The Films That Made Corduroy Cool
Mr Oscar Isaac in Inside Llewyn Davis, 2013. Photograph by AF archive/Alamy
The glorious on-screen history of this season’s most on-trend fabric.
Mr Dustin Hoffman. Mr Robert Redford. Mr Brad Pitt. What do these men have in common, besides Oscar statuettes and envy-inducing CVs? A fondness for wearing corduroy on screen, that’s what. Each of these icons has used this season’s essential fabric to do what it does best: convey a delicate balance of intelligence and swagger. When one is playing, say, a tenacious newspaper reporter or a pot-loving professor, there really is no substitute. Follow their examples, and you’ll discover a look that will last you far beyond the coming season. (Actually lighting up with your students, though, in the manner of Mr Donald Sutherland, may not be advised.)
Mr Bill Murray in The Royal Tenenbaums
Mr Bill Murray in The Royal Tenenbaums, 2001. Photograph by Mr James Hamilton/Touchstone/REX Shutterstock
Mr Wes Anderson has a famous fondness for a well-tailored corduroy suit, and the director has often clad his characters in similar attire. Consider Max Fischer’s hunter suit in Rushmore or the titular character in Fantastic Mr Fox, who sported a double-breasted jacket that was indeed fantastic. But perhaps no film in Mr Anderson’s oeuvre signifies style like The Royal Tenenbaums, and Mr Bill Murray’s sad-sack neurologist (inspired by Mr Oliver Sacks) wears corduroy as well as anyone. When paired with a violet turtleneck and Mr Murray’s deadpan expression, the jacket becomes a sort of comfort object as Raleigh St Clair suffers the indignities of an unfaithful wife.
What to wear
Mr Oscar Isaac in Inside Llewyn Davis
Mr Oscar Isaac in Inside Llewyn Davis, 2013. Photograph by CBS Films/The Neal Peters Collection
“If it was never new and it never gets old, then it’s a folk song,” Mr Oscar Isaac says in the film, and he could just as easily say the same thing about a great corduroy jacket. Here, it functions as a suit of armour as Llewyn Davis endures both the actual cold (in the Village and on an ill-fated road trip to Chicago) and the metaphorical cold as his lover, his friends and the early-1960s folk scene in turn reject him and his ambitions.
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Mr Dustin Hoffman in The Graduate
Mr Dustin Hoffman in The Graduate, 1967. Photograph by Embassy Pictures Corporation/Photofest
Along with Bonnie And Clyde, which came out the same year, The Graduate inaugurated perhaps the greatest 10-year run in American film history. It also helped introduce the corduroy jacket as signifier of a young, intelligent man who embraces a sort of elegant dishevelment (a look embraced by a few characters mentioned below). In the film’s typically brilliant way, the jacket helps amplify protagonist Benjamin Braddock’s contrast with his Californian surroundings. First, by suggesting his Ivy League background, then (worn open towards the end of the film) by showing him as looser and more modern than his fully suited rival for Elaine Robinson’s affections.
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Mr Robert Redford in All The President’s Men
Mr Robert Redford in All The President’s Men, 1976. Photograph by Warner Bros./The Neal Peters Collection
Even when playing a harried newspaper man, Mr Robert Redford has a way of looking every inch the style icon, without betraying the truth of his character. Here, he works his magic via a Rolex Submariner, a series of shirt collars and ties as wide as President Richard Nixon’s definition of truth, and a perfectly effortless corduroy jacket, replete with a set of leather buttons. Those looking to emulate Mr Redford’s trademark mix of intelligence and sex appeal could do worse than seek out something similar.
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Mr Donald Sutherland in Animal House
Mr Donald Sutherland in Animal House, 1978. Photograph by AF archive/Alamy
It‘s easy to forget now, but back in the day, Mr Donald Sutherland was by far the biggest star in this movie’s cast. (His participation helped the film get made, and his decision to eschew royalties for a guaranteed fee cost him an estimated $14m and counting.) As Professor Dave Jennings, Mr Sutherland sports a rarely-seen-in-the-wild three-piece corduroy suit, a self-parody of scholarly dressing that works perfectly for his pot-smoking, Milton-dissing failed novelist.
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Mr Brad Pitt in The Big Short
Mr Brad Pitt in The Big Short, 2015. Photograph by Paramount/The Moviestore Collection
Mr Brad Pitt’s most recent adventure in self-effacement is one of his most effective. As with Mr Sutherland, Mr Pitt’s star wattage far outshines the actors playing the two investors he mentors and, as with Mr Redford, he manages to exude confidence and rakishness despite playing a supposedly slovenly character. Emulate his jacket, by all means, but the haircut and beard are perhaps best left to the A-list actors among us.