‘You’re Gonna Need a Bigger Coat’

The Academy Awards went to best Sound, Film Editing, and Original Score for Steven Spielberg’s Jaws, but to our line of thinking, best Costume Design should also have taken an Oscar. Yet awards presentations aren’t known for rewarding subtlety, and so, in a year heavy with period film nominations—The Four Musketeers, The Man Who Would Be King, and Barry Lyndon, the latter, which won the 1975 Oscar—it’s no surprise that the effortless Martha’s Vineyard-by-way-of-Manhattan style of Jaws’s lead characters went unnoticed.

The “looks” of Roy Scheider (Martin Brody), Richard Dreyfuss (Matt Hooper), and the great Robert Shaw (Captain Quint) could have been caricature: the hydrophobic New York cop, the trust-fund marine biologist, and the salty shark hunter, respectively.

In the wrong hands, with ill-conceived direction, the film could have ended up with Scheider looking like he walked off the set of The French Connection, Dreyfuss in “Nantucket Reds” whale-print ascot and Gilligan hat, and Shaw in some Ahab getup.

image Leather belt with barbed hook buckle by Kiel Mead.

Instead, the wardrobe supervisors, led by Robert Ellsworth (who shockingly went un-credited), opted to dress the trio as men who are as comfortable in their skin as they are in their life roles. The essentials they don are as distressed as their characters. Yes, they are composites, but authentic ones.

And there are style transformations, as subtle as they are, as the three become one in their myopic journey to kill a threat to what ultimately becomes their home turf: the Atlantic Ocean, and the reticent, friendly summer resort town of Amity.

imageDistressed Levi’s.

While Hooper appears to be play-acting the role of boy oceanographer upon arrival (dressed in seaman’s cap and Levi’s denim jacket, toting a cracked brown leather rucksack), he eases into sweatshirts and jeans, and is wearing almost the same denim shirt as Quint—his nemesis—by the second half of the film, which is all shot at sea.

Brody appears ill at ease in the opening of the film, donning various incarnations of his police chief outfit. But he changes into his New York-ified black turtleneck with jeans and clear aviators (with cigarette) when the three finally hit the open sea. It’s as if he’s decided to dress to kill. Layering, too, is everything.

imageA swarthy look from the Calvin Klein Collection, Fall 2008.

Quint’s hunting jacket-meets-army surplus, with long-billed fisherman’s cap, is perhaps the signature outfit, defining his I-don’t-give-a-fuck attitude. Perfect for scratching a Town Meeting chalkboard or singing “Show Me the Way to Go Home” in a boat hull. It is a utilitarian look, with lots of pockets, and masculine personified.

While the men’s fashion season’s offerings are decidedly more fey (and pricey), the Jaws look—outdoorsy and prep—can be mixed-and-matched with essentials from Levi’s (vintage and new), the so-distressed Double RL brand, and Gap, together with perhaps some more high-end pieces out of Yves Saint Laurent, Calvin Klein, John Varvatos, Polo, and Bottega Venetta. Then again, there’s always your local army surplus store in a pinch.

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