Punch-Drunk Love: Barry’s Blue Suit
Adam Sandler as Barry Egan, anxious novelty swag entrepreneur
San Fernando Valley (and Hawaii), Spring 2002
Film: Punch-Drunk Love
Release Date: October 11, 2002
Director: Paul Thomas Anderson
Costume Designer: Mark Bridges
Though it would be widely released in theaters five months later, today marks the 20th anniversary of when Paul Thomas Anderson’s offbeat romantic comedy Punch-Drunk Love premiered at Cannes in May 19, 2002.
A fan of his work in lower-brow ’90s comedies like Billy Madison, Happy Gilmore, and The Waterboy, Anderson had been interested in collaborating with Adam Sandler, sensing the greater dramatic potential under his distinctive comedic signature. The unconventional casting choice baffled entertainment journalists and even Sandler himself, though he delivered a career-high performance as Punch-Drunk Love‘s central character, Barry Egan.
His depressive condition seemingly worsened by his seven overbearing sisters, the awkward bachelor Barry ekes out a lonely living selling novelty toilet plungers and hoping to monopolize on a marketing promotion trading frequent flyer miles for Healthy Choice pudding cups, his anxiety inflamed by the increasingly dangerous consequences of his unhealthy choice to call a shady phone sex line. The abrupt delivery of a mysterious
piano harmonium in the movie’s opening minutes marks a sea-change in Barry’s nervous existence, resulting in a glimpse of hope for a fairy-tale future with the charming—and patient—Lena Leonard (Emily Watson).
I didn’t ask for a shrink, that must’ve been somebody else. Also, that pudding isn’t mine. Also, I’m wearing this suit today because I had a very important meeting this morning, and I don’t have a crying problem.
What’d He Wear?
Punch-Drunk Love reunited Paul Thomas Anderson with Mark Bridges who, as of 2022, has designed the costumes for all nine of Anderson’s credited feature films. With its limited cast and contemporary setting, Punch-Drunk Love may be the least sophisticated costume design of their collaborations, though the costumes are still quite significant despite this simplicity.
When we meet Barry, he’s dressed in a bright, well, berry blue serge suit that he will continue to wear exclusively through the entirety of the movie in one form or another, save for a brief moment when he’s changed into a plush hotel bathrobe. We know this suit is atypical for Barry, as he seems to mystify several by wearing it—from his colleague Lance (Luis Guzman) to his more hypercritical sisters, particularly Elizabeth (Mary Lynn Rajskub)—though we don’t get much indication of what comprises Barry’s usual attire.
Lance: Why are you wearing a suit?
Barry: I bought one, I thought it would be nice to get dressed for work, and I’m not exactly sure why.
The jarring impact that the suit has on Barry’s network of acquaintances signals that we must be meeting him during an important transitory phase of his life, while the color could be argued to represent his loneliness… wallowing in “the blues”, if you will. The bright shade also feels significant, as Barry doesn’t wear the more conventional and conservative navy-blue but instead a more flamboyant jewel tone that could have been chosen to project the “smiling on the outside” demeanor that our lonely protagonist tries to project. (For more about the meaningful use of color in Punch-Drunk Love, check out this dazzlingly insightful blog post at Girls Do Film.)
The ample fit of Barry’s suit suggests on a literal level that he likely lacks either the knowledge or means to have it flatteringly tailored, but it also can be argued to symbolize how Barry is overwhelmed by the blues though, just as he chose to purchase and wear the suit, some degree of this sadness may be within his own control. (Granted, some of the full fit could also be chalked up to contemporary tailoring trends in the early 2000s.)
The dialogue suggests that Barry isn’t an experienced suit-wearer, so he likely not only purchased this bright blue serge suit off-the-rack without any tailoring or alterations but may not have even known what size to purchase.
The jacket visually communicates the symptoms of the suit’s problematic fit, from the wide padded shoulders that extend beyond Adam Sandler’s frame (and diminish his head’s appearance) to the full skirt that, amplified by the jacket’s longer length, presents an unfortunate bell shape, despite the best efforts of the front darts to add some shape. The back is split with long side vents.
Beyond that, the jacket is styled like the standard American business suit, with notch lapels that roll to a two-button front; the buttoning point may well be correctly positioned around Sandler’s natural waistline, but the jacket’s excessive length makes that difficult to discern. The sleeves, also cut too long as evident by their frequently hiding the shirt cuffs, are finished with three non-functioning buttons at each cuff that resemble smaller versions of the two dark blue plastic buttons on the front. The jacket also has straight flapped hip pockets and a welted breast pocket that Barry refrains from dressing with a pocket square or kerchief.
The matching blue flat-front trousers are also conventionally styled for an off-the-peg American suit in the early oughts, with belt loops, side pockets (and likely jetted back pockets), and plain-hemmed bottoms, though naturally with a full break that would be consistent with the trousers from an oversized suit. Barry holds these trousers up with a plain black leather belt that closes through a silver-toned squared single-prong buckle.
While Barry Egan likely would have purchased shirts in bulk from a department store, Adam Sandler is a customer of storied shirtmaker Anto Beverly Hills, having worn their custom-made shirts in movies like Click, Spanglish, and Punch-Drunk Love. As of May 2022, one of Sandler’s screen-worn shirts from Punch-Drunk Love is for sale on eBay, as identified by the “A.S.” and “Sept. 2000” embroidered labels.
Sandler’s white cotton shirts as Barry Egan are detailed with point collars, breast pockets, and rounded barrel cuffs that fasten with a button. The shirts button up a plain front (no placket) and are constructed in a micro-grid weave from a light enough cotton that the outline of Barry’s white short-sleeved undershirts can be seen through them when he removes his suit jacket.
All of Barry’s silk ties are primary colors detailed with small repeating prints, with the standout color perhaps selected to match the intensity of his romantic hopes. He ties them all in a four-in-hand, the most traditional and least flashy knot, as well as a complimentary choice for his point-collared shirts.
Barry’s first tie is blue like his suit, patterned with a tightly positioned field of light-blue arrow-like shapes that leave only space for the royal-blue chevrons to separate them. Following my theory that Barry’s ties mimic his mood, it would make sense that he’s chosen neckwear in—to borrow a title from Miles Davis—all blues.
The next day, Barry wears a mustard-yellow tie with yet another organized pattern, this time of small diamonds that alternate between a deep burgundy and dark slate-blue, still sticking to shades of the three classic primary colors.
When he had dressed for work, Barry had temporarily relieved his loneliness with an ill-advised call to the phone sex hotline, perhaps with the lovely Lena he had met the previous morning also on the periphery of his mind… though he doesn’t yet know that the day will end with her returning to his office to request a date. As one does at a yellow light, our golden-tied Barry is proceeding with caution but ready to hit the proverbial brakes at any moment.
Now that Lena has made her romantic intentions clear even despite Barry’s myriad—if mostly innocuous—eccentricities, Barry begins exclusively wearing red ties that echo his awakened romantic passion. On the evening of his dinner date with Lena and the resulting bathroom destruction and Mormon foot chase, he wears a burgundy tie with a muted indigo floral print.
The next day, and through the end of Punch-Drunk Love with his respective sojourns to Hawaii and Utah, Barry wears a dark red tie with a tight, repeating pattern in a lighter tonal shade, echoing the style of his first blue tie and perhaps suggesting that his journey has come full-circle.
Likely a continuity error, there is a brief—and by brief I mean one single shot—disruption of my theory of Barry’s blue-to-yellow-to-red ties representing his emotional journey. Perhaps a continuity error or an intentional costuming decision (only Mark Bridges knows!), a shot of Barry on the plane to Hawaii shows him wearing a pale yellow tie, patterned with a densely spaced field of “squares” that are actually just sets of two taupe parallel bars arranged in alternating directions across the tie.
If I wanted to shoehorn my theory in here, I could say that Barry has returned to his “yellow light” emotional status, apprehensive about the threats from the Mattress Man, what will happen when he impulsively follows Lena to Hawaii, and the circumstances of his first-ever flight.
Barry wears a black leather cap-toe derby shoes, an infallibly tasteful if somewhat pedestrian choice. His socks are also black, rather than trying to match his hosiery to the shade of his suit.
Barry wears a stainless steel wristwatch with a round black or dark blue dial, simply detailed with silver non-numeric hour markers and a wide white date window at the 3:00 position, and fastened on a unique bracelet of narrow five-piece Rouleaux-style links.
What to Imbibe
It’s never stated what tropical cocktails we see Barry and Lena enjoying on the Hawaiian beach, but—given their appearance, the setting, and the Royal Hawaiian poster boasting “entertainment at the home of Hawaii’s famous Mai Tai”, we can assume they’re each drinking a Mai Tai.
“Within the pantheon of exotic cocktails, one stands above the rest as the most iconic of the era,” Martin Cate and Rebecca Cate state to introduce the Mai Tai in their volume Smuggler’s Cove: Exotic Cocktails, Rum, and the Cult of Tiki. “An elegant and simple concoction, really just a nutty rum margarita, it eschews the conventional structure established by [Donn Beach] in favor of a more nuanced approach.”
As with most great cocktails, debate remains regarding exactly where the Mai Tai originated, with the most likely theory that Victor J. Bergeron developed it at his seminal Tiki bar, Trader Vic’s, around 1944, though Donn Beach—of Don the Beachcomber fame—claimed it was merely an evolution of his more complex Q.B. Cooler, developed a decade earlier. Either way, the Mai Tai has remained one of the best-known exotic cocktails nearly a century later, instantly evoking travel by its resemblance to “a little tropical island with a palm tree on it,” as stipulated by Bergeron.
Many recipes exist, including one adapted by the Cates for Smuggler’s Cove (and I’d recommend you purchase the book to check it out!), though I think the simplest place to begin is with the recipe specified by the IBA:
- 30 mL amber Jamaican rum
- 30 mL Martinique molasses rum
- 15 mL orange curaçao
- 15 mL orgeat syrup
- 30 mL fresh lime juice
- 7.5 mL simple syrup
Once all the ingredients are gathered, preparation is easy enough: add all to an ice-filled shaker, shake, and pour into a tall glass filled with shaved ice. To create Vic’s desired “tropical island” effect, garnish with a pineapple spear, a lime peel, a mint spear, and—if you’re so inclined—a little paper umbrella… or a 151-proof Demerara rum float. Or both.
Not a drinker? Then I recommend stocking up on Healthy Choice pudding packs.
How to Get the Look
With a little tailoring, Barry’s signature blue suit throughout Punch-Drunk Love could be an eye-catching head-turner, spinning the tried-and-true formula of a dark blue suit, white shirt, and subtly patterned, primary-colored tie by brightening the shade of the suit into a brighter jewel tone while leaving the remaining elements traditional.
- Sapphire-blue serge suit:
- Single-breasted 2-button jacket with notch lapels, welted breast pocket, straight flapped hip pockets, 3-button cuffs, and long double vents
- Flat front trousers with belt loops, side pockets, and plain-hemmed bottoms
- White cotton shirt with point collar, breast pocket, and button cuffs
- Red, yellow, or blue silk tie with small repeating print
- Black leather belt with silver-toned squared single-prong buckle
- Black leather cap-toe derby shoes
- Black socks
- White cotton crew-neck short-sleeve undershirt
- Stainless steel watch with dark blue dial (with silver non-numeric hour markers and white 3:00 date window) on steel Rouleaux bracelet
Do Yourself a Favor and…
Check out the movie.
And if you’re interested in following Barry’s examples of taking advantage of the promotional relationships between airlines and processed food companies, just know it’s been done already by David Phillips, the civil engineer who partially inspired the character of Barry Egan.
I have a love in my life. It makes me stronger than anything you can imagine.