Elf: James Caan in Camelhair for Christmas

James Caan as Walter Hobbs in Elf (2003)


James Caan as Walter Hobbs, workaholic children’s book publisher

New York City, December 2003

Film: Elf
Release Date: November 7, 2003
Director: Jon Favreau
Costume Designer: Laura Jean Shannon


Happy December!

The late James Caan effectively subverted his screen image when he starred in Elf, a family-friendly comedy that’s already established as a modern holiday classic. Of course, as one of the big screen’s most famous tough guys, Caan’s Walter Hobbs begins the story on Santa Claus’ notorious “naughty list” as a children’s book publisher too focused on his bottom line to care about his family or even the minutae of his job, overlooking the last two pages of his latest book that leave the fate of a beloved puppy and pigeon too ambiguous for its young readers.

What’s the only thing that could save Walter from another lump of coal in his stocking this year? The surprise arrival of his biological son, Buddy (Will Ferrell), who’s spent the first thirty years of his life being raised as a North Pole elf and has now arrived in the Big Apple in search of his dad. Walter’s understandably bewildered when an enthusiastic 30-year-old man in a green elf costume and yellow tights presents himself as his Large Adult Son, but the world’s fastest ever paternity test quickly proves that Buddy is indeed the result of Walter’s one-time romance with a woman named Susan Wells.

Walter’s wife Emily (Mary Steenburgen) welcomes Buddy into their home more warmly than Walter, explaining to her husband that “clearly he has some serious issues, we can’t just throw him out in the snow?” to which Walter responds “why not? He loves the snow! He’s told me 15 times!”

What’d He Wear?

In a film full of bright costumes depicting the magical world of Santa Claus and his elves, costume designer Laura Jean Shannon effectively grounded Walter Hobbs’ wardrobe in business—even if that business is publishing fanciful children’s books. Walter’s adherence to his businesslike palette of blues and browns clearly contrast his humbug holiday attitude against the bright red and green Christmas decor including, or perhaps especially, Buddy’s elf costume.

James Caan and Will Ferrell in Elf (2003)

Nothing to see here…

Perhaps the most interesting of Walter’s office apparel is the camel-on-camel he wears to the work the morning after he and Buddy meet. Through the week we spend with the Hobbs family, Elf establishes a knee-length camelhair overcoat as Walter’s preferred winter outerwear, interestingly layered through this sequence over a camelhair sport jacket with only a slight contrast between them.

“Camelhair is the real thing—a rich, golden-fawn colored cloth that is the natural color (cleaned up a bit of course) of the soft hair from the underside of the camel,” described Sir Hardy Amies in 1964 for ABCs of Men’s Fashion, wryly adding, “This makes it expensive.” In the decades since Sir Hardy’s volume was published, some less prestigious outfitters have used “camelhair” as a marketing shorthand for softly napped wools dyed the same color, but a man of Walter’s status—and with the New Line Cinema costume budget at his disposal—would opt for true camelhair, albeit likely mixed with some synthetic fibers that offer more resistance to the elements. This is a common practice as the typically heavy weight of camelhair garments make them ideal insulators in colder weather when rain and snow would be expected.

Walter’s camel overcoat appears to be dyed slightly warmer and darker than his sport jacket. The single-breasted coat has notch lapels that roll to a low three-button front, a welted breast pocket, straight flapped hip pockets, and a single vent. The long sleeves are roped at the sleeveheads and finished with three buttons on each cuff. In his early 60s when Elf was made, James Caan had maintained his strong physique with his famously squared shoulders even more emphasized under the padding over his coat and jacket. (Especially worn open, the effect recalls the “comfortable lightweight camelhair overcoat with over-buttressed shoulders” that Ian Fleming described as part of James Bond’s disguise when he is “Americanized” to resemble a typical New York businessman in the 1954 novel Live and Let Die.)

James Caan and Will Ferrell in Elf (2003)

A true camelhair overcoat can be a considerable investment—and an impractical one if not appropriately treated for the weather or worn frequently enough to warrant it. Check out these camel-colored coats from around the web, made from luxurious wools like merino or cashmere, that can get you started on the right hump when exploring your camel outerwear journey:
  • Banana Republic Aosta Italian Melton Topcoat in "camel" 80% wool, 20% nylon blend ($450, Banana Republic)
  • Charles Tyrwhitt Wool Overcoat in "camel" 100% wool ($499, Charles Tyrwhitt)
  • Indochino Heartford Camel Overcoat in "camel" 90% wool, 10% cashmere blend ($395, Indochino)
  • Jos. A. Bank Tailored Fit Topcoat in "camel" 60% wool, 40% synthetic blend ($159 $99.99, Jos. A. Bank)
  • Lauren Ralph Lauren Luther Luxury Blend Overcoat in "camel" wool/polyamide/cashmere blend ($495 $189.99, Macy's)
Prices and availability current as of November 30, 2022.

Walter’s single-breasted sports coat retains the natural lighter shade of camelhair, even if it too had been blended with another fiber for resilience. The two-button jacket has notch lapels, a welted breast pocket, straight flapped hip pockets, and a single vent. The shoulders are padded with heavily roped sleeveheads and four-button cuffs.

James Caan as Walter Hobbs in Elf (2003)

Walter’s tie is printed in a neatly arranged repeating triangle pattern, each triangle alternating between a low-contrast navy and burgundy that can hardly be differentiated in low light. His cotton shirt appears to be a solid light-blue but is actually a series of hairline-width blue stripes against a pale-blue ground, organized in tightly spaced sets of four.

The shirt is designed with a point collar, front placket, breast pocket, and double (French) cuffs that Walter closes with a set of small gold “cluster” links.

James Caan as Walter Hobbs in Elf (2003)

Walter maintains the same brown color family by pairing his dark charcoal-brown wool reverse-pleated trousers to his camelhair jacket. The clear difference in fabrics could make traditional khakis a suitable trouser to wear with a camelhair jacket, even without much contrast between the colors, but Walter assures an attractive contrast while also leaning into a seasonally appropriate look with his darker wool slacks.

The trousers have side pockets, button-through back pockets, and turn-ups (cuffs). Walter holds them up with an edge-stitched leather belt in dark brown, a shade lighter than his trousers but also neatly coordinated with his chestnut brown leather cap-toe oxfords.

James Caan as Walter Hobbs in Elf (2003)

Walter goes from learning that he has another son to tucking him into bed, all within the same day.

Walter limits his jewelry to a plain wedding band on his left ring finger, made from a silver-toned metal that I would guess to be white gold. His watch is a stainless chronograph with an all-white dial, three silver sub-registers at 3, 6, and 9 o’clock, and a black leather strap with edge-stitching and a swelled center.

James Caan as Walter Hobbs in Elf (2003)

Walter opens the gift that Buddy had thoughtfully chosen “for that special someone…”

I had first suspected Walter’s watch was a Breitling Chronomat before I noticed the elongated lugs and other details which suggest otherwise, and I imagine a reader better versed in horology than I could more accurately identify it.

How to Get the Look

James Caan as Walter Hobbs in Elf (2003)

Walter Hobbs typically dresses for work in tasteful sports coats and ties, generally consistent with a professional blue and brown palette that allow items to be easily cycled between each other. His camelhair jacket is a timeless example of winter-friendly business-wear, particularly in a professional environment—like publishing children’s books—that may not have the rigid suit-and-tie policies of a bank or law firm.

  • Camelhair single-breasted 2-button sport jacket with notch lapels, welted breast pocket, straight flapped hip pockets, 4-button cuffs, and single vent
  • Blue hairline-striped cotton shirt with point collar, front placket, breast pocket, and double/French cuffs
    • Gold cluster cuff links
  • Navy-and-burgundy repeating triangle-patterned silk tie
  • Dark charcoal-brown wool reverse-pleated trousers with belt loops, side pockets, button-through back pockets, and turn-ups/cuffs
  • Dark brown edge-stitched leather belt with brass-finished single-prong buckle
  • Walnut brown leather cap-toe oxford shoes
  • Camelhair single-breasted 3-button knee-length overcoat with notch lapels, welted breast pocket, straight flapped hip pockets, 3-button cuffs, and single vent
  • White-gold wedding ring
  • Stainless steel chronograph with white dial and three silver sub-registers on black edge-stitched leather strap

Do Yourself a Favor and…

Check out the movie.

The Quote

Who wouldn’t want to meet you?

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