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