Avuncular Style: Robert Vaughn And The Original Man From UNCLE

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Today “The Man From UNCLE” opens. Hollywood, as the cliché goes, is all out of new ideas. That may not be such a bad thing, as there’s a lot worth recycling, including the enormous body of Cold War-era spy stuff. The latest “Mission Impossible” is supposed to be excellent, with a 93% positive rating at Rotten Tomatoes. “The Man From UNCLE” comes in considerably lower at 68%.

The film is based on the TV show that ran from 1964 to 1968. Actor Robert Vaughn (pictured above from Reel Art Press’ “Hollywood And The Ivy Look“) plays secret agent Napoleon Solo. Here’s a wiki-kwik summary:

The character was created by Ian Fleming as a small screen version of James Bond. Solo possesses a charm, sophistication, efficiency, and weakness for beautiful women comparable to Bond’s. But Solo is considerably less intense and also less brutal than the English spy, and he possesses a laid-back ease that recalls the young Cary Grant.

The show overlaps with the twilight of the Ivy heyday, and Vaughn’s costuming is interesting as an example of the mixing and matching that was prevalent at the time. The Ivy League Look had an extended period of popularity, but it was merely one of many fashions high and low available at the time. As seen in the image below, Vaughn often wore buttondown collars and simple (perhaps knit) ties:

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But there were differences from Ivy when it came to his tailored clothing, which was far more international and in keeping with his character, who is an America but working for an international organization. The excellent website The Suits Of James Bond has a post about Vaughn’s tailoring for the first episode:

In the American tradition, the shoulders are natural with little or no padding and the front has no darts. The lack of front darts makes the jacket look somewhat boxy, but it still fits closely and has waist suppression. The main different between a jacket with darts and a jacket without darts is that the one without darts has less fullness in the chest. Solo’s jacket has a very clean and close-fitting chest, whilst the waist is suppressed through the rear side seams and the darts under the arms.

The suit trousers have a flat front, long rise, tapered legs and no belt loops. The long rise is the most significant part of Solo’s suit that separates it from today’s suits. It is long enough to almost meet the jacket’s front button. Going against American tradition, the trousers have plain hems. The trousers also are hemmed short, making these what some call high-water or flood trousers. It’s a traditional American style to hem the trousers too short, and Solo’s are about two inches above where the trousers would meet the shoes in front.

Solo’s white button-down shirt follows traditional American style just as many parts of the suit do. Likely made of oxford cloth, the shirt has a soft button-down collar, rounded single-button cuffs and a front placket. The narrow tie is black with a pronounced diagonal rib and tied in a small four-in-hand knot. The tie is held against the shirt with small tie clip placed just above the height of the jacket’s button. The tie clip is hidden when the jacket is buttoned.

Solo’s black shoes are an American style of shoe called longwing bluchers. Longwings have a pointed toe cap like a wing-tip, but they have wings extending the full length of the shoe. Bluchers are similar to derbys in that they have open lacing, but on bluchers the vamp and quarters are one piece, and they have tabs sewn to the front for the lacing eyelets.

Here’s Vaughn in a publicity shot:

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There’s someone else from the TV show worth mentioning: Leo G. Carroll plays the slouch-tweedy head of the UNCLE organization:

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You’ll recognize him from “North By Northwest,” in which he plays the elderly gentleman who has to convince Cary Grant to go along with the plan to catch James Mason. Carroll has that wonderful exchange when asked about the “MacGuffin,” Hitchcock’s famous nickname for the object in a movie that everyone’s after and upon which the plot turns. In this case it’s microfilm, and when Grant asks what’s on it, Carroll shrugs, “Oh, government secrets, perhaps.” It’s a testament to Hitchcock’s brilliance that ultimately the audience doesn’t care what the MacGuffin is, being engrossed in the perils of the protagonists.

In closing, here’s the opening — the opening sequence from the TV show, that is. Whether you spend your time outdoors or in an air-conditioned theater, have a stylish weekend. — CC

 

7 Comments on "Avuncular Style: Robert Vaughn And The Original Man From UNCLE"

  1. The Man From Uncle was first telecast when I was 12 years old. I recall watching a few episodes, never really cared for the show. It was aired on Friday nights at 10:00 pm, so I might have been too sleepy to enjoy the show. (Normal bedtime was 9:00 pm in that era, for me anyhow.)

    Robert Vaughn reminded me of a real SOB, as he portrayed in “Bullitt.” His facial expression, maybe too intense.

    Looks like he’s holding a 9mm Luger on the comic book cover. Cool looking pistol, however, not the most discrete weapon for a secret agent to carry. I recall spy and war related toys and guns jammed the 5 and 10 cent stores back then. My pals and I were already too old for toy guns, by a year or two. I digress, but until about age 10 or 11, all boys played with toy guns that were identical to real ones. Nobody even imagined that children would do the unspeakable crimes they do today.

    Oh well.

  2. I have to comment on a positive note. “Get Smart” came on about the same time. Not cool like Nappy Solo, but Don Adams pretty much dressed the same Ivy. Barbara Feldon, Agent 99 was from Pittsburgh, touted hair tonic commercials.

    Even Jethro Bodine was a “Double Naught” spy in that era. He had a heel radio that made him limp and would start playing music at an inappropriate time.

    What great TV.

  3. Never knew Fleming was behind this. Makes sense, though, and gives a new perspective for re-viewing. I was just a kid when this show played, and in those days was more intrigued with David McCallum’s character, being Russian and all. Anyway, I’m a little jazzed about seeing this stuff again. Thanks.

  4. Mitchell S. | August 14, 2015 at 9:37 pm |

    Robert Vaughn appears to be wearing an ascot-an item I associate with La Dolce Vita, French Riviera playboys, and Hollywood moguls-not jivey Ivy.

    Reel Art Press’ website says that the Ivy look “didn’t shout ‘look at me’ but instead gave off an image of approachable correctness and laid back confidence.” This description applies to Vaughn’s ascot, which is more Ivy than Continental.

    Reel Art Press’ site also has a short (2:46) video with pages from the “Hollywood and the Ivy Look” book set to a jazzy 60s soundtrack: http://www.reelartpress.com/catalog/edition/43/hollywood-and-the-ivy-look

  5. Contributor James Kraus recently found a vintage image of a natural-shouldered ascot (???) and we’re getting a post ready for when fall arrives.

  6. Roy R. Platt | August 15, 2015 at 11:00 am |

    Leo G. Carrol also played Cosmo Topper in the “Topper” television series. Back then, the characters in TV shows also appeared in commercials for the show’s sponsors, as in this example…….

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xr9ojFNODWE

  7. I’m sorry, but Robert Vaughn is a poor example of Ivy Look in male actors. I’m prejudiced because I often saw Vaughn in the small Connecticut town we both lived in during the 1980’s. He was not an Ivy dresser. If you want authentic Ivy in the male actor area, see Jack Lemon. He wore the Ivy Look, not to mention his bona fides: Phillips Academy, Harvard (president of Hasty Pudding) and commissioned officer in the U.S. Navy. That’s the gold standard of Ivy.

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