Gene Hackman as Royal Tenenbaum
Gene Hackman as Royal Tenenbaum, hedonistic patriarch
New York City, Fall to winter 2001
Film: The Royal Tenenbaums
Release Date: December 14, 2001
Director: Wes Anderson
Costume Designer: Karen Patch
WARNING! Spoilers ahead!
Happy 93rd birthday to Gene Hackman, the versatile two-time Oscar-winning actor born January 30, 1930 in San Bernardino. Hackman’s prolific career began during the “New Hollywood” era with excellent performances in films like Bonnie & Clyde, The French Connection, and The Conversation, with many more hits in the decades to follow. Before he retired from acting in 2004, Hackman delivered one of his most memorable performances as the eponymous estranged patriarch in The Royal Tenenbaums.
I’ve always been considered an asshole for about as long as I can remember. That’s just my style.
The Royal Tenenbaums is Wes Anderson’s third movie and became one of the filmmaker’s defining works, introducing more audiences to his unique signature style. Inspired by the works of Louis Malle and Orson Welles’ sprawling family chronicle The Magnificent Ambersons, the movie centers around the dysfunctional Tenenbaum family, consisting of the separated parents Royal (Gene Hackman) and Etheline (Anjelica Huston), their three children who had all been promising young prodigies in the spirit of J.D. Salinger’s Franny and Zooey, and various acquaintances that grew attached to the household over the years.
Evicted from his suite at the Lindbergh Palace hotel, Royal learns that Etheline may be engaged to marry her business manager, Henry Sherman (Danny Glover). With the help of his trusty valet Pagoda (Kumar Pallana), the remorseful Royal conspires to return to his family’s good graces and—22 years after walking out on them—shows up on the doorstep, claiming to have “a pretty bad case of cancer” and wishing to make up for more than two decades of lost time.
What’d He Wear?
Karen Patch received the Costume Designers Guild Award for Excellence in Contemporary Film in 2001 for her work on The Royal Tenenbaums, crafting a unique wardrobe-informed identity for each member of the Tenenbaum household, from the matching tracksuits that the obsessive Chas (Ben Stiller) dresses his family in to the famous furs that Margot (Gwyneth Paltrow) has worn since childhood.
Royal dresses in a colorful quasi-peacock style that recalls a 1970s sensibility from the era he likely considered his own glory days before he abandoned his children (and was subsequently sued by one of them!)
“Royal rides down in the elevator at the Lindbergh Palace. He is dressed in a gray double-breasted Savile Row pinstripe suit, a dark pink shirt, a red-and-pink-striped tie, and Aristotle Onassis-style wrap-around sunglasses,” Wes Anderson and Owen Wilson described in their screenplay.
Aside from flashbacks and his issued uniform while briefly working as the Lindbergh Palace’s elevator attendant, Royal anchors all of his style around a single suit, made from a light stone-gray chalkstripe woolen flannel.
Royal’s double-breasted jacket represents many trends of early ’70s menswear, such as the Regency-style peak lapels with long, straight gorges and a collar almost as long as the lower half of the lapels, similar to an ulster collar not commonly found on suit jackets. The six marbled gray flat plastic buttons are arranged like a naval uniform in two neat columns of three buttons each (6×3), with all three buttons on the right able to be buttoned though Royal leaves the lowest undone.
The ventless jacket has a somewhat flared skirt, which looks even more dandified with the jacket’s shorter length that doesn’t fully cover Hackman’s backside as a more traditionally tailored suit jacket should. The shoulders are straight and padded through to the roped sleeveheads, and the sleeves are finished with three buttons on each cuff. The jacket has a welted breast pocket and flapped hip pockets positioned just above the lowest row of buttons.
Other than the medium rise that was consistent with falling waistlines on ’70s menswear, Royal’s flat-front suit trousers are otherwise conventional with their straight side pockets, button-through jetted back pockets, and plain-hemmed bottoms. He holds them up with a black leather belt that closes through a gunmetal-toned single-prong buckle.
Royal wears black leather cap-toe derby shoes and black dress socks.
Shirts and Ties
The first of Royal’s shirt-and-striped tie combinations is primarily pink. His pink shirt has a semi-spread collar and double (French) cuffs that he fastens with a set of round red cuff links. His magenta silk tie is patterned with a series of balanced “downhill”-direction bar stripes in a shade of pink similar to his shirt.
As Royal works on reintegrating himself with his family, his shirts and ties rarely show as much coordination, instead bringing as color as possible to his outfits without too much clash. On a day that begins at the cemetery and continues with Royal introducing his grandsons to the respective joys of gambling, go-karts, garbage-truck rides, and shoplifting, he wears a light sage-green shirt—similarly styled with semi-spread collar and French cuffs, though now with gold cuff links—and a bar-striped tie in alternating lilac and lavender “uphill”-direction stripes, with the lighter lilac stripes each bisected by a narrow pink stripe.
In what I believe is a brief continuity error, a scene that begins with Royal arguing with Chas in the family’s game closet and ends with his reuniting with his taxidermied javelina head, Royal’s fancy-striped tie is swapped out for a one with a balanced “downhill” pattern alternating between lavender and sage-green bar stripes that coordinates with his shirt in the same way his first pink shirt-and-tie combination did.
During Etheline and Henry’s wedding and his ultimately fatal garbage truck ride with Chas, Royal wears a sky-blue shirt and a silk tie with coral and gold “downhill”-directional bar stripes, each separated by a narrow white bordering stripe.
Royal wears tortoise-framed sunglasses with a narrow profile despite their thick frames and wide arms, detailed with four silver pins on each temple.
Royal’s black-framed Dior sunglasses are shaped similarly to his clear-lensed eyeglasses, albeit with more squared corners. (You can also see the screen-worn sunglasses at Your Props, with “PARIS MOSCOU 95x 56-19 130” visible etched along the silver-finished inside of the left arm.)
I love Royal’s elegant town-and-country overcoat, which blends the city sensibilities of a classic Chesterfield coat with an agrestic tweed body. As defined by Sir Hardy Amies in ABC of Men’s Fashion, published in 1964, the traditional Chesterfield “was single-breasted, close-fitting and shaped at the waist, velvet-collared and very long, often down to the ankles.”
Royal’s knee-length coat is constructed of brown-and-tan herringbone woolen tweed, the notch lapels defined by an elegantly contrasting collar in softly brushed camelhair. The coat has a long single vent, welted breast pocket, straight flapped hip pockets, and set-in sleeves finished with four-button cuffs. The three-button front is covered by a fly.
The text of the fictional novel chronicling the Tenenbaum family describes Royal’s “wool cap” at the start of the fifth chapter, and indeed he does wear a handsome flat cap made of dark brown herringbone Donegal tweed, characterized by the imperfect flecks of colored thread woven throughout the fabric.
Despite wearing the same hat, coat, and even suit throughout The Royal Tenenbaums, Royal cycles through two different pairs of three-point gloves, first wearing a pair of pebbled russet leather before switching to a smooth leather lined pair as the season shifts into winter.
What to Imbibe
Due to the fictional stomach cancer that has Royal convalescing on the top floor, he must steal away to the games closet to indulge in a Martini with Pagoda. While it’s never stated whether Royal prefers gin or vodka, he garnishes his martini with a single olive dropped into his cocktail glass.
How to Get the Look
Royal Tenenbaum illustrates the versatility of a neutrally toned suit—even one so uniquely styled as this—that can be enhanced with a rotation of pastel shirts and striped ties.
- Light stone-gray chalkstripe woolen flannel ’70s-cut suit:
- Double-breasted 6×3-button jacket with straight-gorge peak lapels, welted breast pocket, straight flapped hip pockets, 3-button cuffs, and ventless back
- Flat-front trousers with belt loops, straight/on-seam side pockets, button-through jetted back pockets, and plain-hemmed bottoms
- Pastel pink, green, or blue solid shirt with semi-spread collar and double/French cuffs
- Paslte-striped silk tie
- Black leather belt with gunmetal single-prong buckle
- Black leather cap-toe derby shoes
- Black dress socks
- Dark brown herringbone Donegal tweed flat cap
- Brown-and-tan herringbone tweed knee-length Chesterfield coat with notch lapels (with camelhair collar), covered three-button front fly, welted breast pocket, straight flapped hip pockets, 4-button cuffs, and long single vent
- Russet-leather or black leather three-point gloves
- Tortoise-framed eyeglasses
- Black-framed sunglasses
One of these elaborately soundtracked-and-costumed adventures was a Blow-meets-Goodfellas ripoff called Red Light District, in which I played a sleazy pimp in early 1970s L.A. whose wardrobe included a gray double-breasted suit with 6x3-button front and unique lapels not unlike Gene Hackman's suit in The Royal Tenenbaums, albeit detailed with a black pinstripe rather than Royal's ivory chalkstripe. The suit itself is likely buried among the mass of costumes somewhere in my parents' attic, but I'll try to fish it out the next time I'm visiting my folks to add photos to this post and/or list that vintage bad boy on my Poshmark!
Do Yourself a Favor and…
Check out the movie, then grab a couple of burgers and hit the cemetery.
I’m very sorry for your loss, your mother was a terribly attractive woman.