The Menswear in Knives Out (2019)

Just as Benoit Blanc arrives at the truth as if by looking for the “terminus of gravity’s rainbow”, you probably expected me to analyze the menswear in this fun movie.

And by the way TLJ/Rian Johnson haters can fuck off; he’s great!

It’s been a while since we’ve had a fun mystery movie.  Sure, I enjoyed Murder on The Orient Express, but it was a bit mediocre, leaning on it’s big Hollywood budget a little too much.  And yes, there have been a few thrillers with great twists (Girl With the Dragon Tattoo comes to mind as a similar mystery-thriller), but nothing with the fun and charm of Knives Out.

Directed and written by Rian Johnson of TLJ fame, this film aims to be a bit of a nod and subversion to the typical murder-mystery movie, complete with tropes and twists used to great effect, which some comedy thrown in; it reminds me of Horrible Bosses or Game Night in that same vein. I’m definitely not a serious guy (as many of you can already tell by the numerous dumb pictures I take) so fun movies are where I spend my cinematic time.  In fact, it usually puts me at a contrast to most other menswear heads who skew toward being film buffs in some regard.

I can’t get enough of this film, because it was so damn enjoyable.  The premise is simple: Harlan Thrombey, a patriarch of a rich WASP-y family and mystery book writer, has been found dead, seemingly of a suicide the day after his birthday.  His family, maid, and nurse were the only ones who last saw him alive, during his birthday party.  The local police are already on the case, but “gentleman sleuth” Benoit Blanc (as Southern as it gets) has been mysteriously hired to consult on the case.  Lies, clues, and quirky lines pepper the rest of the movie, making for a fun genre-savvy film that has been missing from catalogs in recent years.

Being a bit of a throwback film, the costuming is well done.  It’s not exactly Sherlock Holmes or as campy as say Cluebut the nods are all there.  According to this Digital Spy article, this was exactly the point: to make each character look distinctive but modern.  I think that Johnson and his costumer Jenny Eagan accomplished that!

It’s a good article that goes into the basics of their attire, but you know that I like to delve deeper. And unlike most of the other reviews I’ve done, this one doesn’t have vintage precedent!

Harlan Thrombey

Harlan, played by the venerable Christopher Plummer, is the kind yet stern (at least to his kids), head of the Thrombey family.  He lives in a big East Coast house filled with eccentricities and made a fortunate and a publishing empire based on his mystery writing, making him a perfect target for a murder.

Despite being the figure head for a WASP family, his clothing isn’t as ivy-trad in the as you’d think.  His “main costume”, which you can find in posters or even painted in-universe as a portrait, is a windowpane sportcoat, striped spread collar, and golden paisley tie.  It comes off more so as a “businessman” echoing Hannibal or Mordecai, but I’m not surprised, as both of those outfits were popular (I guess?) earlier this decade.  Perhaps it certainly influences societies views on what a “well dressed man” looked like. I will say that as a guy living in LA, I have definitely seen wealthy men dress similarly.

Luckily for us menswear enthusiasts, the choices aren’t as horrid as they are in other media. More specifically, the tie knot isn’t fucking huge and the windowpane is rather tasteful!

Since Harlan is the victim, we don’t see him in other outfits. There are a few flashbacks to him during the party (which I can’t remember unfortunately) and some to set up the overall story (he’s usually in a robe being taken care of by his nurse Marta), but the one outfit that stood out to me was the one pictured above, when he’s calling out his son-in-law.

In classic fall attire, he wears a nice plaid tweed jacket that has quite a bold check.  Props to Eagan again for giving his wardrobe character without going full Hannibal! The two greens (or is the dark one brown) pair very well together, giving it an almost English like appearance; maybe it should’ve joined WM Brown on that Royal Scotsman tour.

The one thing I don’t like in this outfit is the use of a pink checked shirt with a contrast cutaway collar.  Shirts like this not only look bad sans tie but they are also a more formal style of shirt; tweed is “casual” on the menswear spectrum, so the combination doesn’t really go. Perhaps Harlan was in business attire and put on the tweed when he got home, akin to how smoking jackets were made as “homewear” back in the day.

It’s a shame that we didn’t get to see ivy-trad done well (especially as a nod to being a WASP) but that’s okay! The choices for Harlan are defintely more modern and appropriate for the time period (the present day); I can’t remember the last time I saw someone outside the menswear industry do something ivy-trad.

Benoit Blanc

Benoit Blanc is the super sleuth of the film and has pretty sharp attire throughout the film.  According to that article I linked, he originally was going to wear a linen suit, akin to the stereotype of the Southern Gentleman he is, but it ultimately wouldn’t have worked in the film (especially since it seems to take place in the fall).  Instead, Blanc just wears a “tweed” (it definitely looks like flannel to me) suit in muted colors, specifically grey and green.

Despite being much less bold than Harlan, Benoit has a few details that set him apart from the other cops, who are also in suits.  The first thing is that everything seems to be well tailored; its clear that Benoit likes suits for personal style, carrying himself confidently.

His character seems anachronistic, which is probably the point, and as a result, he has a few classic (or even vintage) details present on his suit.  His trousers are decently high,  feature an extended tab closure, has a decent cuff/turn-up, and while they don’t have pleats, Blanc relies on braces to keep his trousers up.  The jacket seems to be cut like a sack jacket, with soft shoulders and what could be  3-roll-2 closure (though on second watch, it’s probably just two button); there’s even patch pockets!

Benoit brandishes a pocket square (something that’s mostly missing from suit wearers) but his “flashy-ness” comes through in his tie. In every occasion we see him, he’s wearing a floral-ish print tie that is actually fairly muted, which blends in softly with his dark  suit.  It’s almost as if Blanc knows how much of a trope he is and took a few steps to blend in, allowing himself only to show dandyism through the tie.

I would’ve preferred something a bit different like a Macclesfield or a foulard, but that might have been a bit too vintage for the film.  I just always think floral ties of any kind scream mid 2010s dapperbro; it’s good that the one Blanc wears is much more subtle, almost echoing the paisley’s sold by Drake’s.

 

Blue socks, matching the tones of his shirt, the design in his tie, and those damn eyes.

Okay, the jacket definitely looks like tweed here. My bad.

One thing I really enjoyed was the use of a point collar that almost has the hints of a spearpoint.  In a world where most well dressed men in pop culture are seen wearing spread or cutaways, it’s nice to see something different for once!  They look kinda worn and lived in, a cool touch in film costuming since most things in movies look new.

The longer points and subtle curve help anchor in Blanc’s anachronistic nature of a gentleman sleuth, perhaps as a symbol of genre-savvyness.  Blanc doesn’t share my penchant for foulards and collar bars, but he clearly has a taste for old school style. As Brucey-Boy has wrote before, the long collars actually have a comforting slouch to them; they aren’t as formal as people thing they are, especially if they’re made soft.  instead of ending perpendicular to the jacket’s lapel, they follow the V-line to the buttoning point, making for a nice, simple harmony.  You’ll also note that the points envelop the tie knot, however slightly.  It’s old school, but cool and natural.

You can see them flop around a bit during the course of the film!  I wondered if they actually were from Drake’s but upon closer look realized that the style was totally different as the Drake’s ones have more tie space and more of a roll.  I hope more people get into them (as people have been inspired by film style since the dawn of the medium) because I find them much more superior to most other collars.

It’s best if you just think of them as an OCBD without the buttons; the shape is nearly identical, especially in Blanc’s examples.

Great collar shape. Looks like the shirt may be oxford!

Great utilitarian use of tucking in the tie.  Also note the retro style “Y” button attachments rather than the more common “U” shape.

 

Not a fan of that tie.

Lastly, we have Blanc’s overcoat.  It’s light brown in color, contrasting against his dark suit, and features a fuzzy oversized herringbone.  Thankfully, it’s not as dramatic as the one’s Cucumber Sherlock or even Scamander’s, but it helps that Blanc isn’t posed to be some sexy, rail-thin fandom headliner (though I’d love if there were more mysteries featuring this character). It comes off as utilitarian and that’s all; there’s no need to push up the oversized collars and say some dramatic one liner.

The design is simple: three four buttons with a nice raglan sleeve for comfort. Patch pockets would’ve been a good move, perhaps to echo the suit, but flaps are just fine! My only criticism is that the coat should be longer to be even more functional, as short length ones come off as too “fashion-y”.  But like with most things, it’s perfectly fine for the film. I’m just being picky.

Normal plain suit, shirt, and tie for the detective.

The detective looks much more put-together than the State Trooper, who has a sloppy OCBD.

Hugh “Ransom” Drysdale

Ransom, played by the Cap himself, is a fun character.  He’s the typical rich heir asshole of the film (grandson to Harlan) and dresses like one.  Even though the details have changed slightly, it’s definitely a shoutout to Kanye West, who popularized the look of the camel coat, cream cable knit sweater, and slim pants for many young men around the world.  Funnily enough, I associate the look with douchebags from my college, so it works in the costumer’s favor for Ransom.

For most of the film, Ransom wears variations of this “uniform”.   I would be very surprised if they gave him skinny black jeans and chelsea boots, but I guess Eagan was smart enough not to make him look like a SuFu poster in 2014.  To give him more of a rich white boy nod, Ransom has grey pinstripe trousers (worn like jeans) and the dreaded bit loafers.  A jaunty scarf is used for extra flair (which I believe gets called out in the film) and was especially noticed because it is most definite-qui a Drake’s scarf.

Overall, great costuming for this dick of a character.

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Interesting to see how ratty his cable knit sweater is a a bit ratty, perhaps echoing the wear on Blanc’s collars.  The sweater itself was the subject to many a thirst tweet, but I must admit that it looks damn good.

Walt Thrombey

Walt is Harlan’s youngest son and is played by the Michael “I Will Find Him” Shannon.  This is where we get some white-dad style. Throughout the film, you’ll see him in this argyle crew neck sweater worn over checked shirt.   He’s a bit hip, so he wears an Apple Watch and  dons slim-straight 5-pocket chinos instead of dumpy khakis; camp mocs help anchor in that WASP style.

He has an elegant dark brown walking cane to support a cast-clad food (of which the film provides no explanation), which is probably there to show that he can’t support himself (a common theme for the Thrombey’s).

In the flashback party scenes, Walt actually dresses up in true Ethan style.  It’s hard to spot (and there are no screenshots of it at the moment), but he wears a chambray/denim shirt with a knit tie and a corduroy jacket. It’s a sharp yet casual look and I’m surprised they put him in it! It’s still definitely tough to see good “sartorial” outfits in non-period films.

Cord jacket with flapped patch pockets!

Jacob Thrombey

It wouldn’t be a rich white family with out that prep-school kid!  Jacob is Walt’s son and not much is known about him other than the fact that he’s an alt-right internet troll. You could have put him in any random outfit and give him the same lines, but I love that the costumers used this clothing to give him some more character.

Like most prep school kids, Jacob’s uniform consists of a blue OCBD, repp tie, traditional blazer, and khakis; like his father, boat shoe/mocs are the shoe of choice.  He’s in this outfit for most of the film, but he can be seen rocking a tennis sweater and pink gingham OCBD in true prep fashion.  Maybe it shows that he embraces the stereotypical look!

Tennis sweater!  Note that Walt is now wearing a cable knit sweater.

 

Richard Drysdale

If Walt represents the “Brooks Brothers”, toned-down WASP dad look, then Richard has the “flashier” wealthy dad look.  I like to think of this as what the Midtown Uniform finance bros would wear once they reached 45+ years of age and became fathers.

Instead of the Patagonia vest, Richard wears the full half-zip sweater, put over a spread collar dress shirt (it varies through the film).  It has that effect of looking professional without being too formal, which is a sentiment many similar guys IRL would say.  Slim jeans show that he, like Walt, pays at least a bit of attention to fit, while the suede driving shoes anchor in that typical rich boy flavor.

I like that for the few times he wears outerwear, Richard goes for the suede safari jacket.  Safari jackets as a whole are a bit of a meme in the menswear community to me, since it seems everyone and their dad seems to have one!  We probably have the Armoury’s collaboration with Ascot Chang to thank for that.  I won’t deny that it’s still a cool jacket, with plenty of utilitarian details to give it a all-purpose feel rather than a fashion one, but it definitely is getting saturated throughout the market.  I definitely prefer jungle jackets,but I think the market is starting to catch on!

Conclusion

I honestly briefly considered covering Ford v. Ferrari due to it’s great period attire, but this one called out to me more.  I honestly wasn’t expecting to write about the style of this film, mainly because it’s not period, but I found myself pleasantly surprised when watching it in the theater!   It’s a modern film that isn’t too serious, but I like that they put in a lot of cool details when dressing the characters.  This makes sense, as whodunnit murder-mystery films are typically well-styled films, though this one gives it a modern, slightly more casual spin.

Analyzing and writing about menswear costuming is always a fun pastime, since it lets me see how much the production team takes cues from classic menswear and regular fashion. Obviously not everything has to be perfect since normal people (both in reference to film characters and the audience) don’t care, but it’s nice to project some of it into the world of the film.  Clearly many of these fictional people care a bit about their wardrobe and have little snippets of personal style, from Blanc’s nods to classic (or even vintage) tailoring, the bold dramatic flair of Harlan, to all the variations of WASP/trad-prep in the greater Thrombey family.

Overall, its a really fun film that I think might be one of my favorites of all time.  Hopefully it shows you how intentional you can be with your style, without having to go full menswear like me.  I mean, Blanc is fairly subdued yet has most of the details I write about on this blog.  Come to think of it…maybe Rian Johnson and Jenny Eagan read this blog.  A man can hope!

Always a pleasure,

@EthanMWong

 

2 comments

  1. Pingback: The Menswear in Knives Out (2019) « Fashion
  2. Jason · December 13

    Good one. You picked up on the points I noticed as well. The nicest touches for me were Benoit’s soft collar in contrast to the cop’s normie look making him look sartorial and individualistic. The tucked in tie was cool as well. Secondly Hugh’s well worn jumpers, just because they add depth to the character and avoid the often seen artificial look like the costuming department went out and bought a bunch of brand new things for the cast. As he also drives a vintage car it shows perhaps he becomes attached to things including his clothes, uses them for a long time and doesn’t just jump on the latest trend.

    Like

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