William Powell as Nick Charles, retired private detective
San Francisco, New Year’s Eve 1936
Film: After the Thin Man
Release Date: December 25, 1936
Director: W.S. Van Dyke
Wardrobe Credit: Dolly Tree
Happy New Year! Dashiell Hammett and “One-Take Woody” Van Dyke continued the runaway success of The Thin Man by reuniting William Powell and Myrna Loy as crime-solving power couple Nick and Nora Charles, coming home to San Francisco after solving the famous “Thin Man” case during their holiday in New York. The three-day train ride returns Nick and Nora to the City by the Bay just in time for New Year’s Eve, where they find their home commandeered by revelers that have already kicked off their celebrations.
Given that Nick’s success in the Wynant murder remains the talk of the town, it’s clear that the action was meant to pick up exactly where The Thin Man left off following Christmas 1933, though the Charles family steps off the Sunset Limited into a world where the clothes, cars, and music all reflect the contemporary setting of 1936.
Nick and Nora are greeted home by the boisterous “Sing, Sing, Sing (With a Swing)”, the 1936 hit originally written and recorded by Louis Prima that would be immortalized by the Benny Goodman orchestra’s epochal 12-minute performance live at Carnegie Hall in January 1938… and, for some, by a Chips Ahoy! commercial. Despite the composition’s increasing association with Goodman, Prima would re-record it during the “Wildest!” phase of his career, cutting a version for his 1958 album Strictly Prima that would be prominently featured on the Casino soundtrack.
In After the Thin Man, “Sing, Sing, Sing” is sung by Eadie Adams, a vocalist from Kay Kyser’s outfit who briefly turned from nightclubs to movies—primarily playing singers—during the mid-1930s. Given the unfortunate dearth of Ms. Adams’ listening material available on the internet, I suggest listening to the recordings that a young Louis Prima made on the Brunswick label with the New Orleans Gang throughout the ’30s to get yourself in that Thin Man state of mind… with a martini (or six) at hand, of course.
What’d He Wear?
Nick Charles wears two double-breasted suits in After the Thin Man, this lighter-colored traveling suit on New Year’s Eve and then a darker flannel suit when setting out to solve an assortment of murders on New Year’s Day. Little to no documentation exists informing us of the color of the former, aside from the visual evidence from the movie itself which suggests a lighter-colored worsted, likely hued in one of the popular colors of the era such as blue, gray, brown, or even green.
Nick’s suit jacket was tailored in the style of the era, with sharp peak lapels, padded shoulders, and the traditional 6×2-button configuration spaced to flatter Powell’s lean 5’11” frame. The ventless jacket has straight jetted hip pockets and a welted breast pocket from which a rakishly arranged white pocket square protrudes. Each sleeve is finished with three-button cuffs.
Though suit jackets have changed little from the 1930s to today, our first look at Nick Charles on the train to San Francisco shows just how much trousers have evolved since that proverbial “golden era” of men’s fashion. In addition to the already long rise, the trouser waist hem gently rises to a center “braces back” with two buttons where Nick fastens the hooks of his light-colored suspenders (braces). This detail was certainly not universal to men’s trousers of the era, as some achieved the same purpose with a small split on the back, others fastened their braces to buttons along the inside of the waistband, and others yet were increasingly embracing belts as alternatives.
Nick doesn’t rely solely on his suspenders to keep his trousers in place as they’ve also been tailored with a set of buckle-fastening tabs on each side of the waistband to adjust the fit. From the waist down, Nick’s pleated trousers generally resemble modern pants with their straight pockets along the side seams, jetted back pockets, and turn-ups (cuffs) on the bottoms.
Nick wears a light-colored shirt with a hairline stripe so faint that the cotton shirting looks to be solid in medium shots. The fastidious details of the pinned collar and double (French) cuffs speak to the well-dressed Nick’s nature, as neither collar nor cuffs could be worn without the appropriate accoutrement. He wears a medium-colored tie with a unique repeating all-over pattern of small pale circles bisected by a darker barbell-shaped object.
Nick wears a pair of cap-toe oxfords in a lighter-than-black leather that suggests brown.
Nick carries—but never wears—a houndstooth check wool topcoat that appears to have an ulster-style collar and raglan sleeves. His fedora is made of a light-colored felt, lighter than his suiting, and is detailed with a pinched crown, self-edged brim, and a dark grosgrain band.
What to Imbibe
Nora: Are you packing, dear?
Nick: Yes, darling, I’m just putting away this liquor.
More than two years had passed since audiences first met Nick and Nora Charles in The Thin Man, though the sequel wastes no time in reminding fans of the couples’ shared love for spirits. As Nick and Nora prepare to alight from the train in San Francisco, he takes care not to waste any remnants of the batch of martinis he had evidently premixed in their shaker, not bothering to shake to waltz time and instead allowing the motion of the Sunset Limited to perform the yeoman’s share of the shaking.
Back in their home—and, more importantly, their home bar—Nick is dismayed to find his Napoleon brandy being ravaged by the unwanted guests at their homecoming party… though he soon follows their example as he pours a couple of snifters for him and Nora upon learning of their dreaded New Year’s Eve plans with Nora’s prim and prickly Aunt Katherine. Unfortunately, I’m not well-versed enough in the realm of interwar-era cognac to identify Nick’s prized stock.
How to Get the Look
William Powell brought his usual debonair style to the first sequel to The Thin Man, re-introducing us to Nick Charles while wearing a light worsted double-breasted suit for train travel.
- Medium-light worsted double-breasted suit:
- Double-breasted jacket with sharp peak lapels, 6×2-button configuration, welted breast pocket, straight jetted hip pockets, 3-button cuffs, and ventless back
- Double reverse-pleated long-rise trousers with buckle-tab side adjusters, 2-button “braces back”, straight/on-seam side pockets, jetted back pockets, and turn-ups/cuffs
- Light hairline-striped cotton shirt with pinned collar, plain “French placket”, and double/French cuffs
- Medium-colored tie with small two-color repeating all-over print
- Light-colored suspenders
- Brown leather cap-toe oxford shoes
- Medium-colored socks
- Light-colored felt fedora with dark grosgrain band
- Gold tank watch on dark leather strap
Do Yourself a Favor and…
Check out the entire film series and Dashiell Hammett’s original treatments outlining After the Thin Man and Another Thin Man in the single volume released as Return of the Thin Man… significant for being the last fiction that Hammett composed during his life.
Darling, you don’t need mystery. You’ve got something much better. Something more alluring… me.