Ivy Style in The Graduate (1967)

Ivy Style in The Graduate (1967)

I will always have a soft spot in my heart for The Graduate. Perhaps the breakout performance of Dustin Hoffman’s early career and certainly a commercial success, The Graduate is as much a defining piece of late 1960’s culture as it is a film. The story follows Benjamin Braddock, in his summer following graduation from an East-Coast college. I first saw the film about 10 years ago but it remains one of my favorites to this day. What I hadn’t been paying as much attention to back then, were the wardrobe choices that helped to define Benjamin’s character and set the tone for the film. In this article, I will attempt to highlight some of the interesting sartorial elements of the movie and take a good-natured look at the finer details of the costuming.
The story itself revolves around the theme of the returning, alienated scholar, coming of age in a strange and rapidly evolving era.
The title scene begins all too familiarly, with Benjamin landing at Los Angeles International, as Simon & Garfunkel’s venerable “The Sounds of Silence” plays in the background. We see our protagonist armed with a blank expression, a grey, flannel suit, oxford cloth button-down shirt, and what appears (according to sources) to be a Williams College tie as he travels down a moving walkway. Williams, much like Amherst College, would have been at the late-height of “trad” at this time–in accordance with other elite East Coast institutions that defined the style that has been emulated for many decades following.

 

Ben is walked outside at his graduation party by “Mr. McGuire”. Here we see him wearing a silk regimental tie, navy blazer, and grey wool trousers, with another button-down collar shirt (Bet it’s Brooks Brothers!)
The edge swelling of his flannel wool blazer is distinctly collegiate compared to the smoking jacket and 50’s esque floral tie worn by Mr. McGuire

 

 

 

By the pool, one of the most memorable and frequently quoted lines of the film (and Cinema in general!) is delivered:

Mr. McGuire: I just want to say one word to you – just one word.
Ben: Yes sir.
Mr. McGuire: Are you listening?
Ben: Yes I am.
Mr. McGuire: ‘Plastics.’

There are two bits of irony to this quote….as in the decades following the film’s release, quite literally everything started to become made of plastic as our culture shifted to the disposable, consumeristic and wasteful society we are today. Clothes are not immune from this fate either. Had this story taken place in the 2000’s instead of the 1960’s, one could bet good money that one of those gentlemens J.C. Penny-bought “Stafford” shirts or suits would be 40% polyester…also known as PLASTIC!

 

 

 

A later scene at the hotel finds Ben wearing a 2-button tweed jacket, white OCBD shirt, and a black knit tie.
Comfortable in his ivy-styled clothes, but not in his own skin, Benjamin sits anxiously with the cougar (or leopard?)  Mrs. Robinson

 

It’s hard to see, but the jacket even has a single, hook vent in the rear…
…and patch pockets in the front

 

In one of the more famous scenes in the movie, we see Benjamin with an open oxford shirt, and undone repp tie.

 

Benjamin flings on this tan corduroy sport coat, creating the iconic poster-image for the film– but here we get a better look of the repp tie underneath. If you scroll up to the DVD jacket cover above, you can see the same scene perhaps a second or two later.

 

Ben dons a seersucker jacket with his usual oxford shirt combo. The confused, perhaps empty stare here is a beautiful example of Ben’s personality through the film- highlighting his state of existential abyss post-graduation.
He spend’s a good portion of the film uncomfortable in his current situation.

 

“Too frat to care”

Drinking a coors while wearing menacingly short swim trunks and floating in a pool is now officially on the top of my summer to-do list.

Mr. Braddock: “Ben, what are you doing?”
Ben: “Well, I would say that I’m just drifting here in the pool.”
Mr. Braddock: “Why?”
Ben: “Well, it’s very comfortable just to drift here.”
Mr. Braddock: “Have you thought about graduate school?”
Ben: “No.”
Mr. Braddock: “Would you mind telling me then what those four years of college were for? What was the point of all that hard work?”
Ben: “You got me.”

 

Here, Ben has made his way to UC Berkeley in pursuit of the other Ms. Robinson, Elaine. He wears both his corduroy jacket and oxford shirt unbuttoned, in contrast to the more formal appearances earlier in the film. The film narrowly predates the beginning of the Summer of Love (1967) and Woodstock era, which would have changed the culture of The San Francisco area of California forever. In this scene we capture the culture of SF immediately before this massive social change which can still be observed today.

 

 

Preppy no-break trouser sighting. We also see the predominantly earthy color pallet of beige, tans, greens and browns incorporated into the outfits worn on campus.

 

Ben confronts Elaine’s new med-student boyfriend, Carl, seen here with a pipe, tan overcoat, skinny tie and brown sportcoat.
As a 6′ tall Scandinavian, anyone want to bet he rows for Cal?

 

One last thing I must add:  After watching the film for the first time many years ago I fell in love with the Red Alfa Romeo Spider so prominently featured in the story. If it wasn’t for the harsh snowy New-England winters, I would probably have bought one by now. Owning an Alfa will forever be a small dream of mine, mostly due to the way the
car is portrayed in this film.
How I feel taking the bus wearing all pastels and sockless loafers.

Overall, The Graduate is a beautiful, intelligent, hilarious, and revolutionary film that despite being nearly 50 years old, has just as much impact now as when it was released–a true enduring classic.
Taking some style cues from Ben isn’t a bad idea either: Most of the clothes he is wearing throughout the movie are as perfectly stylish now as they were in 1967, and that my friends is the enduring nature of the “trad”
look. You can’t say the same about the clothes of the Breakfast Club characters or other films which have a distinct, fleeting “era” attached to them.


Disclaimer: Images are content from MGM and are used here for non-commercial commentary only under fair use.

Aaron Doucett
Aaron is a graduate of the University of Massachusetts, Amherst and works as a cartographer in Cambridge, MA. Outside of work, he enjoys rowing, cycling, and hunting for vintage ties at thrift stores.

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