The legendary Dick Van Dyke turns 98 years old this week. It’s a stretch to include Van Dyke in the scope of this blog, but despite being an American actor, singer, dancer and comedian, he has a handful of things in common with James Bond. He played the Ian Fleming character Caractacus Potts in Cubby Broccoli’s 1968 film production of Chitty Chitty Bang Bang. The film’s screenplay was written by Roald Dahl, who also wrote the screenplay for You Only Live Twice, and the film employed Bond production designer Ken Adam. The film also features Bond-series alumni Desmond Llewelyn and Gert Fröbe. Just before Chitty Chitty Bang Bang started filming in the summer of 1967 at Pinewood Studios, Van Dyke attended the premiere of You Only Live Twice.
When Dick Van Dyke was interviewed on Kevin Pollak’s Chat Show in 2013, he mentioned that Cubby Broccoli asked him take over the role of James Bond from Sean Connery, but Cubby rethought the idea after Van Dyke reminded him of his infamously poor attempt at a British accent in Mary Poppins (1964).
Three decades later on his television show Diagnosis Murder, Van Dyke’s character Dr Mark Sloan lived on the beach just a few doors down from the real home of Bond actor Pierce Brosnan on Broad Beach Road in Malibu, CA.
Van Dyke’s second-most famous character, after Bert from Mary Poppins, is probably The Dick Van Dyke Show‘s Rob Petrie, whom he played from 1961 to 1966. Petrie is portrayed as a James Bond fan in the 1966 episode ‘The Man From My Uncle’. In this episode a United States government agent named Bond, Harry Bond—who claims he’s ‘not 007’—uses the Petrie house for a stakeout, and Petrie is fascinated with the agent and his gadgets despite the agent having a far less glamourous job than James Bond has. Van Dyke plays such an enthusiastic Bond fan that it suggests he must have been one in real life. When he briefly talked with Kevin Pollak about Bond, it sounded like he is indeed a fan.
His style on The Dick Van Dyke Show even had a few things in common with James Bond’s style, most notably in his cocktail cuff shirts. His extraordinary style on The Dick Van Dyke Show is the reason for the piece about him, both as it relates to Bond’s clothing and for its own brilliance.
Van Dyke’s height, good looks and exceptional style are at odds with a character famous for tripping over an ottoman in his own home. In the 1960s, Van Dyke was a tall, slim man of 6’1″. He is considerably taller than his idols of slapstick comedy, Buster Keaton and Charlie Chaplin, who were both 5’5″, and Stan Laurel, who was 5’8″. Keaton was also known to be a well-dressed man, so his style combined with physical comedy may have inspired Van Dyke to follow in his footsteps in The Dick Van Dyke Show.
Who Tailored Dick Van Dyke?
Van Dyke took serious interest in his clothes in the 1960s, and his style was noticed by Cary Grant. In his 2013 apperance on Kevin Pollak’s Chat Show he mentioned that he wore his own clothes in the 1960 production of Bye Bye Birdie on Broadway and admitted, ‘I had some nice suits. I was a bit of a fop.’ Cary Grant came into Van Dyke’s dressing room, shoved him aside and started going through his suits. Van Dyke had a best-dressed award—he thinks it was called The After Six Award—that Grant signed, “Well! Cary Grant”. He told Pollak that the two of them would talk about clothes.
At the time Van Dyke was starring in Bye Bye Birdie on Broadway, he was living in New York and most likely used a tailor in New York. When he got the part on The Dick Van Dyke Show, he moved to Los Angeles and had to find a new tailor.
As Rob Petrie, Van Dyke dressed in bespoke suits, which were known simply as ‘custom’ in America. Though the credits read, ‘Mr. Van Dyke’s Wardrobe furnished by “Botany” 500, Tailored by Daroff’, this was not the case literally. Van Dyke used a Beverly Hills tailor named Harry Cherry for his suits. Harry Cherry was the designer of the clothes and the shop proprietor with his name of the door, but he had cutters and tailors working for him.
Botany 500, an average-quality American clothier, paid for their name in the credits and, according to Vince Waldon’s book The Official Dick Van Dyke Show Book, also paid for Van Dyke’s wardrobe. The credit is cleverly and deceptively worded to mean that Daroff tailored clothes for Botany 500, not for Van Dyke. Botany 500 ‘furnished’ Van Dyke’s suits, in the form of paying his tailor. Van Dyke also appeared in advertisements for Botany 500.
In Waldron’s book, the show’s head of costuming Harald Johnson is quoted, ‘Dick was very, very particular about his clothes … He never wore off-the-rack suits. The only things he ever wore that were not custom-made were sportswear items.’ Johnson also said that the deal with Botany 500 provided the show’s producers Sheldon Leonard and Carl Reiner with suits from the same tailor who dressed Van Dyke.
Botany 500 paid a large sum for the Harry Cherry suits, jackets and trousers. In a series of advertisements in the Los Angeles Times in 1958 promoting a clearance sale of his ready-to-wear clothes—he was shifting to selling only custom clothes—his ready-to-wear suits originally cost from $125 to $225 and were made of ‘Italian and English imported fabrics in 100% cashmere, cashmere-silk and wool, Italian silks, mohairs, lightweight worsted, silk and mohair, etc.’
In a Los Angeles Times article by Charles Hillinger titled ‘West’s Most Costly Tailor Can’t Sew a Stitch’, published on 4 June 1974, it is stated that Cherry’s suits, which were all custom at this time, started at a $450. For comparison, that same year a Botany 500 suit in Dacron polyester and wool sold for $125 while a 100% wool suit sold for $150.
Little else has been published about Harry Cherry, but a few publications have mentioned Cherry as Van Dyke’s tailor in the 1960s. In an Los Angeles Time article by Susan King titled ‘The Case of “Little Girl Lost” : A Series Breakthrough’, published on 9 February 1997, actor Mike Connors identifies Cherry as his tailor for Mannix, and he says that he first met Dick Van Dyke through Cherry.
Harry Cherry not only tailored Mike Connors for Mannix, but he also tailored Bond-series alum Telly Savalas for Kojak. Botany 500 is also mentioned in both of those shows’ credits for dressing the respective actors. Botany 500 paid to have their name (or their Worsted-Tex line) in the credits of countless television shows during the 1960s and 1970s, claiming to outfit spies, cops, comedic leads, game show hosts and others. It’s unclear for which shows they dressed the men in their own suits and for which they only paid for their name in the credits, but their own suits were not worn by television stars as frequently as they wanted the public to believe.
Craig Stevens had a similar arrangement for Peter Gunn via Don Richards. Harry Cherry made his suits (which was mentioned in a New York Times article by Franz Lidz called ‘The Private Eye by Twilight’ on 7 April 2002) while Don Richards paid for the credit.
Charles Hillinger’s 1974 article also lists Anthony Quinn, Henry Fonda, Robert Goulet and Dustin Hoffman as customers of Harry Cherry. In the article Cherry described himself as a trend-setter, saying, ‘My customers come to me because of my ability to foretell fashions.’ Cherry may have been the last influential American designer who ran a traditional tailoring shop.
Rob Petrie’s Early Suits
For most of The Dick Van Dyke Show, Van Dyke wears Harry Cherry suits in a style typical for Hollywood tailors in the 1960s: a trim suit with one button on the front. However, Van Dyke didn’t start the series wearing suits in this style.
In the first episode of the series in 1961 titled ‘The Sick Boy and The Sitter’, Van Dyke’s suits were cut more typically for the era and setting, with three buttons and no darts on the front. However, they include sporty English details like hacking pockets, ticket pockets, double vents, raised shoulder seams and gauntlet cuffs. These suits may have been the same New York suits that Cary Grant admired.
The shirt in the first episode introduces Van Dyke’s high button-down collar with a double-button stand, which he would continue to wear through the rest of the series. The shirt has double cuffs, an unorthodox choice the button-down collar. Cary Grant also wore button-down shirts with double cuffs.
Throughout most of the first season he primarily wears rather typical suits in the ‘Updated American’ style, with three buttons and the lapels gently rolling over the top button in a three-roll-two-and-a-half style. The suits also have two cuff buttons, a darted front, very short double vents and belted trousers with a Hollywood waist. It’s possible that Harry Cherry made these suits. The high button-down collar continues, but the shirts have button cuffs, which either fasten with two buttons or a single extra-large pyjama button. These clothes would have passed as believable for someone working in New York City, but they weren’t entirely typical for New York.
Petrie’s style would soon evolve and move fully into a 1960s Hollywood style.
Rob Petrie and the Hollywood Suit
Starting halfway through the first season in early 1962, Van Dyke premiered his quintessential single-button suits, which he would wear through the rest of the show. He started with two checked suits, a dark solid suit and a blazer. He even wears the same style in the 1963 film Bye Bye Birdie. Later he introduced striped suits and other jackets in this style. These clothes were made by Harry Cherry.
A button-one jacket is not so different from a button-two jacket that lacks the lower button. Some tailors, particularly American tailors, chose to place the button of a button-one jacket lower than the top button of a button-two jacket, but the ideal button position is the same for both styles. The main difference is that the foreparts of a button-one jacket may be more cutaway below the waist than those on a button-two jacket, but this is not always the case. Cherry has chosen to style his button-one jackets with a dramatic cutaway that would not suit a jacket with a second button. This is the Hollywood way, while English tailors typically cut their button-one jackets with more closed quarters similar to how they cut button-two jackets.
The button-one suit is usually seen as flashier than a button-two suit—particularly when it has a more dramatic cutaway—and it is rather bold for Rob Petrie, even though he’s in show business and is the head writer for a comedy television show. It’s a Hollywood-style suit, yet Petrie works in New York City. New York City’s tailors in the 1960s were not this flashy. If Petrie had been the head writer of a television show in Hollywood, his unmistakably Hollywood bespoke suits would have made sense.
The Petries are supposed to be a relatable middle-class family of the 1960s, with the only aspiration being their glamourous life in show business. They live in a typical middle-class ranch house in suburban New Rochelle, NY, inspired by show-creator Carl Reiner’s own middle-class split-level house in New Rochelle that had the same bow window to the right of the front door. Bespoke suits from Los Angeles are out of character for Petrie. Though Hillinger’s article says that many of Harry Cherry’s customers fly out from New York and Chicago just to see him, Rob Petrie would be unlikely to do that. The Dick Van Dyke Show is a comedy, however, and while the characters are meant to be relatable, they are not meant to be entirely realistic.
Single-button suits and jackets were popular in both the United States and England during the 1960s, at least on television. In British television, Patrick Macnee famously wears them in The Avengers and Patrick McGoohan wears them on occasion in Danger Man. They were a staple on American television they could be seen on many actors and presenters, including:
- Don Adams in Get Smart
- Efrem Zimbalist Jr. in The F.B.I.
- Robert Vaughn in The Man from U.N.C.L.E.
- Peter Graves in Mission: Impossible
- Craig Stevens in Peter Gunn
- Raymond Burr in Ironside
- Rod Serling in The Twilight Zone
- Bob Barker in Truth or Consequences
- Sammy Davis, Jr. in The Sammy Davis, Jr. Show
- Eddie Albert in Green Acres
- Gale Gordon in The Lucy Show and Here’s Lucy
Many of these people played spies in their respective shows. As mentioned above, Stevens used Harry Cherry, and it’s likely other American actors in this list did too. Dick Van Dyke is not the only person on the The Dick Van Dyke Show to wear single-button suits. Morey Amsterdam’s character Buddy wears them too, and Harry Cherry probably made his suits too. The frequency with which single-button suits appeared on television did not reflect their popularity in the real world.
James Bond even got in on the trend and wears one single-button suit in the 1960s films: a dark blue suit in You Only Live Twice. He’d go on to wear only a couple more in later films.
Along with Harry Cherry, Sy Devore defined the single-button suit as the Hollywood style before it became associated with H. Huntsman of Savile Row in the 1970s. Decades later, tailor Tom Stasinis of Beverly Hills would continue the Hollywood tradition and make the same style for game show host Bob Barker on The Price Is Right.
Dick Van Dyke continued to wear single-button suits after The Dick Van Dyke Show. He wears them updated for the 1970s with wide lapels in the 1974 episode of Columbo ‘Negative Reaction’. In promotions for the 2023 CBS television special Dick Van Dyke 98 Years of Magic, Van Dyke has been pictured wearing a navy single-button with swelled edges, which he also wore to the premiere of Mary Poppins Returns in 2018.
Dick Van Dyke’s Fine-Check Suit
Out of all of Dick Van Dyke’s single-button suits on The Dick Van Dyke Show to explore further, I chose a suit in a fine check pattern from the 1964 episode ‘My Neighbor’s Husband’s Other Life’. Not only is it one of Van Dyke’s quintessential Harry Cherry single-button suits, the whole outfit looks almost like something James Bond could have worn in the 1960s.
The exact pattern of the suit is difficult to decipher on screen. It looks almost like sharkskin, but the texture is too pronounced, and because there are lines through the suit at regular intervals it means it is some sort of fine check. Because the show was filmed in black and white, it makes the colour of the suit impossible to know. The suit is light-coloured, possibly in contrasting grey, light blue or tan, and it may have a coloured overcheck that impossible to see on screen. Because the suit could be interpreted as grey, it looks quite Bondian. Van Dyke wears a similar grey checked suit with a red overcheck in Bye Bye Birdie, but it’s not the same suit because the lapels have a different shape.
The cut and style of the suit is ‘Updated American’, but it is inspired by English and French tailoring. The narrow shoulders are padded to give some presence to Van Dyke’s slim body. Following American style they have natural sleeve heads. The front of the jacket is darted and the waist is gently suppressed to give his body a little more shape.
The notched lapels are narrow and made in the French cran necker style with an angled fishmouth notch. Interestingly, the lapel is wider than the collar. The lapels roll gently and elegantly down to the button in a way that is characteristic of a bespoke suit’s construction. The button stance is slightly low to emphasise the chest.
The jacket is detailed with short 7-inch double vents, a trendy style in America in the 1960s. Even shorter vents were trendy, but Van Dyke’s height necessitated longer vents for the same effect. The cuffs have two buttons that are spaced apart, which is a traditional American style.
The suit trousers have a flat front with a high rise and medium-width tapered legs, hemmed with short turn-ups. The waistband has an extension with a hidden hook-and-eye closure. The side pockets have a quarter slant off the side seam, and there are two jetted rear pockets without buttons.
The waist is tightened with side adjusters in a unique style. They are of the strap-and-buckle variety, but instead of securing with a slide buckle they have a belt-style center-post prong buckle with holes sewn into the straps. This style provides more exact and secure adjustment than the English styles of side adjusters, but the style is more labour intensive to construct than ordinary tabs.
The Unusual Button-Down Shirt
At first glance, Van Dyke’s pale-coloured shirt looks like an ordinary button-down shirt—meaning a shirt with a button-down collar—that the average man working in New York would have worn in the 1960s. The button-down collar dresses down both the formality of the suit as well as much of the flashiness of the Hollywood suit. It brings an accessibility to Van Dyke’s look.
But the shirt is not the ubiquitous Brooks Brothers button-down shirt. Harry Cherry also made Van Dyke’s shirts. Compared to the typical button-down collar, this collar is wider like a semi-spread collar instead of a point collar. It is considerably taller to better suit Van Dyke’s long neck, and it fastens at the neck with two stacked buttons. The lower button is the size of an ordinary collar button and the top button is a smaller button and offset to make it easier to button.
The collar’s points are around the classic length of 3 7/16 inches or a hair longer, with much of the length going into the collar’s roll. A classic American button-down collar has roll so it’s not rigid like the typical point or spread collar, but Van Dyke’s collar has even more roll than the most classic button-down collars have. The collar has a very lightweight structure, which contributes to the unpredictable nature of the roll. While some traditional button-down collars are made without any interfacing, this collar likely has a lightweight floating interfacing to support its height.
The higher and wider button-down collar is a signature of Rob Petrie’s look, starting from the show’s first episode, and he wears this collar almost exclusively. He even wears it for black tie—his dress shirt has this button-down collar and two-button cuffs, except all of the buttons are black. Yet Petrie isn’t averse to double cuffs, and he has double-cuff shirts with the same rolled collar that lacks the button-down buttons.
The most unusual detail of the shirt in ‘My Neighbor’s Husband’s Other Life’ is the cocktail cuffs, which returns us to the James Bond comparisons. Most of Van Dyke’s shirts have long two-button barrel cuffs (easily long enough to accommodate three buttons), but he wears cocktail cuffs in a handful of episodes in third season in late 1963 and early 1964, as well as on a few occasions in the fourth season. I noted a total of eight episodes where he wears the classic Bond cuff that Connery started wearing in Dr. No. Dr. No was released in the United States on 8 May 1963, less than a year before Van Dyke started wearing the cuff, and it most likely had an influence. At the time Van Dyke’s first cocktail cuff shirts were made, From Russia with Love had not yet been released in the United States.
Van Dyke wasn’t the only American television star to wear cocktail cuffs, but he was one of the first. In 1965 Don Adams wore them Get Smart and in 1966 Martin Landau wore them in Mission: Impossible.
The style of Van Dyke’s cocktail cuff is similar to the cuff on the Frank Foster shirts Roger Moore wears in The Man with the Golden Gun and Moonraker rather than the more rounded Turnbull & Asser style that Sean Connery wears in five of his Bond films. Like Moore’s cocktail cuff, Van Dyke’s cuff has two buttons spaced far apart, with the second button almost at the very end of the cuff so the cuff folds back at just the right place. The turned-back portion of the cuff folds flat and reveals the buttons in a narrow spread. The cuff design Van Dyke wears is so much like Frank Foster’s design that it suggests a Frank Foster customer brought a shirt to Harry Cherry to be copied.
Unlike the typically full-fitting shirts of the era, the fit of Van Dyke’s shirts is bespoke and close to his body. It wouldn’t have been uncommon for bespoke shirtmakers in America at the time to make their shirts with a full fit, but Van Dyke preferred a close fit.
The shirt is detailed with a front placket and no chest pocket. Van Dyke’s button-down shirt in the first episode has a pocket along with a fuller fit in a more classic American style, but the pocket went away on later shirts to complement the neatness of the close fit. Instead of pleats at the back of the shirt, the body of the shirt is gathered into the yoke.
Like James Bond, Dick Van Dyke wears a narrow dark solid tie. It could possibly be black, navy, burgundy or any other dark colour. Unlike James Bond’s ties, Van Dyke’s tie is smooth without a discernible text, probably in a repp weave. Like Bond, he ties it in a four-in-hand knot. Because the tie is narrow, the knot is quite small and takes up little of the space that the high and moderately spread collar provides, but the small knot that comes with the narrow tie was the fashion at the time. The knot sits neatly at the top of the collar band.
His shoes and socks are dark. The shoes are likely black or oxblood since those were the two most common colours in American shoes. The shoes are three-eyelet derbys, similar to what Sean Connery wears as James Bond in the early films. The last is chiselled, which was more modern than the typical round-toe or pointed lasts of the era.