Sidney Poitier’s Gray Suit in To Sir, with Love
Sidney Poitier as Mark Thackeray, novice high school teacher
London, June 1966
Film: To Sir, with Love
Release Date: June 14, 1967
Director: James Clavell
Wardrobe Supervisor: John Wilson-Apperson
The death of Sir Sidney Poitier, KBE, was announced last Friday, prompting countless fans to recall memories of the great actor’s lasting legacy. Born February 20, 1927 in Miami to a Bahamian family, Poitier’s screen acting career took off during the 1950s, following his breakthrough performance in Blackboard Jungle (1955) with a charismatic turn in Edge of the City (1957). His Academy Award nomination for The Defiant Ones (1958) marked the first time a Black actor was nominated for Best Actor, and his ultimate win for Lillies of the Field (1963) established Poitier as the first Black recipient of the Best Actor Oscar.
Poitier’s career continued through the decade, with 1967 a particular banner year as he delivered three of his most iconic performances in Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner?, In the Heat of the Night, and To Sir, with Love.
The latter stars Poitier as Mark Thackeray, newly hired to teach at the North Quay Secondary School, where one of his fellow teachers—raggedly cynical from the stress of teaching these students—considers Thackeray “a new lamb for the slaughter… or should I say, the black sheep.”
“No, just a teacher, Mr. Hackman,” Thackeray replies, learning that he’s mistaken Theo Weston (Geoffrey Bayldon) for the man he’s been hired to replace. Thackeray then meets the rest of the school’s beleaguered but welcoming teaching and administrative staff, including headmaster Mr. Florian (Edward Burnham), who asks: “Why do you want to be a teacher?” As his ultimate vocation is engineering, Thackeray is vague in his response (“Reasons…”), but he spends his brief tenure winning the respect and affection of this difficult class of seniors. Even the cynical Weston has come around to appreciating Thackeray’s talent by the the class’s graduation, expressing that he’s sorry to see him go: “Anybody can be an engineer, but teaching this mob is… well, I wish I had your gift.”
Indeed, few to follow could ever match Sidney Poitier’s particular gifts: irrepressible talent, undeniable charisma, and inimitable class.
What’d He Wear?
Across each of that trio of excellent, genre-spanning films he released in 1967, Sidney Poitier’s characters were always introduced to the audience while wearing a dark gray wool suit. Taking closer look at the details, each suit varied—whether in cloth, button configurations, vents—but the effect was always the same, presenting Poitier in that most classic of business suits, worn with a white shirt, straight tie, and black shoes to establish to audiences at the height of the civil rights movement that this was a man to be taken seriously, whether you’ll be calling him “Sir” or Mister Tibbs.
Thackeray would soften his appearance for days in the classroom, possibly wearing the same gray trousers and black derbies but switching out the suit jacket, white shirt, and solid tie for a navy sports jacket, button-down collar shirt, and striped repp tie that suggest a personal “uniform” in lieu of North Quay’s lack of an official uniform. Otherwise, Thackeray wears this more formal dark gray worsted suit for his arrival and departure.
The tailored suit is well-proportioned, with the single-breasted jacket’s two-button closure meeting the trouser waistband at Poitier’s natural waist. Aside from the plain-hemmed bottoms and side pockets, we see little of Thackeray’s flat front trousers under the buttoned jacket, but they’re likely styled similarly to the gray slacks he wears with his navy jacket; he may even orphan these trousers with that jacket on occasion. If so, they’re rigged with three-button “Daks top” side adjusters that had been developed in London by Simpsons of Picadilly during the early 1930s, later to be popularly seen on Sean Connery’s trousers as 007.
Shaped with front darts for a fuller chest and a gently suppressed waist, Thackeray’s jacket follows classic business suit conventions with its notch lapels and welted breast pocket. The straight hip pockets are jetted for a minimalist presentation, and there are long double vents. The shoulders are wide with roped sleeveheads, and each sleeve is finished with four-button cuffs.
Thackeray’s white cotton shirt was made by prolific Pall Mall shirtmaker Frank Foster, whose client list also included the first three Bond actors, all four Beatles, a couple Rat Packers, and Cary Grant. The shirt has a spread collar, plain front, and double (French) cuffs fastened with cut onyx stone links, similar to these Lunessa cuff links.
Both times Thackeray wears this dark gray suit, he pairs it with a straight and narrow tie made of tonally coordinated dark gray satin silk, knotted in a tight four-in-hand.
Thackeray’s primary outer layer is a khaki gabardine raincoat that extends to just above the knees. Four mixed taupe plastic buttons fasten up the front to a short Prussian collar. The coat has flapped hip pockets and two short side vents, rather than the single vent more traditionally found on men’s outerwear. The set-in sleeves are finished with a half-strap that closes through a single button at the cuff.
How to Get the Look
An engineer by trade, Mark Thackeray’s well-tailored gray suit, white shirt, and tie presents a dignified professionalism that transcends specific industries as he seeks to make a good impression on his first day teaching at North Quay Secondary School.
- Dark gray worsted wool suit:
- Single-breasted 2-button jacket with notch lapels, welted breast pocket, straight jetted hip pockets, 4-button cuffs, and long double vents
- Darted-front trousers with “Daks top” three-button side-adjusters, extended hidden-hook waistband, slanted side pockets, jetted back pockets, and plain-hemmed bottoms
- White cotton shirt with semi-spread collar, plain front, and double/French cuffs
- Onyx cut stone cuff links
- Dark gray satin silk straight tie
- Black calf leather derby shoes
- Black socks
- Khaki gabardine raincoat with short Prussian collar, four-button front, set-in sleeves with single-button semi-strap cuffs, straight flapped hip pockets, and short double vents
Do Yourself a Favor and…
Check out the movie, and share your favorite Sidney Poitier performance in the comments!