Goodbye, Columbus: Neil’s Date Night Seersucker
Richard Benjamin as Neil Klugman, listless library employee and Army veteran
Westchester, New York, Summer 1968
Film: Goodbye, Columbus
Release Date: April 3, 1969
Director: Larry Peerce
Costume Designer: Gene Coffin
In addition to today being the birthday of star Richard Benjamin—born on this day in 1938—today also marks three years since the death of Philip Roth, who died of congestive heart failure on May 22, 2018. Roth’s novella Goodbye, Columbus provided the source material for Ali MacGraw’s major screen debut acting opposite Benjamin.
Goodbye, Columbus has been favorably compared to The Graduate, inviting parallels with its similar-looking leads: a somewhat awkward, naive, and listless young man romancing a dark-haired “princess” against her parents’ wishes (though for a dramatically different reason than the Robinsons had), scored against the backdrop of a hip band from the late ’60s, in this case The Association as opposed to Simon & Garfunkel’s famous soundtrack for The Graduate.
Unlike the West Coast-set saga of Benjamin Braddock, Goodbye, Columbus centers around New York City, as the Bronx-born Neil meets the Westchester-dwelling Brenda during a summer day at the pool. The two arrange a date for that evening following her tennis match, which evolves into a test of Neil’s patience as he watches the sun setting from the bleaches while Brenda finishes the game.
What’d He Wear?
Among the many parallels drawn between Goodbye, Columbus and The Graduate, Neil Klugman and Dustin Hoffman’s Benjamin Braddock also seem to share pieces from the same Ivy-inspired closet, including this narrow-striped seersucker jacket that both men press into service for respective date nights. Neil gets frequent use of his, dressing it down for his first date with Brenda and then dressing it up when reluctantly escorting her to a party.
Neil’s single-breasted jacket has three widely spaced mother-of-pearl sew-through buttons, the notch lapels folding over the top to present the classic 3/2-roll popularized in the United States by Ivy icons Brooks Brothers and J. Press. The jacket also has a welted breast pocket, straight flapped hip pockets, a single vent, and two-button cuffs.
Traditionally associated with the wider “railroad stripe”, seersucker progressed to include variants like the hairline-width stripes on Neil’s sport coat as it evolved from warm-weather workwear into a more universally worn summer style staple. Crafted from a lightweight cotton that would be comfortable for the summer evenings, these ultra-thin blue and white puckered stripes present as a mottled light blue when not seen close up.
In the spirit of Brenda’s tennis match, Neil dons a short-sleeved polo shirt made from a royal blue jersey-knit cotton. The shirt has two dark blue buttons that barely contrast against the color of the shirt, and Neil keeps them both undone.
Neil tucks the polo shirt into charcoal flat front trousers with side pockets, button-through back pockets, and plain-hemmed bottoms, held up by a black leather belt with a curved gold-finished single-prong buckle. Apropos the informality of his dress, Neil slips into a pair of comfortable penny loafers made from very dark brown leather uppers, with black socks.
For a day working at the library, Neil appropriates a classic trad look layered under his seersucker jacket, consisting of a light blue oxford cloth button-down (OCBD) shirt, striped repp tie, and beige chinos.
The shirt has the elegantly rolled button-down collar that Brooks Brothers introduced to the United States around the turn-of-the-century as well as a front placket, breast pocket, and single-button barrel cuffs, and the tie is bar-striped in burgundy and navy-blue following the American “downhill” stripe direction. His flat front chinos have gently slanted “quarter top” side pockets, jetted back pockets, and tapered legs down to the plain-hemmed bottoms. The dark brown leather belt with its gunmetal single-prong buckle coordinates with the same dark brown weejuns he wore earlier, again with black socks.
The jacket makes its final appearance as Neil accompanies Brenda to a fraternity-esque summer soiree, combining the pieces he’d previously worn with it: the charcoal gray trousers and black belt return for yet another evening function, while the light blue OCBD signals his recognition that this is a dressier event, worn here with a dark navy knitted tie. (This outfit most directly echoes The Graduate‘s style, as Dustin Hoffman wore a nearly identical kit for Benjamin’s almost-doomed date with Elaine.)
Despite Neil’s embrace of this Ivy-associated style, he mocks the collegiate-obsessed lifestyle of the sweaty graduates surrounding them, referring to each other only by their alma maters (“Dartmouth? Dartmouth!”) that leads to an argument when Neil criticizes the pursuit of wealth at the expense of all else that seems to drive Brenda’s network of family and friends. The honesty and passion results in more intimacy, including shared declarations of love and Brenda’s impulsive desire to go skinny-dipping.
Neil wears a stainless steel watch with a round black dial, secured to his left wrist on a steel expanding bracelet.
Before their first date, Neil tells Brenda he’ll be picking her up in a “blue convertible”, motoring to the tennis court in his 1960 Chevrolet Impala, painted the icy “horizon blue metallic” offered by GM.
Neil’s ten-year-old Impala was from early in the model’s run, before it became a flagship for Chevrolet across the late 20th century into the 21st. Chevy had introduced the Impala as a top-of-the-line trim level for the two-door Bel Air to coincide with General Motors’ 50th anniversary in 1958, though it was redesigned as its own full-size model for the 1959 and 1960 model years with a longer wheelbase, wider body, and lower profile.
Now its own model, the Impala added a four-door sedan and hardtop to its lineup, retaining the Sport Coupe and Convertible models from its introduction as a Bel Air trim line. The “Blue Flame” straight-six engine came standard, with two V8 size options available for more performance-oriented drivers.
With no exterior cosmetic differences between each engine option and no related dialogue or shots of the engine, we can only speculate whether Neil was driving a 235 cubic-inch straight-six, a 283 “Turbo Fire” V8, or the 348 “Turbo-Thrust” V8. Even the transmission is up for debate, as one can glean that it’s likely an automatic transmission, but that could be either the two-speed Powerglide or three-speed Turboglide. Based on Neil’s personality and the degree of upkeep on the car, I’d suspect he has a middle-of-the-road option, possibly powered by the 283 cubic-inch “Economy Turbo Fire” V8 and an automatic transmission, with the below specs sourced from the excellent Automobile Catalog.
1960 Chevrolet Impala
Body Style: 2-door convertible
Layout: front-engine, rear-wheel-drive (RWD)
Engine: 283 cu. in. (4.6 L) Chevrolet “Economy Turbo Fire” V8 with single Rochester 2-barrel carburetor
Power: 170 hp (126.5 kW; 172 PS) @ 4200 RPM
Torque: 275 lb·ft (373 N·m) @ 2400 RPM
Transmission: 2- or 3-speed automatic
Wheelbase: 108.1 inches (2746 mm)
Length: 210.8 inches (5354 mm)
Width: 80.8 inches (2052 mm)
Height: 54 inches (1372 mm)
Nearly 500,000 of this second Impala series were produced in 1959 and 1960 before the car would again be restyled in ’61.
How to Get the Look
Neil’s approach to dressing for his date is rooted in practicality and comfort, the light-wearing seersucker jacket a reasonable top layer for a summer night with the open-necked polo and penny loafers suggesting a respectful informality that’s fittingly echoed when Brenda remains dressed for tennis after his arrival.
- Blue-and-white narrow-striped seersucker cotton single-breasted 3/2-roll sport jacket with notch lapels, welted breast pocket, straight flapped hip pockets, 2-button cuffs, and single vent
- Blue jersey-knit cotton 2-button polo shirt
- Charcoal gray flat front trousers with belt loops, on-seam side pockets, button-through back pockets, and plain-hemmed bottoms
- Black leather belt with gold-finished curved single-prong buckle
- Dark brown leather penny loafers
- Black cotton lisle socks
- Steel watch with round black dial on steel expanding bracelet
Do Yourself a Favor and…
Check out the movie and read Philip Roth’s source novella.
I don’t wanna leave! I came here to make ten new friends, now I’ve only made seven so far!
One of my favorite films of all time. Love the soundtrack by The Association. Ali MacGraw was to die for back. Great movie, great wardrobe. Thanks for an awesome review,
I absolutely cannot stand Philip Roth’s writing or general philosophy. The outfits look alright, though the black socks and belt look out of place with both the color palettes and the relatively casual demeanor of the outfits.
After studying Neil and his jacket, I think the jacket represents Neil’s inner identity. He wears it to work and dons it such prior to meeting Brenda’s sweaty self. He wears it to the dance, then takes it off to cover and protect Brenda after she skinny dips. She then affirms her love for Neil. Later, Brenda’s father explained, to do well in his business he needed “a certain amount of gonif to succeed.” Neil explained, gonif meant thief. In other words, for Neil to succeed with the family, something would be taken from him. This goes back to his identity and how Neil saw his life unfolding. Just the way he unfolded his jacket as he unpacked.
At the wedding, although it’s Brenda’s brother’s, it could have been Neil and Brenda’s special day. He’s wearing a tux to demonstrate acceptance into Patimpkin inner circle. All he has to do is say, “yes” to have Brenda, is to graciously accept a job with Brenda’s extended family. He would need to give up wearing his seersucker jacket in this job.
Neil later visits her in Boston. He is wearing a corduroy jacket. Compared to the light seersucker cotton, the corduroy is thick-ribbed cotton fabric. Symbolically, representing a person who is more difficult to sway, or to give up his own identity. A corduroy jacket was ideal for the seasonal change. I thought it described how Neil ultimately felt about Brenda. He was not ready to change in order to fit into her life anymore.