The Birds: Mitch’s Donegal Tweed Suit

Rod Taylor and Tippi Hedren filming The Birds (1963)


Rod Taylor as Mitch Brenner, defense lawyer

Bodega Bay, California, Summer 1962

Film: The Birds
Release Date: March 28, 1963
Director: Alfred Hitchcock
Wardrobe Supervisor: Rita Riggs

WARNING! Spoilers ahead!


Today is the 60th anniversary of the release of The Birds, Alfred Hitchcock’s avian horror yarn adapted from Daphne du Maurier’s 1952 novella and a real-life incident in August 1961 as scores of birds crashed into the streets and rooftops of the central California town of Capitola.

The Birds centers around Melanie Daniels (Tippi Hedren), an attractive travelers’ aid secretary from San Francisco whose flirtatious pranks with the charming attorney Mitch Brenner (Rod Taylor) lead about an hour north to the idyllic seaside village of Bodega Bay. Melanie’s surprise visit isn’t ultimately unwelcome, and Mitch invites her to join his little sister Cathy’s 11th birthday parry the following day.

After a few suspicious incidents including a bird flying directly into Melanie’s head upon her arrival, the birds launch their opening salvo in their eponymous assault during Cathy’s party as groups of seagulls attack the children… followed by swarms of sparrows flying through the Brenner home that evening. Things are getting strange, but the worst is yet to come.

What’d He Wear?

Mitch Brenner cycles through one of my favorite wardrobes among Hitchock’s heroes, wearing interesting and well-tailored clothing that’s contextually and climatically appropriate. When he’s introduced in San Francisco, Mitch wears a handsome gray worsted business suit appropriate for the City.

Once the action travels to the quieter seaside environs of Bodega Bay, Mitch’s wardrobe transitions to more countrified garb, anchored by an eye-catching Donegal tweed suit that he wears as a complete two-piece suit for Cathy’s birthday party, then dressing down by orphaning the tweed suit jacket with his surplus Army HBT combat pants while fighting the birds the following day.

Characterized by its imperfect multi-colored slubs, Donegal tweed was defined by Sir Hardy Amies in his volume ABC of Men’s Fashion—published just months after The Birds was released—as “a most attractive Irish tweed originally hand-spun and woven in Donegal, with a rough, ‘knobbly’ surface,” adding:

It is often woven with dark and light flecks of the same color, or with specks of different bright colors, making what is generally called a “pepper-and-salt” pattern. In the combing of the yarn, small flecks of colored yarn are literally dropped in at random. When the yarn is finished, it is given a slight twist to hold these flecks of color in place.

Mitch’s Donegal tweed suit is woven in the characteristic black-and-white “pepper-and-salt” woolen tweed that presents as a rugged light gray, with predominantly brick-red and tan flecks of yarn added to the mix.

Rod Taylor as Mitch Brenner in The Birds (1963)

Mitch’s single-breasted suit jacket has fashionably narrow lapels that elegantly roll to the closely spaced three-button front, which looks balanced on Rod Taylor’s athletic 5’11” frame. A sleek rebuttal to the high, squared shoulders fashionable through the ’50s, the jacket follows the naturally concave shape of Taylor’s shoulder line, described at Bond Suits as the “pagoda shoulder”.

The jacket has a welted breast pocket and flapped hip pockets and right-side ticket pocket with an appropriately sporty slant toward the back. Slightly roped at the top to punctuate the concave shoulders, the sleeves are finished with three buttons at the cuff and there are two side vents.

Rod Taylor and Tippi Hedren in The Birds (1963)

One constant among nearly all of Mitch’s outfits is the presence of a white cotton shirt, detailed with a wide spread collar, front placket, and single-button rounded cuffs.

With this tweed two-piece suit, he wears a slim and simple black tie that complements the narrow width of his lapels, knotted with a half-Windsor to fill the tie space of his shirt’s spread collar and held in place under the jacket’s buttoning point with a short gold-finished tie bar.

Rod Taylor and Tippi Hedren in The Birds (1963)

Melanie and Mitch take stock of the bird situation. Note that his dishevelment from battling the birds and current stance has slightly dislodged his tie clip, also pushing out the back tail of his black tie.

Mitch’s suit trousers are neatly tailored to rise to Taylor’s natural waist line, correctly meeting the buttoning point of his jacket so that—when the jacket is buttoned—only the shirt and tie show above while only the trousers show below it.

The trousers have only side pockets (no back pockets) and are held up with a narrow black leather belt that closes through a rounded gold-toned single-prong buckle.

Rod Taylor and Jessica Tandy in The Birds (1963)

Another avian attack, this time conducted by a band of sparrows flying into the Brenner home through the fireplace, leaves Mitch even more sartorially disheveled.

Double reverse-facing pleats keep the trouser fit comfortably full through the thighs, elegantly tapering to the plain-hemmed bottoms that break high over his shoes, allowing him to comfortably walk through the beach without getting his trousers too sandy… and without turn-ups (cuffs) that could potentially collect any sand as an inconvenient beach souvenir.

Mitch’s sporty plain-toe oxford shoes have dark chocolate brown suede uppers, a fine textural complement to his tweed suit but perhaps unwise for a stroll on the beach as the napped finish would collect more sand than a smoother leather. The shoes have hard black leather soles, and he appears to wear dark taupe socks that tonally coordinate with the mixed tweed suit trousers and his shoes.

Rod Taylor and Tippi Hedren in The Birds (1963)

Mitch wears an elegant gold dress watch with a large round silver minimalist dial and dark brown alligator leather strap.

What to Imbibe

Understandably unsatisfied with the refreshments at Cathy’s 11th birthday party, Mitch leads Melanie up onto a sandy hill overlooking the sea, where they each enjoy a cocktail poured from a carafe. Based on the clear liquid and the shape of the glasses, these are certainly meant to be Martinis, though the slapdash situation means they’ll have neither the traditional garnishment of lemon peel nor olives. (Not that it stopped Trapper John!)

Rod Taylor and Tippi Hedren in The Birds (1963)

Before the chaos, Mitch and Melanie toast their martinis during a flirtatious walk through the sands.

For decades, martinis had been made with gin and vermouth (with most proponents advocating for very little of the latter!), though vodka was gaining an increasing foothold as the martini’s base spirit by the early 1960s, as illustrated by James Bond’s signature “vodka martini… shaken not stirred”, who was already swilling Smirnoff as early as the first 007 movie, Dr. No, released in October 1962 just under six months before The Birds.

How to Get the Look

Rod Taylor and Tippi Hedren in The Birds (1963)

Mitch Brenner’s Donegal tweed suit is appropriately sporty yet dignified for a country weekend, visually communicating his sense of taste while also suggesting that he may be dressing to impress his comely guest as his go-to green combat pants would likely be the more comfortable apparel for a child’s birthday party.

  • Gray Donegal tweed suit:
    • Single-breasted 3-button suit jacket with notch lapels, welted breast pocket, slanted flapped hip pockets, flapped ticket pocket, 3-button cuffs, and double side vents
    • Double-reverse pleated trousers with belt loops, side pockets, and tapered plain-hemmed bottoms
  • White cotton shirt with large spread collar, front placket, and 1-button rounded cuffs
  • Black tie
    • Gold-finished tie bar
  • Dark brown suede plain-toe oxford shoes
  • Dark-taupe socks
  • Gold wristwatch with silver dial on dark brown alligator leather strap

Do Yourself a Favor and…

Check out the movie.

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