Steve Martin in Planes, Trains & Automobiles
Steve Martin as Neal Page, advertising executive and family man
New York City to Chicago… via Kansas and Missouri, Fall 1987
Film: Planes, Trains & Automobiles
Release Date: November 25, 1987
Director: John Hughes
Costume Designer: April Ferry
Steve Martin’s Costumer: Dennis Schoonderwoerd
It’s two days to Thanksgiving! If you’re an ad man in New York for a creative presentation with an indecisive client, that should give you just enough time to unsuccessfully race Kevin Bacon for a taxi and join up with a talkative shower curtain ring salesman—excuse me, shower curtain ring sales director—for a series of transportation-related hijinks to make it home to Chicago just as that stuffed bird is ready to come out of the oven on Thursday.
Planes, Trains & Automobiles remains one of the few bona fide classic Thanksgiving comedies, released 35 years ago this week as commemorated today with an all-new 4K home video release that includes more than an hour of deleted and extended footage. The movie arguably succeeds best thanks to the comedic chemistry between Steve Martin and John Candy, balancing humor and heart as both the banal Neal and garrulous Del are humanized beyond initial stereotypes in what both actors described as a career-favorite film.
They meet over a “stolen” cab during rush hour on Park Avenue, with Neal desperately hoping to make his 6:00 flight home to Chicago. Neal’s troubles are only beginning when the taxi he manages to secure via $75 to an unscrupulous attorney is taken instead by an unsuspecting Del, who—despite being a million bucks shy of being a millionaire—offers Neal a hot dog and a beer as penance during a delay the airport. Finally able to board the plane, Neal’s horrors increase as, not only is the voluminous and voluble Del his seat-mate, but the prophesy foretold by six bucks and Del’s right nut comes true as the plane lands not in Chicago but is diverted to Wichita.
Writer and director John Hughes explained he was inspired to develop the movie after his own New York-to-Chicago flight had once been diverted to Wichita, requiring an extra five days until he got home. It took only three days for Hughes to draft the initial screenplay, illustrating his talent for not only writing a masterful script but also producing perfect improv from his actors, from Martin and Candy to Edie McClurg’s memorable turn as the “you’re fucked” rental car agent.
What’d He Wear?
Much of Neal Page’s wardrobe is desperately tethered to the fading fashions of the ’80s, but I’m a sucker for a good “road wardrobe”, especially one that devolves as the wearer’s journey grows increasingly dire. I also find many of the details to be very interesting for, as much as Neal may have meant to represent the typical conservative conformist in Reagan-era corporate America, looking more closely at his attire reveals that he’s dressed much beyond the quintessential “man in the gray flannel suit”.
April Ferry is credited as the primary costume designer on Planes, Trains & Automobiles, but Steve Martin was dressed by Dennis Schoonderwoerd, who served as Martin’s own costumer from Pennies From Heaven (1981) through Bowfinger (1999). According to Christa Worthington’s New York Times Magazine profile of Martin in 1988, a year after this movie was released, Schoonderwoerd said of his famous client: “He knows exactly what he wants, what he likes… He’s not trendy, but he’s very current. He doesn’t dress to be noticed, but because he likes certain fabrics and the way things fit.”
Neal may have arrived in New York only that morning and, planning on just a short in-and-out business trip, doesn’t have quite the eclectic wardrobe available to him as his co-tripper Del, whose inconvenient steamer trunk affords him the opportunity to rotate through a more extensive “road closet” of bow-ties and big-and-tall menswear from cardigans to three-piece suits.
Given the intended duration of his trip, Neal has little else to wear except the suit from his client presentation. All he carries are a simple garment bag (of which we don’t see the contents, but we know doesn’t include a change of underwear) and a briefcase, which becomes the first casualty of his attempted trip home. Working as an executive in the marketing industry may at least Neal some license to dress more creatively, beyond the conservative blue and gray worsteds that defined appropriate business-wear for much of the 20th century.
Neal’s suit is constructed from a black-and-cream tick-patterned wool, woven to present a warm gray overall finish. Much of the jacket reflects the fashions of the ’80s, echoing his costumer’s description that Steve Martin preferred a “very current” style. The shoulders are wide and padded, consistent with the “power suit” silhouette popularized through the decade, establishing a baggy fit for the ventless jacket that hangs straight around Martin’s torso like a curtain at a voting booth, full but not flattering like tailoring of the late ’40s and ’50s.
The low, steep gorges of the notch lapels compete with the higher-positioned placement of the welted breast pocket, and the hip pockets are sportier patch-style pockets. Each sleeve is finished with three-button cuffs. (The suit jacket presumably burns up in Del’s rented LeBaron, leaving only Neal’s overcoat as his main layer over his shirt.)
The matching suit trousers have reverse-facing pleats, side pockets, and button-through back pockets where Neal keeps his wallet, much to his own detriment after he pulls it out and stores it in the doomed LeBaron’s glove compartment to get more comfortable. Consistent with the full fit of his clothing, the trousers are full through the legs to the plain-hemmed bottoms that have a full break over his shoes. Neal holds his trousers up with a black leather belt through a silver-toned single-prong buckle.
Neal wears a pale ecru shirt patterned with a slate-gray banker’s stripe, each stripe faintly detailed with a narrow dobby-textured stripe bordering the top that alternates between rust and blue. The shirt has a narrow point collar, front placket, squared single-button cuffs, and an inverted box pleat in the center of the back that echoes the inverted box-pleated breast pocket.
Although Neal loses his hat, suit jacket, and much of his sanity over the course of his journey with Del, he continues wearing the tie from his business meeting, perhaps hoping to keep some consistency from his life before the nightmarish voyage home. The maroon silk tie has a tonal leafy pattern, overlaid with large black polka dots scattered around the tie.
Rather than more traditional lace-ups or even penny loafers, Neal wears a unique pair of slip-on shoes with black scaled leather uppers, resembling huaraches though—as we see after the shoes accrue considerable snow damage at the St. Louis airport—the texture isn’t the result of interwoven leather, as huaraches had been traditionally constructed. The lightweight construction, low vamps, and thin black leather soles suggest that, while these shoes may be comfortable for air travel and hours trapped in a conference room, they’re hardly practical for any rigors of the road beyond that… especially in a snowy Midwestern winter!
Neal’s dark gray socks with their burgundy polka-dots coordinate with his overall color palette while also subtly reflecting the pattern in his tie.
“Please… have mercy. I’ve been wearing the same underwear since Tuesday,” Neal begs a sleepy Missouri motel clerk (Martin Ferrero) late on Wednesday night. “I can vouch for that,” affirms Del, who has likely at least had the opportunity to change out of his massive white Jockeys. (A lesson for everyone, especially in this modern age of flight delays and misplaced luggage: always keep at least a backup pair of underwear in your carry-on bag!)
On the first night of their acquaintanceship that brings them closer than the two men could have ever expected, Neal strips down to his undershirt and shorts for his attempt to catch forty winks in the beer-soaked motel bed he shares with the snorting Del. Neal’s undershirt is of the plain white cotton crew-neck short-sleeved T-shirt variety, and his long-suffering underwear is a pair of pale ecru striped cotton boxer shorts.
Neal wears a huge dark gray wool knee-length overcoat, which looks particularly oversized on Steve Martin, who may stand 6′ tall but with a lean, athletic frame that wouldn’t fill out such a large coat as well as, say, John Candy. At least the voluminous coat can comfortably double as a makeshift blanket when Neal naps in the defective passenger seat of Del’s rental LeBaron coming out of St. Louis.
Every detail follows ’80s trends, including the notch lapels with their dropped gorges and the low two-button stance that seems to fall below Martin’s natural waist, rather than considerably above it as an overcoat should. The coat has a long single vent, a vestigial button sewn onto each cuff, and large patch-style hip pockets.
Despite some of the funky ’80s fashion infused into his business-wear, Neal still clings—at least for as long as he can—to his old-fashioned hat, a gray felt self-edged fedora with a narrow black grosgrain band.
As he grips the hat on a crowded bus into St. Louis, we see a gold-etched logo along the inside of the black leather sweatband that appears to be from famed Italian hatmaker Borsalino… making it all the more tragic when the hat finally gets run over by a truck.
On the plane to
Chicago Wichita, Neal optimistically dons a pair of tortoiseshell reading glasses as he hopes to read a GQ article penned by a friend. Unlike narrower rectangular reading glasses, the frames are more of the oversized square shape that was fashionable through the ’80s.
Given the wintry weather, Neal has gloves—but, oop, never mind… he left those in Brian’s office.
Luckily, the generous Del isn’t out of compassion after suffering much of Neal’s abuse and evidently lends his co-traveler a tan corduroy topcoat, shepherd’s check woolen scarf, and red-and-black buffalo plaid hunting cap that allow him to bundle up a little more warmly for their Thanksgiving morning ride in the exposed and burnt-up LeBaron.
Our on-screen introduction to Neal Page at the start of the film is a close-up of his luxurious Piaget Polo watch, which he anxiously continues to check while waiting on feedback from a particularly persnickety client (William Windom), a situation to which pretty much any advertising professional can relate.
Watch ID has specifically identified the unique watch as a quartz-powered Piaget Polo ref. 8273 with a 27mm 18-karat yellow gold case. The watch features a brushed gold case and matching inset dial, detailed only with small dots serving as minute markers, the “PIAGET” logo across the center, and gold-finished hour and minute hands, though it’s most distinctively characterized by the three ridges that run vertically across the case and dial—one through the center and two flanking it, each aligned with the lugs that secure Neal’s watch to the black exotic-textured leather band.
“$17 and a hell of a nice watch,” Neal offers as his final assets when bargaining with the El Rancho motel clerk in the middle-of-nowhere, Missouri… it’s evidently just enough to snag him a room that he ultimately shares with Del, who gets to keep his two dollars and digital Casio.
The gold wedding band on Neal’s finger constantly serves to remind him of the warmth and love awaiting him at home… should he ever get there. Even at his most down bad, you can be sure Neal would rather sleep on a snow-covered highway than sell his ring for a hotel room.
What to Imbibe
Neal had kept himself sober for much of the journey with Del, but—after relieving himself of his remaining valued possessions in return for a warm motel room—he finally gives in and splits a world tour of mini-bottled booze with his traveling companion.
“Where ya been? Been to Italy… amaretto?” asks Del. “Amaretto… and this is a gin,” Neal responds, a mini-bottle of Beefeater in hand. “Give me that third tequila there?”
“Ah, a little Mexican trip,” responds Del, tossing over a bottle. His Doritos in the other hand, Neal raises the tequila and asks: “Is this a good combo or what?”
“No, probably not,” Del reassures him.
He raises the Beefeater for a last sip as they share their toast “to the wives!”
How to Get the Look
By the time Neal Page finally does make it home for Thanksgiving, he’s lost his gloves (Brian’s office), his hat (run over by a truck), his suit jacket (burned in a rental car), and his “hell of a nice watch” (sold for a motel room), but at least he gained some precious memories on the road with a colorful shower-ring salesman.
- Black-and-cream tick-patterned wool suit:
- Single-breasted 2-button jacket with low notch lapels, welted breast pocket, patch-style hip pockets, wide padded shoulders, 3-button cuffs, and ventless back
- Reverse-pleated trousers with belt loops, side pockets, button-through back pockets, and full-break plain-hemmed bottoms
- Ecru—with slate-gray banker’s stripe and alternating dobby-textured rust and blue border stripes—cotton shirt with narrow point collar, front placket, inverted box-pleated chest pocket, 1-button squared cuffs, and inverted box-pleated back
- Maroon silk self-patterned tie with large black polka-dots
- Black leather belt with silver-toned single-prong buckle
- Black scaled leather low-vamp loafers
- Dark gray cotton lisle socks with burgundy polka-dots
- White cotton crew-neck short-sleeved undershirt
- Pale-ecru striped cotton boxer shorts
- Dark gray wool single-breasted 2-button knee-length overcoat with low-gorge notch lapels, patch-style hip pockets, decorative 1-button cuffs, and long single vent
- Dark gay felt self-edged fedora with narrow black grosgrain band
- Tortoiseshell-framed reading glasses
- Gold wedding ring
- Piaget Polo ref. 8273 quartz-powered watch with triple-ridged 18-karat yellow gold case and dial on black exotic-textured leather strap
Do Yourself a Favor and…
Check out the movie. Gobble gobble!
Those aren’t pillows!
Piaget Polo positively SCREAMS 1980s! They were pricey, and considered quite the epitome of a luxury Swiss watch back then. I daresay more for the gold content rather than the technology. Very representative of its time.
I always loved the hat – nice to finally know the maker!