Why The Talented Mr Ripley look is still the pinnacle of stylish summer dressing

Anthony Minghella's spellbinding 1999 movie remains the absolute benchmark for summer style - Alamy

The charismatic Dickie Greenleaf’s appetite for fashion is as voracious as his obsession with women and living La Dolce Vita. “Let me buy you a jacket,” he says in the sumptuous big screen adaption of The Talented Mr Ripley, based on the 1955 Patricia Highsmith novel. “When we get to Rome, there’s a great place: Battistoni,” says Jude Law’s rakish Greenleaf to Matt Damon’s awkwardly shuffling Tom Ripley, the Pygmalion-meets-psychopathic shadow in his wake.

Of course, culturally the chilling tale has a rich heritage; after the book came 1960’s Purple Noon starring Alain Delon and Romy Schneider, both of them devastating in their depiction of riviera eleganza. This month, the story gets a new rendering at the hands of Netflix, in a new series starring Irish actor Andrew Scott as the monster-on-the-make. He’s got this work cut out for him, because the soft-focus style of Anthony Minghella’s spellbinding 1999 movie remains the absolute benchmark for summer style.

Andrew Scott as Tom Ripley in episode of Ripley
Andrew Scott reprises Tom Ripley in a new mini-series - Stefano Cristiano Montesi/Netflix

Where to start? There are those panoramas of Ischia, the rocky outcrop of the Albergo Il Monastero against lapping waters and Jude Law, Matt Damon and Gwyneth Paltrow in their 1950s attire crafted by Ann Roth, the Oscar-winning costume designer (who coincidentally features in a memorable scene in Greta Gerwig’s Barbie movie as an elderly lady who reminds the doll that beauty comes in all generations and forms). Ripley’s poison weaves its way through the happy group like the potent unfurling of vermouth in a negroni.

Greenleaf and Paltrow’s Marge, sweeping in from monied post-war Manhattan, land in Europe for a series of jaunts across the Amalfi coast and Venice, with a wardrobe that’s entirely of the era – full skirts, camp collar shirts – but also utterly desirable today.

Matt Damon and Gwyneth Paltrow in The Talented Mr Ripley
Damon models preppy style, while Gwyneth Paltrow's look is timeless - Alamy

From Greenleaf’s pastel-coloured wardrobe to Marge’s tie-fronted shirts and tablecloth-patterned skirts (which could be straight off the Prada catwalk), I’ve seen these scenes dot mood boards for the biggest names in fashion, from Paris to Milan.

Scott’s outing as Ripley looks somewhat darker – all chiaroscuro shades and functional, 1950s workwear – but will no doubt inspire a shift towards that era’s excellent menswear this summer.

Andrew Scott as Tom Ripley in Ripley
Scott channels functional 50s style early on in Ripley - Lorenzo Sisti/Netflix

I maintain that no man – apart from potentially Delon before him – has ever looked better on film than Law in his summery polo shirts and short shorts, chore jackets, soft-fit linen trousers and deck shoes and – when sweeping into the more metropolitan environs of Rome – immaculate tailoring that exudes a sense of sprezzatura ease; the drape of the shoulder, the fact that the trousers are fresh white (a nod to Marcello Mastroianni in La Dolce Vita) rather than corporate Americana greige.

Jude Law captures continental swagger in Minghella's masterpiece
Jude Law captures continental summer swagger in camp collar shirts and short shorts - Alamy

Roth (and Law) relish in the sheer Italianate lusciousness of it all; Ripley, by contrast, is the preppy American – for that’s all he knows – who can only aim to emulate Greenleaf’s effortless continental swagger. The first scene sees him slip on a Princeton crest; it’s not his, however. His suiting, too, was designed by Roth to fit badly, never quite looking ‘just so’ to Dickie Greenleaf’s absolute correctness and monied confidence in all situations.

“In the 1940s, we had the restriction of the war and limited fabric. After the war, Dior came with the New Look and that was very interesting, with the use of more fabric, the bigness of men’s clothes,” said Roth in an interview in 2000. “When we went into the ’50s, then the jet-set thing started to happen – Italians, the Riviera, Brigitte Bardot and the Mambo Kings, there was a certain air about town.”

How evocatively she conjures that world, and how tempting it all seems now in the era of Ryanair and the proliferation of Zara shirts and too-tight shorts and trousers on men in warmer climes today. Call it the Love Island effect; “athletic fit” shirting that’s designed to enhance a fellow’s David Lloyd-hewn deltoids, a wacky “holiday shirt” in a garish print and spray-on effect shorts and trousers. Nothing wrong with a bold pattern here or there, of course, and it’s rather joyous when the sun’s out, but when Law, Damon and the spellbinding cinematography of Minghella offer an alternative, it’s worth exploring those seductive codes.

Matt Damon, Jude Law, Gwyneth Paltrow in The Talented Mr Ripley
Ripley, the preppy American, can only aim to emulate Greenleaf's effortless continental swagger - Alamy

For men, that translates into camp collar shirts in muted colours and a reliance on softness and ease of fabrication over gleaming Daz whites and spray-on proportions. A rumpled linen trouser with a pair of deck shoes or espadrilles, or chore jacket over blousy trousers for when a touch of seafaring calls (be careful of errand oars, mind you). And for aperitivo hour, that soft fit approach applies to tailoring in the way that Italians get so right; the roped shoulder, the trousers that sit away from the body so that there’s a degree of aeration.

Of course, costumery can get rather ridiculous and Am Dram – no-one’s expecting a full pastiche of 1950s dressing and Vespa rides with the Positano sunset on the horizon.

But a few gentle references to one of the most stylish cast of characters of all time, and one of the most magical eras of fashion, is no bad thing. It’s a lifestyle and a world that the machiavellian Mr Ripley so badly wanted for himself that he’d do anything to get it. Long live this sinister tale of bel paese style at its very best.

Get the look...

Ornos polo shirt, £215, smrdays.com; Castaner espadrilles, £60, farfetch.com
Ornos polo shirt, £215, smrdays.com; Castaner espadrilles, £60, farfetch.com

Ornos polo shirt, £215, smrdays.com; Castaner espadrilles, £60, farfetch.com

Linen shorts, £150, lovebrand.com; PO3272S sunglasses, £214, persol.com
Linen shorts, £150, lovebrand.com; PO3272S sunglasses, £214, persol.com

Linen shorts, £150, lovebrand.com; PO3272S sunglasses, £214, persol.com