Bob & Carol & Ted & Alice: Robert Culp’s Swingin’ Navy Suit and Jabot
Robert Culp as Bob Sanders, swinging documentary filmmaker
Las Vegas, Summer 1969
Film: Bob & Carol & Ted & Alice
Release Date: September 17, 1969
Director: Paul Mazursky
Costume Designer: Moss Mabry
“Bob and Carol and Ted and Alice!” is the subject of the titular toast Alice (Dyan Cannon) delivers in a shared suite at the Riviera in Las Vegas, where the foursome—so to speak—has gathered for a weekend of gambling and a Tony Bennett concert.
A discussion of “I Left My Heart In San Francisco” leads to a newly open-minded Alice questioning where Bob (Robert Culp) and Carol (Natalie Wood) have been leaving more than just their hearts. The swinging couple’s admissions lead to a peanut-munching Ted (Elliott Gould) confessing his own recent affair to Alice who, following her initial outrage, has the most unpredictable reaction of any of the spouses as she begins to undress and declares that the four need to have an orgy.
Although it was Bob’s breakthrough at Esalen that got the ball (or, uh, balls) rolling in exploring this degree of openness, it’s both men who require the most convincing, particularly Ted, who finally gives in after deciding: “We’ll have an orgy, and then we’ll go see Tony Bennett.”
What’d He Wear?
The men’s suits are consistent with what we’d expect of their respective values, the more conservative Ted in a tasteful navy three-piece suit while Bob the swinger dresses for the weekend in a fashion-forward suit, complete with frilly lace jabot, colliding necklaces, and buckle boots.
Bob’s outfit suggests the signature velvet suit that Mike Myers famously wore in all three Austin Powers movies, but costume designer Deena Appel told me during our chat for Pete Brooker’s From Tailors With Love podcast this spring that the movie wasn’t among her many influences for creating the look favored by the international man of mystery.
Particularly after his Esalen breakthrough at the start of Bob & Carol & Ted & Alice, Bob Sanders was hardly a conventional dresser, eschewing the well-tailored blazers and three-piece suits of his pal Ted in favor of offbeat leather, bold-waled corduroy, and Ulster-collared jackets, considerably more adjacent to the flourishing hippie fashions of the late ’60s.
For an evening in Las Vegas, Bob dresses in an unconventional dark navy suit anchored by a long frock coat, a dandified neo-Victorian style recalling the famous Regency rake Beau Brummell.
The long jacket extends through Bob’s thighs, gently suppressed at the waist and with a very long single vent that splits the back into tails. The double-breasted front is configured in two columns of five buttons each, rising up to the Ulster collar, though Bob leaves all unbuttoned. The sleeves are flared at each cuff, finished with a single button. Each hip pocket is covered with a large flap.
Bob’s suit has matching flat front trousers, held up by a wide navy belt that has a dull gold stripe around the center and closes through a large gold-finished single-prong buckle.
As the long frock coat would presumably cover much of the trousers when the suit is worn, there’s little need for pockets and the trousers appear to only have a single coin pocket on the right side of the waistband that closes with a button-down flap.
The bottoms of Bob’s trousers are plain-hemmed with a gentle flare that allows room for the high shafts of his black leather boots. Decorated with a large studded buckle over the vamp, these boots have a zipper along the inside seam that close over his black calf-high socks.
Throughout the movie, Bob rotates between a pair of Rolex GMT Masters that were likely Culp’s own watches as both would appear in many of his movie and TV appearances of the era. Rolex had collaborated with Pan Am in the early 1950s to launch the GMT Master, originally developed for pilots and navigators to use the rotating 24-hour bezel to tell time in another time zone in addition to GMT when on long-haul flights.
Culp’s 18-karat yellow gold GMT Master in this scene has a brown bezel and brown dial with a 3:00 date window. The semi-rounded three-piece link bracelet appears to be the “President” or “Presidential” bracelet that Rolex originally introduced for the Day-Date. (You can see a similarly arranged GMT Master, a ref. 1675 from 1972 also on a President bracelet, which sold at this Phillips auction.)
The chunky gold ring on Bob’s left pinky finger appears to be filigreed with an animal’s head, though I can’t discern much more detail than that.
Bob wears as many as four necklaces outside his clothing throughout Bob & Carol & Ted & Alice, a mixture of colorful beads and metal necklaces, though he seems to only have two for this scene: one consisting of round, light-colored beads, the other a thin gold chain-link necklace that sits a few inches higher on his chest.
Consistent with contemporary pop culture giants of the era from the Beatles to James Bond, Bob skirts a conventional collared shirt and tie by wearing a creamy white cotton lace-trimmed shirt with a jabot over the front bib. The jabot was another fixture from centuries past, pre-dating even the Regency and Victorian eras as it’s believed to have originated in 17th century France, named for the French term meaning “bird’s crop”.
Jabots can be both pre-attached or detachable, with Bob’s jabot integrated into the design of his shirt, cascading in five lacy layers over his chest from the neckband. The jabot bib, the placket-like strips under it, and the lace trim on the two-button cuffs all match, detailed with a series of five-point medallion-like perforations. The shirt has a button on the back of the neckband, then a full zipper that extends down to the bottom of the shirttail.
Bob and Ted both are revealed to wear white cotton briefs as their preferred underwear. Bob wears his whitey-tighties into the bedroom, eventually discarding them as he joins the other three in bed wearing only his dangling beaded necklaces.
What to Imbibe
The four share a well-stocked bar in their Riviera suite, where Bob drinks a Ballantine’s Finest blended Scotch on the rocks, mixing one up with soda for his wife Carol.
Ballantine’s Scotch was first distilled in 1865 when Scottish grocer George Ballantine expanded his trade to Glasgow, where he began creating his own whisky blends. With demand growing, Ballantine brought his son George Jr. in to help handle the business… leaving his oldest son, Archibald, with the smaller grocery store that George Sr. had started in Edinburgh four decades earlier. (As Arrested Development teaches us, tycoons named George Sr. tend to overlook their responsible sons… not to compare George Ballantine Jr. to the sleazy GOB Bluth, of course.)
Following George Sr.’s retirement and death, business flourished under George Ballantine Jr.’s leadership (see?), and he eventually sold to Barclay and McKinlay in 1919. Ballantine’s survived the impact of Prohibition in the United States and continued to grow over the course of the 20th century, reportedly a favorite of John F. Kennedy and seen in movies like the Matt Helm series, The Sea Wolves, The Sting, and BUtterfield 8, where Elizabeth Taylor used it to make a batch of breakfast eggs.
In addition to its Finest and Limited blends, Ballantine’s also offers a line of aged blends from 12 up to 40 years, with the 12-year-old variety also featuring as one of Bob’s favorites earlier in Bob & Carol & Ted & Alice.
How to Get the Look
More than a half-century after Bob & Carol & Ted & Alice, trying to wear Robert Culp’s frock suit and lace jabot would likely just have people thinking that you forgot the glasses for your Austin Powers costume, though this historically informed getup was a trendy look during the peak of the American sexual revolution in the late ’60s.
- Navy frock coat with double-breasted 10×5-button front, Ulster-style collar, wide-flapped hip pockets, flared 1-button cuffs, and long single vent
- Creamy white cotton neckband shirt with lace jabot front and lace-trimmed two-button cuffs
- Navy flat front trousers with belt loops, button-flap coin pocket, and slightly flared plain-hemmed bottoms
- Navy-and-gold striped belt with large gold-finished single-prong buckle
- Black leather inside-zip boots with studded-buckle vamp decoration
- Black socks
- White cotton briefs
- Rolex GMT Master 18-karat yellow gold watch with 39mm case, brown rotating bezel, brown dial (with 3:00 date window), and gold “President”-style bracelet
- Chunky gold animal-filigreed pinky ring
- Colorful beaded necklace
- Thin gold chain-link necklace
Do Yourself a Favor and…
Check out the movie.
You really go for the nitty gritty nowadays, don’t you, dear?
This looks like one swinging film! I need to watch it, though I’m more likely to take cues from Gould’s style.
I agree! Culp’s most practical look may be the blue chambray shirt and brown (IIRC) trousers he wears for an early scene as he’s driving an E-Type to Esalen… after that, there’s a lot more swinging style!