Shadow of a Doubt: Uncle Charlie’s Navy Blazer

Joseph Cotten in Shadow of a Doubt (1943)


Joseph Cotten as Charles Oakley, attentive uncle and enigmatic “Merry Widow Murderer”

Santa Rosa, California, Summer 1941

Film: Notorious
Release Date: January 12, 1943
Director: Alfred Hitchcock
Costume Design: Vera West


A vintage pin I purchased at a thrift store several years ago commemorates July 26 as Uncle’s Day, a day I’ve discovered has been inclusively expanded to become Aunt and Uncle’s Day. As I chose to celebrate Mother’s Day last year with a post from Psycho, your Uncle BAMF again returns to the Master of Suspense’s oeuvre for today’s observance, specifically the mysterious “Uncle Charlie” in Alfred Hitchcock’s 1943 masterpiece Shadow of a Doubt.

Often cited by Hitch himself as a personal favorite of his filmography, Shadow of a Doubt was released 80 years ago in January, starring Teresa Wright and Joseph Cotten, the latter having recently made his screen debut across a trio of films directed by his pal Orson Welles: Citizen KaneThe Magnificent Ambersons, and Journey Into Fear.

Cotten subverted his genial screen presence with a chilling turn as the conniving Charles Oakley, who leaves a sinister trail of wealthy widows’ corpses across the country to his family’s doorstep in the idyllic Bay Area community of Santa Rosa, California. His sister and her family are delighted to welcome Uncle Charlie, though none are more overjoyed than his niece and namesake, Charlotte “Charlie” Newton. The teenage Charlie adores her uncle, with whom she seems to have an almost paranormal bond… and thus allows her to be among the few to begin to see him for who he really is.

What’d He Wear?

Uncle Charlie maintains a handsome wardrobe, as expected of a man whose calling requires him to charm his way into the fortunes of the “horrible, faded, fat, greedy women” he so resents. That fortune includes $40,000 that he takes to his brother-in-law’s bank shortly after his arrival in Santa Rosa, where he teases the staff for their stuffy atmosphere… all while dodging the two investigators on his trail.

The young Charlie accompanies her uncle on this errand, for which he dresses dapperly for the warm weather in a navy blazer with summer-weight slacks, snappy spectator shoes, and a seasonally appropriate Panama hat.

Joseph Cotten and Teresa Wright in Shadow of a Doubt (1943)

A tale of two Charlies.

Though marketing and colloquial shorthand have widened the usage of the term “blazer”, one of the most traditional definitions refers to a tailored jacket in a solid color (most often navy blue) with metal buttons and often sporty details like patch pockets. Charles Oakley’s jacket for his trip to the bank perfectly fits this description, and the softly napped wool’s dark color and the era’s sartorial conventions almost certainly inform us that it is made from a navy-blue cloth, possibly serge.

Charlie’s navy blazer follows the usual single-breasted jacket design, tailored for the times with wide shoulders and a ventless back. The broad lapels are neither classic notch nor peak lapel but rather the “cran necker” lapel often associated with Parisian tailoring, resembling a cross between both styles with its fishmouth-shaped notch and angled peak. Our elegant executioner dresses the left lapel with a white carnation.

The lapels roll to a two-button front that meets the top of his trousers at Joseph Cotten’s natural waist. These two buttons and the four on each cuff are made from a shining metal, continuing the blazer’s maritime origins—consider the similar style on naval uniforms. Patch pockets over the hips and left breast also communicate the blazer’s sporty nature.

Joseph Cotten and Teresa Wright in Shadow of a Doubt (1943)

Charlie and Charlie at the bank, though the younger niece is dressed more for conducting business than her uncle in his tasteful summer-appropriate blazer, slacks, and hat. Note the sign pushing “defense bonds”, suggesting that the story’s action is set prior to the U.S. entry into World War II when these were redubbed “war bonds”.

Fancy ties blossomed during the ’40s, though this was primarily during the postwar era at the end of the decade. Charlie’s distinctively patterned tie of thin white scrolls against a dark ground is the most unique one that he wears on screen, contextually appropriate with the rest of the outfit. The rest of his ties are all either solid-colored or widely striped.

Charlie wears a light-colored shirt in a shade likely lost to history, though I’d guess it’s a pale-blue cotton. The shirt’s double (French) cuffs are naturally with links, though these are often covered by the blazer sleeves, which should be a tad shorter to allow more shirt cuff to show.

The shirt’s point collar is pinned behind the tie knot with a metal safety-style pin—recognizable by the loop on each end, indeed resembling the hinge on a safety pin. “Considered by many shirt savants to be the pinnacle of collared carriage,” Alan Flusser colorfully describes the pinned collar in Dressing the Man, outlining that the decorous if somewhat fussy style enjoyed its greatest popularity through the 1930s.

Joseph Cotten in Shadow of a Doubt (1943)

A collar pin takes some panache to wear effectively but, when worn correctly, it can exceedingly enhance the look.

While the majority of men today tend to pair their navy blazer with khakis or gray flannel slacks (or, unfortunately, navy blue trousers—in the misplaced hope of creating a suit-like effect), white trousers have long been a sophisticated alternative in warm weather locales. To again cite the estimable Mr. Flusser, who wrote in his volume that “with blue and white as the imperatives of nautical dress, navy blazers and white trousers made a dashing sports outfit for the wealthy American man of the 1920s.”

Decades later, the appearance of a navy blazer and white trousers maintained its rakish charm as Charles Oakley strolled through the streets of Santa Rosa with his niece on his arm, en route the local bank. Almost certainly cut with pleats (per the predominant trends of the era) that continued the generous fit through the legs, the trousers have an appropriately high rise to Cotten’s waist and are finished with turn-ups (cuffs) on the bottom.

Charlie’s spectator shoes are appropriately sporty with his summer-friendly jacket and slacks, though their shady connotations of their origins are also appropriate for his character. Tradition maintains that this two-toned footwear gained a reputation among caddish third parties in divorce cases (named as “co-respondents” in English law) and thus were nicknamed “co-respondent shoes”. Charlie’s wingtip brogues are white through the vamps, with a darker leather on the wingtips, lace panels, and heels—either black or a very dark brown. He also wears medium-colored cotton lisle socks.

Joseph Cotten and Teresa Wright in Shadow of a Doubt (1943)

Charlie completes his summer-ready ensemble with a white straw Panama hat shaped with a full “optimo” crown, a distinctive style characterized by a raised ridge crossing front to back over the center of the hat’s otherwise flat top. The hat is finished with a narrow plain black band.

Joseph Cotten in Shadow of a Doubt (1943)

Note the raised ridge across the top of Charlie’s Panama hat, an indication of an “optimo” crown.

How to Get the Look

Joseph Cotten in Shadow of a Doubt (1943)

Charles Oakley takes the opportunity to dress up for his new small town surroundings during a simple trip to the bank, appropriating a tastefully sporty summer outfit of navy blazer, white slacks, and Panama hat—accentuated by a collar pin, fancy tie, spectator shoes, and a flower in his lapel.

  • Navy wool serge single-breasted 2-button blazer with cran necker lapels, patch breast pocket, patch hip pockets, 4-button cuffs, and ventless back
  • Pale-blue cotton shirt with pinned point collar and double/French cuffs
  • Dark tie with white scroll motif
  • Off-white pleated slacks with turn-ups/cuffs
  • Black-and-white leather wingtip spectator brogues
  • Medium-colored cotton lisle socks
  • White straw optimo-crown Panama hat with narrow black grosgrain band

Do Yourself a Favor and…

Check out the movie.

The Quote

The whole world is a joke to me.

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