I recently saw, for the first time, the classic 1951 Alex Guinness film “The Man in the White Suit.” While some of the movie’s physical comedy has not aged well, certain themes like the battle between labour and industry as well as a disturbing scene involving forced prostitution still resonate today. However, what I liked most about the film was its focus on clothing; it starts with a close up on an industrial loom, after all. The plot centres on Guinness’ character trying and then succeeding in creating an almost indestructible fabric. Guinness also spends quite a bit of time in his titular white suit, which stands out from the rest of the film’s tailoring and not just because it is glowing white. Since it was supposed to be made out of this space age fabric, the suit hangs differently than others in the film. Maybe made of linen and tailored in a softer, more casual way, Guinness looks more contemporary than his co-stars, almost like he belongs at Pitti Uomo. Here is a recent trailer to the film:
I was discussing “The Man in the White Suit” with my friend and fellow sartorialist Stephen Temkin of Leon Drexler hats when he suggested I do a call out to my readers for other films that are focused on the classic wardrobe. Stephen’s own suggestion was a somewhat obscure film from 1942 called “Tales of Manhattan.” The title is a play on words as the film is literally about a tailcoat, as it passes from one owner to another. Though not well known, the movie is a veritable who’s who of classic Hollywood, starring Rita Hayworth, Charles Boyer, Ginger Rogers, Henry Fonda, Charles Laughton, Edward G. Robinson, Paul Robeson, Cesar Romero, W.C. Fields, Gail Patrick and many others. Despite all that star power, the film is not remarkable – the different vignettes vary wildly in quality, not to mention ridiculous stereotypes in the final sequence focusing on an African-American community. However, as a lover of classic style, it is comforting to think there was a time when a tailcoat could carry an entire film. The whole movie (minus the W.C. Fields segment) is on YouTube:
I also checked in with men’s style writer extraordinaire G. Bruce Boyer on his pick. He suggested Ginger Rogers and Fred Astaire’s “Swing Time” from 1936. While not specifically all about clothing, a key turning point in the plot involves a morning suit and whether or not the trousers should have cuffs. This is also, arguably, Rogers and Astaire’s finest film, so it’s worth watching for that reason too. Here is the scene that starts the whole cuffs fiasco:
I’m curious to hear your suggestions for other films that feature or centre on an article of clothing, be it a suit, a tie or perhaps a pair of shoes? Please leave your ideas in the comments below.
And in case it comes up, I want to preemptively disqualify “Kingsman, The Secret Service.” I know it was partially shot at Huntsman, even featuring some of their tailoring. But I flinched when I heard Colin Firth’s character proclaim “oxfords not brogues” (as if you can’t have brogued oxfords) and his simply incorrect statement that “an oxford is any formal shoe with open lacing.” Shameful.