Catch Me If You Can: Frank’s Fair Isle-Style Christmas Sweater
Leonardo DiCaprio as Frank Abagnale, Jr., suburban high-schooler
New Rochelle, New York, Christmas 1963
Film: Catch Me If You Can
Release Date: December 25, 2002
Director: Steven Spielberg
Costume Designer: Mary Zophres
Based on the now mostly debunked claims of fraudster Frank Abagnale Jr., Catch Me If You Can was released 20 years ago today on Christmas 2002, an appropriate opening date for a movie that benchmarks its protagonist’s status by how he spends each yuletide.
When we first meet Frank in late 1963, he’s a relatively well-adjusted teen with plenty of charisma if perhaps a bit precociously streetwise for a 15-year-old in the suburbs of New Rochelle, no doubt a byproduct of his artful father Frank Sr. (Christopher Walken), depicted passing on several lessons in minor larceny to his son. Before Frank Jr.’s first Pan Am uniform fitting or check forgery, we spend one last idyllic holiday with the Abagnale family in their New Rochelle home during Christmas 1963, as both Frank and his father take turns dancing with his Algerian-born mother Paula (Nathalie Baye), reminiscing about Frank Sr.’s courtship of the “blonde bombshell” Paula while he was serving in France during World War II.
Within a few months, Frank Sr. and Paula have divorced and—armed with a skimpy checking account and his father’s charisma—the teenage Frank Jr. has embarked on a life of financial crime, destined for lonely Christmases to come with no real company save for supercilious FBI Special Agent Carl Hanratty (Tom Hanks) on the other end of the phone.
As I mentioned, the bulk of Abagnale’s most compelling claims have been discredited, the truth being that the real Frank occasionally got ahold of some pilot uniforms and passed bad checks in small amounts between his arrests for car theft and vagrancy through the ’60s, eventually fleeing to Europe where he was a ward of the French and Swedish prison systems until he was ultimately released. After yet another prison stretch in the early ’70s—for forging about $1,400 bad checks while again occasionally posing as a pilot and a doctor—Abagnale eventually smooth-talked his way into a career as a financial security consultant, during which time his grandiose claims of fraudulent escapades began to pick up momentum, resulting in public speeches, TV appearances, and ultimately the 1980 book that was further fictionalized when it was adapted into Steven Spileberg’s stylish and entertaining movie.
While I’m not sure if the real Frank Abagnale spent any of his adolescent Christmases on the phone with FBI Agent Joseph Shea (who inspired the Carl Hanratty character), the holidays hold some significance in the real Frank’s criminal career after he was released from the New York maximum-security correctional facility Great Meadow Prison on Christmas Eve 1968 after serving nearly three and a half years for stealing a Ford Mustang from one of his father’s neighbors.
What’d He Wear?
The movie doesn’t clarify when during the 1963 Christmas season this particular scene occurs, but Frank Jr. is dressed festively for yuletide in a wintry patterned sweater, constructed in a stranded knit like Fair Isle. (The traditional Fair Isle technique originated in the Shetland Islands and refers to a very specific technique of no more than two colors per row, popularized by Edward VIII—then Prince of Wales—when he publicly wore his Fair Isle jumpers in the early 1920s. Due to the specificity of Fair Isle knitting and my own relative ignorance in the topic, I feel most comfortably referring to Frank’s sweater as a “Fair Isle-style” stranded knit.)
Rows of repeating red and blue designs are woven against the sweater’s warm beige ground, the largest being a band of red-centered blue snowflakes across the chest, each flake alternating with a mixed blue-and-red knitted diamond design. The patterns end with a row of inverted triangles across the lower chest, filled in below with just a field of blue flecks against the lower half of the sweater’s beige ground like snow falling against the sky.
The sweater has a plain beige ribbed crew neck and long ribbed cuffs, each turned back once over the wrists. The set-in sleeves have intentionally dropped shoulder seams so that the sleeves generally present an unbroken motif that matches what we see across the front and back.
Frank layers the sweater over a red plaid cotton button-up shirt, patterned with a thick navy and narrow yellow check, though we see little else of the shirt under the full crew-neck of his sweater, nor do we ever see it worn again to confirm any other details.
Brushing against the sweater’s left cuff, Frank wears his usual plain steel wristwatch, detailed with a brown swollen leather strap and a black dial that has tan hour markers that are more pronounced for each even-numbered hour. As he embarks on a criminal career that sees him posing as a pilot, doctor, and lawyer, he occasionally swaps in more sophisticated-looking gold watches, but he does occasionally still wear this watch from his high school era.
Frank balances the eye-catching sweater with plain dark brown flat-front trousers, styled with belt loops, on-seam side pockets, jetted back pockets, and turn-ups (cuffs) on the bottoms. His dark brown leather penny loafers are appropriate for the tastefully casual situation, worn with brown-and-tan argyle socks that unite the standout colors of his sweater and slacks.
How to Get the Look
Even as a high schooler, Frank Abagnale Jr. reminds us that Christmas sweaters can be tasteful rather than tacky. He probably had no idea he’d be spending the next Christmas wearing a Pan Am pilot’s uniform.
- Beige Fair Isle-style stranded-knit crew-neck sweater with red-and-blue wintry motif
- Red, navy, and yellow-checked cotton button-up shirt
- Dark brown flat-front trousers with belt loops, straight/on-seam side pockets, jetted back pockets, and turn-ups/cuffs
- Dark brown leather penny loafers
- Brown-and-tan argyle socks
- Steel wristwatch with black dial (with tan non-numeric hour markers) on brown swollen leather strap
Do Yourself a Favor and…
Check out the movie… and have a very happy holiday!