The flicks
We’ll say one thing for ‘Dirty Rotten Scoundrels’ – they’re always well dressed…
By Charlie Thomas
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Comedies don’t tend to be the first films we turn to when on the hunt for style inspiration. But then, most comedies don’t star Michael Caine. The English actor is one of the best-dressed men born on British soil – photos of him from his ‘60s heyday still inspire designers, tailors and well-dressed men today. So, it was only natural for him to perfectly embody the suave, sophisticated conman Lawrence Jameson in 1988’s Dirty Rotten Scoundrels, alongside his on-screen rival, Steve Martin, who plays his American counterpart, Freddie Benson.

If it were purely a competition in the style stakes, Caine would beat Martin hands down. He breezes through the film in sharply cut tailoring and crisp white or pale blue shirts, the fabric of which positively glows as he saunters around the chicest hotels, bars and beaches of the French Riviera. He favours a low-buttoning double-breasted jacket cut in the traditional Savile Row style, albeit with slightly softer shoulders than you’d usually find in the West End – it’s the late ‘80s, after all. Steve Martin on the other hand looks every bit the laissez faire American tourist. One might even say he does linen a huge disservice – the lightweight, louche fabric hangs off him in the form of oversized, deconstructed suit jackets; his washed jeans are equally ill fitting and his array of pastel coloured crewnecks aren’t always as flattering as they could be. If Miami Vice went to the south of France, it’d look like this.

Not only does Caine out-dress Martin, but when he agrees to take Martin on as his protégé, the elder statesman schools him in the sartorial arts. He delivers a lesson in walking elegantly while poolside in a luxury villa; explains how to correctly hold a champagne glass, and goes to town on the fine art of placing one’s hand in a suit jacket pocket à la Prince Charles. It’s a masterclass in old-school English caddishness, and it makes for charming viewing.

While we never see much of Caine’s shirts, they nonetheless play an interesting role in the film. He only ever opts for white or cornflower blue poplin to complement his sharply tailored suits. These simple colour and fabric choices are an exercise in traditional English simplicity; the perfect foundation to a double-breasted navy blazer with brass buttons, or a cream linen suit. The shirts’ collars are on the smaller side, so they frame his tightly knotted ties just so, but they also sit quite high on the neck, elevating his character’s formal, almost stately appeal. His shirts speak to his refined taste level, and although we never see him without a jacket, we can surmise that a man of his stature would only ever wear shirts that were made for him bespoke – the occasional glimpse of just-the-right-amount of shirt cuff attests to this.

Martin on the other hand is sloppy in-part because he doesn’t wear shirts. One of the first things Caine does when smartening him up is get Martin fitted for one – a collared shirt represents the professionalism, respectability and trustworthiness that a conman so badly needs to channel. And, while we’d never encourage our readers to emulate this troublesome duo’s behaviour, this timeless attestation to a formal shirt’s appeal is well worth keeping in mind.

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