Warning: LONG ASS BLOG POST
It’s not everyday that a film takes place in the 1930’s, but when there is, we’ve definitely gotta talk about the fashion!
Recently, Spencer, Blake, and I watched the film “Murder on the Orient Express”. Directed (and starring) Sir Kenneth Branagh. I’m not really a cinephile, so I haven’t seen the previous Silver Screen versions of Agatha Christie’s book; this film was my first ever foray into this classic mystery story. Since it takes place in the 1930’s it has a special significance to us, since that’s the period we tend to dress as when we’re wearing suits. I haven’t done a film-style article like this since La La Land (which was the first).
Now for those of you who don’t know the story, I’ll summarize it (or you can read wikipedia, but beware spoilers). Set in 1934, the film follows the renowned Belgian Detective Hercule Poiroit. After completing a job in Jerusalem, he intends to take a vacation but is soon interrupted when he is called back to London for a case. Thanks to his connection with the director of the line, he is able to secure a ticket on the Orient Express, a luxury passenger rail service. He intends to treat his three day journey as a mini-vacation but when an avalanche derails the train and a passenger is found murdered, he sets out to solve the case. Given that the murderer has nowhere to escape, everyone on the train is a suspect.
As a period film that takes place in the 1930’s, you can expect some vintage style form the cast. I can’t speak for the women’s attire (it looked good to me) but we can analyze the men’s fashion (which has good vintage-inspired pieces). Unfortunately, there aren’t a lot of good screenshots of the film’s clothing, so there’s going to be some missing outfits until I can get a home copy of the film.
The costumes were designed by Alexandra Bryne, who has designed for such films like Hamlet (1996) and Finding Neverland. According to an interview in Vanity Fair (which you can read here), 90% of the costumes were made by hand, from scratch. This is why I say it’s more vintage-inspired as only a few pieces were actually vintage. While the suits could pass for 30’s to the normal eye, a closer inspection will see that there are subtle design changes (lapel shape, button stance, especially the fabric). However, Byrne states that they weren’t going for a straight reproduction. From the Vanity Fair article: “We wanted a total sense of period, but also a bit of modernity to the clothes,” she says; making them by hand also helped them avoid anything too costume-y.
I’ve gotta admit though, they did a great job capturing the sense of the 1930’s. Obviously it’s got a “2017 does 1930s” vibe to it, but it’s definitely a lot better than most attempts to do some period costuming (the Live by Night attire is not good). Below, we’re going to go over some of the outfits worn by the men of the film.
Hercule Poirot, the great detective, is dressed in a pretty great 1930’s-inspired 3PC suit with features like a peak lapel, lapeled-DB vest, and pleated trousers. According to this Hollywood Reporter article, Bryne calls this an evening suit. Personally, I don’t think it is, since evening wear at the time was a tuxedo (morning dress or a stroller suit is different), so this looks like a just another navy (or black?) 3PC suit. If you look at at this American “youth-model” suit from 1937, you’ll see that the design is quite close: both jackets are 2-button with horizontal peak lapels and the trousers have a high-rise and feature forward pleats (reverse pleats are more American). You can also compare it to what Dege & Skinner cutter Alex Hills wore during my trip to London (detail shot here). However, Poirot’s suit lacks the boldly roped shoulders, which I don’t think is a bad thing. The resultant look is slightly less elegant but also less “dated”.
The outfit certainly fits in with his dandy character. Three piece suits are certainly more formal than two piece ones and the DB waistcoat adds that sense of aristocracy to the character, since historically those waistcoats evoke traditional morning and evening wear. Film’s don’t really have these fussy characters anymore, who are immaculate dressers and yet aren’t too odd (Mordecai comes to mind, though it’s got terrible style).
As far as I know, and as far as the promo shots and still will let me, I think that Poirot maintains the same suit for a majority of the film. I know he does have an outfit in the Jerusalem cold open and one when he boards the train (a very similar suit, only in gray check), but I think that he wears the same suit and changes his shirt and tie.
On the subject of shirt and tie, I really like how they included a detachable contrast collar shirt. You can see this detail in the “disheveled” picture above, where you can faintly make out the collar stud (which is removable, unliked an actual button); you can see it more clearly in the film proper. For those of you who don’t know, detachable collars were used by the upper class during the 1920s-1930s. While rich people certainly had a lot of clothing, it would save water and time by simply buying collars (which retains sweat) and washing/replacing them while keeping the shirt intact. White collars were pretty standard, as white is the symbol for “clean”, and could be used with a variety of striped shirts (though same color/pattern collars were also used during this time). Poirot wears striped shirts underneath his detachable collars, which were definitely en vogue at the time. Hell, we were striped shirts all the time here on this blog!
I do have a small issue with the shape of the collar. It’s pretty modern in shape, which again makes sense since they weren’t going for straight period-accurate costuming. However, it still is much too long, as you can see when you compare it to the French 1930’s catalog below. Personally, I would have put him in a club collar or even wing collar shirt to emphasize his “fanciness” and place the film firmly in the vintage era. Though I will admit, collar styles were artisanal back in the day with different variations and lengths; perhaps there is an actual 1930’s one with Poirot’s exact dimensions!
I’m particularly happy that they gave Poirot nice printed silk ties. The designs aren’t too 30’s, but they certainly get the job done. They really remind me of Kenji Kaga’s ties of Sevenfold/Tie Your Tie, made of a nice silk with small repeated patterns. As you know, wearing a striped shirt with a patterned tie is the key for a vintage 1920s-140s look. However, they could have gone with an extremely affordable true vintage tie to make the look a bit more interesting. Upscale ties of the era were made of beautiful brocade (or jacquard) silk and featured abstract swirls and designs; foulards and stripes were “regular” ties, made for the business and working class. With that said, designs similar to Poirot’s tie weren’t uncommon at all.
You can read more about why vintage ties are cool by checking out this article.
Mr. Ratchett, played by Johnny Depp, is an American mobster and art forger. Depp is no stranger to period films where he plays a gangster, as he’s done Public Enemies a few years ago. Honestly, I prefer Depp’s look in Public Enemies, as he wears spearpoint collar shirts and 3PC vintage suits; his outfit here in Murder is a little odd. Throughout the film, Rachett is seen in a two piece 4×1 DB suit, point collar shirt, and a cravat.
According to the Vanity Fair article, Bryne says that they approached Rachett as an American living abroad. His clothes are “American in origin” while his shirts are silk, copied for him somewhere in Europe. I can’t really tell either of that stuff, since a 4×1 DB wasn’t really all that common the USA in the 1930’s. Most of the time, it was a 4×2 with both buttons being able to fasten.
As I’ve stated before, button spacing is extremely important on a vintage suit. Buttons have gotten narrower over the years and are a sign of a more modern design. Vintage ones of the 1920s-1940s are pretty wide set (5-6 inches apart) and were done to emphasize the lines of the lapel as well as point toward the waist suppression of the drape cut. Double breasted jackets with a narrow stance result in too much exposed “chest” of the jacket front and make someone look wider than they are. You can see the vintage design and slim nature of wide set buttons on the picture of the Duke of Windsor below. Mr. Rachett’s suit looks more 1980’s than 1930’s as a result.
Ratchett wears a weird tie/ascot/cravat thing. According to Spencer, this was a specific tie that was supposedly worn by gangsters in the 1920’s-30s. We haven’t seen any period examples, but it showed up on Boardwalk Empire. It honestly looks like he was tying a tie and forgot to put the front blade through the knot loop, finished off with a tie bar placed extremely high. It’s probably more for showing off than for actual function. I’m not sure if these choices were intentional, making a Ratchett into a man who doesn’t care about conventional style rules. I haven’t read the book, so perhaps there’s more characterization there.
Edit: According to some friends, this tie knot is called an Onassis knot, worn by the Greek shipping magnate, Aristotle Onassis. I’ll let you form your own opinion on it.
Another interesting part of Mr. Rachett’s wardrobe is his leather trenchcoat, worn when the passengers board the train. It’s vaguely 1970’s looking but certainly period accurate; Byrne says that this coat was one of the few pieces that was actually vintage. I’m not all too familiar with the use of leather trenchcoats back in the day (most guys opted for wool overcoats or actual gabardine trench coats), but we call them barnstormer coats in the vintage community, since they were worn by pilots to keep warm. Given Depp’s penchant for vintage clothing, it’s possible he brought the piece from home!
MacQueen, played by Josh Gad, is Mr. Rachett’s assistant. Since he’s an assistant to a gangster, his outfit isn’t as sharp or flashy, but I personally like it better. Throughout the film, MacQueen wears a dope three piece plaid suit in that distinctive vintage-looking green/brown color with burgundy checks. It’s a non-rolled three button suit, but that was pretty common through the 1920s-40s; not everything was ivy!
I think it’s kinda cool that they were able to show off some pizazz with MacQueen but make it very clear that he is under Mr. Ratchett.
He doesn’t do the “Ethan special” of a striped shirt, but MacQueen keeps things interesting with a micropatterned shirt with a subtle spearpoint collar (with a collar bar). The entire look is something straight out of the Street x Sprezza rulebook. You might think that micropatterns are a more modern thing, but trust me, we had them back in the day. I even wore a true vintage one to Dapper Day a few years ago.
I’ve gotta say that the suit is designed almost perfectly as a vintage-inspired piece. The lapels are wide with an appropriate notch (though the edges are not as blunted as I’d like, the button spacing is good, the front quarters are slightly squared, and he actually wears high rise trousers! The waistcoat is cut a little too high, but we’re getting nitpicky at this point. It’s a great suit cut from a wonderful fabric. Hell, I’d wear it.
Professor Gerthard Hardman
Professor Hardman (Willem Dafoe) wins for the most interesting outfit from the bunch. European suits have usually been more creative and “odd” when compared to their American counterparts, so it makes sense that Hardman (an Austrian) gets something cool to wear. Hardman wears a tweed full-belt sport suit with an odd vest, club collar shirt, and knit tie. I’m not sure if the suit is true vintage or simply made from scratch, but it’s pretty impressive.
You might recognize the belted and patch pocketed design from english Norfolk jackets but there are a few differences. Most notably, German designs lacked the “vertical belts” and instead opted for a horizontal yolk that goes around the front and back of the jacket. Sometimes these yolks would have pleats (either shallow or deep) that could even be a pocket.
I’ve gotta say that I really loved the direction they went with Hardman. Instead of making him a stereotypical professor (tweed, waistcoat, etc), Byrne did her research and gave him a really obscure vintage German garment. It really made Hardman unique. In fact, every character certainly had a distinct look, which makes for an enjoyable watch for a menswear nerd.
Tom Bateman’s Bouc is the owner of the train and Poirot’s only real friend during the events of the film. He is the only one of the cast to wear a proper double breasted suit and does it well. I can’t really see closely, but it seems to be a simple 3PC grey (or lightly checked) DB suit with horizontal peak lapels and roped shoulders. The button spacing is still an issue, as it appears to be too narrow for a 30’s suit, but it’s not a huge deal. The horizontal lapels already give it a “dated” look that I can get behind.
At least Bouc follows the Ethan rule: striped shirts and patterned ties. His shirt has a multistripe, which reminds me of 1920’s shirts (but also 90’s shirts kinda) but it’s still pretty cool. Again, a spearpoint would have been good here (as he isn’t as dandy as Poirot), but the shirt collar works for the film’s modern interpretation of 1930’s attire.
Bouc is also seen wearing a double breasted overcoat which also suffers from narrow buttoning stance when you compare it to its vintage counterparts. It’s also in a grey wool that blends in too much with his suit; I would’ve preferred to see some color here, like a navy blue or brown. Either way, the man has a pretty great ensemble and works well in the film.
Dr. Arbuthnot is one cool dresser. Played by Leslie Odom Jr. of Hamilton fame, he is first seen wearing a three button peak lapel suit (not rolled) with an odd waistcoat (odd here meaning a separate). As he is British, you’ll notice that his trousers have forward pleats instead of reverse ones, which again is a great detail done by the costume designer. Interestingly, he has a small patterned pocket square in a puff fold, which I haven’t seen a lot of during the era; most guys wore the “exploding pocket” square.
In this headshot, you can see that his suit has a very, very narrow stripe which I believe is uncommon for the era. While most fabrics of the 1920s-1940s weren’t all that plain (some had flecks or texture at the least), most striped suits were wider. The fabric does look vintage, but it looks more like something from the 70’s if I’m being honest. It’s not bad, but I definitely prefer wider stripes.
I think that Dr. Arbuthnot has the best shirt out of all the characters because it’s much more subtle. It’s white with a faint red stripe that allows it to be worn with pretty much anything. It’s not bold like Poirot’s nor is it multistriped like Bouc’s. I also want to point out that his shirt appears to be sanfordized or “starched”. it appears to be slightly stiff, as he is a doctor, a few rungs on the societal scale below the dandy Poirot and the rich Bouc. With a dotted silk tie in a four-in-hand, the good doctor has a smashing outfit. However, I’m not too fond of the shiny dotted vest.
For the events of the murder, Dr. Arbuthnot actually wears a different suit, one that is much more in line with the 1930’s. It’s another 3-button suit, this time with notch lapels (in a similar shape to MacQueen) and even features triple pleated patch pockets. You can faintly see the pleated breast pocket in the screenshot above. Remember that small sartorial details are classic elements of Golden Era clothing and just make a suit much more interesting.
And his suit has an action back! This pleat near the armhole is called a bi-swing, and you mainly see it on leather jackets. Basically, it allows more forward movement of the arm so that you don’t tear the back of your jacket. Seeing it on suits is particularly rare, which makes most belt backs fetch expensive prizes when you do see them on eBay or Etsy. As far as I know, SJC is the only one who makes belt back suits with an original 1930’s pattern, but they’re unfortunately all sold out!
Dr. Arbuthnot is a fantastic dresser and his outfits are the perfect blend of vintage and contemporary style. It’s proof that details definitely make that vintage look and can still be worn today, when done correctly.
Marquez, a jovial car salesman is played by Manuel Garcia-Rulfo. In contrast with the other characters we’ve seen so far, Marquez is actually dressed in a double breasted suit. It has four buttons like Ratchett’s, but it has the “normal” 4×2 configuration; basically, it lacks the decorative, non-fastening breast buttons. The suit is cut from a wonderful puppytooth fabric that is probably the most vintage looking of the bunch.
I’m not sure when the sleazy car salesman uniform (with the plaid jacket) started, but I definitely like how they added a small nod to it by adding in the odd guncheck waistcoat. It’s not inherently car salesman-esque, but it’s a nice “fun” touch to set Marquez apart from the more “proper” style of his fellow passengers. Though it’s not all too common to wear a waistcoat with a DB, since you don’t see it when the jacket is closed.
He’s also the only character who wears a soft collar shirt (looks like oxford or some cotton with an interesting weave) and a bowtie. The entire combo is a relaxed considering the setting, but still a good look. One small nitpick: I think the patterns utilized (the bowtie, shirt, suit, and pocket square) are all too close to be worn together.
Count Andrenyi (Sergei Polunin) is sort of an enigma character, first introduced to us by punching a paparazzo who attempted to take his picture. He isn’t seen too often in the film, but he presents us with with what youth “high-fashion” would be like in the 1930s. In his initial appearance in the train station bar, he wears a double breasted 4×2 dinner jacket (with patch pockets, no less) with tuxedo trousers and a black bowtie. This may be my least favorite look from the film as it looks too similar to what you’d see on a waiter. Hell, I didn’t even know he was a Count until later in the film! Perhaps he was in disguise?
He is later seen dining wearing one of the most badass jackets I’ve ever seen: a two-tone zip jacket with chest pockets. It reminds me of European ski wear (guys definitely wore some form of tailoring when doing this snow activity), but I unfortunately have no real examples that look close to it. The only thing I have is Dave Himel (of Himel Bros.) wearing a similarly made leather jacket. Still dope.
We later see him wearing an incredibly dressed-down ensemble consisting of a dressing gown/robe and a t-shirt. Plain tee shirts (that weren’t striped or had words/graphics) were seen as underwear during this time, so it’s not really an outfit so much as it is his form of pajamas. Instead of a just a plain weave shirt, I like that the costumers gave the Count a shirt with an interesting knit pattern. These ribbed shirts were common back in the day, both as underwear and as regular t shirts.
Masterman is Ratchett’s butler and wears the same thing in almost every scene, per his uniform. Interestingly they gave him a black 3PC suit with a normal necktie and collar. I expect that this is used to give it a “modern” look, as most butlers in period films sport a wing collar. However, this may not be entirely accurate, considering the snapshot below of a butler in a 30’s film; there are always exceptions to the rule, and I’m sure that Byrne found real life inspirations for her decisions.
There’s not much to say about Masterman other than he looks sharp in his suit. I’m not a huge fan of black suits (as they only go with white), but they certainly make for a stoic look. Fits in with the attitude that butlers (or valets?) are supposed to have.
Alexandra Byrne did a great job when she dressed the men in Murder on the Orient Express (2017). Obviously not all of the pieces are vintage or created from vintage patterns, but the vibes are certainly all there. It’s one of the few films out there that are able to create it’s own original wardrobe that call to the past in a tasteful way.
I’m particularly impressed with the use of striped shirts and patterned ties and I hope that more people understand that it literally is a shortcut to having vintage style. The fact that high rise trousers were abundant was also a good sign of attention to detail. Bonus points for Poirot’s DB waistcoat and Dr. Arbuthnot’s belted back suit with pleated patch pockets. You seldom encounter these garments in films or the real world, so it’s nice to see it for once. My main nitpick would have been to look at the buttoning stance, as it is a detail that makes something look vintage; however as I stated before, they weren’t going for a straight period costume, so it’s negligible.
One last thing to keep in mind is that Bryne went with a lot of subdued colors (mainly earth tones) for a majority of the cast. Browns, greys, and blues with some accents in greens and burgundies were present in the attire, which also make for a vintage look. Today, most suits are much too saturated with bright blues, so it’s nice to see coloring done right. Plus, I know I’ve stated that brown suits in general just look vintage since men tend to wear blue, black, and charcoal as their go-to suit colors. I’m glad that they didn’t give everyone a pinstripe suit and say “there we go, it’s vintage now”.
You can see Kenneth Branagh’s Murder on the Orient Express in all major theaters! It was a fun film and a great one to see if you’re a clothing nerd like me. Also, quick shout out to moviepass, since I saw it for “free” with Spencer and Blake.
Always a pleasure,
Street x Sprezza