James Mason as Maxwell Fleury, short-tempered plantation owner
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
Today’s post celebrates the great James Mason, who was born 113 years ago today on May 15, 1909. Whether playing a hero or villain or navigating a moral gray area in between, the velvet-voiced Mason brought a dignified presence to his performances.
Opposing the shining talents of Harry Belafonte and Dorothy Dandridge, Mason stars in this vividly photographed but dark-hearted drama as Maxwell Fleury, a privileged aristocrat dwelling on one of his family’s estates on the eponymous island.
Upon returning home in his sleek new Jaguar roadster one afternoon, he finds Egyptian cigarettes in his ashtray that fuel his baseless paranoia regarding his wife’s marital fidelity, a suspicion that dangerously spirals as the summery Santa Marta heat intensifies.
What’d He Wear?
Though he often dresses in handsomely tailored suits and sport jackets, Maxwell’s usual casual attire on Santa Marta consists of a simple white short-sleeved shirt and trousers.
Maxwell’s white camp shirt resembles typical sportswear of the era, with a full cut that would allow for a breezier, cooler-wearing airflow through the light fabric. This fabric may be a cotton voile, as suggested by the subtle sheen and the sheer sections that show the skin of Mason’s torso and arms where he isn’t covered by what appears to be a white short-sleeved undershirt with a plunging V-neck. (You can read more about cotton voile shirting at Bond Suits.)
The shirt has a wide camp collar in a style also known as a loop collar, referring to the short loop extending from the right side of the neck that would presumably attach to a button under the right collar leaf should Maxwell choose to close the shirt over his chest. As it is, he rakishly wears the top few buttons undone over the plain front (no placket), which fastens with clear plastic buttons through horizontal buttonholes. The voile is double-layered on each side of the front buttons, adding another layer of fabric that also reduces the sheerness on that portion of the shirt.
A horizontal yoke traverses the back of the shirt, and the front is additionally detailed with two patch-style chest pockets.
- Alex Mill Camp shirt in 100% end-on-end cotton (Alex Mill, $98)
- Gap Resort shirt in linen/cotton (Gap, $49.95)
- J. Crew Short-sleeve camp-collar shirt in Irish linen (J. Crew, $85)
- Lucky Brand Camp-collar short-sleeve shirt in 100% hemp (Lucky Brand, $69.50)
- Todd Snyder Irish Sea soft linen camp-collar short-sleeve shirt in 100% linen (Todd Snyder, $138)
Maxwell wears the shirt tucked into a pair of off-white trousers, made from a cream-colored linen just a shade warmer than his shirt to present an attractive—if subtle—contrast. The division between shirt and trousers is emphasized by Maxwell’s dark brown leather belt, which is indeed the only dark part of his costume. The narrow belt closes through a polished gilt single-prong squared buckle that he occasionally pulls to the left of the fly.
The trousers rise to Mason’s natural waist, as they were appropriately worn at mid-century, with then-fashionable double-facing reverse pleats that give the trousers additional roominess for comfortable airflow under the warm Caribbean sun.
The trousers have straight pockets cut vertically along each side seam, a set-in coin pocket under the right belt-line covered with a triangular button-down flap, and two jetted back pockets. The bottoms are finished with turn-ups (cuffs).
- Banana Republic Pleated Ultimate Chino in "snow day white" cotton/elastane (Banana Republic, $100)
- Gap Relaxed Vintage Pleated Khakis in "sandstone beige" cotton/lycra (Gap, $59.95)
- H&M Relaxed Fit Linen-blend Pants in white cotton/linen blend (H&M, $39.99)
- H&M Slim Fit Linen Suit Pants in "light beige melange" linen (H&M, $34.99)
- SIR Clement Pleat-detail Pants in ivory viscose/linen blend (FARFETCH, $320)
- UMIT BENAN B+ Wide-Leg Pleated Woven Trousers in white viscose/linen blend (MR PORTER, $1,065)
- Vestis x Blluemade Ecru Linen Hollywood Trousers in ecru Belgian linen (Vestis, $298)
Maxwell wears white leather bicycle-toe loafers with white elastic side gussets that allow the wearer to easily slip into them despite the high vamps. The shoes have hard brown leather soles, and Maxwell wears them with pale-yellow cotton lisle socks.
Maxwell cycles between a pair of steel watches on dark leather bracelets. The first, seen in the opening scene at home with his wife and sister, has a round stainless case with a light-colored dial and is worn on a dark brown leather strap. This appears to be the wristwatch that James Mason wears for most of Island in the Sun.
Much later, we follow Maxwell to a seaside fish market where he converses with Colonel Whittingham (John Williams), who likens his current murder investigation to Crime and Punishment to slyly suggest his suspicions of Maxwell. Maxwell now wears a rectangular-cased tank watch with a squared black dial on a black leather strap that I believe makes its sole appearance in this scene.
Having left his house, Maxwell strolls through the marina in a bleached straw hat known alternatively a a “gambler’s hat” or—perhaps more apropos Maxwell’s profession—a “plantation hat”, distinguished by its round telescopic crown and a wide brim that curls up around the edges. The hat has a narrow taupe-brown band around the base of the crown.
How to Get the Look
Even if you don’t have the sartorial boldness to stride around in all-white, James Mason’s colonial casual attire in Island in the Sun consists of summer-friendly style staples that can be effectively worn together (as he does) or orphaned with other pieces.
- White cotton voile short-sleeved camp shirt with wide loop collar, double-layer plain front, and two chest pockets
- Cream linen double reverse-pleated trousers with belt loops, straight side pockets, button-flapped right-side coin pocket, jetted back pockets, and turn-ups/cuffs
- Dark brown leather narrow belt with polished gold-toned squared single-prong buckle
- White leather bicycle-toe loafers with white elastic side gussets and hard brown leather soles
- Pale-yellow cotton lisle socks
- Bleached straw plantation-style hat with round telescopic crown, narrow taupe-brown band, and wide up-curled brim
- Stainless steel round-cased watch with round white dial and dark brown leather strap
Do Yourself a Favor and…
Check out the movie.