Eli Goree as Cassius Clay, heavyweight boxing champion soon to be renamed Muhammad Ali
Miami, February 25, 1964
Film: One Night in Miami
Release Date: December 25, 2020
Director: Regina King
Costume Designer: Francine Jamison-Tanchuck
Today would have been the 80th birthday of Muhammad Ali, the champion boxer born Cassius Marcellus Clay Jr. and nicknamed “The Greatest”. As we’re reentering movie award season, let’s revisit One Night in Miami, the stylish drama that generated plenty of buzz last year and remains the most recent major screen portrayal of Ali.
The eponymous evening is February 25, 1964, when Clay’s surprise victory over Sonny Liston cemented him as the world heavyweight champion. Clay joins his fellow high-profile friends Sam Cooke (Leslie Odom Jr.), Malcolm X (Kingsley Ben-Adir), Jim Brown (Aldis Hodge) in Malcolm’s hotel room, presumably for a celebration before it’s revealed that Malcolm had intended it to be a night of reflection and revelation, specifically of Clay’s intended conversion to the Nation of Islam.
Only 26 when the movie was filmed, Eli Goree energetically presents the charisma, conflict, and confidence of a 22-year-old who was just crowned heavyweight world champion and considering the direction that the rest of his life will take.
What’d He Wear?
Although his win earlier that evening makes him the guest of honor, Cassius Clay is the most casually dressed of the friends, though none of the foursome dresses down in any less than a suit.
“In 1964, Ali was having fun in his clothes,” costume designer Francine Jamison-Tanchuck explained to The Wrap. “He was the youngest in the crowd, so I figured he was a bit more progressive in terms of what he wore. He was trying new things and going forward.”
Clay’s light brown wool suit is plain-woven in a fine glen plaid, with a double-lined sky blue windowpane overcheck. It’s possible that this may be Clay’s stop-gap outfit for a quieter night with his pals before changing into the tuxedo that he wears for the final sequence set among his adoring fans.
The most distinctive aspect of Clay’s single-breasted suit jacket is the unique narrow lapel with a short gorge consistent with early ’60s peak lapels but with the top “tip” of each collar seemingly clipped away, resulting in the effect of a shawl collar continuous running around the neck and sewn to the bottom half that resembles a more conventional peak lapel. (While this type of collar was never exactly common, it seemed to be most popular in the early ’60s among stars like Marvin Gaye, who had been photographed wearing a suit rigged with these quasi-peak lapels.)
These unique lapels roll to a two-button stance, perfectly positioned to meet the top of the trousers at Eli Goree’s waist. The shoulders are wide and padded, further reinforcing the power of the boxer’s silhouette, and the sleeves are roped at the shoulders and finished with four-button cuffs. Clay’s jacket has short double side vents, straight jetted hip pockets, and no breast pocket.
Clay’s flat front trousers have a beltless waistband with an extended front tab that closes with hidden hooks and buckle-style side adjusters rigged toward the back of each side of his waist. As generally seen through the scene, the trousers have an era-correct medium-high rise to Goree’s natural waist that meets the buttoning point of his jacket. The trousers also have side pockets, button-through back pockets, and plain-hemmed bottoms.
“You see in footage how he seemed to gravitate toward polo shirts, and it was important for him to be comfortable while shadowboxing,” Jamison-Tanchuck explained to IndieWire of the real boxer.
Jamison-Tanchuck also shared with The Wrap that “Eli [Goree] was very concerned about the clothes being able to flow with his body movements” when portraying Clay, so a less structured shirt made from Ban-Lon fit the bill.
According to The Hollywood Reporter, her costume team made the first shirt from scratch with multiples provided by the British company Retro Style.
Clay’s knit short-sleeved sports shirt is an eye-catching teal, echoing the windowpane check in his suit. The shirt has large recessed four-hole buttons in teal plastic, buttoned up the ribbed placket to the neck, with white and blue ticked edge stitching along the edges of the large spread collar, both sides of the placket, the ends of each short sleeve, and around the pointed flap that closes over the squared patch pocket on the left breast.
Clay wears walnut brown calf leather monk shoes, a natty style that adds character to the outfit. Deemed “a true chameleon… [for] work and play” by Esquire‘s The Handbook of Style, Clay’s choice of a monk shoe nicely bridges the formality of his suit with the playfulness of his soft Ban-Lon shirt. Monks are traditionally made in single- and double-straps, and Clay wears a set of the former, with a pair of darker brown socks.
The single strap on each shoe tapers over the instep, closing through a polished silver-toned single-prong buckle on the outer side of each shoe. Each shoe has a punched cap toe in the quarter brogue tradition.
Like many men with luxurious taste, Muhammad Ali would eventually adopt the Cartier Tank as one of his favored watches, but the younger Cassius Clay seen here in 1964 wears a more pedestrian yellow gold wristwatch with a round gold dial, secured on a gold bracelet.
How to Get the Look
Muhammad Ali’s constant movement—even shadowboxing with friends and reporters—necessitated a comfortably loose style of dressing that was still stylish for a young and popular public figure. His glen plaid suit with the jacket’s fashionably unique lapels and self-suspended trousers would work just as well with a conventional shirt and tie, but our athletic hero stylishly dresses it down with a colorful knitted sport shirt that echoes the suit’s windowpane check.
- Light brown glen plaid, sky-blue windowpane, wool suit:
- Single-breasted 2-button jacket with semi-peak lapels, straight jetted hip pockets, 4-button cuffs, and short side vents
- Flat front trousers with extended hidden-hook waistband, slide-buckle side-adjusters, side pockets, button-through back pockets, and plain-hemmed bottoms
- Teal Ban-Lon knit short-sleeved shirt with white/blue-ticked edge stitching along large collar, ribbed front placket, and breast pocket (with pointed button-down flap)
- Walnut brown calf leather single monk-strap shoes with “quarter brogue” punched cap-toes
- Dark brown socks
- Gold watch on gold bracelet
If you’re looking for dark brown leather monk shoes with a non-cutaway single strap and a punched cap toe, options seem pretty limited as of January 2022:
- Magnanni “Lennon Monk Strap Shoe” in cuero leather (Nordstrom, $395)
- Nunn Bush “Newton Cap Toe Monk Strap” in brown (Nunn Bush, $57.90)
- Stacy Adams “Desmond Leather Cap Toe Monk Strap Loafer” in cognac (Nordstrom Rack, $79.97)
Do Yourself a Favor and…
Check out the movie, currently streaming on Amazon Prime Video and also available from the Criterion Collection.
You can also read more about the costumes in One Night in Miami from these sources:
- The Hollywood Reporter: ‘One Night in Miami’ Costumes Represent Historical Snapshot in Time by Cathy Whitlock
- IndieWire: Costuming ‘One Night in Miami’: A Wardrobe Fit for Four Black Icons of the ’60s by Bill Desowitz
- The Wrap: ‘One Night in Miami’ Costume Designer Explains How She Dressed 4 Iconic American Figures by Joe McGovern
Alexander the Great conquered the world at 30, and I conquered the world of boxing at 22 without so much as a scratch!