Tom Ewell as Richard Sherman, imaginative publishing executive and a self-described “foolish, well-to-do married man”
New York City, Summer 1955
Film: The Seven Year Itch
Release Date: June 3, 1955
Director: Billy Wilder
Costume Designer: Travilla
Wardrobe Director: Charles Le Maire
Men’s Wardrobe: Sam Benson
WARNING! Spoilers ahead!
Born 97 years ago today on June 1, 1926, Hollywood icon Marilyn Monroe may be indelibly associated with the iconic image of the star’s white dress being blown upwards by a subway grate on Lexington Avenue. The much-photographed moment was part of a scene in The Seven Year Itch, which premiered on Monroe’s 29th birthday before its wider release later that month.
The title and concept were inspired by a then-common psychological term for the period in a marriage when a partner’s eye supposedly begins to wander, aligned with the mid-20th century practice of wives and children traveling to the country or seaside for the summer while their husbands remain in the city to work… though The Seven Year Itch proposes that their work was more focused on bedrooms than boardrooms. (Mad Men fans may recall a relevant plot from the first season episode “Long Weekend”, set during Labor Day 1960.)
After shipping his wife Helen and son Ricky up to Maine, our protagonist Richard Sherman seems to think he’s above that level of sleaze… until a falling tomato plant introduces him to The Girl, a voluptuous blonde living upstairs in a neighboring couple’s apartment for the summer:
Boy, if anybody were to walk in here right now, would they ever get the wrong idea… cinnamon toast for two, strange blonde in the shower, you go explain that to someone. Don’t tell ’em you spent the whole night wrapping a paddle!
Inexplicably billed as “Tommy Ewell”, Tom Ewell reprised the role he originated on Broadway as Richard Sherman. Viennese-born actress Vanessa Brown (who had an IQ of 165 and whose family fled Europe in 1937 to avoid Nazi persecution) had played The Girl on stage, but the part was recast for the screen, in turn providing Marilyn Monroe with one of her most enduring performances. Interestingly, there were several actors considered to play Richard before the part went to Ewell, who had already won a Tony for his stage portrayal and wasn’t expecting to be cast. Despite that, there was never any question that The Girl would be played on screen by anyone but Monroe.
George Axelrod worked with Billy Wilder to adapt his own 1952 play for the screen, adding a few characters for cinematic purposes while also responding to the restrictions of the Motion Picture Production Code by reducing Richard and The Girl’s adultrous affair to a trio of suggestive kisses during their flirtatious interlude. Despite the stage-to-screen changes, Ewell’s line from the play “I’ve got Marilyn Monroe in the kitchen” was retained for the screenplay as an in-joke… as Monroe was indeed playing the character then in his kitchen.
What’d He Wear?
After wearing a powder-blue business suit across the first two acts, Richard changes into a beige silk suit and bow tie when escorting The Girl to “an air-conditioned movie”, resulting in the iconic moment where her dress’ skirts billow from the air blown upwards by a passing subway under the grate beneath her. Most of the attention is understandably placed on her costume, but Richard wears a nicely proportioned example of a classic 1950s summer suit.
Richard’s beige suit is made from dupioni silk, the elegant shantung-like fabric characterized by imperfect slubs and a degree of sheen that can range from dramatic to more understated as worn by the shady Mr. Sherman. “Since its debut on the Riviera in the late twenties, the pure silk dupioni suit has always been the last word in summer chic,” Alan Flusser wrote in Dressing the Man. “From its well-bred beginnings, the silk suit with its natural glossy beauty and superior draping quality was a status symbol, an aristocratic garment made only by the prestigious custom tailors and top manufacturers.”
The suit jacket has a fashionably full cut with a draped chest, nipped waist, and straight shoulders reinforced with padding and roped sleeveheads. The notch lapels roll down to a low-to-medium two-button stance, perfectly positioned to meet the waistband of Richard’s trousers. The jacket has a single vent and four-button cuffs. Low-slung to coordinate with the appearance of the lapel the notches, the welted breast pocket is dressed with the conventional off-white linen handkerchief folded into a pocket square. Rather than more traditional jetted or flapped hip pockets, the straight hip pockets are also welted.
The matching trousers are cut and styled consistent with the era’s standards. In response to the wartime fabric rationing in the early 1940s, menswear through the ’50s balanced a celebration of excess with sleek lines, thus trousers were again rigged with pleats and cuffs.
Richard’s generously cut trousers have double-facing reverse pleats on each side, with side pockets, jetted back pockets (with a button through the back-left pocket), and turn-ups (cuffs) on the bottoms. He holds up his trousers with an edge-stitched brown textured leather belt that closes through a gold-finished single-prong buckle and has a wide self-keeper.
Like many gents of the era, Richard keeps a key to the Sherman family apartment on a silver key-chain, with a small clip that attaches to his belt loop on the front-right side of his waistband, keeping the key itself tucked into his right trouser pocket.
Richard coordinates his belt to his shoe leather, sporting a pair of russet-brown calf penny loafers that he nearly leaves behind when he runs to catch the 8:47 to Maine.
G.H. Bass had developed the original “Weejuns” in the 1930s, quickly catching on among students in the region who were rumored to keep a coin in the distinctive slot in the saddle strap across each vamp—hence the eventual “penny loafer” moniker. Throughout the middle decades of the 20th century, penny loafers grew popular as generally acceptable alternatives to lace-up shoes for American businessmen, though these comfortable slip-ons would never compete with the comparative formality of derbies and oxfords.
Richard dresses down to spend the night on the couch, untying his bow-tie and removing his jacket and shoes to reveal his colorful burgundy argyle socks, consisting of a light-yellow, mint-green, and royal-blue argyle motif and red toes.
Richard maintains the warm, neutral tones of his suit by wearing a pale-ecru cotton shirt and an olive-on-cream checked bow tie. Like penny loafers, shirts with button-down collars were growing increasingly accepted with suits and ties in American workplaces by the 1950s, as Richard had previously demonstrated by wearing the same shirt and shoes with his powder-blue suit at the office. The shirt has a front placket, breast pocket, button cuffs, and box-pleated back.
The tonally coordinated bow tie is checked in shades of olive and brown against the cream background. It follows the distinctive straight batwing silhouette that was most popular through the ’50s: essentially a strip of fabric hardly more than an inch wide without any tapering, flaring, or changing of shape.
The image of American sartorial success in the fabulous fifties was incomplete without a hat, and every gentleman had the proper headgear to match the season, from heavy felt in the winter to a light-wearing straw for the summer. Richard wears the latter, a handsome fedora crafted from a tightly woven tan straw and detailed with a dark brown grosgrain band.
Richard’s simple arrangement of gold jewelry consists of a wristwatch and wedding ring, though he’s occasionally too cavalier about the significance of the latter. The thin wristwatch has a rectangular white dial and gold expanding bracelet.
“No pretty girl in her right mind wants me… she wants Gregory Peck,” Richard complains during one of his many moments of self-deprecation, prompting the Girl to challenge his over-imaginative brain and its predispositions about what he thinks women want:
You and your imagination! You think every girl’s a dump! You think a girl goes to a party, and there’s some guy—great big lunk in a fancy striped vest, strutting around like a tiger, giving you that “I’m so handsome you can’t resist me” look—and for this she’s supposed to fall flat on her face. Well, she doesn’t fall on her face.
Within a few minutes, Richard co-opts The Girl’s description when confronting Tom MacKenzie (Sonny Tufts), the dashing writer he perceives to be a romantic rival for his wife’s interests, perfectly costumed for the morning in a yellow-striped vest that coordinates with his tie, socks, and beige sports coat.
What to Imbibe
The night after they washed down potato chips with champagne, Scotch-and-sodas, and tall martinis, Richard invites The Girl back to his apartment for her to take advantage of his air conditioning unit and refresh with some late-night libations.
You just relax. I’ll fix us two Tom Collinses, and we’ll have a nice, quiet, serious talk.
Though it boasts the same competition of origin stories as other venerated cocktails, the Tom Collins was well-established at American taverns by the late 19th century, when mixologists Jerry Thomas and Harry Johnson included recipes in their respective bartending guides. It should be stated that the gin-based Tom has two lesser-known brothers—the rum-based Charley and bourbon-based John—similarly prepared but never considered competition for brother Tom’s supremacy.
First-time drinkers can reasonably expect the Tom Collins to answer to Jerry Thomas’ 1876 description of “gin and sparkling lemonade”, and the agreed ingredients and proportions have changed little in the more than 150 years since its conception. The Mr. Boston Official Bartender’s Guide stipulates two ounces of gin, an ounce of lemon juice, and a teaspoon of superfine sugar (or equivalent amount of simple syrup), shaken over ice and strained into the appropriately named Collins glass. From there, add ice, fill the tall class with club soda, and stir, completing the presentation with slices of lemon and orange, a maraschino cherry, and a straw.
How to Get the Look
Whether your date plans to steal the sartorial spotlight by stepping over any sewer grates, you should still dress to impress. Richard’s straw hat and straight bow-tie may ultimately date his garb to the ’50s—for better or worse—but he makes the fine argument for a well-proportioned beige silk summer suit.
- Beige slubby silk summer suit:
- Single-breasted 2-button jacket with notch lapels, welted breast pocket, straight welted hip pockets, 4-button cuffs, and single vent
- Double reverse-pleated trousers with belt loops, side pockets, jetted back pockets (with button-through back-left), and turn-ups/cuffs
- Pale-ecru cotton shirt with button-down collar, front placket, breast pocket, button cuffs, and box-pleated back
- Olive-on-white checked straight batwing-shaped bow-tie
- Brown textured leather belt with gold-finished single-prong buckle
- Russet leather penny loafers
- Burgundy multi-color paisley socks
- Tan straw fedora with dark brown grosgrain silk band
- Gold wedding ring
- Gold wristwatch with white rectangular dial on gold expanding bracelet
- Off-white linen pocket square
Do Yourself a Favor and…
Check out the movie.
It’s just my imagination! Some people have flat feet, some people have dandruff… I have this appalling imagination!