The wardrobe and style of the principal characters in the 1999 film The Talented Mr Ripley play a crucial role in the story. The contrast between Jude Law’s character, Dickie Greenleaf, and Matt Damon’s eponymous Tom Ripley, establishes the differences between the pairs’ backgrounds, confidence, personalities, wealth, and sense of style.
The artful focus on style was the result of hiring one of Hollywood’s most celebrated costume designers – Oscar winner Anne Roth. The movie, directed by Anthony Minghella, was nominated for five Academy Awards, including Best Costume Design for Ann Roth and Gary Jones. There are also hints of design influences throughout the film from Purple Noon - the 1960s movie version of the book.
The iconic outfits of all characters, but especially those of Dickie Greenleaf, are so expertly tied to the narrative, they demand a closer look.
The sartorial contrast of Tom Ripley and Dickie Greenleaf
The movie’s memorable costumes flawlessly and accurately represent the fashions of the mid-1950s. But this is not generic 50s. Instead, Roth and Jones artfully differentiate between American and Italian styles at the time while also revealing the disparity in the upbringing of the two leads.
Ripley is dressed in knitted ties, khaki chinos, and brown brogues, capped off with square glasses and a slightly ill-fitting corduroy jacket. Interestingly, his classic Oxford cloth button down shirts (OCBD) are similar to those worn by the character in Purple Noon. They establish his style. The clothing clearly hails from the American East Coast with overtones of Ivy League attire which, like the character, is out of place on the Italian Riviera.
Ripley states he had never been to Italy before, and it shows. His appearance is in stark contrast to the more casual styles of southern Italy and the outfits worn by the wealthy jet-set socialites like Greenleaf and his friends.
Dickie Greenleaf, on the other hand, epitomises style and Riviera chic. He wears a variety of outfits, depending on locale, but they all reveal a character with an innate sense of flair who has acclimatised to his surroundings. His clothing perfectly matches the setting, with accompanying accessories adding a further touch of style, such as classic sunglasses, a steel wristwatch, gold rings, and a pork pie hat.
Both characters are on a limited budget as Ripley lacks money, and Greenleaf may get cut off at any moment. However, the former’s clothes are baggy and off the rack, while the latter wears high quality, perfectly tailored outfits that are a bit frayed around the edges. Both characters are aware of the contrast, with Greenleaf offering to share his clothes with Ripley but noting: “Most of it is ancient”.
Much of the movie is set in the warm and laid-back climate of the Amalfi coast, and Greenleaf’s outfits match his environment. The differences continue when the pair visit different locations, with Ripley tending toward more staid clothing and Greenleaf exhibiting his trademark adaptability.
Toward the end of the movie, when Ripley starts to ‘become’ Greenleaf, his prime focus is the adoption of Greenleaf’s unique and well-chosen attire.
The nonchalant style of Dickie Greenleaf
Greenleaf’s wardrobe epitomises the easy nonchalance of someone who has grown up with money. At first glance, many of his daytime outfits seem simply to mimic casual Italian styles. However, they are clearly of high quality, and the ease with which he combines comfortable but classy, frequently pastel-coloured outfits adds to his carefree charm.
For a lot of the movie, Greenleaf mixes formal and casual elements. For example, in Mongibello, he favours camp collar shirts, vintage Italian knits, or a white linen shirt for sailing. These are paired with white trousers or even pink Bermuda shorts and white penny loafers or white canvas backless sneakers. Even when casually dressed, he adds accessories such as rings, a black leather Gucci belt, and vintage Persol Ratti sunglasses.
When the protagonists visit the jazz club in Naples, Ripley wears a somewhat downbeat black jacket, white shirt, and plain tie. In contrast, Dickie Greenleaf opts for an off-white linen sport jacket, bold diagonally striped tie, and porkpie hat.
It is in Rome that his sartorial style truly shines. In both versions of the film, Greenleaf wears a single-breasted navy dupioni silk jacket. In the more recent movie, the jacket comes with subtle peak lapels, double vents, and three silver shank buttons.
Under this, he wears a white shirt with a point collar and double French cuffs, with gold-coloured rectangular cufflinks. He is also wearing a bold diagonally striped tie along with beige trousers and two-tone penny loafers worn without socks. The outfit is capped with his signature hat.
Interestingly, an eagle-eyed commenter on the BAMF style website noted that Ann Roth and Gary Jones might well have been inspired by the very similar ensemble worn by Umberto Agnelli at the 1960 Olympics in Rome.
This mix of clothing, colour schemes and accessories are bold choices, but Greenleaf makes them work. At the San Remo film festival, the navy dupioni silk jacket makes another appearance, but this time it is paired with a polka dot tie. Again, he pulls it off.
How to get the look
The 1950s has a distinctive look, and throughout The Talented Mr Ripley Roth and Jones accurately recreate the cool fashions and elegant styles of the era. Yet, these are nearly all outfits and looks that the fashion-savvy are wearing today.
Dickie Greenleaf’s innate style, carried off with nonchalance and carefree confidence, is a look many men aspire to and is relatively easy to achieve. You can start with individual elements, such as his navy dupioni jacket or off-white sports jacket, which fit with a wide range of outfits. If going for a more relaxed summer look, a Giro Inglese camp collar shirt and pair of white trousers are an easy contemporary pairing. Even Greenleaf’s passion for pastel is currently in trend.
For a more understated, classic look, Tom Ripley’s corduroy sports jacket, Oxford cloth button down shirt, dark knitted tie and khaki chinos will never go out of fashion. It all depends on what image an individual wants to portray.
The Talented Mr Ripley is an excellent movie in its own right. The artful way the juxtaposing styles of Ripley and Greenleaf drive the plot is masterfully done. For lovers of clothes and good tailoring, the talents of Ann Roth and Gary Jones also make the film a sartorial treat.
Now, in 2021, the look of both characters is very much in vogue. The 50s are back and with it – an easy choice of styles.