highest-grossing movies of all time. While Plummer would hardly consider himself a fan of The Sound of Music even more than five decades later, he and Julie Andrews forged a lifelong friendship after working on the film, and he has at least come to appreciate the somewhat saccharine musical he occasionally denigrated as “The Sound of Mucus”.
The movie and stage musical were adapted from Maria von Trapp’s own memoir of her life with the von Trapp family, though significant liberties were taken in condensing the timeline and characters, simplifying all into a musical romance set amidst the tension leading up to the Anschluss in the spring of 1938. In fact, Maria had met the von Trapps more than a decade earlier when she arrived to tutor one of Georg’s daughters, also named Maria. The widowed 47-year-old Georg and the 22-year-old Maria married in November 27 and would have three more children together (including the youngest born after their escape to the United States), bringing the total number to ten. The von Trapp children already had a degree of musical talent before Maria’s arrival, cultivated further by Catholic priest Franz Wasner—represented on screen to some degree as the musical director Max Detweiler (Richard Haydn)—as they began performing in paid concerts.
What’d He Wear?
The prolific Dorothy Jeakins received one of her 14 Academy Award nominations for Best Costume Design in recognition of her work on The Sound of Music, in which she also appeared uncredited as Sister Augusta, one of the nuns at Nonnberg Abbey.
Jeakins fittingly dressed the proud Austrian von Trapp in equestrian-inspired garb that incorporates regional pageantry with its gray suiting and rich green detailing. He’s no stranger to traditional Bavarian dress, including the dark gray-and-green janker he wears for his on-screen introduction and the forest green Tracht jacket for the climactic performance and trek across the mountains, but not all of his clothing is strictly rooted in Tracht. Captain von Trapp frequently “dresses down” in sporty gray suits detailed with equestrian-style flap pockets, a dignified and appropriate style for a courtly ex-military officer spending his days at his elegant country villa.
The Green-Trimmed Equestrian-Cut Suit
Trees, lakes, mountains… you’ve seen one, you’ve seen them all!
Not long after he hires Maria and leaves his seven children in her care, Georg von Trapp returns to his picturesque estate with his high-society pals Baroness Elsa von Schrader (Eleanor Parker) and Max Detweiler, the latter self-admittedly inviting himself along as he “needed a place to stay where the cuisine is superb, the wine cellar unexcelled, and the price—uh—perfect.” He escorts the baroness around his grounds, each taking their turns pitching woo just before Maria and the children pitch themselves into the lake as they paddle over to greet him.
Though information abounds about the women’s costumes in The Sound of Music, I’ve seen little about Captain von Trapp’s fine attire. While undoubtedly an execution of costume designer Dorothy Jeakins’ vision, I’m thus unsure of who made this fine suits, and the only tailor I’ve read to be associated with Christopher Plummer was Maxwell Vine of Mayfair (as mentioned by Matt Spaiser for Bond Suits.)
Whoever made this suit for von Trapp neatly drew inspiration from the character’s heritage and lifestyle, blending traditional Tracht and equestrian detailing to create an attractive country suit. The sporty cut of von Trapp’s single-breasted jacket, shaped with front darts, is suppressed at Plummer’s waist for an athletic silhouette. Additional equestrian elements include the single vent, the flapped set-in breast pocket, and flapped hacking pockets on the hips, slanted toward the back to allow a rider easier access while on horseback.
The notch lapels have a dark green felt-finished collar and roll to three neat gilt shank buttons, ornamentations borrowed from Tracht. The suiting itself appears to be a light gray loden, the coarse and durable Tyrolean water-resistant melton wool originally sourced from Austrian mountain sheep and characteristic to classic Bavarian clothing.
The sleeves are finished with wide gauntlet cuffs made from the same soft forest green felt as the collar, each cuff detailed with two decorative gilt buttons.
von Trapp’s white cotton shirt has an icy finish, an almost indiscernible pale blue cast. It has a semi-spread collar, front placket, and unique cuffs that appear to be “double-ply” like the classic French cuff but fused to the sleeves like single cuffs. Obviously, these cuffs are worn fastened with links, in this case a set of small, black-surfaced circular cuff links.
His straight tie echoes the colors of his suit, consisting of stone-gray cross-hatching against a dark green ground, albeit in a more muted shade than the felt detailing on his jacket.
When driving with Max and the Baroness up to his estate, von Trapp wears a hat that follows the Alpine-infused sensibilities as the rest of his outfit. von Trapp’s dark brown felt hat is arguably a Tyrolean hat like his friend Max wears, characterized by the rope-corded band and the short brim, though the brim isn’t quite as closely cropped as the quintessential Tyrolean hat and appears to lack the flourish of brushed feathers.
Given the range of geography included in Alpine, Bavarian, and Tyrolean styles, there doesn’t appear to be one true Tyrolean hat with crown heights, brim widths, and other factors differing based on the wearer’s region.
von Trapp keeps his jacket buttoned so we see little of the trousers aside from the straight-cut legs made from the same lighter gray loden cloth, finished with slightly flared plain-hemmed bottoms that break over his dark brown leather cap-toe derby-laced ankle boots, worn with plain black socks.. Assuming these are styled in the manner of his other trousers, we can assume that they have a flat front.
“What’s gonna happen is going to happen, just make sure it doesn’t happen to you,” Max advises von Trapp regarding the coming annexation by Nazi Germany, met with a firm rebuke from the captain. The rebukes are only just beginning once Maria and the singing children submerge themselves while paddling over to greet Georg, culminating in a showdown where Maria implores that the father be more demonstrative with his love for his children. von Trapp is just about to fire the outspoken governess when he’s moved by the sound of his children’s singing voices; one would thus be correct in saying it’s the sound of, well, music that shifts the captain’s emotions and turns the tide in how he shows attention to his children as well as his growing affection for Maria.
The Gray Mini-Check Suit
We’ve got to get out of Austria and this house… tonight.
When Georg and Maria return home from their honeymoon to a post-Anschluss Salzburg, von Trapp’s first move is to pull down the Nazi flag (“the flag with the black spider,” according to his daughter Gretl) that has been hung from his villa, ripping it apart. The flag wasn’t his only wedding gift from the Third Reich, as he’s also given the request—nay, demand—that he accept a commission in the Kriegsmarine and report for duty the following day. “To refuse them would be fatal for all of us,” von Trapp realizes, “and joining them would be unthinkable.” In response, Georg and Maria plot to spirit their entire family out of German-occupied territory immediately following the children’s inaugural performance at the Salzburg Festival that evening.
von Trapp’s mini-checked sport suit is a significant departure from any traditional Bavarian styles as it looks like it could have been cut by any Western tailor with expertise in country clothing. The lighter-weight wool suiting is patterned with a tic-check that creates the effect of a black vertically oriented grid against a light gray ground.
Like the gray loden suit, the single-breasted suit jacket has flapped pockets, notch lapels, and a three sporty shank buttons on the front, albeit the buttons appear to be gray woven leather rather than metal. In addition to the flapped breast pocket, the hip pockets are flapped and slant backwards, though they follow a gentler slant than the more dramatically angled hacking pockets on his loden suit. Other differing details from the loden suit are short side vents rather than an equestrian single vent, and the cuffs have no ornamentation aside from the two decorative buttons matching those on the front. The flat front trousers were tailored to be worn without a belt.
von Trapp wears another plain white cotton shirt that appears to have an icy cast in certain light, made all the more evident by the blue shade of his dark navy knitted tie.
von Trapp wears a pair of rings throughout The Sound of Music, with a gold band on the third finger of his right hand and a larger pinky ring on his left that has a large, black enamel-filled center.
As depicted in The Sound of Music, the erstwhile naval officer had been sent an “offer” to join the German Navy, but his opposition to Nazi ideology resulted in his turning down the decision and—anticipating arrest or worse reprisals—fled Austria with his family, heading for the United States by way of a train to Italy, rather than over the mountains, as the family held Italian citizenship by nature of von Trapp’s birth in the Austro-Hungarian (now Croatian) city of Zadar, which had become part of the Kingdom of Italy following the 1920 Treaty of Rapallo.
Their musical tour actually brought them back to Salzburg within the year, but the von Trapps were safely back in America by the time war broke out across Europe in September 1939.
How to Get the Look
The proud Austrian von Trapp incorporates elements of traditional Bavarian dress with equestrian country attire for the sporty gray flap-pocket suits he wears around his country estate.
- Light gray loden wool Bavarian-inspired suit:
- Single-breasted equestrian-cut jacket with notch lapels (with forest green felt collar), three gilt shank buttons, flapped set-in breast pocket, slanted flapped hacking pockets, forest green felt-finished turnback cuffs (with two ornamental gilt buttons), and single vent
- Flat front trousers with plain-hemmed bottoms
- Ice-white cotton shirt with semi-spread collar, front placket, and single cuffs
- Black-faced round cuff links
- Dark green and stone-gray cross-hatched straight tie
- Dark brown felt short-brimmed Tyrolean hat with dark brown rope-corded band
- Dark brown leather ankle boots
- Black socks
Do Yourself a Favor and…
Check out the movie. I’m not typically a fan of musicals, but there’s no arguing with The Sound of Music‘s solid anti-Nazi stance.
To refuse them would be fatal for all of us… and joining them would be unthinkable.