In many ways Argo is a love letter to the 1970s; through genre, production design, hair and make-up, and especially costume. This is a vivid reconstruction of the era by costume designer Jacqueline West (The Social Network, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button) complete with flares, kipper ties and silk scarves, yet it never strays into parody Anchorman territory.
Director and star Ben Affleck’s intelligence agent Tony Mendez is dressed throughout in pseudo cowboy attire: high-waist boot-cut jeans, big buckle belt, Cuban heel boots and sports jacket. He is the enigmatic stranger who strolls into town and solves everybody’s problems and then leaves the lonely hero. Argo’s sartorial standout is without doubt the sports jacket. Initially in corduroy and then tweed, it becomes Affleck’s uniform; always wide lapels and with plenty of drape, the 1970s sports jacket is a timeless look, and when teamed with jeans is symbolic of the book-smart action man.
As CIA agent Tony Mendez, Ben Affleck favours a light grey and mid-blue herringbone tweed sports jackets. He also wears a corduroy version early in the film (before arriving in Tehran) and his dark poly-mix suit coat with jeans.
The sports jacket is derived from a tweed suit that was used for hunting during the Victorian era. There would have been leather patches on the jacket elbows and on the shoulders to rest the butt of a rifle. It did not take long for the hunting jacket to be used as the commonplace sporting jacket, pretty much an early tracksuit top, and by the 1920s its function had chiefly been replaced by fashion, though traditional hunting attire continued to be worn for some decades yet. During the 1970s after years languishing as lecturer’s attire, the tweed sports jacket suddenly became cool again, partly thanks to Robert Redford wearing one in conspiracy thriller Three Days of the Condor in 1975. Born was the no-nonsense, screw your rules action man who thanks to the tweed jacket and its suggestion of academia had the brains to see his plan through.
All of cinema’s most memorable heroes and anti-heroes have their own costume iconography: John McClane has his vest in Die Hard, 007 his tux, The Bride in Kill Bill her bright yellow tracksuit. Often this costume functions as a visual characteristic of his or her personality. Sometimes the intention is ironic, such as the cosy cardigan worn by Tom Hardy as tough bootlegger Forrest Bondurant in Lawless. Other times there is a parallel, like Indiana Jones’ battered fedora that has seen just as many miles as its similarly well worn owner. For Tony Mendez in Argo, a tweed sports jacket is his iconography. In fact this jacket becomes such a familiar sight in the film that when he wears a sheepskin coat during the final scenes it is clear his character his gone through a significant emotional arc. He is now ready to leave his CIA uniform behind and embrace a civilian existence.
Subtle touches by Jacqueline West include Tate Donovan’s (pictured above with Affleck) costume-within-a-costume as the director of fake sci-fi movie Argo. He sports wide open collars and cravat, formally artistic wear for those in the business and subsequently replaced by a wool scarf and/or baseball cap in recent years.
Costume is not fashion, yet we take what we see on screen and carry it through our everyday lives. It is a leap to presume that Ben Affleck wearing a sports jacket will revitalise a whole industry, but in truth tweed has already never been trendier. Routinely chosen by hipsters with a bow tie and mustard trousers, the tweed sports jacket is now symbolic of nerd chic. In 1970s/early 80’s set films such as Argo we can appreciate the tweed sports jacket within its natural habit – accompanied by denim, a big beard and optional drinking problem.
The is an updated transcript taken from Clothes on Film editor Chris Laverty’s segment on BBC Radio 4’s The Film Programme discussing the distinctive late 1970s styling of Ben Affleck’s character in Argo. The BBC podcast version can be streamed or downloaded HERE.
You can watch Robert Redford in Three Days of the Condor at LOVEFiLM.com.
© 2012 – 2013, Christopher Laverty.