JFK: Kevin Costner’s Shirt Collars as Jim Garrison
Kevin Costner as Jim Garrison, District Attorney of Orleans Parish, Louisiana, and World War II veteran
New Orleans, Fall 1963 through Spring 1969
Release Date: December 20, 1991
Director: Oliver Stone
Costume Designer: Marlene Stewart
Today would have been the 100th birthday of Jim Garrison, the Louisiana district attorney whose prosecution of New Orleans businessman Clay Shaw remains the only trial to be brought for the assassination of President John F. Kennedy, who was murdered in Dallas on November 22, 1963.
Born November 20, 1921, Earling Carothers “Jim” Garrison had just celebrated his 42nd birthday and was nearly halfway through his first of three four-year terms as Orleans Parish District Attorney when Kennedy was killed.
Oliver Stone’s 1991 epic JFK centers around Garrison’s years-long investigation, advancing a controversial conspiracy theory that linked Shaw with the CIA as the primary forces behind Kennedy’s death, beginning primarily with a tip that a pilot named David Ferrie may have been involved with the assassination.
Though its interpretation of facts has been criticized, JFK became a cultural phenomenon, resulting in the President John F. Kennedy Assassination Records Collection Act of 1992. A Seinfeld episode satirizing Garrison’s courtroom breakdown of the famous Zapruder tape featured Wayne Knight, best known for his Seinfeld role but also featured in JFK as Numa Bertel, a member of Garrison’s investigative team that also includes Lou Ivon (Jay O. Sanders) and Susie Cox (Laurie Metcalf).
What’d He Wear?
Kevin Costner’s tailored style as Garrison has been the subject of frequent requests, including from BAMF Style readers William and Ryan. While I’d like to look at some of his suits more closely down the road, I felt an appropriate place to start would be to highlight what stands out to be me as one of the most significant aspects of Garrison’s wardrobe: his variety of shirt collars.
Underlining the face and serving as a focal intersection point of the jacket and tie, the shirt collar’s importance should never be overlooked. There are general practices gents should consider when finding their go-to collar—point collars to balance wider faces, spread collars to balance narrower faces, and semi-spread to flatter all—while more confident wearers can advance to “expert mode” with the fussier ornamental collars in the club, pin, and tab variety.
As the film spans six years across the 1960s—beginning with Kennedy’s assassination on November 22, 1963, through the end of Clay Shaw’s trial in March 1969—we see Garrison cycling through nearly every significant type of shirt collar that was fashionable through the period.
In addition to the traditional point and spread collars, we see Garrison wearing fussier styles noted for systems to keep his narrow tie knots in place, such as pinned collars, tab collars, and a period-unique rounded button-down collar. The collars also alternate between matching the same fabric as the rest of the shirt and the occasional contrasting white collar… not to mention the shirts themselves alternating between long- and short-sleeved shirts. The latter are inadvisable with suits and ties for reasons of both form and fashion, though the New Orleans heat that famously gave rise to the seersucker suit also encourages gents to take a few sartorial shortcuts in the name of their own comfort.
Costume designer Marlene Stewart’s extensive work dressing Costner as Garrison seems to reflect how the real-life prosecutor dressed, as even a quick search across Garrison’s photos from the ’60s reflects a similar range.
In order of appearance:
Rounded Button-Down Collar
The classic button-down collar was standardized by Brooks Brothers at the start of the 20th century when John E. Brooks, inspired by English polo players, introduced a shirt with the collar points fastened to the body of the shirt via a small button. Though always regarded as a more casual style, the button-down collar made inroads via its growing popularity in the Ivy community and—by mid-century—it was increasingly embraced by American office-goers with their suits or sport jackets and ties.
Garrison establishes a button-down collar as his go-to style across the first act of JFK, though it’s not the classic Ivy-style collar with an elegant roll, instead incorporating the slim profiles of the early ’60s with old-fashioned rounded corners like the traditional club collar. The fastening buttons are placed farther away from each rounded edge, showcasing each button more distinctively than their positioning on classic button-down collars.
We see Garrison wear this collar with at least five different outfits:
- The ivory gabardine three-piece suit when learning of JFK’s assassination on November 22, 1963
- His deconstructed navy three-piece suit when conferring with his team in the assassination’s aftermath
- The seersucker waistcoat he wears at home with dove-gray suit trousers
- The pale blue-gray striped three-piece suit when he’s called away from his family to meet with Clay Shaw on Easter 1967
- The taupe flecked striped sports coat he wears for an impromptu interview with David Ferrie in Miami
“At one point during the 1930s, nearly half of all American men reportedly wore their dress shirt collars pinned,” as Alan Flusser introduced this style in Dressing the Man, continuing to note the relative dearth by the time the volume was published seventy years later.
The one-time popularity of collar pins meant a variety of styles: shirts specially made with eyelets to be rigged with barbell-style pins which screwed off at the ends to fit into place, safety-style pins that connected the collar points either through pre-existing eyelets or piercing holes to keep them in place, or bars that clip to each side of the collar. Regardless of which type of pin the wearer selects, this style is characterized by how neatly in keeps a shirt collar in place, and is thus only able to be executed with a perfectly knotted tie.
Evidently a favorite style of the real-life Garrison, we only see Costner’s character wearing this collar type with a taupe gabardine three-piece suit during his initial meeting with David Ferrie on November 25, 1963. In this case, the collar appears to be a narrow point collar—rather than a rounded club collar—held in place with a barbell-style pin that appears to also have a safety-style pin device behind the bar that crosses entirely in front of the collar but behind his tie.
Soft Point Collar
Three years after the assassination, Garrison takes assistant DAs Bill Broussard and Lou Ivon on a Sunday morning “walking tour” of New Orleans hot spots where Oswald contacts were known to work:
We are standing in the heart of the United States government’s intelligence community in New Orleans. That’s the FBI there, that’s the CIA, that’s the Secret Service, that’s the ONI… now doesn’t this seem to you a rather strange place for a Communist to spend his spare time?
It’s the fall of 1966, but still warm enough in the Big Easy that Garrison opts for summery styles like the seersucker jacket over an off-white waistcoat and trousers. His pale creamy shirt is styled with the least fussy collar we’ve seen yet, a narrow point collar made softer by a lack of interfacing that threatens to expose the band of the tie around his neck against the winds that tousle his hair. However, it is a Sunday morning, and Garrison is more formally dressed than his colleagues—Broussard in a camp shirt under his raincoat, Ivon with a knit polo buttoned to the throat under his sports coat—so it’s telling to see that this collar is how he “dresses down” a tie.
Garrison’s sportiest collar is the one he appropriately wears without a tie. He and Broussard drop in on investigator Jack Martin (Jack Lemmon), who draws a firmer connection between the potential conspiracy involving his former boss Guy Banister (Ed Asner), David Ferrie (Joe Pesci), and Lee Harvey Oswald (Gary Oldman).
The two prosecutors meet Martin at a race track, and Garrison appropriately dresses to meet the informality of the setting in a straw trilby, beige mini-checked sports coat, and a cream-colored silk long-sleeved sport shirt with a covered-fly front buttoned up to the neck. If Garrison were to unbutton that top button positioned under the right collar leaf, the collar would lay flat like a camp collar (also known as a “revere collar” or “resort collar”) with a small loop extending from the left side where it fastens to that top button.
Traditional Point Collar
As JFK marches through the ’60s, the decade saw a shift in menswear from the earlier years of decade when ’50s-informed conformity dictated that sartorial self-expression would follow avenues like interesting collars. Nearly the less formal years of the ’70s, gents began leaving their collar pins and other accessories in the drawer as even wearing neckties to work became less of a universal expectation.
Garrison shows a willingness to adapt, dressing for a three-martini lunch with the flamboyant Dean Andrews Jr. (John Candy) in a beige linen two-piece suit—one of his few without a waistcoat!—and a low-contrast striped shirt rigged with a long point collar. Recalling the dramatic “spearpoint” collars of the ’30s and ’40s, such a style would have been out of fashion even three years earlier, but Garrison’s look would have been increasingly en vogue as the once-narrow lapels, collars, and ties of the early ’60s expanded in anticipation of the disco era to follow.
By the late ’60s, Garrison had shifted to only one significant type of “fussy” collar: the tab collar. Distinguished by a short tab that buttons behind the tie knot, the tab collar ostensibly serves the same purpose as the point collar—and looks just as incomplete when worn with a loosened tie (or no tie at all)—but without the added hardware.
The normally buttoned-up Garrison is already showing signs of sartorial distress by how frequently we see his tab collar disengaged, unbuttoned with his tie loosened and the top button of his shirt undone. It was a thoughtful transition for him to try to recapture the neatness of pinned collars with a less busy alternative, but a little button is no match for the extreme stress of investigating the public assassination of an American president.
We see Garrison wear this collar—in varying degrees of fastening—with at least four different suits:
- A black two-piece suit when talking to witnesses in late 1966 about what they saw in and around the Texas Book Depository three years earlier
- Deconstructed with his taupe gabardine three-piece suit when hosting his team over Christmas 1966
- A stone two-piece suit he wears when learning that the stakes have raised with the double-whammy knowledge that his home is bugged and that David Ferrie is dead
- A gray worsted three-piece suit, raincoat, and trilby for meeting the mysterious “Mr. X” (Donald Sutherland) in Washington around February 1967
As the investigation wraps up and the end of the ’60s approaches, Garrison almost totally abandons his interesting collars in favor of simple spread and semi-spread collars. The former, defined by its more significant space between collar points, appears only more sporadically, once briefly on a white shirt he wears with his black suit in late 1966.
It’s interesting that the collar is seen so sparingly as Costner’s narrow, angular face is more harmoniously balanced by the spread collar than the more frequently seen point and semi-spread alternatives. (Of course, a benefit of looking like Kevin Costner is that few shirt collars would not flatter.)
Defined by Matt Spaiser for Bond Suits as “the collar that almost any man can look good,” there are several likely reasons why we see Garrison wearing this almost exclusively by the time he’s presenting at the Clay Shaw trial in the early months of 1969:
- This conventional style wouldn’t make him look out of touch to members of the jury
- As the pressure of an argumentative trial day drags on, unbuttoning the top of his shirt or loosening his tie wouldn’t threaten the integrity of his look as much as a fussier collar
- Prevailing fashions of the era skewed more toward semi-spread collars than his previously seen tabs or pins
Garrison wears conservatively colored shirts with semi-spread collars with all of his trial suits, which are also conservative shades of navy, gray, and taupe.
While on the topic of framing faces, any discussion of Costner’s style in JFK would be incomplete without considering the browline-framed glasses that Garrison wears throughout the movie. This iconic style had been pioneered in 1947 by Jack Rohrbach, vice president of eyewear company Shuron Ltd., and grew in popularity over the ’50s and ’60s thanks to famous wearers like Lyndon Johnson, Vince Lombardi, and Malcolm X.
The specific model worn by Costner in JFK is the Art-Craft Clubman, manufactured by Art-Craft Optical of Rochester, New York. As described in the Heritage Auctions listing for Costner’s screen-worn specs, these have black plastic frames that measure 145mm across the temples, with silver wire around each of the clear lenses. As of November 2021, Art-Craft still manufactures the Clubman as part of its “Legendary Looks” series.
Do Yourself a Favor and…
Check out the movie, and let me know in the comments if there are any suits you’d like to see a closer look at in any future posts about Costner’s style as Jim Garrison!
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