Robert Redford as Bill McKay, charismatic lawyer-turned-senatorial candidate
California, Spring through Fall 1972
Film: The Candidate
Release Date: June 29, 1972
Director: Michael Ritchie
Costume Designer: Patricia Norris
Costume Supervisor: Bernie Pollack
In case my fellow Americans’ phones haven’t been buzzing with incessant reminders about it… this Tuesday is Election Day!
Fifty years ago, American electoral politics were lampooned in The Candidate, starring Robert Redford as Bill McKay, an idealistic California lawyer tapped to run for a supposedly unwinnable seat in the U.S. Senate.
Inspired by screenwriter Jeremy Larner’s own experiences working on Senator Eugene McCarthy’s unsuccessful bid for the presidency in ’68, The Candidate chronicles the unpredictable insanity of American politics ranging from the mundane to the dramatic.
What’d He Wear?
When not swathed in suits and ties for his public appearances on the campaign trail, McKay still dresses tastefully down in a woolen tweed sports coat. The jacket is woven in a prominent twill that alternates between tan and brown for an overall light brown finish. Charcoal pinstripes separate each section where the twill changes direction, alternating between a single stripe and twin track stripes that frame the chevron-like apices where the twills meet.
The single-breasted jacket has then-fashionably wide notch lapels, finished with prominently swelled edges and rolling to a two-button front. The jacket also has a welted breast pocket, large patch-style hip pockets with flaps, four-button cuffs, and a long single vent.
We first see McKay wearing the tweed jacket when he drops by a spring campaign rally in support of the bland but popular Republican incumbent, Crocker Jarmon (Don Porter). McKay’s appetite for politics had already been whet after a visit from Democratic campaign strategist Marvin Lucas (Peter Boyle), but his disgust at the banality and inauthentic mendacity of Jarmon’s campaign inspires McKay to rethink his reluctance to campaign against him.
When he publicly confronts Jarmon during the senator’s San Diego rally, McKay wears a blue chambray cotton shirt with a rusty-colored contrast stitch and dark blue plastic recessed buttons. The shirt has a long, soft collar, front placket with the top few buttons undone, and two large chest pockets each covered by scalloped button-down flap.
After McKay’s genuine interest is informed by Jarmon’s uninspiring rally, McKay and Lucas meet with gregarious image consultant Howard Klein (Allen Garfield), who is the first to suggest that McKay may have more of a chance than he thinks, praising his gutsy stances… though he does advise that “for starters, we gotta cut your hair and eighty-six the sideburns.”
McKay wears a similar work shirt, albeit dressier in its light blue end-on-end cotton construction, more structured long point collar, and white buttons up the front placket and fastening both chest pocket flaps. He wears the shirt tucked into a pair of navy flat-front trousers with plain-hemmed bottoms styled with a distinct flare as was fashionable in the early ’70s. Though we can’t see his shoes, it’s evident that he wears navy socks that continue the leg line from his trousers.
That fall, in the midst of rumors swirling that McKay’s own father—former Governor John McKay (Melvyn Douglas)—may be endorsing his opponent, the candidate visits his father in northern California. The personal nature of the visit calls for a more dressed-down wardrobe than the pinstripe suits and ties he’s been wearing as his campaign grows momentum, so McKay layers the tweed jacket over a black turtleneck knit in a soft wool, possibly merino or cashmere. The sweater body is widely ribbed with a more tightly ribbed roll-neck.
McKay keeps it casual with his dark blue jeans, which are styled with the traditional five-pocket layout and boot-cut legs, though we don’t see enough of them on screen to determine any more detail than that. His brown leather boots have squared toes.
McKay sports a ring on each hand, with Redford’s usual silver Hopi tribal ring now on the ring finger of his left hand while he dresses his right hand with a silver ring with a narrow turquoise-filled band around the center. In addition to the Hopi ring, Redford also wears his own stainless Rolex Submariner dive watch that would also appear in his later movies like All the President’s Men (1976) and The Electric Horseman (1979). Worn on a steel Oyster-style link bracelet, the watch has a black bezel and a black dial with a date window at 3:00, as the ref. 1680 worn by Redford was the first Submariner model to include a date function.
Under his shirt, McKay wears a silver rope-style necklace with a turquoise pendant that was likely another piece of Redford’s personal jewelry.
What to Imbibe
The McKay family evidently prefers Hamm’s beer, as this was not only the same brand that Bill had served to Melvin Lucas, but when Bill calls upon his father, John hands him the very can of Hamm’s he had just been drinking. Of course, it’s not long before John looks up at his wife and comments: “Say, Mabel, did you know Bud here is running for United States Senate? Get him a real drink, he’ll need one!”
The Hamm’s story began in 1865 when German immigrant Theodore Hamm inherited the Excelsior Brewery in Milwaukee from a deceased friend and partner. The brewery grew steadily, rising to the second largest brewery in Minnesota within two decades and—after surviving Prohibition—the fifth largest brewery in the country by the 1950s, the result of aggressive national expansion that opened new Hamm’s breweries across the country, including two in California that likely helped establish it as a favorite among the McKays representing the Golden State.
How to Get the Look
How does the “man who shoots from the hip and a man who’s hip when he shoots” dress when he’s not shaking hands and kissing babies? Bill McKay gets plenty of mileage from a sturdy and eye-catching tweed sport jacket that works with chambray shirts and slacks or a black turtleneck and jeans.
- Light brown twill (with charcoal striping) woolen tweed single-breasted 2-button sport jacket with wide notch lapels, welted breast pocket, flapped patch-style hip pockets, 4-button cuffs, and long single vent
- Black cashmere ribbed turtleneck sweater
- Dark indigo blue denim five-pocket jeans
- Brown leather squared-toe boots
- Silver ring with turquoise-filled center ridge
- Silver tribal ring
- Rolex Submariner ref. 1680 dive watch with stainless steel case, black bezel and black dial, and steel Oyster-style bracelet
Do Yourself a Favor and…
Check out the movie.