David Hemmings as Thomas, hip London photographer
Swinging London, Fall 1966
Release Date: December 18, 1966
Director: Michelangelo Antonioni
Costume Designer: Jocelyn Rickards
Some people are bullfighters, some people are politicians… I’m a photographer.
August 19 being World Photography Day feels like an apt opportunity to delve into Blowup, Michelangelo Antonioni’s enticing and meandering mystery that won the Palme d’Or at Cannes and was nominated for two Academy Awards despite its then-unprecedented sexual content that defied the mainstream movies released under the aging Motion Picture Production Code that had been enforced in Hollywood for over three decades. Indeed, Blowup‘s critical popularity and box-office success has been credited as one of the final blows that killed the restrictive “Hays Code” once and for all, in favor of the MPAA rating system that ushered in a new, uninhibited era of American cinema.
Blowup centers around Thomas (David Hemmings), a stylish young photographer living the swinging London dream, though kept so busy that he bemoans “I haven’t even got a couple of minutes to have my appendix out.”
Thomas’ fashionable reputation and abilities attract scores of models, from global supermodel Veruschka (portraying herself) to two audaciously ambitious teens (Jane Birkin and Gillian Hills) who resort to their basest means to procure his talents. Yet, not even nude romps can distract Thomas from the dark possibilities he may have uncovered during a series of photos he snapped on his trusty Nikon F in Maryon Park featuring the mysterious Jane (Vanessa Redgrave), her lover, and a second man who may have been armed with a pistol.
What’d He Wear?
Aside from the oversized and unbuttoned indigo suede shirt and baggy khakis that he wore for the beginning sequence shooting Veruschka, Thomas spends the entirety of Blowup wearing—or at least changing in and out of—the same gingham shirt, white jeans, and boots, supplemented outside the studio with a dark green corduroy sports coat.
The single-breasted jacket is made from a cool shade of dark teal-green corduroy, the rugged cotton woven into tufted ridges known as “wales”. Thomas’ sports coat appears to be made from corduroy of a standard wale, typically measuring around 11 wales per inch. The narrower notch lapels, close fit, suppressed waist, and short length indicate the modernized, fashion-forward influence that would be expected of trendy Thomas, though it’s worth noting that all of his clothes are rooted in a tasteful realm that avoids the excess peacocking often associated with the contemporary mod subculture.
Indeed, aside from the closer fit, Thomas’ corduroy jacket reflects traditional English tailoring details like the full three-button front, double vents, and a flapped ticket pocket in addition to the flapped hip pockets. The shoulders are straight with some padding, and the sleeves are finished with two-button cuffs that match the three dark green plastic buttons on the front.
Thomas wears a light blue-and-white mini-gingham check cotton shirt with a substantial button-down collar that he always wears undone. The long-sleeved shirt also has button cuffs, a front placket, breast pocket, and a single pleat behind each shoulder that adds to the shirt’s roomy fit over Hemmings’ lean frame.
Particularly in shades of blue, gingham check shirts remain popular for men and women more than a half century later, with long-sleeved button-down versions (with breast pockets) available from retailers like J. Crew, L.L. Bean, and Vineyard Vines (via Nordstrom).
Thomas’ white tapered-leg jeans have the distinctive Levi’s “white tab” sewn along the back right pocket, though sources like Beyond Retro and North Workshop have reported that Levi’s typically reserved its “white tab” during the ’60s and ’70s for corduroy and women’s clothing. In addition to Thomas’ trousers being intended for men, close-ups also reveal the cloth is a typical cotton twill rather than corduroy. Vintage finds and eBay listings (like this!) suggest that, if not as widely known, Levi’s did indeed assign its white tab to men’s non-corduroy jeans. (The modern equivalent of Thomas’ slim-cut white jeans would likely be the Levi’s 511™.)
Thomas’ jeans follow the traditional five-pocket jeans design, with two curved front pockets, an inset watch pocket on the right, and two patch-style back pockets. Through the tall, narrow belt loops, Thomas wears a wide belt of smooth black leather that closes through a slender silver-toned single-prong buckle.
Thomas’ well-traveled black leather slip-on boots feature black elastic side gussets similar to the Chelsea boots that were popular among Mods at the time. Unlike traditional Chelsea boots, however, Thomas’ boots appear to be built in two leather pieces—a large vamp piece that covers the toes and the quarters wrapping around the heel—with elastic over the instep, under the vamp, exposed on each side where the two pieces meet.
Thomas’ boots are also a few inches shorter than classic Chelsea boots, rising just over each respective ankle. This traditionally English style was also worn by the contemporary James Bond (Sean Connery) in the two movies that bookended Blowup—Thunderball (1965) and You Only Live Twice (1967)—worn with suits both times. Thomas wears black socks that create a “bootie” effect that make his footwear look a little higher.
For Blowup wardrobe completists (whom I highly doubt exist), Thomas wears white cotton briefs that can be—er—briefly seen during his famous romp with Jane Birkin and Gillian Hills, as he wears his shirt tucked into them!
The final piece of Thomas’ wardrobe is his sleek gold dress watch, with a flat gold rectangular case and a minimalist silver dial detailed only with its gilted hands and matching non-numeric hour markers at only the 12, 3, 6, and 9 o’clock positions. He wears the watch strapped to his left wrist on a black leather band.
Another notable watch in Blowup is Jane’s stainless Rolex Submariner, which she wears on a black leather band around the outside of her shirt cuff… and continues wearing even after she takes off her shirt. The ref. 5513 Submariner follows the classic design configuration with its stainless steel case and black bezel, though its been reported that the black dial was actually the rare “Explorer”-style dial with Arabic numerals for the 3, 6, and 9 o’clock hour markers. You can read more about Vanessa Redgrave’s screen-worn Rolex in Nick Gould’s article for Quill & Pad.
Thomas is evidently doing well for himself, as he drives around London in a 1965 Rolls-Royce Silver Cloud III Drophead Coupé. The screen-used Rolls had once belonged to Jimmy Savile, manufactured by bespoke coachbuilder H. J. Mulliner Park Ward and delivered to the now-disgraced entertainer in January 1965, originally white but painted black sometime before it appeared on screen. (Source: Blowup: Then & Now)
The ’65 Silver Cloud III on screen was manufactured during the penultimate year of Silver Cloud production, which spanned 1955 through 1966 with just under 7,400 produced. Of these, 2,044 were the final Silver Cloud III iteration, which had been introduced to the public in Paris in October 1962. This generation retained the 6.2-liter Rolls-Royce V8 engine developed for the Silver Cloud II, now producing an estimated 220 horsepower and mated to a 4-speed Hydramatic automatic transmission produced under license from General Motors.
How to Get the Look
In his dark green corduroy sports coat, mini-gingham check shirt (rakishly worn with button-down collar undone), white jeans, and ankle boots, Thomas effectively blends timeless style with trendy fits and details to look suitable for his fashionable profession that so highly values personal appearance.
- Dark teal-green corduroy cotton single-breasted 3-button sport jacket with notch lapels, welted breast pocket, flapped hip pockets with flapped ticket pocket, 2-button cuffs, and double vents
- Light blue-and-white mini-gingham check cotton shirt with button-down collar, front placket, breast pocket, button cuffs, and back side pleats
- White cotton twill Levi’s “white tab” tapered-leg jeans with belt loops, curved front pockets, inset watch pocket, patch back pockets, and plain-hemmed bottoms
- Black smooth leather wide belt with slim silver-toned single-prong buckle
- Black leather elastic-instep ankle boots
- Black socks
- White cotton underwear briefs
- Gold dress watch with squared case, squared silver minimalist dial with gold non-numeric hour markers, and smooth black leather strap
Do Yourself a Favor and…
Check out the movie.
Nothing like a little disaster for sorting things out.