The Way We Were: Robert Redford’s Navy CPO Shirt

Robert Redford as Hubbell Gardiner in The Way We Were (1973)


Robert Redford as Hubbell Gardiner, Hollywood screenwriter and Navy veteran

Malibu, California, Fall 1947 through Spring 1948

Film: The Way We Were
Release Date: October 19, 1973
Director: Sydney Pollack
Costume Design: Dorothy Jeakins & Moss Mabry

WARNING! Spoilers ahead!


This week marks the 50th anniversary of The Way We Were, released October 19, 1973. Adapted by Arthur Laurents from his own novel of the same name, the story follows the privileged and carefree Hubbell Gardiner (Robert Redford) and politically driven Katie Morosky (Barbra Streisand) through a decade of their on-and-off romance.

After a contentious and unrequited flirtation while at the same college in the late 1930s, Hubbell and Katie reunite by chance during the latter years of World War II, when Hubbell is serving in the U.S. Navy. Despite some early tumultuousness, the two gently compromise their differing personalities and enter a relationship that continues after the war and through the Red Scare of the late ’40s. The growing paranoia of McCarthyism—and Katie’s reignited activism in response—threatens their livelihood as Hubbell is working as a Hollywood screenwriter.

What’d He Wear?

For casual evenings at home, Hubbell often wears a dark navy-blue mid-weight woolen flannel twill long-sleeved service shirt, known to Navy vets as the “CPO shirt” for its association with the chief petty officer (CPO) non-commissioned rank. Section 1-9(f) of the U.S. Navy’s 1941 uniform regulations allowed that “chief petty officers’ blue flannel shirts may be worn when prescribed by the senior officer present,” so even commissioned officers like Lt.(j.g.) Hubbell Gardiner would have been familiar with the style during his World War II service.

Hubbell’s CPO shirt features the cut recognizable to those familiar with the style, as well as the usual details: long-pointed collar, front placket, and barrel cuffs that all fasten with large dark-blue plastic anchor-relief buttons. Consistent with the “1st Model” CPO shirts issued in 1939, Hubbell’s shirt has a single patch-style chest pocket on the left side with a pointed flap that closes through a single button. Later iterations of the CPO shirt authorized in the mid-’40s would balance the look with an identical pocket on the right side.

Robert Redford as Hubbell Gardiner in The Way We Were (1973)

Interestingly, Hubbell wears this shirt in the two scenes that bookend Katie’s pregnancy—her announcement to him over drinks and again, months later, when they agree to end their relationship after their baby is born. The difference in the way he wears the shirt for both occasions illustrates how their relationship has devolved.

During the earlier scene when Katie tells him that she’s pregnant, Hubbell is carefree and happy, reflected with his CPO shirt worn only semi-buttoned, sleeves rolled up, and untucked. He’s barefoot, feet kicked up on the table, and clad in self-cuffed jeans—almost certainly the same medium-blue denim five-pocket boot-cut jeans that he wears during the shirtless beach volleyball scenes (years before Top Gun made it cool.)

Robert Redford as Hubbell Gardiner in The Way We Were (1973)

Months later, as Hubbell and Katie mutually decide to split up, he looks more rigid and reserved. The shirt is more intentionally buttoned on the placket and cuffs, tucked into dressier corduroy trousers.

These medium-brown mid-wale cords have a medium-high rise to Redford’s waist, where he holds them up with a wide, lighter brown leather belt that closes through a large gold-toned single-prong buckle. The flat-front trousers have a straight, full cut through the legs to plain-hemmed bottoms and are styled with only slanted front pockets—no back pockets.

Robert Redford and Barbra Streisand in The Way We Were (1973)

Unseen on screen but visible in behind-the-scenes photography, Hubbell wears tan cowboy boots with decoratively stitched brown shafts while breaking up with Katie. There’s little about Hubbell to indicate an affinity for Western style—he’s a bit too preppy for that—but he may have been influenced by California’s more relaxed sartorial culture… or they could’ve just been Robert Redford’s personal boots that were intentionally not captured on screen.

Behind-the-scenes shot of Robert Redford and Barbra Streisand filming The Way We Were, revealing Redford’s cowboy boots that are never clearly seen on screen during this sequence.

Hubbell sports his regular assortment of jewelry and accessories, including an elegant yellow-gold dress watch with a round gold dial strapped to his right wrist on a flat gold expanding band. The silver ring shining from Redford’s right hand is the actor’s personal ring, which he later explained to The Hollywood Reporter was a gift from a Hopi tribe received in 1966 and visibly worn in nearly all of his movies to follow. On his left wrist, Hubbell continues wearing his Navy-issued sterling silver curb-chain ID bracelet.

Robert Redford as Hubbell Gardiner in The Way We Were (1973)

What to Imbibe

Hubbell and Katie are each drinking a martini one evening in their Malibu home—he’s working on his screenplay, she’s studying French—when she shares with him that she’s pregnant. Times have certainly changed, as I imagine most women today aren’t be swilling gin in their first trimester… or their third, as we see yet another round of martinis on the kitchen counter during their breakup dinner.

Robert Redford as Hubbell Gardiner in The Way We Were (1973)

Note the martinis—and their respective garnish of a single martini—as Hubbell prepares to serve dinner.

We don’t see enough of the Gardiner family bar to fully ascertain if Hubbell and Katie are drinking their martinis with gin or vodka. Gin would be the traditional choice, still predominant by the late 1940s, though vodka was on the rise and it wouldn’t be out of character for Comrade K-K-K-Katie to be against enjoying a spirit so closely associated with Russia.

How to Get the Look

Hubbell Gardiner deftly blends his Navy duds into postwar life, repurposing a navy flannel CPO shirt into his classily cozy and casual style as a beach-dwelling screenwriter.

  • Dark blue woolen flannel long-sleeved U.S. Navy “CPO shirt” with point collar, chest pocket (with pointed button-down flap), front placket, and button cuffs
  • Brown corduroy flat-front trousers with belt loops, slanted front pockets, and plain-hemmed bottoms
  • Medium-brown leather belt with large gold-toned single-prong buckle
  • Tan leather cowboy boots with decorative-stitched brown calf-high shafts
  • Silver tribal ring
  • Gold watch with round case, gold dial, and gold expanding bracelet
  • Sterling silver curb-chain ID bracelet
  • Gold necklace

Do Yourself a Favor and…

Check out the movie.

The Quote

Katie, it was never uncomplicated.

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