The Avengers (1998): Chalk Stripe Suit With an Unusual Waistcoat

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The 1960s Avengers television series, in its incarnation starring Patrick Macnee as John Steed and Diana Rigg as Mrs Emma Peel, was remade into a film in 1998 called The Avengers. In the film, Ralph Fiennes, who is now know to James Bond fans as Gareth Mallory or M, plays Steed and Uma Thurman plays Dr Peel. Patrick Macnee’s voice gets a cameo as Invisible Jones. The original film James Bond Sean Connery also stars in this film as the villain Sir August De Wynter.

The costume designer is Anthony Powell, who previously dressed Roger Moore in That Lucky Touch. Powell chose the legendary Savile Row tailor Anderson & Sheppard to make Fiennes’ suits for the film, which give his clothes a very British look, but one far removed from the equestrian tradition that the original character wore.

Though both Fiennes’ Steed and Macnee’s Steed wear three-piece suits and bowler hats and carry umbrellas, the way they otherwise dress is so different that it is hardly worth comparing. The elements that overall define the original Steed’s look are present in Fiennes’, but the execution is considerably different. Partially due to Anderson & Sheppard’s involvement, Fiennes’ clothes are more subdued, old-fashioned and give his Steed a more traditional City of London look, whereas Macnee’s Steed always wears more fashion-forward equestrian-inspired suits to honour his namesake.

An article in the Sunday Mirror on 2 August 1998 titled “The Avengers: The making of the movie” stated that costume designer Anthony Powell and Ralph Finnes visited London tailors to find a suitmaker for the film. Most of Savile Row’s tailors were unable to create the film’s needed 70 suits in a rush, let alone just one suit. Powell said, “Fortunately, we went to tailors Anderson and Sheppard. Their style is very soft and comfortable. It’s a lovely old-fashioned place, and their motto is, ‘We don’t build bodies, we drape them.'”

Though Anderson & Sheppard made the suits for Fiennes, Steed’s suits within the story of the film are made by the fictional Trubshaw & Co, Gentlemen’s Outfitters. According to a Staffordshire General & Commercial Directory from 1818, there was a tailor named John Trubshaw in Cannock, Staffordshire, though there’s unlikely to be any connection to the character in The Avengers. Trubshaw in the Avengers film is played by John Wood. The scene in the clothing shop identifies Steed as a clotheshorse who likes to take time getting fitted for his “armour” and provides a venue for Steed and Peel to get to know each other early in the film.

Fiennes’ most iconic outfit in this film is a three-piece navy flannel chalk stripe suit made in Anderson & Sheppard’s house style, which he wears at the climax of the film. The iconic nature of this suit comes from the horizontal stripes on the waistcoat, which will be discussed later. The suit can also be seen on many of the film’s protional materials, which show it off much better than the action within the film does. One poster for the film emphasises Fiennes’ clothes, with the tagline, “JOHN STEED: SAVING THE WORLD IN STYLE”. There are few hero shots of Fiennes in this suit in the film.

The suit jacket has Anderson & Sheppard’s famous drape cut, with extra fullness on the sides of the chest folded in front of the armholes. The shoulders are lightly padded for a straight line along the shoulder, and the shoulders are slightly extended. The waist is gently nipped for an elegant silhouette. The jacket has a full cut, which is due to a combination of Anderson & Sheppard’s style and the full-fitting trends of the 1990s. The fit is good, with the exception of sleeves that are too long.

The suit jacket has two buttons on the front, four buttons on each cuff and the old-fashioned, dressy and minimalist details of no vent at the rear of the jacket and jetted pockets without flaps. Consistent with Anderson & Sheppard’s style, the pocket jettings are matched vertically with the stripes on the front of the jacket rather than cutting the jettings lengthwise and leaving out the stripes from them altogether. Anderson & Sheppard’s method gives the jacket a more seamless look, but it takes more effort to match everything.

The trousers are traditionally cut with double forward-facing pleats and cut full through the thighs and gently tapered down to a wide opening with turn-ups. The trousers are cut with a raised fishtail back to be supported by braces, and the front and rear buttons to hold the braces on are all sewn to the outside of the waistband. The braces are burgundy boxcloth in an X-shape with white goatskin leather ends and brass fittings, almost certainly made by Albert Thurston. Boxcloth is a heavy, felt-like woollen cloth, and because it is so heavy the excess from when the braces are tightened hangs down in front.

Steed’s suits in the television series always have some sort of quirky element, and as traditional this suit may be, it too has something quirky about it. The waistcoat, cut with the stripes crosswise instead of lengthwise like on the jacket and trousers, gives this suit its unusual character. The crosswise stripes serve little purpose other than to make this suit look unusual. Contrary to popular belief, horizontal stripes are scientifically proven to be more slimming than vertical stripes, though in the case of making only the waistcoat’s stripes horizontal the effect is neutralised. Here the horizontal stripes only create chaos by having the suit’s stripes in all different directions.

Fiennes’ white shirt is classically styled with a semi-spread collar, double cuffs and a placket front. He wears shirts in these scenes from two different English makers, based on two different placket designs that appear. Sometimes the shirt placket is narrow and stitched at 3/8″ from the edge. Other times the placket is wider and stitched at 1/4″ from the edge like a standard placket. Shirts with the former English-style placket are from Turnbull & Asser. The double cuffs are square with the link holes placed very near to the fold, which is a signature of Turnbull & Asser. His cufflinks are gold and double-sided.

The tie is navy with a white unidentified motif and tied in a four-in-hand knot. Fiennes accessorises the outfit with a hand-rolled linen handkerchief stuffed into his welt breast pocket. He also wears a pocket watch in his breast pocket, with a chain hidden under the lapel and a t-bar fob held in the lapel buttonhole. He finishes the outfit with a black felt bowler hat and black calf cap-toe oxfords.

A John Steed outfit would not be complete without an umbrella—or “brolly”. In the Avengers film, Fiennes’ brolly has a smooth, polished wood crook handle—possibly malacca—instead of the television Steed’s usual whangee crook handle. The brolly has a built-in sword. The sword brolly was an idea taken from the television series that was used very infrequently in the original series.

19 COMMENTS

  1. Horizontal stripes can read as slimming because the human eyes read the horizontal faster than the vertical. However as horizontal stripes can also quickly map the shape of the figure by the various visual lengths. If your widest measurement is around the waist, the wearing of horizontal stripes should be avoided.

  2. Although it’s a wonderful suit and an interesting film this particular suit always made me dizzy. If my memory serves me correct I think I saw the corneliani trademark sign in the background of the tailor shop.

    For my two cents, dr.peel was right, a suit does serve as man’s armor. I believed it then and I believe it now.

    • ” a suit does serve as a man’s armor” Which is why this tailor was completely the wrong choice. Steed’s suit, perhaps more than any other gentleman’s, is his suit of armor, and they chose the floppiest softest suit maker on the row.

      • Stranger still is that I know Anderson & Sheppard can put a few dandy-ish touches on their clothing like turnback cuffs, in spite of their reputation, but the opportunity was missed here.

        Not sure if it’s true back then as it is now, but Martin Nicholls is capable of creating the volume of suits needed for action movies (see Kingsman 1 and 2) and makes a firmer coat. It would have been a better fit for the character and the tone.

      • Something like Huntsman perhaps. (Dege and Skinner would also be ok) More firmly structured (somewhatish armor like) and more equestrian like the original steed. Now that I think about it, like steed, they often have a thing for one button suit coats.
        Generally, a suit that says I used to be an officer in the Army. Now I’ve moved on to other things. But my heart still remains in the services.

  3. Premise:
    After all i love this movie,but also i think that was a missed opportunity,and maa lot of mistakes were made.
    First of all,the cast.
    I believe that Finnes as Steed and Thurman as Mrs Peel were terribly wrong,and the problems of this movie are mainly to be found in this casting mistake.
    Maybe a better Steed could be Colin Firth,or Hugh Grant.
    A perfect Mrs Peel could be Rachel Weisz.
    Steed-Fiennes wardrobe from Anderson & Sheppard is wonderful…but despite this wrong for Steed character.
    Steed’s suits must be in equestrian style with a new Edwardian flair.
    Tailors as Dege & Skinner are perfect for Steed,but Anderson & Sheppard,definitively not.

    Said this i like very much the idea of set the story in a imaginary and surreal Uk in which 60s are never ending (other good idea could be set the movie in the “real” 1960s).
    I like very,very much the idea of Sean-the original Bond-Connery as the villain of the movie.
    And the title song “Storm” ,sung by Grace Jones,is a great song; it would have been for a 007 movie!

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZJ_0PaDmrvc

  4. I remember when the film came out and I didn’t care much for it and I don’t think many did. I like Ralph Fiennes and he now makes a wonderful M in the Bond series as he as aged into middle age. His Anderson and Sheppard suits in The Avengers are very good and traditionally English. They give Steed the look of an English city gentlemen.

  5. As a lover of the 1960s Avengers I didn’t like this movie. It was a mess. And the horizontal stripes are a mess too.

    Patrick Macnee’s Steed always had interesting outfits, both in the Emma Peel era shows as well as later shows and The New Avengers series. Yay for the velvet collar!

  6. I remember when this film came out I was interested to see it but I read that in preview screenings the response was bad, so instead of supporting it the studio realised they likely had a bomb on their hands and so edited the crap out of it and pulled all publicity so as to cut their losses and not spend an extra penny on promotion and advertising. The result was an unmitigated mess. An oppportunity missed. I did like The Saint with Val Kilmer and thought there was potential there for a ‘franchise’ (urgh!) but I don’t think it made enough money for the powers that be to want to bother. I think that Fiennes is a rubbish, grimacing, one-note actor but I think he does OK as M as he’s not required to do much but be authoritarian and possibly avuncular in a few scenes. His wardrobe as M is pretty much flawless for the character.

    • Check out Fiennes in the movie In Bruges. The character owes a lot to Sir Ben Kingsley’s in Sexy Beast but it’s a very effective, funny and scary performance.

  7. Tell you this, Mr.Fiennes would have been a fine choice for Bond. He would have brought back the Moore era. What do you think of that Mr. Spaiser?

    • If you mean the More era from a sartorial point of view that may have been interesting. If you mean the Moore era in terms of story, dialogue, acting … well I’m happy to leave that in the past.

  8. Hi Matt, great article as usual! The umbrella and chalk stripes really remind me of Kingsman, would it be possible for you to do a couple of articles on the costumes from the films? I know they are sold on Mr Porter, so you could use those as a reference maybe?
    Love to hear from you,
    William

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