La Dolce Vita: Marcello’s White Party Suit
Marcello Mastroianni as Marcello Rubini, playboy gossip journalist-turned-publicity agent
Fregene, Italy, Summer 1959
Film: La Dolce Vita
Release Date: February 5, 1960
Director: Federico Fellini
Costume Designer: Piero Gherardi
WARNING! Spoilers ahead!
No, no one’s leaving. It’s a long way ’til dawn.
The seventh and final “episode” of Fellini’s divine comedy La Dolce Vita catches up with our sleek protagonist Marcello Rubini (Marcello Mastroianni), erstwhile chronicler of Roman nightlife, as he and a group of friends descend upon his friend Riccardo’s beach house in Fregene, about 25 miles west of Rome on the Tyrrhenian coast.
Rendered cynical after a fruitless search for love and happiness marred by his friend’s murder-suicide, the graying Marcello has deserted his journalistic career and literary endeavors in favor of working as a publicity agent, a career derided by his friends. Nonchalant about his abandoned ambitions, Marcello pushes the party into debauchery, first set to a frantically dissonant recording of “Jingle Bells” before urging his newly divorced friend Nadia (Nadia Gray) to “christen her new life” with a striptease set to Perez Prado’s contemporary cha-cha “Patricia”. The display isn’t enough for the plastered Marcello, who unsuccessfully attempts to nudge the bacchanal into an all-out orgy.
Riccardo’s return pushes the party outside at dawn, where the revelers encounter a bloated leviathan caught in a fisherman’s nets. Reminded again of death, Marcello drifts from the party and spies across the bay Paola (Valeria Ciangottini), an almost-angelic young waitress he’d met earlier at a seaside restaurant. She calls out to him, urging him to join her but is drowned out by the sounds of the sea, leaving Marcello little to do but respond with a hapless shrug before dancing away with a fellow partygoer… ostensibly continuing his downward spiral into Fellini’s metaphorical hell.
What’d He Wear?
After spending most of La Dolce Vita dressed in his usual black suit, white shirts, and dark ties, Marcello reverses his formula for this final sequence, dressed in a bleached suit over a dark pullover shirt and black neckerchief.
“By the end of the film, our hero replaces his serious, black suit for a white one,” wrote Chris Cotonou for No Man Walks Alone. “He ditches the tie for a neckerchief, and swaps a white shirt for a polo—it’s still elegant, but more hip. Likewise, his personality shifts: first from sullen, or cynical and then to absurd and comical. Things have changed. It doesn’t take the clothes to realize this, but it certainly confirms our worst fears: that Marcello caved in to excess. Mastroianni himself suggested in an interview that every outfit was ‘intentional and had meaning,’ and the film went on to win an Oscar for Best Wardrobe that year—perhaps for these reasons.”
I’ve read descriptions of Marcello’s final suit describing the material as white linen, though—while the color is arguably correct—the suiting lacks some of linen’s signature qualities, such as a visible proneness to wrinkling, as Marcello’s suit would certainly be showing after an all-night bacchanal. Instead, the suit may be constructed of tropical worsted wool or cotton gabardine.
Like the rest of his wardrobe, Marcello’s final suit was likely tailored by Brioni, the legendary Italian fashion house that has operated out of the same boutique at Via Barberini 79 in Rome since its inception in 1945. Mastroianni’s elegant suits of La Dolce Vita elevated Brioni’s profile as well as consciousness of Roman tailoring with its form-following silhouette, blending sophisticated masculinity with a dash of romance. Or, as Hardy Amies more bluntly but still eloquently described in his 1964 volume ABCs of Men’s Fashion, “an air of masculine superiority softened with an almost feminine grace that intrigues women in the great game of sexual attraction.”
Marcello’s white single-breasted jacket follows the Roman tradition with its suppressed waist shaped by front darts and the clean, padded shoulders inspired by English military and equestrian tailoring. Italian tailors have been associated with both ventless and side-vented jacket, with the long and flared double vents of Marcello’s jacket clearly indicating the latter.
The notch lapels roll to a two-button front which, despite his frolicking antics, Marcello manages to keep fastened through the top button throughout the entire sequence. Each sleeve is finished with three flat pearl buttons that match the two on the front. The welted breast pocket has a gentle curve, a less dramatic example of the “barchetta”-style pocket characteristic of Italian tailoring. The straight, jetted hip pockets lacking flaps contribute to the slimmer, minimalist figure.
The suit’s matching white trousers are rigged with double forward-facing pleats on each side. The waistline has belt loops, though Marcello evidently foregoes a belt as he relies on the superior tailoring to keep his trousers up. (Though, given his orgiastic intentions for the party, it’s also possible he was removing any obstacles to gratification.) Detailed with a button-fly and side pockets along the seams, the trousers have a straight, full fit through the legs down to plain-hemmed bottoms with a medium break over his shoes.
Marcello wears a very dark pullover shirt which appears just a shade lighter than black, though any guess would be complete speculation unless color photography from these scenes emerge. The design resembles an elevated polo shirt with its large, soft collar and sporty two-button V-shaped placket, though the shirt is uniquely and incongruously designed with double (French) cuffs, typically reserved for more formal dress shirts. Marcello fastens the cuffs with a set of oversized light-colored disc-style links.
With his necktie-wearing nightlife days behind him, Marcello has adopted the rakish practice of wearing a neckerchief, in this case a swath of black voile cloth loosely knotted around his neck. Given La Dolce Vita‘s considerably metaphorical and symbolic nature, the dark knotted kerchief could represent that Marcello has allowed darkness to take hold like a noose around his neck, albeit one he could fight his way out of if only he hadn’t been rendered so indifferent to his fate.
Marcello no longer wears the snappy single-strap monk shoes he had favored with his black suit, instead dressing down in a pair of dark leather slip-ons with a slotted strap across the vamp suggesting penny loafers. The lighter shade of his shoes, especially compared to his dark ribbed cotton lisle socks, suggests the possibility of brown leather uppers, which would be a softer contrast with the all-white suit than black leather.
How to Get the Look
Marcello reverses his typical black-suited sartorial formula for the agrodolce finale of La Dolce Vita, wearing an all-white suit with a sporty knitted shirt and dark neckerchief apropos a beachside bacchanal.
- White gabardine tailored Brioni suit:
- Single-breasted 2-button jacket with notch lapels, welted “barchetta”-style breast pocket, straight jetted hip pockets, 3-button cuffs, and double vents
- Double forward-pleated trousers with belt loops, button fly, on-seam side pockets, and plain-hemmed bottoms
- Dark knitted long-sleeved polo shirt with large collar, 2-button V-shaped placket, and double/French cuffs
- Black sheer neckerchief
- Brown leather penny loafers
- Dark ribbed cotton voile socks
Do Yourself a Favor and…
Check out the movie, and read more about the style of La Dolce Vita at The Rake.
I could keep you entertained for a week, but you must do as I say.