This is part 2 (part 1 HERE) of an expanded article Clothes on Film editor Christopher Laverty wrote for men’s style resource MR PORTER analysing Michael Caine’s suits in The Italian Job. This post covers all the costumes he wore during the film.
We rejoin Charlie and his ragtag crew at the big meeting when the gang are all introduced to each other. It had to be a Doug Hayward moment and thankfully does not disappoint. In actual fact it is probably Michael Caine’s best fitting suit in the whole movie:
Dark blue worsted wool suit; double breasted jacket, wide peaked lapels, 6 on 2 fastening, slanted hip pockets, ticket pocket, high rear vents; white high collar medium spread shirt with double cuffs; narrow leg trousers; white silk necktie.
Odd to wear a white tie out of formal occasion or evening wear, but it works well as part of the ensemble. The colour of the suit if difficult to pin down; it could what is occasionally termed ‘Crayola blue’, though is much darker when backlit against the window. Caine has the height to pull off a high double breasted so it is a pity he does not wear another such suit in The Italian Job. It gives him an aura of the boss. The colour is serious but not sombre, the fit faultless with no indulgence to fashionably tight. He looks like the business. When Croker says “do everything I say” for the first time you are inclined to believe he has it in him. For all that wide boy goofing and charm, Charlie Croker is a leader of men.
Croker’s Carnaby vibe comes into full effect in the flurry of scenes making up the ‘testing phase’ sequence. Thankfully some of these separates would be mixed and repeated thus eliminating the feeling that Caine is a catalogue model in search of a catwalk:
Beige split suede reefer coat, double breasted, tortoiseshell buttons, single vent with set-in waist pockets and what appears to be a male variation on princess seams; mid-grey flat front trousers, narrow leg with a slightly low-waist; white high neck poplin shirt with wide vertical stripes; kipper necktie with thick stripes to exactly match shirt; Burgundy nappa leather gloves with pin-tucking; brown leather belt with curved gold buckle; laurel green suede Beatle boots.
Croker arrives with Lorna at a disused factory as Mr. Bridger’s cars are being modified, which in fact provides our first look at the Mini Coopers used for the getaway. Caine’s shoes may seem to be loafers on first inspection, though they’re actually Beatle boots. Made popular, some say invented by The Beatles, these are similar to Chelsea boots; they’re the same ankle height with a pointed or rounded toe, but have a single side fastening zip instead of two elastic gussets.
We will see the suede coat again when the crew arrive in Italy. Next though is Croker’s most on-trend outfit yet, foreshadowing the influence of ethnically styled hippy clothes that would continue well into the 1970s:
Reddy brown suede waistcoat, hip length, 2 hip pockets with braiding detail, side and shoulder lace fastening and double tie front; slightly lower rise pale beige flat front cotton trousers with single crease; brown leather belt with curved gold buckle; beige and light blue vertical striped shirt (one wide blue stripe followed by four narrower stripes and repeat) with double cuffs; silk cravat in brown and burnt orange paisley with green stars.
The scene outside Croker’s flat in Portobello Road when Freddie visits is probably what many envisage as hip and happening London. Actually it was a heavily dressed street set with stalls, crazy sculptures and bric-a-brac that would be called nostalgic even back then. The clean, youthful fun of the sixties had passed – things were about to get a whole messier. Caine’s costume at the racetrack feels ‘off model’ for his character, yet true to the era. The waistcoat exemplifies hippy, even worn over a double cuff shirt. It’s two fashion worlds colliding with only partial success.
For the most famous scene in the film, we only get to see the very top of Croker’s outfit. Altogether now, “You’re only supposed to blow the bloody doors off!”:
Purple, burnt orange, brown and off-white diagonal striped shirt with matching necktie; beige suede reefer coat.
A stylish outfit in context but would look terribly affected today. Matching shirts and neckties are still worn, though are more effective with florals. That shirt Croker tries on at his tailor’s, and sadly we never seen again, would have been a far better choice.
As Croker and his crew run through the specifics of the job he wears the same waistcoat with a different shirt. Again it’s striped but copper brown featuring wide white stripes and narrower ones in-between, and a cream silk cravat. Cravats were still commonly worn at the end of the sixties and would be for the early part of the next decade. Interestingly as fashion became more experimental in the seventies, cravat and necktie designs actually calmed down somewhat. Although the outrageously fat kipper tie (so named for tailor Michael Fish who popularised it) was everywhere.
Caine dons another flattering double breasted garment at the ‘funeral’ arranged by Mr. Bridger:
Black double breasted Melton wool British Warm overcoat, 6 on 3 fastening, high single vent, epaulettes with buttons to the shoulder, finishing just above the knee; black narrow leg trousers; black shoes; light blue button-down shirt with fine white stripes; plain midnight blue wool necktie.
The British Warm is a military overcoat made from thick Melton wool. It can be any colour, though is usually black or dark blue; it varies in length, sporting wide rounded lapels and shoulder epaulettes. Croker’s version however is lacking leather buttons and buttons at the cuff. The British Warm provokes more interest than a Crombie overcoat, which was hugely popular at the time. It is odd for Croker to choose a casual button-down collar for a funeral, real or otherwise. But this does bestow an air of rebellious youth when as he stands alongside traditionalist Bridger.
(Keep your eyes peeled for Camp Freddie in the funeral scene; he looks as sharp, if not sharper than Croker. If demand is high enough we will publish a follow-up post about him too)
There is just a glimpse at Croker’s next ensemble while waving his crew onto the cross-channel ferry:
Light beige trench coat worn over shoulders, thigh length in gabardine or cotton drill, with storm flap to collar and belt; suede reefer coat; cream lambswool rollneck sweater; burgundy leather gloves.
This is a fairly classic trench even if it does lack wrist straps. Judging by the half-lining the coat could be an Aquascutum. With it slung nonchalantly over Caine’s shoulders, we wonder if this coat was a last minute addition due to the inclement weather in Dover.
When arriving in Italy the sun is shining, Quincy Jones’ instrumental version of Days like These floats gently in the background, and Croker has quite rightly abandoned the trench coat. Soon, after the crew splits into different directions, Croker encounters the Italian Mafia staked out on the hills of the Alps. We know they are the Mafia because of the black suits, fedoras, white shirts, black ties and Tommy guns. It is not a realistic interpretation of the organisation but unfortunately one that lasted in cinema.
Mafia leader Altabani (Raf Vallone) is spot-on in terms of Italian trends. His suit is shinier and flashier than anything Croker would choose. It is a profoundly jingoistic, basically racist comment on those villainous, greasy Italians. Thankfully the film is silly enough that no-one took offence.
Croker keeps on the same suede reefer, rollneck and cotton trousers to sabotage the electricity power station. It might have been an opportunity for a costume change, but actually works better as a contrast to the smug Americans and Italians in their tuxedos toasting the British failure. It’s the scruffy, plucky Brits giving them the finger. Freddie on the other hand will not be scruffy for anyone. He breaks into the traffic control centre wearing a garishly patterned silk scarf. Of course he does.
Caine’s next outfit worn when seeing Lorna off at Turin airport is another Doug Hayward; some would say his most famous ever. It certainly holds up today as a timeless example of sixties Brit tailoring. Frankly if you can’t look good in this suit, you will never look good:
Beige linen single breasted suit; 3 horn button fastening, slanted hip pockets, high notched lapels with single heavy needle stitch, high double vents, single button cuff with no flare; flat front trousers, narrow leg, worn slightly below the natural waist; white high collar medium spread shirt with light gold-brown vertical stripes, double cuff; round gold and onyx cufflinks; burgundy silk pocket square printed with darker brown and purple pattern (possibly paisley), folded in single point style; cream necktie with reoccurring dark brown stamp pattern; brown leather belt with curved gold buckle; chestnut brown slip-on leather shoes; Yvan tortoiseshell frame sunglasses with light brown tinted lenses.
This suit is almost perfect. Sure, it is very narrow and the trousers are a tad low. Plus the left lapel sits up slightly making it seem a mite untidy, also implying fused but Doug Hayward’s suits were never fused. Really to nitpick is to miss the point; this is what we think of when we think of a sixties suit. It is the epitome of the era and the epitome of Caine. It is cool precisely because it’s not perfect. As always with a Hayward suit it helps to be tall, but he could easily make an occasionally flabbly man like Caine lose six pounds instantly. Incidentally the sunglasses seem to be based on Caine’s prescription pair worn for The Ipcress File in 1965.
This is the last Hayward suit Croker wears before donning his blue flightsuit and badminton shoes for the heist. He adds leather gloves after the airport for a final pep talk with his crew. We get a glimpse of what looks to be beige silk socks as he marches around pointing his finger and barking instructions. The linen is more evident here too, those telltale creases on the legs (thighs) and shoulders. Just to be this presentable the suit probably required several presses during however many days it took to shoot the final scenes. Linen is supposed to crease, it’s characteristic of the fabric, but onscreen, and especially in a close fitting cut, it can appear unavoidably shabby after a while.
From this point on the story becomes all about the robbery and Mini getaway. Sartorially the finest moments of The Italian job have now passed. Yet whereas the Mini has rather unfortunately become a rose-tinted cliché of the era, Doug Hayward’s suits refuse to date. Shirt collar height has dipped, tie width has narrowed, and waistlines have dropped, but the silhouette itself, so empowering and lean, remains as coveted today as it ever was.
Read further details of The Italian Job suits in this article at MR PORTER.
NOTE: Images have been screencapped from Blu-Ray and cropped to better highlight the costumes.
© 2014, Lord Christopher Laverty.