Mike Myers as Austin Powers, swingin’ secret agent
Las Vegas, Summer 1997
Film: Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery
Release Date: May 2, 1997
Director: Jay Roach
Costume Designer: Deena Appel
Tailor: Tommy Velasco
Several weeks ago, I delighted in the opportunity to rejoin the estimable Pete Brooker and Matt Spaiser of Bond Suits on the From Tailors with Love podcast, this time talking with Deena Appel, the prolific costume designer who created the shagadelic looks of all three Austin Powers movies. (You can find the episode split into two parts—Part 1 and Part 2—as well as Pete’s “show notes” here.)
Pete concluded our conversation by asking each participant which costume resonated most with us, and my answer—which surprised Deena at least—was the red velvet double-breasted suit that the cryogenically frozen Austin wears when re-entering the world by way of late ’90s Las Vegas in the first movie, which was released 24(!) years ago today on May 2, 1997.
One thing that pleasantly surprised me as I revisited the trilogy in advance of the podcast recording was how gleefully effective the Austin Powers movies—particularly the first installment—was at deconstructing and essentially neutralizing some of the more tired tropes of the James Bond franchise, whether it’s the supposedly “secret” agent who borders on being a global celebrity or the unnecessarily intricate and relatively escapable death mechanisms said agent is subjected to.
Our reigning 007, Daniel Craig, even called this out in a 2012 interview with MI6 Confidential, explaining that the more serious nature of his rebooted series was a direct result of how Austin Powers had so mercilessly satirized the tropes of early Bond that “we had to destroy the myth because Mike Myers fucked us!”
Austin Powers’ big screen debut, subtitled International Man of Mystery, wisely hinges its plot on that most mockable of early Bonds, Diamonds are Forever, which was almost a self-parody as we followed an uninterested Sean Connery sauntering past cartoonish villains on his way to collect a paycheck (which, to Sir Sean’s credit, was then almost entirely donated to Scottish International Education Trust.) Of course, Austin Powers targets the Bond franchise as a whole, with this sequence alone satirizing Thunderball (Number Two as a quasi-Largo), You Only Live Twice (Alotta Fagina quoting “in Japan, men come first and women come second), and a twist of Roger Moore between the Moonraker-esque mini spy camera and the straight-outta-A View to a Kill hot tub seduction.
Even when not deconstructing 007, Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery swung into theaters at just the right time with its lighthearted mix of stylish fun and easy quotability… perhaps too quotable, as anyone who knew 10-year-old me can confirm!
What’d He Wear?
Austin Powers’ signature blue velvet suit is the only one of the international man of mystery’s suits to actually appear in all three films — and Deena Appel had suggested that, if he could have, Mike Myers would have almost exclusively worn that suit! Luckily for the viewer, Deena envisioned a colorful wardrobe for Austin Powers, specifically designed to differentiate his vivid world from the drab gray of Dr. Evil’s domain.
Among the dozens of suits and jackets built for the series, Austin always had a red velvet suit that differed by pattern and style between the movies. The first was this self-striped suit with a high-fastening double-breasted jacket, followed in The Spy Who Shagged Me by a solid red single-breasted suit, and finally a two-toned striped suit for Austin’s trip to Tokyo in Goldmember.
“In terms of overall silhouette, Mike had wanted… whatever that visual was to be iconic,” Deena explained to us of her approach. “For the most part, I stuck to a very specific silhouette and changed the color or the fabrication or the pattern. There were occasions where I would do a different shape, like—in Las Vegas—there was the double-breasted.”
While I’d like to eventually highlight more of Austin Powers’ distinctive wardrobe, this first self-striped red velvet suit has always been a highlight for me, and—given that we see it in various stages of dress from his struggle in a toilet stall to an assignation with Alotta Fagina—it felt like the perfect place to begin when discussing how Austin dressed in the ’60s… and how he has no interest in updating his wardrobe for the ’90s.
Though the costume obviously differs in its execution, the effect of Austin arriving in Las Vegas echoes Sean Connery’s 007 strolling through the casino in Diamonds are Forever, wearing a tasteful but anachronistic white dinner jacket that contrasts against the sea of Ban-Lon and leisure suits. Like Bond, Austin Powers doesn’t seem to care if no one else is dressed like him. Even when his curious costume is called out (“Hey, are you in the show?” “No, actually, I’m English”), he looks just as comfortable and confident in his bright velvet suit and jabot as you may in a polo and jeans… and that’s what gives him his mojo, baby.
Crushed velvet is stated to be Austin’s suit fabric of choice when his clothes are returned to him after being unfrozen. Deena recalled that, in addition to the fabric swatches provided from all over the country, many of Austin’s suits were made from upholstery fabric as these were both vibrant and period-appropriate while also friendlier to her limited budget. Crafting these heavy fabrics into Austin’s stylish suits was a task for the legendary Universal Studios tailor Tommy Velasco. “Tommy was truly a remarkable craftsman,” Deena recalled of Velasco, who died in 2009 after working for six decades as a Hollywood tailor and receiving the Costume Designers Guild President’s Award.
Austin’s suit in Las Vegas is cut from a bright red velvet, patterned with bold awning-width self-stripes bordered by a narrower stripe on each side. Lined in a black, white, and gray paisley silk, the suit jacket has the conventional welted breast pocket, straight flapped hip pockets, and long double vents, though these are among the few aspects of traditional tailoring present.
Deena described Austin’s specific “stand-and-fold” collar that resembles an exaggerated Ulster-style lapel, an old-fashioned detail that underwent a renaissance during the Regency revival of the late ’60s. The double-breasted arrangement on this suit diverges from the silhouette Deena had envisioned for most of Austin’s suits, high-fastening with two parallel columns of four cloth-covered buttons.
The sleeves are finished with a unique configuration of a single button on each side of where the cuff joins together, unlike the overlapping sleeve-ends of a traditional suit jacket. Though vestigial, these cuff buttons appear to be “linked” under the sleeve (like the cuff links on a French-cuffed shirt), similar to the flared cuffs on the sleeves of Roger Moore’s early Cyril Castle-tailored suits as James Bond.
The lower rise of Austin’s flat front trousers follow the fashions of the late ’60s, as do the Western-style “frogmouth” front pockets that were trendiest during this period of falling waistlines and tighter hips. The trousers also have two jetted back pockets and taper through the leg to the unique quasi-equestrian detail of three vestigial buttons stacked along the side seam of each plain-hemmed bottom.
Austin holds his trousers up with a wide white patent leather belt, contrast-stitched along the edges and closed through a bright silver squared single-prong buckle.
Austin happily greets the “one pair of Italian boots” returned to him after he’s unfrozen, and these vintage boots would be his go-to footwear regardless of the rest of his outfit for the duration of the series.
Despite the style being nearly a century old, Chelsea boots grew increasingly fashionable throughout the late 1960s, aided by their popularity among mods as well as The Beatles, whom Deena Appel had cited as an example of a major influence on her costume design for Austin Powers. Austin’s boots blend the dramatic details of Beatle boots—specifically the pointed toes and over-the-ankle height—with the elastic side gussets of traditional Chelsea boots.
Though the height of his boots generally meet the bottoms of his trousers, Austin wears tonally appropriate dress socks in thin burgundy silk that are glimpsed during more physical activities like a game of Twister or climbing into Alotta Fagina’s penthouse window.
“One silver medallion with male symbol,” representing Austin’s proud embrace of his swinging sexuality, would become the agent’s trademark and eventually incorporated into everything from his silk dressing gown to his wetsuit in Goldmember. Angled about 60° (♂), the silver pendant hangs from a ball-chain necklace, typically worn outside both Austin’s jabot and jacket, and is retconned in Goldmember to be a prize from Austin’s school awarded to the graduate most worthy of the title “International Man of Mystery”.
Deena Appel shared with Clothes on Film how the specific screen-worn necklace was found and developed:
I was shopping on Melrose Avenue and happened on these male symbol necklace charms on classic silver ball chain. I had the holes filled and re-drilled to the 2:00 position, certainly a phallic suggestion, something that would appeal to Austin.
Despite the on-screen reference to Austin’s “frilly lace cravat”, that distinctive Regency-era neckwear ruffling down Austin Powers’ chest is actually a jabot, a unique piece of neckwear that Alan Flusser defines in Dressing the Man as having originated as “a ruffle on the bosom of a man’s shirt” before it evolved into a specific “style of neckwear for formalwear with a neckband and ruffles below it.”
Matt Spaiser has written eloquently and extensively for Bond Suits about the many intentional parallels between Austin Powers’ costume design and the 007 series, and Deena herself suggested that George Lazenby’s Scottish Highland dress in his sole film as James Bond, On Her Majesty’s Secret Service (1969), influenced Mike Myers’ wish to incorporate the jabot into his attire, in addition to her usual influences of George Harrison, the Beatles, and other sartorial symbols of the Peacock Revolution in the late ’60s. (While not a direct influence by any means, this flowery top was also revived in pop culture consciousness during the ’90s as the eponymous garment at the center of “The Puffy Shirt”, a famous episode from the fifth season of Seinfeld.)
Given its historical significance and associations with Beau Brummell-type dandies, jabots are frequently offered by period costume outfitters like Historical Emporium.
Austin’s lacy jabot is not integrated with the rest of his white cotton shirt, instead fastened to one of two looped buttonholes on the neckband that allows him to swing the actual jabot over his shoulder when undressing for one of his many swingin’ rendezvous. When worn correctly over the front of the shirt, the jabot cascades in four frilly layers that gently taper down over the navel. Under this, the button-up bib is lace-trimmed to echo the jabot with loop-style buttonholes spaced up the chest to close the shirt. The set-in sleeves fall a few inches off the shoulder, where they puff out over the arms before they’re gathered at a single-button closure over the wrist that then blousons out with more extensive lace trim enveloping each hand.
Austin completes his look with his signature eyeglasses, a pair of black plastic Cutler & Gross glasses with rectangular frames, echoing the style popularized by Michael Caine as English spy Harry Palmer in The Ipcress File (1965). One of Mike Myers’ screen-worn pairs was auctioned by Christie’s, which described that this specific set of specs had been “given to a crew member by the prop master who predicted the film would be a flop.”
What to Imbibe
Determining that Vanessa deserves a classy night on the town, Austin books a date atop a double-decker tour bus with no less than “Mr. Burt Bacharach!” serenading them, with plenty of champagne from Moët & Chandon on the bus to a continued celebration in their hotel room fueled by Perrier-Jouët “Belle Époque”.
The “Belle Époque” brut can be easily distinguished by its floral-painted bottle, first designed by Emile Gallé in 1902… indeed, during the era of French history known as “Belle Époque”. Gallé’s design of Japanese white anemones was deemed too expensive for mass production, and the bottles would be stored away in Perrier-Jouët’s cellars for more than sixty years. The design was rediscovered in 1964 when then-cellar master André Baveret literally dusted off the four hand-painted magnums. Five years later, Perrier-Jouët introduced its first “Belle Époque” cuvée for Duke Ellington’s 70th birthday celebration in April 1969 at Alcazar restaurant in Paris.
Read more about Perrier-Jouët, including the Belle Époque variety, in Caroline Henry’s 2014 article for Wine Searcher.
How to Get the Look
Austin Powers’ distinctive look of velvet suits, lace jabot, thick specs, and Italian boots was inspired by many of his contemporary pop culture figures from the late ’60s, with costume designer Deena Appel citing The Beatles (specifically George Harrison), Michael Caine, Peter Sellers, and indeed 007 as the major influences of our international man of mystery’s swingin’ style.
- Red self-striped velvet tailored suit:
- Double-breasted jacket with extended ulster-style collar, 8×4 self-covered buttons, welted breast pocket, straight flapped hip pockets, single link-button cuffs, and double vents
- Flat front trousers with tall belt loops, “frogmouth”-style front pockets, jetted back pockets, and tapered 3-button bottoms
- White cotton pullover shirt with four-layered lace jabot, loop-button bib, and single-button frilly lace cuffs
- White patent leather belt with bright silver squared steel single-prong buckle
- Black vintage leather pointed-toe Chelsea boots
- Burgundy silk socks
- Black plastic rectangular-framed Cutler & Gross glasses
- Silver ball-chain necklace with 60°-angled male symbol pendant (♂)
Of course, rather than just copying any of these figures, Austin’s style blends the elements that resonate most with his personality and adds his own twists of individuality. Wearing a red velvet suit, lace jabot, and necklace emblazoned with the male symbol will undoubtedly invite comparisons to Austin Powers, but you can take a lesson from him in how to pay homage to your favorite style icons while still dressing in a manner that expresses your own individuality.
Do Yourself a Favor and…
Check out the movie.
Allow myself to introduce… myself. My name is Richie Cunningham, and this is my wife, Oprah.