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In the opening scene of Anthony Minghella’s 1999 movie The Talented Mr Ripley – based on the 1955 Patricia Highsmith novel of the same name – Matt Damon, the eponymous Tom Ripley, borrows a man’s Princeton blazer to play piano at a party for affluent New Yorkers (unbeknownst to party-goers he is simply the bathroom attendant, with a predilection for impersonation and forgery). Rarely has an item of clothing proved so decisive to a film’s plot: mistaken by one of the attendees for the classmate of his Ivy League-attending son, Dickie Greenleaf (Jude Law) – at that point MIA on the Italian Riviera – Ripley is offered cash on the behest that he brings Dickie home.
So sets off a chain of events in which the fast-talking Ripley ruthlessly embeds himself in the young Greenleaf’s privileged lifestyle among the pampered expatriates of 1950s Europe – eventually unravelling to a gruesome denouement. Clothing remains crucial, interwoven with wealth and status: amid the sumptuous backdrops of Ischia (here, the fictional Mongibello), Anzio (a stand in for San Remo) and Rome (playing itself), Dickie is the epitome of the louche glamour of the emerging jet-set – Ripley, though, is its antithesis, in baggy slacks and ill-fitting suits (“very American East Coast, but from Sears,” said costume designer Ann Roth).
And, while the unlucky Dickie might not survive to see the end of the movie, his vacation style has nonetheless proved timeless: Battistoni-tailored summer suits, in linen or cotton, knitted polo shirts and shorts in pale, sorbetto shades, loafers, a just-slicked-enough side parting and, of course, the kind of tan only achieved if you have the luxury of having nowhere else to be than the beach.
“I always thought it would be better to be a fake somebody than a real nobody” – Tom Ripley