Robert Redford Dressed for Tennis in The Way We Were
Robert Redford as Hubbell Gardiner, Hollywood screenwriter
Los Angeles, September 1947
Film: The Way We Were
Release Date: October 19, 1973
Director: Sydney Pollack
Costume Design: Dorothy Jeakins & Moss Mabry
Tomorrow will be the final day of the 2021 Wimbledon tennis championships, which—due to COVID-19—were canceled last year for the first time since World War II. In the spirit of the oldest tennis tournament in the world, I wanted to highlight the classic tennis garb worn by Robert Redford for a brief scene in The Way We Were.
More than a decade after the popular athlete Hubbell Gardiner and passionate activist Katie Morosky (Barbra Streisand) kindled their mutual attraction in college, the two have reunited and have moved out to southern California, where the carefree Hubbell is all too comfortable turning his successful novel into a much tamer screenplay, aimed for mainstream audiences.
Helming the adaptation Hubbell’s novel is flamboyant director George Bissinger (Patrick O’Neal), whose coterie of radical friends reawaken Katie’s political proclivities that eventually threaten Hubbell’s Hollywood ambitions.
What’d He Wear?
Before the activism, arrests, and affairs that threaten Hubbell and Katie’s idyllic life in Hollywood, the two are invited to an afternoon of tennis at Bissinger’s estate, for which the couple dresses in the sporty knitwear traditionally associated with der weiße sport.
Hubbell layers his tennis sweater over a white cotton polo shirt, likely short-sleeved per tradition and also to avoid an extra layer of fabric under the sleeves of his sweater; after all, even the decorously dignified Sir Hardy Amies allows that “the player’s comfort and personal wishes must come first” when outlining appropriate tennis attire in his 1964 volume ABCs of Men’s Fashion.
Depending on which side of the Atlantic you reside, you may recognize Hubbell’s outer layer as either a cricket jumper or a tennis sweater. Given that our protagonist is swinging his racket stateside, we can safely proceed with the latter nomenclature.
Hubbell’s sweater neatly follows the definition presented by Gentleman’s Gazette as “a white, ivory, cream or off-white cable-stitch knit pullover with a v-neck that is made of heavy cotton or wool. It features one or more colored bands along the v-neckline and optionally bands on the sleeves as well as the lower waist.” Following their emergence in the early 20th century, tennis sweaters enjoyed their greatest prominence through the 1930s and ’40s, the very timeframe depicted in The Way We Were.
Hubbell’s lambswool sweater has a cream cable-knit body with raglan sleeves and the requisite V-neck, accented by an even wider “V” of seven navy, red, and white balanced stripes that separates the body of the sweater from the ribbed neckline. The set-in sleeves are finished with ribbed cuffs that match the rest of the sweater, though the long-ribbed waist hem is also set apart by the same band of seven patriotic-colored stripes.
Sir Hardy’s reflections on tennis attire in 1964 conceded that “shorts are now of course worn universally,” though he still makes the case for long trousers in the case of older men and young men with “unsightly legs”. As the thirtysomething Hubbell Gardiner and a man who was hardly considered unsightly in any way throughout the 1970s, Redford wears a pair of off-white cotton flat front shorts with on-seam side pockets.
The hem of his sweater covers the waistband, which may be self-suspended like the shorts that a shirtless Redford was photographed wearing for an off-screen tennis match around the same time.
Hubbell strolls out onto the court wearing all-white tennis shoes with white athletic tube socks. Tennis had driven much of the development of modern sneakers or athletic shoes, originally designed for vacationers in the late 19th century to have greater comfort and easier movement at play.
The increasing popularity of running, basketball, and the Olympics over the start of the early 20th century saw the introduction of now-iconic athletic shoes like the Converse Chuck Taylor and Jack Purcell models to the degree that, by these immediate postwar years, Hubbell’s rubber-soled tennis shoes would have been the expected footwear for the day.
Hubbell wears his usual complement of accessories, protecting his eyes from the late-summer sun with his favorite silver-framed aviator sunglasses. American Optical and Bausch & Lomb (as Ray-Ban) had been producing these distinctive frames for U.S. military pilots for a decade by the time World War II ended, so it’s likely that Hubbell had been introduced to this style during his Navy service.
The sterling silver curb-chain ID bracelet Hubbell wears on his left wrist was likely another remnant of his war service, which he continues wearing as a civilian. On his right wrist, Hubbell wears a gold watch with a gold dial on a gold bracelet. The wristwatch may have been a prop or one of Redford’s own, but we know that the ring on his third finger belonged to Redford himself, as he would later tell The Hollywood Reporter that he had received it as a gift from a Hopi tribe in 1966 and wore in almost all of his subsequent movies through the present day.
By the 1970s, tennis sweaters had generally been phased out in favor of dressing lighter to be more comfortable when exerting. A more commonly seen outer layer was now a white polyester jacket with a zip-up front that could be more swiftly put on, taken off, or worn open.
The year before he co-starred as George Bissinger in The Way We Were, Patrick O’Neal played a murderous architect on Columbo whose tennis game is interrupted by the inquisitive eponymous detective. In this first-season episode, “Blueprint for Murder”, O’Neal models an example of fashionable tennis attire at the time, consisting of his white Lacoste polo tucked into white trousers with a belt and layered under a white warmup jacket.
Hubbell and Katie drive to Bissinger’s home in his new ride, a racing green 1947 MG TC roadster that retains the original right-hand drive of its British heritage, as did all TCs exported to the United States.
MG launched the T-Type roadster in 1936 as a slightly larger evolution of the earlier P-Type, though its 94-inch wheelbase was still relatively shorter than many of its contemporaries. Two iterations of the T-Type—to be designated the TA and the TB—were produced prior to World War II, when production ceased.
MG’s first postwar model was the TC, credited with popularizing sports cars in the United States among well-to-do drivers like Hubbell. Just over 10,000 TCs were produced between 1945 and 1949, all open two-seat roadsters that retained the prewar TB’s 1250cc inline-four engine, albeit with a higher compression ratio that produced an additional half-unit of horsepower for a total of 54.5 bhp.
Two more T-Type models would be produced before 1955, when MG revamped its flagship car’s popular but aging design to fit the aerodynamic aesthetics of the fabulous fifties.
How to Get the Look
Tennis may be known as “the white sport” for its colorless clothing, but tennis sweaters like the one Robert Redford wears in The Way We Were illustrate how color can be incorporated by the red, white, and blue accents against the otherwise creamy cable-knit body. Redford layers the sweater with his all-white short-sleeved pullover shirt, shorts, and shoes that remain part of the usual tennis kit today.
- White cotton short-sleeved tennis shirt with 2-button placket
- Cream cable-knit lambswool tennis sweater with navy, crimson, and white-trimmed V-neck and ribbed waist hem
- White cotton flat front shorts with self-suspended waistband and on-seam side pockets
- White tennis shoes
- White athletic tube socks
- Silver-framed aviator sunglasses
- Silver tribal ring
- Gold watch with round case, gold dial, and gold bracelet
- Sterling silver curb-chain ID bracelet
- Gold necklace
Do Yourself a Favor and…
Check out the movie.