The Rocketeer: A Purple Dinner Jacket



1991’s The Rocketeer is one of the few films to feature Timothy Dalton in well-tailored 20th century clothing. Since the film takes place in 1938, what Dalton wears is more costume rather than clothing. However, not all of the clothing is accurate to the late 1930s. Dalton plays movie star and Nazi villain Neville Sinclair, who wears a muted dark purple dinner jacket that is fitting for his character. Purple is quite an unusual colour for a dinner jacket, but it’s not unusual for a smoking jacket, an ancestor of the dinner jacket. I don’t know if purple dinner jackets were popular in the late 1930s, but purple had seen a rise in popularity a few years before The Rocketeer was made. Jack Nicholson famously wore a purple suit as the joker in Batman two years earlier, and Miami Vice popularised purple and lavender clothes for men. A purple dinner jacket is less formal than the traditional black or midnight blue jacket, which makes it an acceptable—but nevertheless flashy—choice for a night out as Sinclair wears his.

Rocketeer-Purple-Dinner-Jacket-2The purple dinner jacket is cut with straight shoulders, roped sleeve heads and a clean chest. The jacket is full-cut, but it still fits well and isn’t a size too large like the jackets in Licence to Kill are. The jacket drapes elegantly without any extra folds of cloth. The wide, dark purple silk peaked lapels elegantly roll down to the jacket’s single button. The buttons are covered in the same dark purple silk that the lapels are faced in. The jacket has no vent, jetted pockets and three buttons on the cuffs. The black trousers have double reverse pleats and the traditional black silk stripe down each leg.

Rocketeer-Purple-Dinner-Jacket-4The black brocade waistcoat is one of the least historically-correct parts of this outfit. The waistcoat has five buttons with the bottom left open, peaked lapels and a full collar. A proper evening waistcoat, which is low-cut with three or four buttons, would have been worn at the time rather than a high-buttoning daytime-style waistcoat in a fancy evening cloth. Sinclair’s white-on-white stripe dress shirt has a point collar, double cuffs and a placket with two black onyx studs. His bow tie is black barathea silk in a batwing shape. His shoes are patent leather.

Rocketeer-Purple-Dinner-Jacket-3Sinclair also wears a red boutonnière pinned to his lapel. Besides looking unsightly, pinning a boutonnière to a silk lapel can easily damage the facing. Ideally, the boutonnière’s stem should be stuck through the lapel’s buttonhole and held in place by a loop sewn on the back of the lapel. One should only resort to pinning a boutonnière when the lapel has no buttonhole. But there is a buttonhole hiding behind Sinclair’s boutonnière, so he has no excuse for pinning it to his lapel.


  1. Dalton looks very good in these pictures. Most importantly, he is wearing Jennifer Connelly on his right arm. Some guys have all the luck.

  2. Glad to see The Rocketeer make it on here! I love that movie. It is so underrated. Timothy Dalton is great in it. And I agree with Dan, Connelly on his arm is the best part. If ever there was a reason to build a time machine out of a DeLorean, it was 21 year old Jennifer Connelly.

    • I still find her to be a beautiful woman. She also turned in a good performance in Dark City, another underrated ’90s movie. (The Director’s Cut is the one to see, skip the Bowdlerised theatrical cut for your first viewing.)

  3. If only they’d changed the waistcoat and put the flower in the lapel hole, it would be perfect. I suspect the costume or prop department, used to seeing prom dates in rental tuxedos, didn’t know what the lapel hole is actually meant for.

  4. Totally agree with Jovan. A scene with Jennifer Connelly in ‘Inventing the Abbotts’ would leave no ‘warm-blooded heterosexual’ indifferent. Not even an abbot !
    Still reflecting on those silk lapels, though..

    • I think Matt was saying that the purple made it flashy, not the silk lapels alone. Those are standard on dinner jackets unless they are the off-white kind made for warm weather.

  5. The Rocketeer! I have fond memories of this film from when I was a boy. Saw it on laserdisc.
    Dalton looks great here. And the purple dinner jacket would probably work as a Bond Villain outfit. I think Sinclair would make a great Bond villain. I can definitely imagine him gloating about his plans while Brosnan or Craig is strapped to a laser or something.

    • Exactly. And he has the perfect villain laugh.

      I can still remember going to see this in the theater when I was 8 years old. I rediscovered it about 10 years after that and it has been a favorite ever since. Definitely in my top ten.

      Unfortunately, I don’t have much to say about the dinner jacket. I do love Connelly’s dress in this scene, though. Something insanely sexy about those long gloves.

    • It seems the lovely Ms. Connelly has put us all under her spell! I agree that the gloves are very nice.

      Dalton also played the villain in Hot Fuzz and I thought he was great. He also looked like he was having a blast!
      As a side note, Brosnan has a cameo in the ‘sequel’ to Hot Fuzz playing a country academic (complete with a beard and tweed jacket). I don’t remember the exact outfit but I remember thinking it was quite interesting.

  6. Understandably.
    I still wonder why silk lapels are banned from off-white dinner jackets. I do wear silk-faced lapels on my -summer- night blue dinner jackets, just as on the winter versions.
    Why ostracizing the silk on the summer off-white ones, if they are discreet ?

    • Black tie is all about following tradition, and there is no historical tradition behind silk lapels on a white dinner jacket. Whilst a dark jacket needs silk lapels to identify it as a dinner jacket rather than a suit jacket, a white dinner jacket doesn’t need silk lapels to mark it as such.

  7. Trying desperately to ignore Jennifer Connelly for five seconds, although it goes against the spirit of this blog, I still maintain that it is very, very difficult for Timothy Dalton to look anything other than a complete dude in almost any clothing. It’s not his tailor, it’s just him. Admittedly, in some films, he can sometimes be hamstrung by a daft haircut but he remains the coolest man on the planet in my mind.

    Returning briefly to Jennifer Connelly for a moment, I agree she is still very beautiful now, and seemingly un-aging, but I miss the fuller figure she had when she was younger. Dear lord.

    • It’s a shame to know that he generally doesn’t wear tailored clothing or care for it very much. Even in Hot Fuzz he looked great and had undeniable charisma, despite being portrayed as one of the fuddy-duddies at 63 years old.

      Connelly’s slimmed down a bit for sure, but that’s her choice alone to make.

  8. Thanks for covering this one. Dalton is terrific in this film, charismatic in a way that doesn’t always show thru in his Bond films (and Dalton defenders, hold your fire – I am a fan of his Bond). The clothing is interesting and Dalton appears relaxed.

    Aside from the obvious, Connelly is an amazing actress who makes her roles, the writing, and her co-stars better (last year’s “Noah” notwithstanding”) and she is always interesting on screen and beautiful (even when she isn’t supposed to be).

  9. Traditions indeed.
    We would not be here in the first place if it were not for traditions, and the value we attach to them. Somehow, even though most dogmas remain gladly unchanged, some ‘modifications’ have appeared along the way. White waistcoat vs black waistcoat, wing collar with black tie being acceptable before being looked down upon (by me at least), cummerbund or absence thereof, vents becoming accepted vs a strict tradition of banned vents, flapped pocket occasionally resurfacing, etc, etc…
    The list is –nearly- endless.

    Little is said about silk lapels for off-white warm weather jackets. Probably because it is such a new (relatively) item, and that it lacks a long lasting tradition ?

    In the ultimate reference, one only reads:

    “Traditionally, the lapels are self facing meaning that they are covered in the same fabric as the rest of the jacket”.

    Nothing is said about transgressing any long-dated tradition by adding silk to the lapels.

    Combined with another comment: “The peak lapel is relatively rare on the summer coat”, there seems to be room for a little bending.
    Every time Bond wears an off-white jacket, they are not the ‘traditional’ shawl collar (peaked or notch).

    The page that is interesting is the following:

    I refer to this image in particular:

    The silk lapels are certainly on the wide side (1970s oblige) but the presence of silk is not that disturbing, in my humble opinion.

    They also help to somewhat differentiate from the waiters’ uniforms. On top of being off-white and well cut, of course

    Last quote:
    “The key to dressing well is to find freedom within the rules. Anyone can be completely different, since it’s easy to be outrageous. The trick is to be just that bit different. »

    • Not saying this is a definite answer, but part of it may have been that white was already “different” enough from a regular jacket that matched the trousers and that silk lapels and covered buttons would make even more of a statement. Also consider that the black/midnight blue trousers they are worn with have a black silk stripe down the sides and the white satin does not match it. (Since they are pretty much taken from one’s regular dinner suit.) Yet, I have seen some examples of white dinner jackets with black silk facings (including an incorrectly-dressed James Bond pastiche in the blaxploitation parody series “Black Dynamite”) and they don’t look very good to me, since they look even more flashy. I’m guessing that those who innovated the white dinner jacket eventually settled on the compromise of self facings and mother of pearl buttons. To me, this sort of understated elegance works best with everything else in black tie.

  10. Dalton’s character in this film was loosely based on Errol Flynn, about whom there were suspicions of being a Nazi sympathizer, along with being adept at fencing and a serial womanizer etc.

  11. Great movie,bad tuxedo.
    Is a pity that Adventures of Rocketeer was not become a successful series.
    Sometimes the audience is stupid.

  12. Thanks, Jovan for your nuanced comment, which I just noticed.
    You are most right, indeed. Now we have to consider your input in the light of velvet smoking jackets.
    I inherited a dark blue one, with grosgrain shawl collar and cuffs, no vents, and single button. It must be from the late 1940s – mid 1950s. I obviously wear it with night blue trousers, with a black silk stripe, borrowed from a regular evening suit. There is quite a contrast here too, as the silk does not match the grosgrain, except in colour.

    I know you are not a fan (putting it mildly) of the white jacket worn by Harrison Ford (!). Far too white, black waistcoat and –again- silk lapels. Anachronistic or too creative, in many ways.
    I guess one would now have to explore the supposed source of inspiration, or Mess Jacket.

    When looking at this picture, the contrast between the collar and the left lapel seems to indicate a different covering, and it is not a shadow effect.
    But I may be wrong.

    Again, this one would looks quite timeless to me, if it were not for a few 70s clues:

    Finally, have a look at Prince Albert of Monaco.
    Slight contrast between collar and lapels, silk- covered buttons. Not really shocking, because discreetly executed.

    PS. Your comment about black lapels on white dinner jacket is understandable. And far too diplomatic 😉


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.