Christopher Lee as Dracula
Christopher Lee as Count Dracula, debonair and deadly vampire
Transylvania, Spring 1885
Film: Dracula, aka Horror of Dracula
Release Date: May 7, 1958
Director: Terence Fisher
Wardrobe Credit: Molly Arbuthnot
With less than a week until Halloween, I was inspired by a request from BAMF Style reader Jonathan last month to bite into the Hammer horror films, specifically Christopher Lee’s iconic debut as Count Dracula in the 1958 adaptation of Dracula, also released as Horror of Dracula in the United States to avoid confusion with the 1931 movie starring Bela Lugosi.
Lee makes the most of his scant seven minutes of screen-time, speaking only sixteen lines for the entirety but re-establishing Bram Stoker’s famous vampire as a tragic romantic anti-hero, albeit still the embodiment of evil that Jonathan Harker (John Van Eyssen) and Dr. Van Helsing (Peter Cushing) seek to destroy.
What’d He Wear?
Christopher Lee makes his dramatic debut as Dracula with an orchestral clang, standing atop the stairs in his Transylvanian estate to greet his new librarian—and potential assassin—Jonathan Harker. As he glides toward Harker, the sartorial differentiation between Lee and Lugosi becomes apparent.
“I was always against the whole tie and tails rendition,” Lee had shared in an interview in Leonard Wolf’s A Dream of Dracula. “Surely it is the height of the ridiculous for a vampire to step out of the shadows wearing white tie, tails, patent leather shoes, and a full cloak.”
This first of nine times that Lee portrayed Dracula set the template for his particular portrayal, anchored by a black opera cape over a simple black suit. Unlike most of his future Dracula appearances, this black floor-length cape is a single layer of wool fabric without the bright scarlet-red satin lining that would become a more flamboyant signature of his look. The cape has a shirt-style collar and a black silky rope tie that knots at the neck but is otherwise a simple garment, lacking the layers, buttons, and sleeves of an inverness cape. (The screen-worn cape, authenticated by Lee himself, was auctioned by Bonhams in June 2009.)
Decorum of the era would call for a white shirt, though little can be seen of Dracula’s shirt due to the full coverage of his black cape and black three-piece suit. The shirt has a soft white cutaway spread collar that accommodates his black silk cravat and white double (French) cuffs that he closes with gold cuff links boasting large red stones that echo the blood he famously drinks from his victims.
Rather than the white tie and tails associated with Bela Lugosi’s characterization, Lee’s Dracula wears a black subtly self-striped suit, cut to resemble fashions of the 1880s with its long four-button single-breasted jacket. Lee wears only the top button done, a common practice of the era that also adds to the visual drama of Count Dracula’s appearance as the skirts of the jacket flare rearward like a secondary cape. The back of the jacket remains covered by the cape, but we can observe its short notch lapels, welted breast pocket, straight flapped hip pockets, and the seam separating the ends of the sleeves with their four functional cuff buttons.
The black trousers match the jacket, detailed simply with a flat front and plain-hemmed bottoms and almost certainly held up with suspenders (braces) if not self-suspended with adjuster tabs along the waistband.
When Van Helsing and his improvised cross bring an end to Dracula’s eponymous horror, sending the vampiric count onto his astrologically arranged floor tiles, his jacket falls apart and reveals a black single-breasted waistcoat (vest) with lapels The dignified addition of white cotton marcella slips are an old-fashioned detail recalling morning suits of the era, buttoned into place along the waistcoat’s neckline to present the neat impression of an additional layer. Though all but archaic in modern fashion, white waistcoat slips can still be purchased from eBay as well as from outfitters like Budd, Montague Ede, and RJW Shirts.
Count Dracula wears black leather Chelsea boots, an ankle-high style that was not only developed during the Victorian era but also likely by Queen Victoria’s own shoemaker, Joseph Sparkes Hall, who patented the signature elastic side gussets following Charles Goodyear’s invention of vulcanized rubber in the late 1830s.
More than a century later, Chelsea boots re-emerged as a favorite footwear among English mods during the swinging ’60s, prompting sartorialist Sir Hardy Amies to observe with his trademark wit that their popularity “has certain erotic implications; boots must surely be a symbol of virility.” One imagines Count Dracula wouldn’t disagree.
On his left pinky, Dracula wears a gold signet ring with a crest engraved on the round surface. Though not seen clearly in Horror of Dracula, the ring has been replicated by sellers like Haunted Studios.
How to Get the Look
Christopher Lee’s revisionist characterization of Count Dracula from the late ’50s proves that the Reservoir Dogs crooks were hardly the first cinematic killers to wear black suits, white shirts, and black neckwear, though our Victorian-era vampire’s cape and fangs elevate his look to something best reserved for Halloween costumes or Transylvanian dinner parties.
- Black wool floor-length cape with shirt-style collar and silky rope-tied neck closure
- Black self-striped wool Victorian-styled suit:
- Single-breasted 4-button jacket with short notch lapels, welted breast pocket, straight flapped hip pockets, and seam-separated 4-button cuffs
- Flat-front trousers with plain-hemmed bottoms
- White cotton shirt with soft spread collar and double/French cuffs
- Red stone cuff links
- Black silk cravat
- Black single-breasted waistcoat (vest) with notch lapels and white cotton marcella slips
- Black leather Chelsea boots
- Black socks
- Gold crested signet pinky ring
Needing an all-black cape for your upcoming Halloween party? Amazon‘s got you covered with a collared and neck-tied cape that could suit many a costume from Count Dracula to Frank Costanza’s lawyer.
Do Yourself a Favor and…
Check out the movie.
Then we’re both satisfied. An admirable arrangement.
I’ve always been curious about the vest slips; I never knew what they were called! I remember the father on Upstairs, Downstairs used to wear them.
As a fellow person of height, I’ve always appreciated the way this cloak hangs, especially in Lee’s first scene. It makes an impression.