Paul Newman as Ram Bowen, temperamental jazz trombonist
Paris, Fall 1960
Film: Paris Blues
Release Date: September 27, 1961
Director: Martin Ritt
On this day in 1958, one of the most legendary marriages in Hollywood history began when Paul Newman and Joanne Woodward tied the knot in Las Vegas, three days after his 33rd birthday. The two had met earlier that decade during a Broadway production of Picnic and reunited while filming The Long, Hot Summer for director Martin Ritt. Newman and Woodward would co-star in several subsequent movies together, but their next collaboration with their ostensible “matchmaker” Ritt was Paris Blues, adapted from Harold Flender’s 1957 novel of the same name.
Sidney Poitier and Diahann Carroll rounded out the top billing, establishing a top-notch cast at the core of a stylish musical drama that featured Christian Matras’s excellent black-and-white cinematography of mid-century Paris and an outstanding Oscar-nominated score by Duke Ellington with guest appearances by Louis Armstrong, who also appeared on screen as “Wild Man” Moore, a veiled version of himself.
Newman stars as expatriate trombonist Ram Bowen, who headlines jazz band alongside saxophonist Eddie Cook (Poitier) at a Paris nightclub, where the two begin romancing a pair of American tourists they spy in the audience. Following the plot of Flender’s novel, Newman was originally supposed to court Carroll’s character, but United Artists feared the audience backlash of romantically pairing actors of different races, so Poitier was teamed with Carroll while the husband-and-wife team of Newman and Woodward again starred as an on-screen couple.
What’d He Wear?
Ram Bowen and Eddie Cook dress in accordance with their lives as expatriate jazzmen, both clad in more individualistic styles than the stereotypical American in Paris. While Eddie cycles through stylish suits and ties, Ram favors a more casual dressing style consisting of sport shirts and knitwear layered under a reliable raincoat and sport jacket.
Ram’s cramped apartment barely has room for his record collection, let alone an extensive closet. As he re-uses and re-layers to make the versatility most of his limited wardrobe, Ram’s costuming emerges as a study in the “capsule wardrobe” concept. This phrase dates back to the 1940s before it was revived in the ’70s and ’80s, its meaning evolving throughout the decades but ultimately referring to limiting one’s wardrobe to coordinated, high-quality, and relatively timeless style staples.
For Ram, this means a half-dozen shirts, a sweater vest and heavier jumper, a go-to sports coat, a well-made raincoat, three pairs of trousers, and two sets of shoes. Let’s start at the beginning: our first glimpse of Ram as his blaring trombone kicks off an arrangement of the Billy Strayhorn-penned standard “Take the ‘A’ Train” with Eddie and the band to the delight of a diverse group of Parisians drinking, dancing, and flirting at Club 33.
Shirt #1: Throughout the sequence and late into the night cooking stew and pitching woo with the club’s owner and vocalist Marie Séoul (Barbara Laage), Ram wears a loose black knit long-sleeved shirt, styled like a “Johnny collar” shirt with its open V-neck, though there is a loop ahead of the left collar leaf that could fasten the shirt at the neck. The sleeves have rounded barrel cuffs that each close with a button as well. Ram wears the shirt untucked over dark tapered-leg trousers, likely made from charcoal gray wool. The untucked hem has a split vent on each side.
Shirt #2 and Sweater Vest: We’re introduced to Ram’s habit for layering on the second day, when he meets Lillian and Connie at the train station while picking up Wild Man Moore, performs for them at Club 33, and then joins them and Eddie for late breakfasts after the show.
Ram wears a dark silk shirt with a sporty one-piece collar and stacked two-button barrel cuffs, layered under a dark mixed wool V-neck sweater vest and worn with medium-dark pleated slacks.
Shirt #3 and Sweater: As Ram and Eddie escalate their respective relationships with Lillian and Connie, we follow them on a series of double dates, including a riverboat expedition. Ram’s attire echoes his apparel from the day they met, layering his sport jacket over a dark button-up shirt and sweater.
This time, he wears a black shirt with a plain front (no placket) that he buttons up to the neck, layered under a hefty dark fuzzy wool sweater that would provide additional warmth while on the water. The sweater has a deep V-neck and full-length sleeves that cover the shirt’s mitred barrel cuffs. The hem covers the top of his dark gun club check trousers.
Shirt #3 alone: When Ram takes his meeting with the influential René Bernard (André Luguet), he dresses in his most “professional” attire, repurposing the black button-up shirt, now worn open at the neck and without the intermediate layer of a sweater, thus revealing the shirt’s breast pocket.
In the spirit of the business meeting, that begins his day Ram wears this shirt with his usual sport jacket, tucking the shirt into a pair of black forward-pleated trousers held up with a black leather belt. Following the meeting, Ram accompanies Lillian to a party with Eddie and Connie that evening.
Shirt #4: The next time we see Ram taking the stage in a pullover shirt, he’s newly single again and wrapping up a set with Eddie at Club 33 when Wild Man Moore joins them for a surprise appearance and an impromptu performance with the band.
Ram wears a more conventionally styled long-sleeved polo shirt with a three-button top and set-in sleeves with elasticized cuffs. Color photography from the production informs us that this soft knitted shirt is dark gray, worn with black darted-front trousers.
Shirt #5: Ram wears another long-sleeved polo shirt another night at Club 33, this time when Maria gets a call for Ram that M. Bernard wants to see him the next day about his composition. This shirt is a light-colored jersey-knit, styled like the dark gray shirt with its three-button top and elasticized cuffs, worn folded back. He wears medium-dark pleated slacks with side pockets.
Ram wears a trusty sports coat made from a dark woolen tweed, woven in an even twill weave with a fuzzy napped finish.
The full fit recalls the “updated American” cut, a variation of the classic sack jacket that adds darts for subtle shape, blending “[Savile] Row’s trademark smartness with the understated comfort of the sack suit,” according to Alan Flusser in Dressing the Man. Flusser attributes the 1954 introduction of the “updated American” cut to Madison Avenue retailer Paul Stuart. In addition to the execution of this philosophy, the updated American silhouette features higher armholes and vents that could either lean Americanized with a single center dart or Anglicized with side vents, and the short double vents on Ram’s jacket suggest he’s favored the latter approach. (You can read more about the updated American suit at Film Noir Buff.)
Ram’s jacket isn’t quite an archetypal example of the updated American silhouette, particularly given the high three-button fastening that shortens the notch lapels especially when buttoned to the top. Even with the darts that extend up from toward the front of each sporty patch pocket over the hips, the sports coat still has the boxy fit characteristic of sack jackets. The jacket also has a welted breast pocket and two-button cuffs.
If you’re only going to have one outerwear garment, I’d prioritize selecting something water-resistant, well-made, and neutral in color and formality so it can be dressed up or down. For this purpose, Ram wisely chooses a gabardine raincoat from Burberry, the venerated British fashion house that innovated water-proofed gabardine in the late 19th century.
I had assumed the coat was colored on the beige to khaki scale, but color photography from location shows that the coat clearly has a light gray gabardine shell. The photo was evidently taken while filming a brief vignette of Ram, Lillian, Connie, and Eddie touring Paris, when Ram wears it buttoned over a gray-on-white striped knit shirt with the large collar laid flat over the neckline of his slate-blue wool sweater.
The gray gabardine coat has a double edge-stitched ulster collar that rolls to three clear plastic sew-through buttons, with an additional button at the neck. The sleeves are set-in at the shoulders and finished with plain cuffs, sans any straps, snaps, or buttons. The coat extends to just above Newman’s knees, with gently slanting vertical welted side pockets at the hand level. The back has a single vent and a unique belt-like strap that extends across the back of the waist, secured with two stacked buttons on each squared end.
Ram almost always wears his coat layered over the sport jacket, but he makes an exception when accompanying the drug-addicted Django-esque Gypsy guitarist Michel Devigne (Serge Reggiani) to a bird market, wearing the coat fully buttoned over a plain white cotton crew-neck undershirt and a black crocheted wool scarf.
A subtle continuity error actually shows Ram first wearing a different Burberry raincoat, worn when he arrives at the train station to greet Wild Man Moore and ends up signing autographs for fans. (By the time he actually gets on the train, he’s wearing the gray raincoat we see through the rest of the movie.)
The most obvious visual difference is that, while this earlier-seen “train station” raincoat also has a three-button front, the buttons are darker, semi-spherical shank buttons rather than the gray coat’s clear sew-through buttons. The “train station” coat also has an ulster collar, but the gorges are higher and sharper. The sleeves are raglan, rather than set-in, and finished with a single button dangling from each cuff. The side pockets are positioned straight along each hip line—likely with flaps tucked into the pockets themselves—and there are short side vents rather than the longer single vent.
Ram cycles through at least three pairs of wool trousers, all seen through the above screenshots: solid black, a medium-dark shade likely on the gray spectrum, and the gun club check trousers that he most significantly wears while joining Lillian, Connie, and Eddie on the riverboat.
His penchant for wearing untucked knitwear tends to cover the tops of these trousers, but we at least see that the black trousers have single forward-facing pleats, slanted front pockets, and belt loops for his black leather belt. All of his trousers fit straight through the legs and have plain-hemmed bottoms.
One benefit of the “capsule wardrobe” approach is that it can limit a gent to only needing one pair of shoes, specifically chosen to coordinate with his clothing and be appropriate for his daily life. For this, Ram wisely opts for the black leather penny loafers that he seems to wear exclusively, as the style is informal enough to coordinate with his regularly casual attire while the black leather uppers allow him to “dress them up” as needed.
Nicknamed for the slot in the saddle across the vamp where students used to reportedly tuck pennies, this slip-on shoe was introduced as the “Weejun” by G.H. Bass in the 1930s and swiftly caught on as an Ivy style staple, including as a real-life favorite of Paul Newman as prominently seen throughout a spring 1962 shoot of Newman and Woodward at their Hollywood home.
On his right wrist, Ram wears a sterling silver chain-link ID bracelet that was likely Newman’s own, given that he’s seen wearing it off-screen throughout candid and personal photos taken in the early 1960s. A gold ring with a raised diamond setting shines from Ram’s right pinky.
Newman’s horological enthusiasm would eventually become so famous that the $17.8 million sale of his Rolex Daytona set auction records. Nearly a decade before he would begin wearing the Daytona, he sported another Rolex in the form of an elegantly simple dress watch seen on his left wrist throughout Paris Blues. The brand was suggested by Jamie Weiss in his DMARGE article “You Know, Paul Newman Didn’t Always Wear A Rolex Daytona”, published in January 2022.
Likely stainless steel rather than gold, this handsome watch has a round white dial with non-numeric hour markers, secured around to his left wrist on a black leather strap.
Ram’s nightly sleepwear is a set of light-colored cotton pajamas, supplemented with a dark silk shawl-collar robe that both he and Lillian wear.
The pajama pants have elastic-waisted sides and two buttons to fasten at the top. The top has dark-piped edges, with four flat clear plastic buttons up the front to the top that tapers out to a short, shawl-style collar. The patch pockets over the left breast and hips are trimmed with the same dark piping across the top.
How to Get the Look
Ram Bowen makes the most of his limited wardrobe, anchored by a core sport jacket, raincoat, and pair of shoes while cycling through tonally coordinated shirts, sweaters, and slacks that fit his image and lifestyle as a hip expatriate jazzman in Paris.
- Charcoal woolen tweed single-breasted 3-button quasi-“updated American” sport jacket with notch lapels, welted breast pocket, patch hip pockets, 2-button cuffs, and short double vents
- Dark button-up or knitted pullover long-sleeve shirt with 1- or 2-button barrel cuffs
- Dark solid or gun club check wool single forward-pleated trousers with belt loops, side pockets, and plain-hemmed bottoms
- Black leather belt with single-prong buckle
- Black leather penny loafers
- Black dress socks
- Gray gabardine Burberry single-breasted 3-button raincoat with narrow ulster collar, slanted welted-entry side pockets, set-in sleeves with plain cuffs, and single vent
- Sterling silver chain-link ID bracelet
- Gold diamond ring
- Rolex stainless steel dress watch with round white dial and black leather strap
Do Yourself a Favor and…
Check out the movie.
Honey, I live music. The morning, noon, the whole night. Everything else is just icing on the cake, ya dig?