The dress code of the last decade has, for men at least, been an increasingly casual one. Dress-down ease, sporty athleticism and an unfortunate decline in upright sartorialism (when was the last time you wore a tie?). It’s little wonder that a whole new crop of men are looking to the smarter dress codes of days gone by; see Madonna’s 23-year-old son Rocco Ritchie in 1970s suiting, for example.
Or the launch of a whole 1970s-themed collection from British style journalist Ben Cobb at Tiger of Sweden, which celebrates the flamboyant loucheness of that decade. Menswear writer Derek Guy claimed this week that Dustin Hoffman in 1979’s Kramer vs. Kramer is the ultimate in debonair style, and it’s not hard to see why; his beleaguered character Ted looks great and absolutely of-the-era in his Seventies tailored blazers, preppy shirts and excellent army jackets.
It certainly was a golden chapter in men’s style via the lens of cinema. There was Steve McQueen with his huge aviator shades and cable knits shrugged over his shoulders nonchalantly in Le Mans, Robert Redford in Downhill Racer’s plush shearling jacket (actually, Robert Redford in just about anything, and yes I know that Downhill Racer was released in 1969, but let’s not split style hairs).
“The Seventies was the decade with an extra button undone. There’s a sense of glamour and a let-it-all-hang-out flamboyance to Seventies style,” says Alex Bilmes, editor-in-chief of Esquire magazine. “Even traditional tailoring was a little bit louder and more louche. Big collars, wide lapels, kipper ties, Cuban heels, flared trousers, patterns and prints.”
The films of the Seventies continue to act as sartorial inspirations today. Just consider Jack Nicholson in Chinatown, debonair in immaculate three-piece suiting. Michael Caine cemented his style status in the iconic Get Carter, wearing just about one of the most powerful suits ever to grace cinema, while All The President’s Men saw Hoffman alongside the copper-haired Redford making a stellar case for a return to formality in the office; those donnish jackets with checked shirts are tricky to pull off, yet the pair do so with aplomb.
But back to Hoffman; what does he do in particular that gets it right? There’s the jackets, for starters; collegiate corduroy numbers worn with proper shirts and ties (in an era when more casual iterations weren’t a thing), as well as khaki army jackets, sleeveless knitted vests and crisp chinos instead of now-ubiquitous jeans. It also helps that the then 41-year-old Hoffman is surprisingly fresh-faced in the film, with that signature mop of Seventies hair.
A particularly relevant part of the film’s costumes – overseen by costume designer Ruth Morley – is that the shades are wonderfully autumnal. Where most men in winter fall back on familiar navy and black tones – never a friend to those of us with pasty complexions in the darker months – there’s a whole array of russet, caramel and olive tones. The Seventies was also an era of textures; weighty corduroy, tufted shearling and solid tweed jackets.
Part of the appeal of the style of Kramer vs. Kramer, alongside of-the-era films, lies in the fact they celebrate preppy Americana. A former tie salesman by the name of Ralph Lauren was beginning to make his presence felt in fashion, and would go on to market this particular sartorial approach. He mined the iconography of the East Coast Ivy League and Britishisms like country tweeds and winter sporting uniforms, and repackaged it to the American masses with roaring success.
If you’re assessing your winter wardrobe this December, it’s worth taking some cues from this moment in men’s fashion. Corduroy’s a great place to start, because it’s textured and warm without being overly heavy, plus there are different variants; needlecord is finer, while jumbo cord obviously has more impact. Then there’s the warm, sludgy colour palette which was championed, across a spectrum of beige and brown – and a rather excellent pair of shoes on Hoffman in the form of Gucci snaffle-bit loafers.
Today’s young pretenders like Timothée Chalamet and Harry Styles are all well and good, but they can’t hold a candle to these elder statesmen of grown-up style.
Get the look
Leather loafers, £220, Sebago