Island in the Sun: Harry Belafonte’s Brown Suit
Harry Belafonte as David Boyeur, popular local politician
On the fictional Caribbean island of Santa Marta, Spring 1955
Film: Island in the Sun
Release Date: June 12, 1957
Director: Robert Rossen
Costume Design: Phyllis Dalton & David Ffolkes
Tomorrow will be the 95th birthday of Harry Belafonte, the singer, actor, and activist born March 1, 1927. Belafonte has tireless worked in show business and to advance social causes since beginning his recording career in the late 1940s. Though he’s narrated documentaries and appeared sporadically in features in the decades since, his screen acting career were primarily throughout the ’50s in features ranging from the musicals that made obvious use of his singing talent to drama, sci-fi, and noir.
Belafonte co-starred with Dorothy Dandridge in his first three films, their collaborations concluding in the colorfully lush drama Island in the Sun, based on Alec Waugh’s novel of the same name. The eponymous island was said to be the fictitious “Santa Marta” in the Caribbean, though actually filmed on location in Barbaos and Grenada through the fall of 1956.
The story address race relations against a backdrop of political ambitions, romance, and eventually murder, beginning with a party at Government House, the British colonial headquarters on Santa Marta. A popular political leader and union official, David Boyeur brings his friend Margot Seaton (Dandridge), a drugstore clerk whose anxiety about not having been officially invited is satiated by the governor’s warm embrace of David, whom he affectionally calls “our home-grown revolutionary”.
While Margot flirts with one of the governor’s aides, David’s passionate belief that “one of this island’s most important fights is against tradition… this island is shackled by traditions” brings him into conflict with the moody reactionary plantation owner Maxwell Fleury (James Mason), who’s already distraught by unfounded suspicions about his wife’s fidelity and feels compelled to run for office as David’s political challenger.
What’d He Wear?
Apropos the title, it’s always sunny on this tropical island, calling for summer-friendly wardrobes. David Boyeur makes his first appearance arriving to the party, clad in a cool brown suit with a distinctively subtle iridescent sheen that suggests a blend of wool and mohair. The latter was a popular fabric among mid-century tailors seeking durable yet dressy suiting, particularly when its cooler-wearing properties would be an asset in warm climates.
David’s single-breasted suit jacket follows contemporary fashions of the ’50s with its full cut, draped chest, and wide shoulders built up with padding. The two-button stance is appropriately positioned for the top button to fasten at Harry Belafonte’s natural waist, but the narrow notch lapels roll to a higher point on the jacket as though it was a three-button, providing some harmonious balance so that the suit doesn’t look “top-heavy” on Belafonte’s six-foot tall frame. Shaped with front darts that pull in the waist, the jacket has a single back vent, straight flapped hip pockets, and a welted breast pocket that David dresses with a neatly folded white pocket square. Roped at the shoulders, the sleeves are finished with three-button cuffs.
David wears a white cotton shirt with a spread collar, plain front, and double (French) cuffs fastened with gold bar-type cuff links. His fashionably narrow tie is patterned in a repeating series of powder-blue, brown, and navy balaned-width repp stripes in the traditional American “downhill” direction.
The full cut of David’s long suit jacket and the fact that he doesn’t remove it during the scene conceals much of the trousers, but we can see the fit is consistent with the jacket and that they’re worn without a belt, likely with side adjuster tabs positioned on each side of the waistband. Almost certainly pleated in accordance with the prevailing trends of the mid-’50s, the trousers also have side pockets and turn-ups (cuffs) that break over his brown leather cap-toe derby shoes.
What to Imbibe
David orders a “rum and ginger” from the bartender during the Government House party. A simple rum and ginger ale highball may not be quite as exciting as the rum swizzles that Jocelyn (Joan Collins) has planned for the following day’s beach outing with Euan Templeton (Stephen Boyd), but it still refreshes!
The rum and ginger ale highball shouldn’t be confused with the Dark ‘n’ Stormy, a more specific concoction of Goslings Black Seal rum and ginger beer—Barritt’s ginger beer, by the original Bermudian post-World War I formula—poured over ice and topped with lime.
How to Get the Look
Harry Belafonte’s wardrobe in Island in the Sun ranges from summer-ready dinner jackets to semi-buttoned sport shirts tucked into denim, and he dresses to impress for David Boyeur’s introduction to audiences in a fashionably tailored brown suit perfectly suitable for a sunny soiree with its cool-wearing mohair fabric that has elegant sheen making the most of the party’s natural illumination.
- Brown mohair-blend suit:
- Single-breasted 2-button jacket with narrow notch lapels, welted breast pocket, straight flapped hip pockets, 3-button cuffs, and single vents
- Pleated trousers with side pockets and turn-ups/cuffs
- White cotton shirt with spread collar, plain front, and double/French cuffs
- Gold bar cuff links
- Pale-blue, brown, and navy “downhill”-directional repp-striped slim tie
- Brown leather cap-toe derby shoes
Do Yourself a Favor and…
Check out the movie, also newly streaming on Criterion Channel as of February 2022.
Belafonte also recorded the title song “Island in the Sun”… not to be confused with Weezer’s much different hit single of the same name.
That was charity, Mr. Fleury. What we want is equality.