Robert Cummings as Barry Kane, civilian aircraft mechanic
From Glendale, California, into the High Desert, Spring 1942
Release Date: April 22, 1942
Director: Alfred Hitchcock
Alfred Hitchcock’s wartime thriller Saboteur—not to be confused with his earlier movie Sabotage—was released 80 years ago this month. Though production began just days after the attack on Pearl Harbor in December 1941, the idea had actually been months in the making after Hitch’s original pitch to David O. Selznick. “We were in 1941 and there were pro-German elements who called themselves America Firsters and who were, in fact, American Fascists. This was the group I had in mind while writing the scenario,” Hitchcock later explained to François Truffaut.
Despite his traditional elements of the wronged man, the beautiful blonde, and the “MacGuffin,” Hitch identified several disappointments with Saboteur, most notably in the casting of his two heroes and the villain. Of leading male star Robert Cummings, who portrayed the accused saboteur, Hitch commented to Truffaut that “he’s a competent performer, but he belongs to the light-comedy class of actors,” though this wouldn’t stop him from casting him a decade later in a strong supporting role in Dial M for Murder.
What’d He Wear?
Saboteur has to be one of the earliest examples of a mainstream cinematic hero dressed in a flight jacket, establishing a rakish precedent that would be followed to some extent by Steve McQueen in The Great Escape, Tom Cruise in Top Gun, and Harrison Ford as Indiana Jones.
First authorized for service in 1931, the A-2 would have still been the issued flight jackets for contemporary U.S. Army Air Forces pilots at the time Saboteur was made, though General “Hap” Arnold discontinued their official use by mid-1942 in favor of cloth-shell varieties like the B-10 and B-15, though the A-2 remained a favorite of wartime pilots and decades of adventurers to follow.
Barry Kane’s brown leather jacket differs slightly from a mil-spec A-2, though it shares many overall characteristics with the famed flight jacket such as the covered-fly zip-up front, a shirt-style collar with concealed snaps to keep it in place, the patch pockets over the hips that each close with a pointed flap with a covered snap, and the darker ribbed-knit cuffs and hem.
Though the mil-spec A-2 had shoulder straps (epaulettes) where officers could pin their rank insignia, these were stitched onto the body of the jacket, whereas Barry’s shoulder straps have buttons that fasten the end closer to the neck. Barry’s jacket also lacks the traditional throat latch at the neck, though the armholes offer him some ventilation with a pair of grommets added under each armpit.
If you’re interested in owning a new A-2 built to the original military specifications, two well-regarded (albeit pricy) options are the Buzz Rickson’s (via Clutch Cafe) and the Real McCoy’s (via Lost & Found). Otherwise, I recommend scanning vintage outfitters and secondhand shops.
Barry was dressed for work when he went on the lam upon learning he was suspected of sabotage, still wearing his medium-colored shirt—likely a blue chambray cotton, like the classic U.S. Navy work shirt—detailed with a point collar and front placket.
Despite the laborious nature of his work at the aircraft plant, he still dresses up with a tie, specifically one of medium-dark cotton with sets of darker gradient bar stripes in the “downhill” direction, each bordered on the top and bottom by a lighter, narrower stripe.
Barry’s lighter cotton trousers are likely khaki in color, adding an additional military-inspired element to his outfit as these were still primarily the domain of Army, Navy, and Marine Corps summer uniforms at the time. Khaki chino cloth had been used for warmer-weather American uniforms since the Spanish-American War before the turn of the 20th century, but it wasn’t until after World War II when they became a menswear staple.
As sartorial legend tells, returning servicemen continued to embrace the versatility and comfort of their issued tan chino-cloth trousers, inspiring generations to civilians to adopt the same as these trousers found a more accepted place among the relaxed formality and standards of dress through mid-century America, resulting in their current ubiquity as popularized by brands like Dockers, Gap, and J. Crew. (You can read more about the difference between casual “khakis” and more sophisticated khaki-colored trousers at Bond Suits.)
Barry wears flat-front khakis that rise to his natural waist, where he holds them up with a tan leather belt that closes through a shining metal single-prong buckle. The trousers also have side pockets, jetted back pockets (with a button through the left pocket), and the bottoms are finished with turn-ups (cuffs).
The lighter leather of Barry’s semi-brogue oxford hsoes suggests brown-hued uppers, more appropriate than black for the outfit’s casual nature as well as better coordinated to his brown leather jacket and belt. Characteristic of semi-brogues, the straight toe caps are decorated with “punched” perforations. The oxford-style closed-lace systems have six sets of eyelets for the shoes’ round laces. A glimpse between the trouser cuffs and openings of his shoes reveal that Barry wears dark argyle socks.
“You’ll need some clothes,” the Soda City spies tell Barry when he claims to be one of their number. “Size 42,” Barry responds, and he’s eventually outfitted in a double-breasted suit tailored to the era’s wide-shouldered fashions before he goes to New York City.
How to Get the Look
Although he’s a civilian, Barry Kane draws from hard-wearing American military fashions—specifically an Army Air Forces flight jacket and khakis with a naval-inspired work shirt—to look the part of a blue-collar hero in Hitchcock’s wartime thriller, establishing Saboteur as likely one of the earliest mainstream movies in a long tradition of dressing action heroes in a leather flight jacket.
- Seal-brown leather A-2-style flight jacket with snap-fastened shirt-style collar, shoulder straps/epaulettes, covered-fly zip-up front, patch hip pockets with snap-down flaps, and darker ribbed-knit cuffs and hem
- Blue chambray cotton long-sleeve work shirt with point collar and front placket
- Dark cotton tie with bordered gradient “downhill” stripes
- Khaki cotton flat front trousers with belt loops, side pockets, jetted back pockets, and turn-ups/cuffs
- Tan leather belt with metal single-prong buckle
- Brown leather 6-eyelet semi-brogue oxford shoes
- Dark argyle cotton lisle socks
Do Yourself a Favor and…
Check out the movie.
That just goes to show you what a little blonde can do to hold up national defense.