Napoleon Solo’s First Suit—1960s American Style

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Ian Fleming’s character Napoleon Solo, played by Robert Vaughn in The Man from U.N.C.L.E., is introduced in 1964 as American television’s answer to James Bond. The pilot episode of The Man from U.N.C.L.E. titled “The Vulcan Affair” became the first episode of the series and was later made into the feature film To Trap a Spy. Napoleon Solo’s first suit in this first episode is based in traditional American style, but it applies 1960s fashion trends to it. The suit overall is very much a product of 1960s fashions, and the trends of the decade pervade the suit in a much more exaggerated way than any of James Bond’s suits of the decade do. The suave American spy dresses quite a bit differently from 007.

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The suit is made of lightweight taupe wool, likely blended with mohair judging by the suit’s sheen. It is probably woven in brown and white yarns. The suit jacket is detailed in a very 1960s manner. The jacket has only a single button on the front and one button on each cuff. The narrow notched lapels are rounded rather than squared. The jacket has slanted pockets with narrow flaps, and both the lapels and the pocket flaps have swelled edges. The rear double vents are very short and about only four or five inches long.

In the American tradition, the shoulders are natural with little or no padding and the front has no darts. The lack of front darts makes the jacket look somewhat boxy, but it still fits closely and has waist suppression. The main different between a jacket with darts and a jacket without darts is that the one without darts has less fullness in the chest. Solo’s jacket has a very clean and close-fitting chest, whilst the waist is suppressed through the rear side seams and the darts under the arms. In following 1960s fashion, the jacket has a shorter-than-traditional length, but it is just long enough to cover the buttocks. This contrasts with today’s short jackets, which have no intention of keeping the buttocks covered. Vaughn has long legs, and the shorter jacket still makes him look out of proportion. The fashionably short length has the benefit of making the 5’10” Robert Vaughn look a little taller. Especially next to the 5’7″ David McCallum who plays Illya Kuryakin, Vaughn looks rather tall.

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The suit trousers have a flat front, long rise, tapered legs and no belt loops. The long rise is the most significant part of Solo’s suit that separates it from today’s suits. It is long enough to almost meet the jacket’s front button. Going against American tradition, the trousers have plain hems. The trousers also are hemmed short, making these what some call high-water or flood trousers. It’s a traditional American style to hem the trousers too short, and Solo’s are about two inches above where the trousers would meet the shoes in front. The short hem shows off Solo’s black socks.

Solo’s white button-down shirt follows traditional American style just as many parts of the suit do. Likely made of oxford cloth, the shirt has a soft button-down collar, rounded single-button cuffs and a front placket. The narrow tie is black with a pronounced diagonal rib and tied in a small four-in-hand knot. The tie is held against the shirt with small tie clip placed just above the height of the jacket’s button. The tie clip is hidden when the jacket is buttoned.

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Solo’s black shoes are an American style of shoe called longwing bluchers. Longwings have a pointed toe cap like a wing-tip, but they have wings extending the full length of the shoe. Bluchers are similar to derbys in that they have open lacing, but on bluchers the vamp and quarters are one piece, and they have tabs sewn to the front for the lacing eyelets.

When off duty, Solo removes his jacket and tie, unbuttons the shirt’s collar and dons a beige cardigan. The heavy ribbed cardigan is mid-hip-length and fits close to the body. From the collar down to the hem, the front of the cardigan has seven smoke mother-of-pearl buttons, and Solo leaves the top button open. The cuffs have four smaller buttons, like what would be found on a suit jacket. The cardigan has a turndown collar, side vents and a patch pocket on the bottom of either side of the front. The cardigan’s front edge, the collar and the top of the pockets have black piping. The unbuttoned shirt reveals a white crew-neck undershirt, which is something Americans are accustomed to wearing. When the shirt is buttoned with a tie, a crew-neck undershirt follows the base of the shirt’s collar so the outline of the undershirt’s neck does not show. With the shirt unbuttoned, however, a crew-neck undershirt is distracting.

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Though fans of certain American and 1960s fashions may appreciate this outfit, I suspect many fans of James Bond’s style will not. The fashionable and American style of Napoleon Solo differs considerably from the more traditional and English style that James Bond wears the same year in Goldfinger. After the first episode of The Man from U.N.C.L.E., Solo’s clothes became a little less fashionable, but also less interesting.

On a Bond-related note, this episode of The Man from U.N.C.L.E. features a brief uncredited—but unmistakeable—appearance of Richard Kiel (The Spy Who Loved Me‘s and Moonraker‘s Jaws) as a thug.

26 COMMENTS

  1. What’s interesting is how well this suit and overall look would fit today, as this 60’s style-with-a-twist is what has been popular in recent years, with it’s peak in 2012. Exept for the ridiculously short trousers, in the picture with the siluette it could almost be Craig from Skyfall. While not as bad as in skyfall, this suit defenitely wouldn’t look out of place today. In a slightly more classic style I would love to see Craig in a suit this colour!

  2. Agreed that this suit would fit in very well today, other than the colour (I wonder when Earth tones will make a big comeback?).

    I’m curious about the jacket length. I’ve often read people here complain about how jackets today are too short to cover one’s butt, but I wonder where they are seeing this? Other than a couple of guys a week (out of the hundreds I pass downtown every week) I never see guys wearing suits with jackets of that length. I’ve seen a few people wearing casual jackets of that length but they are clearly meant to be a variation of a sports coat, not a “true” sports coat per se. Maybe if I worked in a more creative area I would be seeing more exaggerated fashions, but to use that as an indictment of today’s trends would be like using the red dinner suit Patrick MacNee wore in The Avengers (covered here) as proof that the 60’s were a terrible time for men’s suits.

    Something else that I’m wondering about: when you say “It’s a traditional American style to hem the trousers too short” isn’t that contradictory? If they’re hemmed in the traditional way, aren’t they hemmed at exactly the length that they’re supposed to be?

    • Hemming the trousers short is just one American tradition. I didn’t say it’s the traditional way to hem trousers, just a traditional way. The most traditional American way to hem trousers is touching the shoes without a break. I was just saying that short trousers have a tradition and are not simply done for fashion.

  3. It should also be noted that Ian Fleming was involved in the project for several months (October 1962 to June 1963) and came up with the name Napoleon Solo. He made other contributions, but that was the one that stuck.

    • Yes, I think he came up with Napoleon Solo, April Dancer (The Girl from U.N.C.L.E.) and the broad U.N.C.L.E. concept.

      Fleming’s experiences in TV were largely unsuccessful – a failed show set in Jamaica called Commander Gunn became the book Dr. No and a failed Bond TV series led to a series of short stories, and the basis for the next Bond book by Anthony Horowitz.

  4. I’m sure this suit will get a lot of hate in the comments but I think it looks great! Very of-the-moment.

  5. Not a fan, even as someone who appreciates 1960s and American fashions. The jacket would be okay if not for the highwater trousers. In combination with that it simply looks like he borrowed the suit from his shorter companion.

  6. “With the shirt unbuttoned, however, a crew-neck undershirt is distracting.”
    I think you find it distracting because you’re not used to the look. I hardly notice it next to his white dress shirt, and would only notice it if the dress shirt was a bolder color. What I find distracting is the length of his pants.

    • It’s actually something I see daily, so I’m very used to it. A visible undershirt isn’t a good look, though since he originally wore it with the shirt buttoned it’s understandable here.

    • I had an interesting conversation about undershirts after watching It Happened One Night with some friends. I mentioned that I never wore undershirts (I joked that I wore anti-perspirant instead) and that I would especially never wear crew neck undershirts. I still remember how much girls didn’t like them when I was younger, and two comments really stuck in my memory. One girl said that it makes any guy, no matter how young, look like “a suburban Dad who shops for his clothes at Sears”. Another said that it was a bad enough mood killer to start to unbutton a guy’s shirt and find more material rather than bare skin, but if a guy can’t stand to show even a “little triangle” of bare flesh when he undoes the top button of his shirt he comes off as “repressed”. I wondered if that was peculiar to the time or place that I grew up in but having spoken to many women over the years it seems fairly common.

    • I always wear a v-neck cotton undershirt with my collared shirts to the office. As one of the rare people who still wears a suit and a tie 5 days a week, I find that the undershirt increases the longevity of my shirts, especial during the hot summer months. If I take my tie off at the end of the day, the v-neck allows the shirt to be worn unbuttoned without displaying Any unsightly excess fabric.

      I forgo the undershirt with my casual shirts and polos.

  7. Matt,many thoughts about this suit.

    First:the suit seems fall in the definition of “update American cut” (quote in many fashion magazines of early-mid 60s,as Gentleman Quarterly).

    Second: i don’t know who make this suit,but it seems like many suits cuts by Sy Devore,a famous Los Angeles tailor of 50s and 60s (the “rat pack” and Jerry Lewis” tailor).
    Maybe is not Devore the maker,but the style is it.

    Third: “American update cut” and “Continental cut (and for the more sophisticated “Middle atlantic cut”) are the styles that you can see in American movies and tv series of 60s.
    I suspect that the reason is that these were the styles in vogue in Los Angeles and Hollywood back then.
    Is probable that if the studios were in New York,Napoleon Solo would have wear a perfect Ivy League suit in Brooks Brothers’style.

    Fourth: I quote you:
    “In following 1960s fashion, the jacket has a shorter-than-traditional length, but it is just long enough to cover the buttocks. This contrasts with today’s short jackets, which have no intention of keeping the buttocks covered.
    The suit trousers have a flat front, long rise, tapered legs and no belt loops. The long rise is the most significant part of Solo’s suit that separates it from today’s suits. It is long enough to almost meet the jacket’s front button”.

    The point is that today average man’s fashion is not “60’s style-with-a-twist”,but “60’s style-with-a-shit”.
    Why designers and fashion makers simply don’t replicate the exact proportion of suit like these?
    A Napoleon Solo’suit, today is not enough “cool”?
    Why upset every right proportions in a way that today even the Pee Wee Herman’suits seems rather classics?

    • Thank you for your thoughts, Carmelo. The “updated American cut” is defined by adding darts to the traditional un-darted “sack” jackets. Since Solo’s suit jacket does not have darts, the cut of his jacket has more in common with “sack” jackets than “updated American” jackets. Even though it is updated for the 1960s in many ways, this jacket does not have the “updated American” jacket’s darts. I’ll have to look for an updated American suit to write about. Do you know if Sy Devore cut his jackets with front darts?

  8. Matt,
    Hmm..a sack with a bit of padding in shoulders and darts,and optional pleats on the trousers should be “middle atlantic”.
    http://s17.postimg.org/vu8p18flb/ggdgd.jpg
    The suit above is not very different (proportions of the lapels apart) from a Italian suit of 60s,and very similiar to the average continental fashion of that time.
    Under the label “updated American cut” were sundry type of cuts; some,you have right,darted (see for exemple a famous advertising of Eagle clothes) some others undarted.
    Sy Devore for exemple call his undarted suits,very similiar to Napoleon Solo’suit “update American (update from the Ivy sack suit,probably).
    Others cut like these,under the definition “update” or “modern American” are in several advertising in GQ and Esquire magazine 1960-1965 circa (The house of worsted tex,Petrocelli or Botany 500 made suits in this way).
    http://s9.postimg.org/r4whutgbj/image.jpg
    http://s8.postimg.org/6n5m6p7bp/b14a1.jpg
    Anyway i agree that definitions are conventional in this field.
    About Devore he did darted and undarted jackets,he was both a tailor and a fashion designer,so his suits changed.
    In a article of 1963 he describes her silhouette as “a more short and close fit jacket with round open quarters, without darts,and with a tapered flat front pant.Jackets have one,two or three buttons (he talk also about a comeback of the double breasted suit, in a update modern cut).
    http://s23.postimg.org/stt9oyh6j/sy63_1.jpg

    • What you describe as “middle Atlantic” is what I’ve always understood to be the same as “updated American”. I think both are describing the same cut. The purpose of the “updated American” cut was to make the American suit a little more European, hence your term “middle Atlantic”. Devore’s style doesn’t seem to fit any category, but it’s rather his own take on either the “sack” or “updated American” cuts, whether it has no darts or darts, respectively.

      • The button two suit is the classic updated American suit. It has shoulder padding, front darts but not a particularly shaped cut and possibly pleated trousers.

        The button one suit is very similar and is based on the same updated American style, but the single button gives it a very Hollywood look. Dick Van Dyke wore this style jacket on The Dick Van Dyke Show and Eddie Albert wore it later on Green Acres. The narrower trousers, however, are more fashionable and don’t fit any American tradition. I’m guessing they were inspired by the mod suits from Britain.

  9. Lord Flasheart,
    “proof that the 60’s were a terrible time for men’s suits”.

    I not agree,or at least not in general.
    Flashy suits or dinner jacket were not widspread out of some fashion catwalk, or campy tv show.
    The slender 60s silhouette is very elegant and flattering, if well made.
    I think that the image of a man in a monochrome suit with very skinny lapels,very tapered trousers and a skimpy tie,is for the most an American thing.
    The slender trend were also in British and French menswear,but not so extreme, if not maybe in the 1964-66 period,and especially in ready to wear field.
    For exemple Italian suits of that age were more proportionate in dimensions of lapels and ties.
    Compare some Americans….
    http://s21.postimg.org/swakpn7pz/ttt.jpg
    http://s7.postimg.org/j8t2cqkwr/image.jpg
    http://s30.postimg.org/t4nran65d/b17.jpg
    http://s27.postimg.org/skvsfx7zn/a52a1.jpg
    and Italians suits:
    http://s24.postimg.org/o2pfyfbsl/image.jpg
    http://s12.postimg.org/h1gi0vy99/Caraceni65.jpg
    http://s12.postimg.org/rw74uaw4t/image.jpg
    http://s21.postimg.org/bexqmf93r/image.jpg

    Proportions are less extreme and more classics.

    • Thanks for the pictures, Carmelo.

      These Italian suits -I don’t know whether they are bespoke or ready-to-wear, but I guess ready-to-wear since these look like publicity stills- look indeed pretty timeless, and I wouldn’t mind wearing anyone of them right now ! It looks like some Italian brands/tailors have always managed to look timeless and not too give too much importance to the specific fashions of the era. Good for them !
      Regarding 007, most of the Italian suits that appear in the movies look great and timeless to me. It may be because I sure like the continental look -a ventless, 2 or 3 button suit with straight shoulders, a clean chest and straight pockets is really the perfect suit for me ! Whether I am thinking of the Emilio Largo suits, the Draco suits or the Brosnan era Brioni suits, they all look great to my eye. Okay, I will forgot the terrible suits of Licence to Kill…

      Matt, isn’t the suit jacket of Cary Grant’s suit in North by Northwest a perfect example of an updated American cut ?Let alone the trousers, which have a more English, Savile Row influence.

  10. Matt, I hope you might do an analysis of Napoleon Solo’s suits in this year’s 2015 movie remake of UNCLE. The suits look totally different than the 1960’s TV version, and there are also contrasts to be made with Daniel Craig’s James Bond. Although both Craig and Cavill are very muscular, I think UNCLE does a better job of fitting the suits to that type of physique.
    Cavill’s suits appear to have proper length and shoulder width, and remain fitted in the waist. I’m not sure what style the suits are, but I would guess either American, given the single vent, or Roman because the shoulders are strong. The lapels are wide and the fabrics look nice, and they have distinctive patterns. The trousers are high-waisted and have side adjusters.
    I would be interested in what you thought.

    • Cavill’s suits are made by Timothy Everest in a structured English style. With Henry Cavill’s build any shoulders will look strong, and his are cut to be straight. And since the film takes place in the early 60s, single vents were still very common on English suits. Double vents didn’t become the standard on English suits until the late 60s. The suits look rather mod, unlike the TV Solo’s Hollywood-style suits with short double vents and one or two buttons. The character in the film has a considerably different background than the TV show’s character.

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