The following is an expanded article Clothes on Film editor Chris 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.
If The Italian Job (1969) needs any introduction at all it might be possible you’ve been in a coma for the past 40 years. It’s so well known and so well loved that were it not for the fact that no-one has really delved into the sartorial details of Michael Caine’s suits there would be nothing left to talk about. As it happens we have spent time studying and researching The Italian Job for this very purpose; we even got in touch with Caine’s original tailor for the film, Douglas Hayward (now just ‘Hayward’ since he sadly died in 2008) to confirm the particulars on those scalpel sharp suits that still make us drool. Beyond the suits we analyse all of Caine’s Carnaby Street ensembles, including that famous suede reefer coat with rollneck sweater. There is a very good reason why people refer to The Italian Job as the best looking menswear picture of the sixties; because it probably is.
At the time of filming The Italian Job, Doug Hayward was Michael Caine’s regular tailor. Hayward was also Roger Moore’s tailor during the mid 70’s/1980s after he switched from Cyril Castle (Moore moved to the South of France and needed a tailor willing to travel to his home). The Italian Job is not Hayward’s only contribution to cinema during the 1960s, but it is one of his few individual credits. Rental house Bermans is the only other costumer listed.
Hayward suits are Italian influenced while still remaining typically British in finish. The Italian cut came to prominence during the mid-1950s when roomy double breasted suits were the norm. It was a youthful, more body conscious style based around a shorter jacket, narrower legs, suppressed waist and gently sloping shoulders. Supposedly this Roma cut was a reaction to the more diminutive build of Italian man. You can see the Italian effect in Caine’s suits, but due to his stature details like a shorter jacket would have looked ridiculous. Hayward took only what worked, preferring to tailor the man rather than the era. Caine himself described Hayward’s suits as “very close fitting” during a BBC interview, which they were. But there is a big difference between Daniel Craig’s shrunken ensembles in Skyfall and the clean, lean sharpness of Michael Caine’s in the Italian Job. Ask yourself, honestly, whose suits would you rather be seen in now?
The first suit we see Caine wearing as cockney wide boy Charlie Croker is deliberately ill-fitting. He is released from prison in what we are subsequently lead to believe by his tailor’s assistant Adrian is dated enough to be “put in a museum”. The truth is it’s not a bad suit at all, just two sizes too big. Although intentional this idea does not correspond with the script as Croker’s tailor considers he’s “put on a little weight” not lost it:
Dark grey Prince of Wales check suit; single breasted, 2 button fastening jacket with high, narrow notched lapels; light grey or off-white shirt with single cuff.
The suit is acceptable as an everyday item for the tail-end of the sixties, but if young Charlie is going to convince as ‘Lord Croker’ he would have invest in more contemporary attire. Croker’s tailor is played by Henry McKee, though was written in the original script as Doug Hayward (Croker was created with Caine in mind). His subsequent suit is one of Caine’s most admired, which we’ll have to assume was made to measure rather than bespoke to fit the story’s brief timeline:
Dove grey sharkskin suit; single breasted, 3 button fastening, 3 button cuff jacket with high rear vents, and straight flap hip pockets; natural waist flat front trousers, single crease, narrow legs; pale blue Turnbull and Asser shirt with slim and wide blue stripes, high medium spread collar; square gold cufflinks; electric blue silk necktie; black leather belt with gold buckle; black leather Chelsea boots.
This is Croker’s ‘make an impression’ suit. He is himself yet at the same time playing a part. The way director Peter Collinson cuts to the parking garage door sliding up to reveal Caine is one of the best remembered shots of sixties Brit cinema. It fizzes cool like a tall gin and tonic on a summer’s day.
There have been comments across various forums that the jacket’s sleeves seem a trifle short and the closure is half an inch too tight. Matt Spaiser addresses some of these issues with his own superb analysis of the suit, but really it may come down to personal choice. Perhaps this is more a case of a suit fitting where it touches? In that same BBC interview, Caine commented that he would often have several of the same Hayward suits hanging in his wardrobe in different sizes.
Charlie wears the grey suit to collect his Aston Martin, then it is seen briefly outside and in the Royal Lancaster hotel for his generous ‘coming out present’ from girlfriend Lorna (Maggie Blye). Before an amorous meeting with Mrs. Beckerman about the Italian gold heist. All in a day’s work for Croker it seems, who has an understandable reserve of energy after being cooped up at her majesty’s pleasure for five years.
Next we see Croker in a cheerfully dated light brown and lemon trimmed towelling robe watching deceased Beckerman explain details of his robbery on the television.
More excitingly during the ensuing phone call we have a brief introduction to the wonder of Camp Freddie (Tony Beckley). So named for obvious reasons, Freddie’s purple suit, shirt and cravat is our first real indication that this is swinging London. Actually swinging London was past its peak at this point, but the pop look was still mainstream fashionable. We are not certain who made Tony Beckley’s outfits (on the Blu-ray commentary producer Michael Deeley thinks that Doug Hayward made Freddie’s famous pink suit – untrue), though some of his later suits and coats are almost as memorable as Caine’s. Camp Freddie is a strange character. The idea is that he’s camp, as in flamboyant and probably homosexual, yet in a later scene outside a Harley Street dentist, and while wearing a fantastic whale cord reefer, he is quite deliberately eyeing-up passing women in mini-dresses. It’s almost as if we could infer Freddie is gay if we choose, but with homosexuality only decriminalised by two years in the UK, the filmmakers were not keen on making it explicit.
Despite Croker’s pleas, Freddie dismisses his robbery as small fry and hangs up. Croker then breaks back into prison in a black shirt, cravat and sweater to personally convince incarcerated kingpin Mr. Bridger (Noel Coward) to finance his venture. Bridger does not take kindly to being accosted on the throne so sends Freddie and two enforcers round – one of whom is notorious stuntman and ex-bare knuckle boxer Nosher Powell – to teach Croker a lesson. At the same time Lorna has returned home catching him ‘on the job’ so to speak and is dealing out retribution of her own. During this and his (off-screen) beating, Croker wears a most unusual royal blue chenille robe embossed in floral swirls, full length with a draw-cord waist, buttoned Nehru collar and fly front. It was a garment usually worn by women during the sixties, though would now be considered dowdy even in that colour. We only see this robe once anyway, as on surprising approval of the job by Mr. Bridger we enter Charlie Croker’s runway mode:
Air force (academy) blue double breasted blazer in lightweight wool; light blue shirt with fine, darker blue stripes and double cuffs; large gold cufflinks; purple paisley pattern cravat; beige trousers with no pleats.
It is barely possible to make out the details of this outfit as Caine is sitting down with a cat on his lap. Fabric looks to be lightweight wool, maybe tropical due to the wrinkling. A blue blazer would eventually become the signature look for Caine’s much like his friend Roger Moore. It does not say much about Charlie Croker however because we hardly register it. His next ensemble worn when luring tech expert Professor Peach (Benny Hill) into the crew is marginally clearer:
Black cowhide (shiny) leather box jacket, double breasted, hip length, two raglan shoulder seams and slanted hip pockets; white high collar medium spread shirt with wide spaced light brown vertical stripes; Prussian blue diagonal satin weave necktie.
This is a jazzy leather jacket. One detrimental point about Caine’s costumes in The Italian Job is their lack of consistency; his look is all over the place on occasions. It almost seems as though someone else has dressed Croker, which might make sense in the context as it was likely his girlfriend Lorna. Caine’s suits gel exquisitely but the mix and match separates are sometimes over-styled. Croker is not as deliberate as, say, Jack Carter. He is younger, fresher and far more creative.
With Professor Peach on board we have the big meeting when Charlie introduces his ragtag crew to each other (and us). It has to be a Hayward moment and does not disappoint; possibly Caine’s best fitting suit in the whole film…
The second and final part of this post is available to read HERE.
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.