A popped collar on a grey herringbone blazer, a layered effect made from a combination of crew neck sweater, chambray shirt and tie paired with blue jeans, the ease of this look has an appeal that has spun decades.
Robert Redford plays CIA agent on the run Joseph Turner in one of Sydney Pollack’s best political thrillers, Three Days of the Condor, set in 1974 New York. More than its star power, the film is a great thriller, which is what the director intended. The film has been, from the beginning, considered by critics to tapping into the political sensibilities of the times and of a nation faltering from the Kennedy assassination, the Vietnam War and Watergate. And it did, but without knowing it.
“I think that the critics are falling into all kinds of traps with this movie,” Sydney Pollack commented in an interview with Patrick McGilligan in 1976, reproduced in the booklet issued by the Masters of Cinema along with the blu-Ray edition of the film. “Absolutely falling all over themselves. Half the critics are looking at it as a serious political piece of propaganda and criticising it on that level which, God knows, wasn’t intended, the film was three-quarters finished before any of these VIA revelations began to happen. We were doing a straight thriller. That’s what we wanted to do. And we were shocked that as much of what we imagined, if you will, was coming to pass. We were absolutely dumbfo,did. The attempt was, first of all, to make it faithful to the genre of a thriller. And within that, to explore certain ideas of suspicion, trust, morality, if you will; but it was not intended in any way as a documentary, I suppose, but as a warning – using the CIA almost as a metaphor, and drawing certain conclusions from post-Watergate America.”
But, probably again without Sydney Pollack’s or Robert Redford’s intention, Three Days of the Condor instantly became important on another front as well, as it is also one of the films men take their sartorial cues from. Movie characters have always provided the most influential looks in modern menswear. And Robert Redford’s simple, preppy, all American clothes are certainly worth taking inspiration from. It may be a 70’s film, but besides the wide, tweedy tie, recalling Ralph Lauren’s beginnings in fashion (he called his ties Polo “because it was a sport that had a sensibility that was sporty and international” – it was a new direction that really changed the way men were dressing) and wide shirt collar, the clothes don’t look dated at all. In fact, Robert Redford looks a heck of a lot better than a lot of the men you see on the street today.
The scarf makes the layered outfit look just as good when the collar is not turned up.
There are two looks Redford is sporting in the film (Joseph G. Aulisi was the costume designer) and they both exemplify New England campus attire. The kind of looks Redford’s bookish CIA researcher would wear, but also the kind of looks men can wear year in and year out, without giving the slightest importance to what is the latest this or that. There is a quiet in-ness about this style, which is as fresh and relevant as ever. Utilitarian, pared-down, confident, traditional, yet exuding modernity. The first one is described above, the second one has the blazer switched with the pea coat – smart though it may be with its sturdy construction and anchor buttons, this item is also ideal for fending off the bitter cold due to its closely woven texture. And the choice of hiking boots as footwear deserves points on its own – for one, they make a very individual statement, and secondly, I like when men are not shy of wearing boots in the cold, because men shouldn’t give up comfort and their natural sense of style for fashion.
The popped collar may today or on the wrong person seem forced, overdone and too self-assured, but it serves a purpose here, just as in the case of the up-turned blazer collar, and it’s when it is this seemingly unstudied that it becomes a detail of style.
Note: This article was initially published on January 27, 2015 and up-dated in January 2017
photos: 1-2: publicity stills / 3-6: movie stills captured by me from this Blu-ray edition | Dino De Laurentiis Company, Paramount Pictures, Wildwood Enterprises