Big shoulders + nipped waist = powerBy Simon Crompton
Spicer is thrown to the floor as the mob closes in. His nervous twitch accelerates as panic grips him. Pinkie grins with that frozen, demonic grin that Richard Attenborough did so well.
Is that a belted suit?
Suddenly, a cut-throat razor slashes across his cheek. With the innocence of a child, Pinkie clutches his cheek as blood oozes between his fingers.
That tie clip looks good.
A whistle rings out. As the cops fight through the watching crowd the mob scatters. Pinkie ducks under an arm and escapes. Spicer is left on the floor, presumed (at least by Pinkie) dead.
Those three buttons are only about an inch apart!
I’m sure it’s happened to you, if you are the sort of person that reads this site. At some point during a classic film, you realise you’ve been thinking about what the actors are wearing, and not the plot.
In this case the film was Brighton Rock, the 1947 dramatisation of Graham Greene’s famous novel, directed by John Boulting and with an unforgettable Richard Attenborough in the starring role, as the sociopath Pinkie Brown.
Like so many films of the time, it is fast-paced. After an hour it feels like you’ve already watched a whole novel. But I couldn’t stop looking at the suits Pinkie’s mob wears. They are broad-shouldered, with wide, sweeping lapels. The waists are so tight there are stretch marks across the back.
Some of the jackets have a belt detail that doesn’t tie – it is just sewn in for effect – but emphasises the waist still further. All of them have one button or, as mentioned above, have three buttons that are about an inch apart. Again, the single fastening emphasises that wide, deep V across the chest.
It’s obvious what the style was aiming for. Strength and vigour suggested through breadth. It’s noticeable that Spicer, the weakest member of the gang, and Fred Hale, the traitor whose murder starts the film, wear more conservative suits. They look ragged, the jackets are undone and the ties are loosened. Pinkie’s tie is pinned by a tie clip almost ridiculously high, giving him a tight, jutting knot.
Breadth and tightness = control = strength = power.
Boxiness and looseness = lack of control = weakness = powerless.
It’s a fairly familiar theme really, played out in everything from 1980s power suits to the current run spearheaded by Tom Ford. But it’s always interesting to see such techniques used as subconscious chracterisation by the costume department.
If you manage to watch the film, keep an eye out for Pinkie’s jacket as well. I’ve seen sports jackets with “bi-swing” styles around the shoulder before – they are pleats built into the join where the shoulder meets the back of the jacket. They allow greater stretch by bellowing out when the arm is extended, but lying hidden when the arm is straight. They were designed in an era when men actually used sports jackets for playing sport. But Pinkie’s jacket has three, not one. Three bellows on either side! Surely fashion rather than function.
The pictures here and on the internet do it some justice, but I also recommend watching the film. It’s a cracking plot, when you can concentrate on it.