Matt Damon as Carroll Shelby, automotive designer and former race car driver
Willow Springs, California, February 1963
Film: Ford v Ferrari
(Also released as: Le Mans ’66)
Release Date: November 15, 2019
Director: James Mangold
Costume Designer: Daniel Orlandi
WARNING! Spoilers ahead!
Automotive legend Carroll Shelby was born 100 years ago today on January 11, 1923 in Leesburg, Texas. His career included auto racing and design, working with Ford on the AC Cobra and the GT40, his involvement with the latter stylishly dramatized in the Oscar-nominated Ford v Ferrari starring Matt Damon as the iconic entrepreneur tapped to build an American-made race car to compete against Ferrari during the 24 Hours of Le Mans.
The movie begins at the “fabled Willow Springs race track” in early 1963, after Shelby has retired from his successful racing career and has settled into automotive design, including the recent completion of the sporty Cobra roadster which Shelby’s pal, the temperamental British driver Ken Miles (Christian Bale), will be driving that day… pending an argument with a prickly SCCA official (Evan Arnold) about its trunk space. (Mad Men fans may recognize Arnold as the lonely Leonard from the series finale.)
Passed on on a bed full of bottle caps in an Airstream stinking of Wild Turkey, Shelby wakes up to his chief engineer Phil Remington (Ray McKinnon) rapping on his trailer door the morning of the race. He dresses quickly and fields autograph-seekers and European racing reps as he negotiates Miles’ future.
What’d He Wear?
Costume designer Daniel Orlandi’s extensive experience dressing characters for a mid-century setting includes Down with Love (2003), Frost/Nixon (2008), Saving Mr. Banks (2013), Trumbo (2015), and The Founder (2016), so I wasn’t surprised—but certainly dazzled—to see how stylishly he brought ’60s racing culture to life in Ford v Ferrari.
“Shelby was California cool with a Texan look,” Orlandi explained of the lead character to The Hollywood Reporter shortly before the film was released, recognizing the need to account for both of Carroll Shelby’s worlds, “hanging out with the guys and dealing with executives in the Ford boardroom.”
The first time we meet Shelby, he has a croc-booted foot in each of these worlds, in his comfort zone of a dusty racetrack surrounded by his trusty engineers and drivers yet hobnobbing with brass from racing teams like Brumos Porsche. The original screenplay by Jez Butterworth, John-Henry Butterworth, and Jason Keller comments only that Shelby looks “terrific” as he emerges from the Airstream, and indeed the on-screen execution neatly bridges the disparate formality of these worlds in a black striped short-sleeved button-down shirt tucked into casual beige jeans.
The black cotton shirt is pencil-striped in alternating slate and gray stripes with a low contrast against the dark ground. The shirt has a button-down collar, self-cuffed elbow-length sleeves, a breast pocket, box-pleated back, and a front placket that he wears with the top two buttons undone, occasionally showing just the top of his white ribbed cotton sleeveless undershirt (which differs from the short-sleeved V-neck undershirt he woke up wearing.)
Shelby’s dark striped short-sleeved button-down shirt tucked into beige jeans reminded me of John Cassavetes in The Killers (1964) as Johnny North, a former race car driver whose star has fallen to being enlisted as Ronald Reagan’s getaway driver for a postal truck robbery. Just before the heist, we briefly see Johnny wearing this outfit—right down to the requisite silver ID bracelet.
Shelby’s light beige cotton jeans have an era-appropriate long rise to Damon’s waist, where they’re held up with a narrow black leather belt that closes through a matte silver-toned box-style buckle.
Orlandi sought to maintain the cowboy affectations associated with the real-life Shelby, including his black crocodile leather cowboy boots.
As mentioned earlier in connection with The Killers and also seen in contemporary racing movies like Grand Prix (1966) and Le Mans (1971), drivers typically wore silver ID bracelets with their name and blood type, a weighty reminder around their wrist of the dangers of their profession. Retired from racing, Shelby continues wearing his sterling silver chain-link bracelet though it’s more symbolic as the plate boasts not his identification but simply appears to be an oversized relief of a snake, either the appropriate cobra symbol used by Shelby American or a medical caduceus.
With a watch enthusiast like Matt Damon in the lead role and the storied association between racing and horology, Ford v Ferrari audiences knew they could expect to see a significant timepiece on Shelby’s wrist. According to Danny Milton for Hodinkee, “TAG Heuer played an active role in helping find the right watches for the characters in the film,” providing a Heuer Carrera 7753SN for Damon to wear as Shelby. (For what it’s worth, Bale also wears a Heuer as Ken Miles, albeit an Autavia as worn in the ’60s by real-life racers Jo Siffert and Mario Andretti.)
The Jack Heuer-designed Carrera chronograph had been introduced in 1963 with a readily legible design and reliable Valjoux 7730 movement that made it popular among real-life racers of the decade as well as actor and motorsports enthusiast James Garner in Grand Prix. The specific ref. 7753SN worn in Ford v Ferrari would not have appeared until nearly a half-decade after the film’s timeline ends, but the cosmetic differences from a period-correct watch are hardly distracting.
The stainless steel-cased Carrera worn on screen has a light silver “Panda” dial with two black registers at the 3 and 9 o’clock positions and non-numeric silver bars indexing every other hour. Damon wears the watch on his right wrist on a black leather strap.
In addition to his crocodile boots, Daniel Orlandi also made sure to visually incorporate Shelby’s Texan roots by topping his style with a cowboy hat, specifically a black felt custom-made Stetson with a cattleman’s-style crown.
For whatever sun couldn’t be kept from his eyes by the hat’s wide brim, Damon frequently and famously wears a distinctive pair of Entourage of 7 Beacon 1020-A sunglasses. Though the L.A.-based Entourage of 7 is a modern brand, founded relatively recently in 2007, the wayfarer-style frames featured on screen represent a trend contemporary to the ’60s timeframe. The translucent “vintage amber” Zyl acetate frames add extra character, paired with green nylon lenses.
What to Listen to
For a scene set in early 1963, the needle drops are slightly anachronistic but contribute to the overall atmosphere, beginning with the Animals’ 1966 single “Don’t Bring Me Down”, which could be interpreted as Shelby’s unspoken plea to Ken Miles. This track is followed by Del Shannon’s 1964 recording of “Handy Man”, originally recorded five years earlier by Jimmy Jones, which offers an obvious subtext among this field of mechanics and tossed wrenches.
“Handy Man” would again be covered in 1977, this time by James Taylor, who had previously played a race car driver in Monte Hellman’s 1971 road movie Two-Lane Blacktop, accompanied in his ’55 Chevy by his personal “handy man”, a mechanic played by Beach Boys drummer Dennis Wilson.
How to Get the Look
Born in Texas but working the race tracks of the Golden State, Carroll Shelby effects the look of a “California cowboy” with his Stetson and crocodile boots complementing his streamlined ’60s casual style.
- Black low-contrast pencil-striped cotton short-sleeved shirt with button-down collar, front placket, and breast pocket
- Beige cotton jeans with belt loops and five-pocket layout
- Black leather narrow belt with matte silver box-style buckle
- Black crocodile leather cowboy boots
- Black felt cattleman’s-style Stetson cowboy hat
- Entourage of 7 Beacon 1020-A wayfarer-style sunglasses with translucent amber Zyl acetate frames and green nylon lenses
- Heuer Carrera 7753SN stainless steel chronograph with silver “Panda” dial (with two black registers) on black leather strap
- Sterling silver ID chain-link bracelet
Do Yourself a Favor and…
Check out the movie.
You can also listen to my friend Pete Brooker’s interview with costume designer Daniel Orlandi on his excellent podcast From Tailors With Love.
Early bird gets the worm, pops.