For those of a rakish disposition, it’s chillingly ironic that the soft-woven two-piece referred to in the title of The Man In The Gray Flannel Suit, the 1955 novel by Sloan Wilson on which the 1956 movie adaptation starring Gregory Peck is based, represents the stale hypocrisy of the upstate-dwelling, Madison Avenue-commuting dullard: an emblem of those whose ambitions go no further than sustaining a quotidian suburban living through vacuous corporate endeavours.
The life of Tom Rath, viewers of the film quickly find out, was once vastly more colourful. The regular flash-back ruminations on his earlier life as a World War II army officer reveal deeds both heroic and less so (including the accidental killing of his best friend), as well as a torrid romance with Italian girl Marisa Pavan. So it’s perhaps apt that the elegantly draped suits Peck wears in the movie (not all of them grey, incidentally) reflect a man of depth and intrigue.
The movie character’s clothes have a distinctly Martini-dabbed touch of Mad Men about them, an effect enhanced by the fact that they’re caressing the distinctive form of Peck: a tailoring aficionado who ordered 160 suits from Huntsman over the course of his London visits, and whose frock coat from The Million Pound Note remains on display at Number 11 Savile Row. One has to suspect, in fact, that the gentle-mannered Californian – if his guises in Roman Holiday and To Kill A Mockingbird are anything to go by – would have checked the costume policy in advance, and offered the casting directors a hollow laugh if they had posited that his garb in the movie should reflect the conservatism and abject conformity it does in Wilson’s novel.
And hence, more than six decades after The Man in the Gray Flannel Suit’s release, nailing Peck’s look is no disentombing of some antiquated guise: his character would look far more in situ sauntering the chicest hotspots of contemporary Rome and London than the crannies and corridors of Manhattan’s more humdrum corporate environs. And, a great deal of the sartorial punch packed here comes courtesy of the very fabric – arguably the most underrated outside of sartorially savvy circles – afforded such unreasonably drab connotations by the movie’s title.