My Kinda Clothes: The White And The Blue

Have you ever seen an outfit on a movie screen and it spoke to you? One of my favorite scenes is from “The American President.” The camera pans the POTUS’ closet and a row of white and light blue dress shirts, with minimal pastels and stripes, fills the screen. White and light blue are the ultimate colors for businesswear — the only colors, really. Perhaps pinstripes on occasion, or university stripes on relaxed Friday, or tattersall with khakis and a navy blazer, but white or light blue should be seen under a man’s suit coat every day.

In “North by Northwest” there is an amazing scene when the G-man brings Cary Grant’s character a new change of clothes. He quickly unboxes a white oxford buttondown, followed by dark, blue-gray flannels and cordovan tassel loafers. As only Cary Grant could do, he makes the clothes come alive, crisp and clean. Judging by the collar roll and the way he keeps the cuffs up a half turn due to the off-center buttons throughout the rest of the film, the shirt appears to be from Brooks Brothers. I could watch that scene over and over.

Harrison Ford’s Jack Ryan vacillates back and forth over which rep tie to pair with his white shirt to testify before Congress at the start of “Clear and Present Danger.” And only when we see him actually sitting before the tribunal do we see that he somehow switched to a blue shirt along the way. Frank Sinatra’s navy suit in “Pal Joey” was his favorite, according to film lore. A biographer contends that the iconic photo of him walking with a trench coat flung over his shoulder was not about the coat but about the suit.  He could not bear to cover it, he liked wearing the suit so much.

Finally, there are the khakis worn by Matthew McConaughey’s Jake Briggance in “A Time to Kill,” as well as by David Keith in both “An Officer and a Gentleman” and “The Lords of Discipline.” He later boasted of retaining those chinos for his personal wardrobe. And in the latter movie, below a white OCBD, he, like the other men above, set the standard for my post-high school trad wardrobe:  OCBDs, khakis, navy worsted suits, rep ties and Weejuns. These are how a man dresses. — JDV

22 Comments on "My Kinda Clothes: The White And The Blue"

  1. Trad aside, I have to go with Richard Gere sorting through his wardrobe by Giorgio Armani in American Gigolo. Background music by Smokey Robinson.

  2. Japanese schoolgirls wear Weejuns, too, but I follow you. Tough to run a website for 10 years on such a strict diet, though!

  3. Minimalist Trad | February 8, 2019 at 12:06 am |

    I keep following this website hoping for an article like this. With the exception of the pastels, the wardrobe in “The American President” is mine!
    Thank you, Joel, for this article, and thank you, Christian for the breath of fresh air. One point:so many Ivy aficionados are so addicted to blue OCBDs that they fail to realize that white OCBDs can help a man look and feel like Cary Grant.

  4. He might not have always dressed quintessentially trad/ivy (and his personal background *certainly* wasn’t), but Carey Grant is simply the best. Some might consider it blasphemy, but I’d take him over Bogart ANY day.

  5. Straight Arrow | February 8, 2019 at 1:22 am |

    Thanks for remembering those of us whose wardrobe does not include red trousers, pink shirts, orange tweed jackets, embroidered belts, etc.
    A strict diet like that followed by Joel Vaughan is a healthy one, indeed.

  6. Nobody wears a suit better than Cary Grant.
    Even after being chased to the ground by the Crop Duster in “North by Northwest”, he jumps up, shakes off the dirt,looks around and continues on his way looking as good as ever.

  7. Terry O'Reilly | February 8, 2019 at 9:44 am |

    This was an enjoyable little article. Thank you, @Joel Vaughan.

    @Straight Arrow
    I couldn’t have said it better myself. I see nought wrong with those colors of which you speak, nor do I disparage fellows who wear them, but I also prefer a sober palette.

  8. I find myself opting for white 80% of the time. Everything else is forced.

  9. The last twenty years I worked, it was dark suit/white shirt/black shoes every day. I changed it up with ties (not TOO colorful) and was often complimented. Additionally, I could get dressed while still half asleep

  10. Although the kind of personality drawn to this approach is clearly low in Trait Openness, I’m actually an advocate of pretty much the same approach. I’m back to where I was in my “Edwardian” twenties with almost no color in my wardrobe save for a few sprinkles. And I’ve always felt you can’t beat a white shirt, which goes back centuries.

  11. Charlottesville | February 8, 2019 at 2:28 pm |

    Great article, Joel, and great to hear from you. A navy suit, white shirt and simple tie (with black cap-toed oxfords for a very dressy look) is about as elegant as it gets, and I have three solid navy suits in various weights to prove it. However, pinstripes, chalk stripes and glen plaids are also personal favorites, and I often branch out to browns, grays and olives, and enjoy seersucker in the summer. My shirts lean strongly to white and light blue OCBDs, but pink and yellow make appearances, as do Tattersalls, Bengal and university stripes, and even some club, tab and Winchester collars. Today it’s a brown herringbone sport coat from J. Press, with a decades-old blue OCBD from Brooks, dark brown flannels and a Paul Stuart tie, that I have to admit is not strictly Ivy. Nevertheless, there is much to be said for keeping it simple. I very much like white and blue OCBDs, khakis, navy worsted suits, rep ties and Weejuns and wear them all often, but it takes more focus and discipline than I possess to do it every day. I am just too easily distracted.

    Like you, I can’t think of a better example to emulate than Cary Grant, although few of us (make that none) have been blessed with his remarkable good looks and poise. North by Northwest and To Catch A Thief are probably my favorites, but then I remember Philadelphia Story, Notorious, The Grass is Greener, Indiscreet, etc. etc. The list is nearly endless. But, as FJW mentions above, the best thing about that suit in NxNW is that one can wear it for 2 days straight, including a train ride from NY to Chicago, ball it up in a suitcase while pretending to be a redcap, roll around in a cornfield while being machine-gunned from a plane and show up at an art auction looking like a million bucks after having it “sponged and pressed” in 20 minutes by a hotel valet.

  12. Joel Vaughan | February 8, 2019 at 2:38 pm |

    Thanks, Cville. Must admit that my point about CG was not watching him get dressed, but the clothes he got dressed in. Ha. My best to you and yours in the Commonwealth during this recent unpleasantness.

  13. Charlottesville | February 8, 2019 at 3:29 pm |

    Thanks, Joel. I also always figured CG’s, or rather Roger O. Thornhill’s shirt must have been from Brooks Brothers, but wonder what brand of new leather-soled loafers could be worn, straight out-of-the-box, to climb up the rock wall of a house and run around the top of Mt. Rushmore without slipping. I could use a pair like that for icy sidewalks.

    I am as surprised as anyone by the unbelievable weirdness of the past few days in Virginia politics. I quite honestly never, at any point in my time at several Virginia schools, including W&L in the 1980s, so much as heard of someone wearing what the NY Times and Attorney General euphemistically called “dark makeup.” I simply cannot imagine it being permitted to appear in the yearbook. What were they thinking? It will be interesting to see which wins the political battle: outrage over racism or hunger to hold onto power. It will be tough to have it both ways without being shown up as rent-seeking hypocrites.

  14. Charlottesville

    Nor did I ever see such a display of racism during my college years in Virginia. Had my group and I encountered such, there would have been unpleasantness.

    White OCBD today with gold and navy striped tie, BB blue sack blazer, Bill’s khakis, cordovan belt with engine turned buckle (engraved) and cordovan loafers. No socks. It was 75 degrees today. Spring is coming soon.



  15. Charlottesville | February 8, 2019 at 8:46 pm |

    Dear Will,

    75? Sounds wonderful. We (wife and self) are heading to South Carolina a week from tomorrow for a swing through Charleston and the low country (and Hilton Head, which is not really same thing), and the Greenville area in the mountains. Hoping for some moderate warmth. May want to retire there some day, if we can afford it.

    Your outfit sounds perfect.

    I checked in with a friend who was at UVA in the mid 70s, and he confirmed that he never saw such a thing. I know that there were bad actors and just plain silly boors in those days, as indeed there are now, but I am truly surprised that it was permitted “above ground” in the yearbook.

  16. Joel Vaughan | February 8, 2019 at 9:46 pm |

    Had meetings in DC this week, was quite warm there today but had to fly back. Cville, often said I wanted to retire in Beaufort, SC, lovely town, but cannot see that in the future now. Best on your trip.

  17. Stephen Bartley | February 9, 2019 at 10:40 am |

    I once started watching “Chicago Med” for the sole reason that I liked Oliver Platt’s shirt and tie combination. Sigh. I watched quite a few episodes but he never seemed to wear it again.

    But another scene that’s addictive in the same was is the opening ten minutes or so of “A Single Man”, in which Colin Firth “becomes George”. Once seen it’s almost impossible not to imitate.

  18. Joel Vaughan | February 9, 2019 at 1:31 pm |

    Platt also wore very cool attire as Harry Rex in “A Time to Kill.”

  19. Stephen Bartley | February 9, 2019 at 3:22 pm |

    I just looked that up. You’re right. Now I have to watch that as well…

  20. Charlottesville | February 11, 2019 at 10:33 am |

    Joel — Hope you enjoyed your trip to Washington. We lived there for about 15 years or so and still enjoy visiting for a long weekend a few times a year. I’m also a big fan of Beaufort, SC and my wife an I visited there last May. If only the low country weren’t so blasted hot and humid 4 months out of the year. Maybe we could head north for summer vacations, like reverse snowbirds.

  21. Last Feb, Charlottesville, commented re then-current political happenings in the Old Dominion including the governor’s penchant for wearing “dark makup” while a medical school student: “What were they thinking? It will be interesting to see which wins the political battle: outrage over racism or hunger to hold onto power. It will be tough to have it both ways without being shown up as rent-seeking hypocrites.”

    Well, we discovered the answer in Virginia’s elections last month. Rent seekers and hunger for power it is.

    The Old Dominion has changed a LOT, some for better some not, since I was born about 20 miles from Charlottesville seven decades past. Culpeper, about 40 miles from Charlottesville, where I entered first grade eons ago was a prosperous looking place when I visited two years ago (good) but they also now have the Salvadoran MS-13 gang in their middle school (not so good).

  22. Michael Powell | November 28, 2020 at 3:36 pm |

    I haven’t worn a white shirt with a suit in almost 30 years. Even when I was wearing a suit (or an odd jacket) to work every day, I wore a white shirt maybe one or twice a month. Otherwise it was usually blue; either solids or work appropriate patterns. I liked the look of the blue with my (beautiful) brown face.

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