Movies and fashion have been linked ever since someone in clothes stepped in front of a movie camera and other people watched the end result. People see films, take inspiration and before you know it whole generations are dressing up like Bonnie and Clyde or fighter pilots or rebel bikers. This influence of mass media on style can be hideous - witness how quickly the Don Draper mod cool of Mad Men descended into lazy Esquire-esque fashion sheepdom as every man jack suddenly started wearing skinny dark two-pieces with rigid white pocket squares. You know the thrill has gone when your reflection comes back all Ant and Dec. But that’s TV for you, and I digress.
Film can be fertile ground when a man is hunting for a distinctive look, and I tend to go for the broad sweep of a look rather than the clinical attention to detail. There are people who will tell you that the bootsSteve McQueen slings over his shoulder every time he is thrown in the cooler in The Great Escape are M-43 Type 3 World War Two boots in rough-out leather, and they are right, but I’m not so hung up on the details. I pulled out a vintage Hawaiian shirt last week, hidden on a hanger under other seldom worn shirts. Coconut buttons, lovely soft worn silk and a knocked back leaf-and-fruit motif. Hadn’t looked at it for years and it triggered something. The last time I wore the thing was many summers ago when I was trying out Montgomery Clift style for size, minus the self-loathing and addiction to pain-killers. And for a simple, effective, sharp summer wardrobe you could do worse than look to the 1953 Pacific-set classicFrom Here To Eternity.
Lightweight twill with a high-end Hawaiian shirt is just the ticket
In the film Clift plays Private Robert E Lee Prewitt, a fighter who refuses to box for his regiment as he once blinded a man in the ring. Alongside great performances from Burt Lancaster, Frank Sinatra and an utterly savage Ernest Borgnine, the setting of a military camp on Oahu offers a backdrop for some real sartorial elegance. First, we have the formal uniforms of the Rifle Company. Lightweight service khaki shirts with two chest pockets are neatly complimented by flat-fronted service khaki chinos. Military chinos were narrow at the ankle and had no pleats to save material during the war. The tie is optional and can be tucked in between the third and forth button. Round the look off with a canvas belt. The look is sharp: a bit Bowie 1976, a bit Roxy Music. It’s a formal look that doesn’t feel uptight, and it is good for summer.
When the Company are on leave they frequent a brothel and bar called Choy’s. It’s here that you wish the film had been shot in Technicolor. Hawaiian shirts abound, mainly worn loose with a pleated, high-waisted pagged pant and loafers. Since the New Romantic era the pleated pegged pant has been out of favour, but I think lightweight twill with a high-end Hawaiian shirt is just the ticket. A pair of beef roll Bass Weejun Larson loafers finishes the look nicely.
A word on swimming trunks. Burt Lancaster gets it right: a figure-hugging short is spot on. It keeps you out of hopeless, heavy oversized board shorts and doesn’t veer into tiny budgie-smuggler territory. You can find hundreds of vintage rayon, silk and cotton Hawaiian print shirts on-line: just hunt out the pattern you want. Chinos are available in all cuts and colours, Bass Weejuns, again, are widely available. Orlebar Brown do very good shorts.
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