The Ivy Newlywed — Robert Redford’s Gray Suit in Barefoot in the Park
Robert Redford as Paul Bratter, newlywed lawyer
New York City, February 1967
Film: Barefoot in the Park
Release Date: May 25, 1967
Director: Gene Saks
Costume Designer: Edith Head
WARNING! Spoilers ahead!
With Valentine’s Day a few days behind us, I want to focus on a movie that takes a lighthearted look at that awkward period in a new marriage between the “honeymoon phase” and the hard truths of reality setting in. Adapted from Neil Simon’s play of the same name, Barefoot in the Park was an early star-making role for Robert Redford, reprising the role of Paul Bratter that he had played in more than 1,500 performances over nearly four years on Broadway.
Contrasting his free-spirited new wife Corie (Jane Fonda), Paul is the more conservative type, focused on his ambitions as a “rising young attorney” who—despite his youth—still scowls at the progressive Beatniks living in their five-story walk-up in Greenwich Village.
Buoyed by the easy chemistry between Redford and Fonda, Barefoot in the Park follows Paul’s progression as he learns to embrace life on Corie’s level, while she gradually comes to appreciate his sense of responsibility… when he’s not drunkenly running barefoot through Washington Square Park, that is.
What’d He Wear?
Consistent with his buttoned-up personality, we initially never see Paul wearing anything but a full suit, tie, and—due to the hole in their top-floor apartment’s skylight—an overcoat. (According to IMDB, Redford so loathed the costume requirements of his character that he would don a cowboy hat and boots during breaks in the filming.)
“It’s a nice coat ya got there,” Paul hears from a homeless man as he stumbles through Washington Square Park, the man astutely commenting on Paul’s black woolen Chesterfield. Developed by George Stanhope, 6th Earl of Chesterfield, during the 1840s, the traditional Chesterfield was defined by Sir Hardy Amies in ABC of Men’s Fashion as “single-breasted, close-fitting and shaped at the waist, velvet-collared and very long,” an apt description for Paul’s knee-length coat.
Paul’s single-breasted Chesterfield has a three-button covered-fly front, welted breast pocket, straight flapped hip pockets, and single back vent. The set-in sleeves are finished with two buttons at each cuff, and the cran necker (or Parisian) lapels are narrowly notched between the black velvet collar and the self-faced lower half of each lapel.
By this point in the late 1960s, such traditional Chesterfields were more typically worn with formal attire while semi-formal overcoats and raincoats appeared more over day-to-day business-wear, especially among younger Americans of limited means like Paul, though his regular preference for the formal Chesterfield indicates his haughty aspirations… as well as his abandonment of them when he ultimately pulls off the coat and gifts it to the man who complimented it in the park.
But before Paul gets to that degree of desperation, he dresses to convey the image of a respectable rising young attorney, complete for the winter with scarf and gloves, specifically three-point dress gloves made from a supple taupe-brown suede.
Paul wears a plain gray scarf, woven from soft wool with short fringed ends.
The limited closet space in Paul and Corie’s fifth-story walk-up apartment doesn’t allow for a sprawling wardrobe, but Paul accommodates by dressing for work each day in the same gray suit, reserving his only other suit—a dark navy two-piece—for a dinner outing.
Rather than the traditional worsted wool, the gray cloth looks like a “wash-and-wear” polyester or cotton-blend poplin weave that was growing increasingly popular through the decade, as made by classic American outfitters like Brooks Brothers and Haspel and modeled by Cary Grant when he wore his “drip dry” suit into the shower four years earlier in Charade.
Paul’s gray suit is detailed in the Ivy fashion that had been growing in mainstream popularity for more than a decade, as evident by the jacket’s natural shoulders, 3/2-roll button configuration, and lack of darts that present a fuller and boxier (but still not baggy) cut. Only the double vents significantly depart from the single-vented American Ivy tradition.
Though worn for business, Paul’s suit jacket also exhibits some sporty styling like swelled edges along the notch lapels and patch pockets over the hips, each covered with a flap. Paul may be a bit of a “square”, but he shows some creative latitude with his display kerchief, dressing the jacket’s breast pocket not with the traditional straight-folded white pocket square but rather a puffed navy silk kerchief that echoes the predominant colors in his ties as well as tonally coordinating to his oxford shirts. The sleeves are finished with two vestigial buttons on each cuff.
Paul’s trousers also illustrate the shifting trends in menswear through the ’60s with a medium rise (lower than the traditional high rise) and a flat front (rather than pleats). Belt loops had been gradually integrating onto men’s trousers for four decades leading up to the time Barefoot in the Park was made, but this era saw increased standardization of ready-to-wear clothing with its washable fabrics and belt loops that could correlate to a wearer’s general size rather than being specifically tailored for his waist.
The trousers have plain-hemmed bottoms with a medium break over the tops of his black shoes, which coordinate to the leather of his black belt with its rounded, silver-toned single-prong buckle.
Paul exclusively wears oxford-cloth button-down (OCBD) shirts—the standard-bearers of Ivy style. John E. Brooks had been influenced by English polo players fastening their collars to the bodies of their shirts when he introduced the button-down collar on the Brooks Brothers Original Polo® around the turn of the 20th century. The increasingly relaxed American business dress code saw this sporty collar gradually rise from a casual staple to being worn with jackets and ties at the office by mid-century (and even with tuxedoes… albeit only by Dean Martin), though the OCBD would always be considered a less formal alternative to traditional point and spread collar styles.
Paul represents this American Ivy business standard by wearing his OCBD shirts to work, woven from blue and white cotton to present an overall light-blue finish. The collar’s elegant roll (when actually buttoned to the body of the shirt) echoes the predominant style produced by Brooks Brothers at the time. Paul’s shirts also feature button cuffs, a front placket, and a breast pocket.
“Before we were married, I thought you slept with a tie,” Corie jokes about Paul’s sense of sartorial dignity. “No, just for very formal sleeps,” he quips back. Indeed, until his minor breakdown at the movie’s end, we rarely see Paul without a tie fastened tightly to the neck.
Paul’s first tie is navy-blue, covered in a neat but tightly arranged field of white pin-dots.
For the final act of the movie, Paul wears another navy tie, patterned with widely spaced sets of balanced cream, crimson, and cream stripes in the “downhill” direction that had been introduced to differentiate American ties from the “uphill” stripe direction of English club, school, and regimental neckwear.
The typical shoe spectrum in the 1960s ranged from the casual penny loafers that had been embraced by Ivy students and sartorially liberated American businessmen to the black leather oxfords that remain a vanguard in footwear formality. Paul gears more toward the formal, though his black leather oxfords are dressed down by virtue of being “full brogues”, complete with perforations along the seams and the wingtip toes. Brogues had traditionally been country shoes once totally unacceptable for business (think the “oxfords, not brogues” maxim guiding Kingsman agents), but Paul’s polished black leather uppers make them dressier than their brown leather contemporaries.
To counter the cold nights in their apartment, Paul sleeps not just in his Chesterfield coat and dark gray gloves but also a navy ribbed-knit wool beanie, detailed with a red pom and bands of gray and red encircling the opening.
Paul’s jewelry consists only of the gold wedding ring he now wears on his left hand as well as a simple gold watch with a round champagne-colored dial on a silver-toned expanding bracelet.
How to Get the Look
An ambitious attorney in 1960s New York, Paul Bratter blends Ivy staples with contemporary yet classically informed business-wear.
- Gray “wash-and-wear” polyester poplin Ivy suit:
- Single-breasted 3/2-roll jacket with swelled-edge notch lapels, welted breast pocket, flapped patch hip pockets, 2-button cuffs, and double vents
- Flat front medium-rise trousers with belt loops, side pockets, and plain-hemmed bottoms
- Light-blue oxford cotton shirt with button-down collar, front placket, breast pocket, and button cuffs
- Navy tie with either white pin-dots or cream-and-crimson “downhill” stripes
- Black leather belt with rounded silver-toned single-prong buckle
- Black leather perforated wingtip oxford brogues
- Dark-navy cotton lisle dress socks
- Black wool single-breasted knee-length Chesterfield coat with cran necker lapels (with black velvet collar), 3-button covered-fly front, welted breast pocket, straight flapped hip pockets, 2-button cuffs, and single vent
- Gray woolen scarf with fringed ends
- Taupe-brown suede three-point gloves
- Gold wedding ring
- Gold wristwatch with round champagne dial on silver-toned expansion band
Do Yourself a Favor and…
Check out the movie.
And thus it was written: some shall die by pestilence, some by the plague… and one poor schnook is gonna get it from a hole in the ceiling.
You omitted the silk handkerchief for his suit coat chest pocket in your listing.
And just 7 short years later, Redford himself will be travelling around New York sporting a peacoat and a flowing golden mane.