Picasso’s Terrycloth Leisurewear

Pablo Picasso, photographed by Arnold Newman, 1956.

Pablo Picasso, photographed by Arnold Newman, 1956.

Vitals

Pablo Picasso, influential Spanish painter

Cannes, French Riviera, September 1956

Photographs by Arnold Newman

Part of BAMF Style’s Iconic Photo Series, focusing on style featured in famous photography of classic stars rather than from specific productions.

Background

Born 140 years ago today on October 25, 1881, Pablo Picasso may be one of the few painters so associated with his craft that even those with little knowledge of art know his name. Thus, October 25 is also observed annually as International Artist’s Day, celebrating the contributions of creators around the globe.

A month shy of his 75th birthday, Picasso posed in his La Californie studio in Cannes for a series of portraits captured by Arnold Newman, the prolific photographer whose subjects ranged from Marilyn Monroe and Mickey Mantle to JFK and Alfried Krupp.

What’d He Wear?

In contrast to his busy paintings, Picasso himself often dressed in simpler clothing. An early proponent of casual-wear, Picasso had been frequently photographed over his career in Breton-striped pullovers, insouciantly buttoned shirts, and almost always shorts to beat the heat in his Mediterranean environs.

Pablo Picasso, photographed by Arnold Newman, 1956.

For this September 11, 1956, photo session in his Cannes studio, the artist dressed solely for comfort in a scarlet terry cloth pullover with coordinated shorts and slip-on shoes.

Many may associate terry cloth with towels—indeed, this piled cotton fabric can also be called “toweling”—but its soft and moisture-absorbing properties led to the popularity of terry cloth leisurewear by mid-century. Terry cloth had long been a traditional fabric for bathrobes, but beaches across the Riviera and beyond were now hosting scores of gents decked out in terry shirts, shorts, and jackets.

The terry boom mostly overlapped with the prime years of jet-setters from the 1950s through the ’60s, terry toweling gear featured on screen by the likes of Alain Delon and Sean Connery, whose baby-blue terry jumper in Goldfinger remains one of the most controversial costumes of the James Bond series.

Made from a soft-piled scarlet red terry toweling cloth, Picasso’s short-sleeved shirt has a “Johnny collar” with a substantial V-neck, a buttonless alternative to the traditional polo shirt placket. With its set-in breast pocket and slanted-entry hand pocket on the right side of the waist, the comfortably loose-fitting shirt appropriately reminded me of a painter’s smock.

Picasso wears the shirt untucked over a pair of plain pastel coral shorts that end a few inches above the knees. His plain slip-on shoes are styled like clogs, with well-worn tan leather uppers covering most of his feet, leaving the back open.

Pablo Picasso, photographed by Arnold Newman, 1956.

Thanks to the recent terrycloth revolution led by global brands like Busbee McQuade, Dandy Del Mar, OAS Company, and Orlebar Brown, more mainstream brands like Eton and Express have been expanding into new terry-tory (I’m sorry) in reviving this retro-minded leisurewear.

Luckily, there’s no shortage of options for you to find your Picasso-style terry polo (not Teri Polo… wow I need to stop with the puns), including from the below outfitters:

  • Eton — Red Popover Terry Shirt ($195, Eton & Saks Fifth Avenue)
    • With its button-free placket, this is likely the best match for your Picasso-approved polo.
  • Express — Wine Solid Terry Short Sleeve Shirt ($44.99, Express)
    • Not a polo, but still a worthy—and affordable!—addition to your leisurewear collection… and I own one myself!
  • Grayers — Chrysanthemum Riviera Terry Polo ($78, Grayers)
  • OAS Company — Dusty Plum Terry Shirt ($110, OAS Company)
  • Orlebar Brown — Jarrett Toweling Polo Shirt ($195, Orlebar Brown)
  • Phineas Cole — Red Terry Cloth Polo Shirt ($146.75, Paul Stuart)

All prices and availability updated as of October 15, 2021.

How to Get the Look

Pablo Picasso, photographed by Arnold Newman, 1956.

Pablo Picasso, photographed by Arnold Newman, 1956.

While the end of October may not have many scrambling to pull together their warm-weather fits, Picasso established a comfortable and easy-to-follow template for summer leisurewear.

  • Scarlet-red terry cloth toweling pullover shirt with “Johnny collar”, set-in breast pocket, and slanted right-hand pocket
  • Coral shorts
  • Tan leather-upper clogs
  • Plain gold ring

Do Yourself a Favor and…

Check out Carsten Peter Warncke’s TASCHEN-published volume Picasso, chronicling the artist’s prolific works across his career.

The Quote

The purpose of art is washing the dust of daily life off our souls.

One comment

  1. Sonny

    You, Señor (in honor of our weekly subject’s locale) have done it again.

    Nothing against the typical topic of film and/or TV characters, but I personally would love to see more real life examples of BAMFs. I recall years ago you did an in depth look into JFK’s true life fashion, as well as the Steve McQueen photo shoot in Monterey, or even your own occasional examples of inspiration; and those posts, like this one, are infinitely more fascinating.

    The difference I would argue is that an actor, on set, surrounded by other actors, is already told how other characters will react to their style, and those other actors do so accordingly. Real life BAMFs on the other hand, need to have BALLS! and wear the damn clothes regardless of what others think. So between JFK buttoning the bottom button (*Gasp*), Picasso’s Terry cloth, or the BAMF-Father’s aloha shirts, I want to know what people with cojones slap on their backs everyday and get to it.

    Bravo!

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