Paris Blues: Sidney Poitier’s Jazzy Flannel Suit
Sidney Poitier as Eddie Cook, expatriate jazz saxophonist
Paris, Fall 1960
Film: Paris Blues
Release Date: September 27, 1961
Director: Martin Ritt
Ten years ago, the United Nations established April 30 as International Jazz Day, a global celebration envisioned by Grammy-winning musician and UNESCO Goodwill ambassador Herbie Hancock “to highlight jazz and its diplomatic role of uniting people in all corners of the globe.” The observance feels ideal for taking a first look at the sleek style in Martin Ritt’s cooler-than-ice 1961 drama, Paris Blues, starring Paul Newman and Sidney Poitier as yankee jazzmen making their living in a French nightclub and romancing a pair of American tourists played by Joanne Woodward and Diahann Carroll.
Paris Blues sourced its material from Harold Flender’s 1957 novel of the same name, which highlighted France’s more accepting racial attitudes as opposed to the United States… though this specific plot point was ironically inverted when United Artists insist that the movie diverge from Flender’s plotline celebrating the interracial romance by instead pairing the couples within their races, a decision that Poitier later said “took the spark out of it.”
Luckily, there’s still plenty of spark contributed by the involvement of real-life jazz stars, including Louis Armstrong, Duke Ellington, and pianist Aaron Bridgers. Bridgers appeared on screen as did Satchmo, whose cameo as “Wild Man” Moore was a thinly veiled characterization of his own persona.
Ellington’s Oscar-nominated score included some of his own classic works, including “Mood Indigo” and Billy Strayhorn’s “Take the ‘A’ Train”. The composer’s career had been in decline at the start of the decade, revived after his orchestra’s landmark set during the 1956 Newport Jazz Festival that led to a wave of renewed popularity including soundtracks for movies like Otto Preminger’s Anatomy of a Murder (1959), which preceded Paris Blues.
Paul Gonsalves, whose 27-chorus solo on the exuberant “Diminuendo and Crescendo in Blue” during the July ’56 festival had a direct role in reviving interest in Ellington, performed the tenor sax work “played” by Poitier on screen as Eddie Cook, while Murray McEachern provided Newman’s trombone work as Ram Bowen. (Unfortunately, none of the professional musicians on set bothered to turn Poitier’s Otto Link saxophone mouthpiece in the correct direction!)
What’d He Wear?
Photographed by the veteran French cinematographer, Paris Blues‘ stylish black-and-white photography prevents any chromatic identification beyond color stills taken on set, but paying attention to the details and shades indicate that Sidney Poitier cycles through three suits as Eddie: a light two-button worsted, a charcoal flannel, and this more medium-colored flannel suit that I’ll focus on for today’s post. Not only does it seem to be Eddie’s most frequently worn suit, he wears it for some of the jazziest scenes in the movie, from joining Ram on stage to kick off an Ellington-centric set that includes “Sophisticated Lady” and “Mood Indigo” to hosting an impromptu performance by Louis Armstrong as “Wild Man” Moore.
One of the few color photos of Poitier wearing this suit still makes it difficult to discern the color due to the degree of saturation, though it appears to be either dark gray or taupe with a brownish tint. The napped finish of the wool suggests a medium-weight flannel, a smart suiting for Paris’ cooler transitional seasons.
This suit is one of two from Eddie’s closet with a three-button jacket, often worn with both top two buttons fastened. Standing at 6’2″, Poitier’s height is more compatible with the balance that a full three-button front provides.
Eddie’s suit jacket is tailored and detailed consistent with the era’s trends, with notch lapels, padded shoulders, welted breast pocket, jetted hip pockets, and short double vents.
The unique gauntlet cuff—or “turnback” cuff—is a neo-Edwardian detail that underwent a renaissance on men’s tailoring in the early ’60s, as seen in movies like Breakfast at Tiffany’s and on Sean Connery’s dinner jackets as James Bond; thus, you can read more about how 007 sported them at Bond Suits. Poitier’s suit jacket sleeves are finished with just a single button in addition to the turned-back cuff.
During the early scenes where Eddie and Ram first meet Lillian and Connie during a set at Club 33, Eddie wears a light tonal shirt and tie, suggested by color photography to be a cream-colored combination with the tie a gently darker and warmer shade of yellow than the shirt.
The shirt has a semi-spread collar with double (French) cuffs fastened with a set of gold oblong links, each accented with a long dark stone. His skinny tie is textured with subtle imperfect slubbing suggesting shantung silk, and he holds it in place with an askew tie clip.
When Wild Man arrives at the club several days later, Eddie is dressed to jam in a dark monochromatic shirt-and-tie combination decades before Regis took it mainstream. The black shirt has more of a point collar than its spread-collared predecessor, though the sleeves are also rigged with French cuffs. The tie is likely also black.
Eddie removes his jacket for much of this performance, showing us more of the suit’s matching single forward-pleated trousers. Finished with plain-hemmed bottoms, these trousers have straight pockets along the side seams and jetted back pockets, with a button to close the right-side pocket.
Despite the loops, he wears them without a belt, relying on the excellent tailoring and the button-closed pointed tab on his waistband to keep them up during his energetic stage performances. (Many musicians have also made a habit of eschewing belts, lest the metal buckles scratch the backs of their instruments.)
Eddie’s shoes appear to be black leather cap-toe derbies, worn with dark—again, likely black—socks.
Outside the club, Eddie still takes a jazzy approach to this suit with a starkly contrasting black shirt and a tie so light it can only be white, worn during a daytime date with Connie as the couple discusses the possibilities of a romantic future, she wanting to return to the United States while he hopes to remain in France.
Poitier was photographed wearing this shirt, tie, and suit under his raincoat in color images used for contemporary covers of Ebony magazine, first to promote the movie in August 1961 and then again four years later to chronicle when the real-life Poitier/Carroll romance began.
Whether slung over his shoulder or buttoned up against the weather, Eddie’s go-to outer layer is a khaki-hued knee-length raincoat made from a water-resistant gabardine. The three-button coat has raglan sleeves with plain cuffs but a short jetted slot at the end, perhaps for straps he had removed.
Rather than a single back vent, the coat has side vents that extend as high as the bottom back corner of each hip-positioned patch pocket; these pockets are covered with rectangular two-button flaps.
The maker of Eddie’s raincoat should be easy to identify, given the glimpse we see of the patches sewn along the inside when he drapes the coat over his lap while taking Connie on a date for some much-acclaimed French onion soup. The larger top patch reads “STORM” while the patch below it carries the name “BARCLAY”, though my cursory research hasn’t yielded any results suggesting if either of these suggest a brand that would have competed with English giants Aquascutum and Burberry for rainwear supremacy during the era.
Tucked under his left sleeve, Eddie wears a round metal-cased watch with a light-colored dial on a dark leather strap.
How to Get the Look
At its core, Sidney Poitier’s wardrobe in Paris Blues doesn’t differ much from most stylish tailoring from this timeless mid-century period, though he incorporates a few jazzy details like the neo-Edwardian gauntlet cuffs on his jacket and the monochromatic shirts and ties better suited to the club than the conference room, communicating the power of how little character-adding details can go a long way.
- Dark gray flannel wool tailored suit:
- Single-breasted 3-button jacket with notch lapels, welted breast pocket, straight jetted hip pockets, 1-button turnback/”gauntlet” cuffs, and short double vents
- Single forward-pleated trousers with belt loops, straight/on-seam side pockets, jetted back pockets, and plain-hemmed bottoms
- Cream shirt with spread collar and double/French cuffs
- Gold oblong cuff links with dark narrow stones
- Cream shantung silk tie
- Black leather cap-toe derby shoes
- Black socks
- Watch with a light-colored dial on a dark leather strap
- Khaki gabardine 3-button raincoat with raglan sleeves, patch hip pockets (with 2-button flaps), and double vents
Do Yourself a Favor and…
Check out the movie.
I like to walk and I like the way you walk, and Paris is a city to walk in.