Christopher Plummer in Knives Out
Christopher Plummer as Harlan Thrombey, mystery novelist and wealthy patriarch
Massachusetts, November 2018
Film: Knives Out
Release Date: November 27, 2019
Director: Rian Johnson
Costume Designer: Jenny Eagan
The great Canadian actor Christopher Plummer died a week ago today at the age of 91 after three quarters of a century honing his craft across stage and screen from Shakespeare to The Sound of Music.
In his penultimate screen credit, Knives Out, Plummer starred as Harlan Thrombey, a charismatic writer who built his fortune through writing mystery novels and, on his 85th birthday, resolves to finally set his free-loading family free. The decision evidently results in Harlan’s violent death, which brings idiosyncratic detective Benoit Blanc (Daniel Craig) to the Thrombey family estate where he takes a special interest in Harlan’s devoted nurse Marta Cabrera (Ana de Armas) and what she may be able to reveal from Harlan’s final night.
What’d He Wear?
Aside from a few flashbacks, most of our screen-time with Harlan Thrombey is spent on the evening of his 85th birthday party, a celebration marred by his decision to break most of his family’s financial dependence on his self-made fortune. The next morning, Harlan is found dead in his study, a knife drawn across his throat having spilled his blood all over his tasteful clothing.
Many costumes and props from Knives Out were auctioned last year, the costumes often accompanied by extensive notes from Jenny Eagen’s costume team that indicate exact details about the manufacturer and materials used for each piece worn on screen. Though the auction has ended and the link no longer active (but can be found here, if any internet magicians want try to recover a cached version), Christopher Plummer’s primary costume as Harlan was among these auctioned pieces.
Harlan dresses for his party in a Polo Ralph Lauren navy suit, checked with a subdued gray windowpane, and constructed from a soft wool gabardine. He’s almost exclusively seated when wearing the suit’s single-breasted jacket, but it’s enough to discern the notch lapels rolling to the top of a two-button front as well as a welted breast pocket and four-button cuffs.
I would suspect the suit has been cut with either single or double vents, the former more typical of classic American business suits while the latter side-vented style is frequently found on Ralph Lauren suits (including this discounted Lauren by Ralph Lauren navy windowpane suit available from Men’s Wearhouse as of February 2021; a more likely contender for an evolved version of Harlan’s suit would be this Polo Ralph Lauren suit, now unavailable but styled with all the hallmarks of Harlan’s screen-worn suit aside from a bolder windowpane check.) The full suit can be seen on display in photos shared by Hollywood Movie Costumes & Props, revealing other details like the straight flapped hip pockets.
Harlan signals his position of royalty as the Thrombey family patriarch with his rich gold silk tie, patterned with a paisley laced with sky-blue accents that call out the rich navy suiting or the lighter blue in his shirt.
The suit’s flat front trousers have sliding-tab adjusters toward the back of each side of the waistband, fastening through silver buckles, though Harlan also holds up his trousers with a black leather belt. The belt coordinates to his black smooth calf Santoni loafers, worn with black ribbed socks that rise up over his calves. The unique slip-on shoes are accented with hand-sewn stitching around the apron toe and a braided panel across the instep that offsets the crocodile-textured vamps.
The trousers’ side pockets have gently slanted openings, and the jetted back pockets each close through a single button. The bottoms appear to be finished with turn-ups (cuffs).
We spend the most time with Harlan after the party, specifically through Marta’s recollections of the final night of his life. He’s more casually dressed for their round of Go, having discarded with his jacket and tie. Similarly to how men of his generation may have put on a cardigan to relax around the house, Harlan slips on an oatmeal-hued waistcoat (or “vest” to us Americans.)
This off-the-rack fine woolen tweed vest was made by Joseph Abboud, described by the costume tag as a “dull light beige leather” and size large. The vest has five brown plastic sew-through buttons, all worn undone by Harlan, with a finely welt following the edge of the single-breasted opening down to the notched bottom. Though the lining is a hairline navy-and-white stripe, the back of the vest is faced in the same tweed cloth as the front unlike some suit waistcoats where the back matches the lining. Harlan’s vest also has two lower welted pockets.
Harlan’s striped cotton shirt echoes his suit with its classic white pattern against a blue ground. Indeed, the shirt is also a Polo Ralph Lauren product, described in the costumer’s tag as a “very light cornflower blue oxford type fabric [with] 1/8″ wide white pinstripes.” I could hardly describe the shirting better than that, so let’s move on to the details.
The shirt has a traditional spread collar, front placket, and double (French) cuffs that Harlan fastens with a set of “two 3/8″-wide cream pearly plastic buttons sewn together [with] a 1/2″-long cream thread sewing tack,” again according to the costume notes.
Harlan unbuttons his left cuff so that Marta may administer his intravenous dosages of ketorolac and morphine sulfate, revealing his wristwatch which has been identified as a vintage Waltham on a brown leather strap. It’s an appropriate choice for the New England-dwelling author as the Waltham Watch Company was headquartered just a dozen miles west of Boston and thus not far from the Thrombey estate.
Three years after producing its first prototype, the Boston Watch Company manufactured its first run of watches in January 1853. The following year, operations moved from Roxbury, Massachusetts to Waltham, where it would be reorganized after bankruptcy. The Waltham Model 1857 would become the first American pocket watch made of standardized parts and would be famously presented to Abraham Lincoln after he delivered the Gettysburg Address, signaling that the company had indeed arrived. Exactly 100 years after introducing the iconic pocket watch favored by Honest Abe, the Waltham Watch Company went out of business in 1957.
On his right wrist, Harlan wears a sterling silver ID bracelet on a link chain, but it remains generally covered by his closed shirt cuff; the steel-cased Waltham watch with its round cream dial and the brown leather strap closing through a gold-finished single-prong buckle remain much more prominently seen on screen.
Earlier that day, Harlan had confronted several of his family members who visited him in his study. He’s dressed more casually—and considerably more colorfully—in an earthy plaid sport jacket and a pink checked contrast-collar shirt.
The tweed single-breasted sports coat is block-checked in olive, sage-green, and rust, with a black and brown overcheck that makes the heavy twill jacket a somewhat more chaotic alternative to the tweeds one might expect to see worn by a wealthy older gentleman at his country estate, though the extended throat latch on the left notch lapel is a classic detail in the sportswear tradition. We don’t see much of the rest of the jacket aside from the straight, padded shoulders and welted breast pocket, though I’m sure the unique detailing and colorway could be enough for eagle-eyed sartorialists to trace its manufacturer. (If I had to guess, I’d suggest this was another Polo Ralph Lauren garment.)
Surprising contrast is added by Harlan’s hot pink shirt, detailed with a white mini grid-check that coordinates with the white cutaway-style spread collar. The double cuffs are made from the same checked pink cloth as the rest of the shirt, which I believe is also a Polo Ralph Lauren item as it resembles some of the Purple Label offerings I’ve seen from the brand in recent years.
Finally, a brief vignette set earlier that autumn features Harlan sharing the details of his son-in-law’s infidelity with Marta, dressed for warmth and comfort in a gray wool shawl-collar cardigan sweater tonally paired over a gray jersey-knit polo-style shirt. The stitch patterns of Harlan’s cable-knit cardigan alternate between a classic diamond-stitch and braided cable, illustrating that Ransom isn’t the only one in the family who knows how to wear a sweater with style.
How to Get the Look
Harlan Thrombey dresses tastefully for his 85th birthday, elegantly mixing patterns with his windowpane suit, striped shirt, and paisley tie, easily converting the look for comfort after the festivities by swapping out the jacket and tie for a stylish tweed waistcoat.
- Navy windowpane wool gabardine suit:
- Single-breasted 2-button jacket with notch lapels, welted breast pocket, straight flapped hip pockets, 4-button cuffs, and double vents
- Flat front trousers with belt loops, slide-tab side adjusters, slanted front pockets, button-through back pockets, and turn-ups/cuffs
- Light blue white-striped cotton shirt with spread collar, front placket, and double/French cuffs
- Gold paisley silk tie
- Beige heather woolen tweed single-breasted 5-button waistcoat/vest with two lower welt pockets
- Black leather belt with silver-toned single-prong buckle
- Black leather Italian loafers with hand-sewn apron toes, crocodile-textured vamps, braided instep straps, and leather soles
- Black ribbed over-the-calf socks
- Sterling silver chain-link ID bracelet
- Vintage steel Waltham wristwatch with cream dial on brown leather strap
Do Yourself a Favor and…
Check out the movie, released on 4K Ultra HD, Blu-ray, DVD, and streaming services.
I don’t fear death, but, oh God, I’d like to fix some of this before I go… close the book with a flourish.