Frank Sinatra's Style
When Sinatra sang “you've either got or you haven't got style” in Robin And The 7 Hoods, it was with the light-hearted confidence of a man who'd got it. And he'd always had an eye for natty threads. While growing up he earned the nickname “Slacksie”, and the charge account he had at Geismer's department store, set up by his mother, encouraged him to see certain items of clothing as “spiffy, nifty and swell”. Later he would confess to being “a symmetrical man, almost to a fault” and that “my clothing must hang just so”. This is a man who would have two men lower him into his trousers before taking the stage so that they would have no creases.
His sense of style changed with the times. In the 1940s Sinatra, standing at around 5ft 10 in, wore big double-breasted jackets with shoulder pads, baggy trousers and floppy bow ties. These raffish accessories near the top of an unfeasibly slender frame, often sewn by Nancy, became icons in themselves.
In the 1950s his style was visible in his suits. More than one hundred and fifty of them were cut for him by Sy Devore, tailor to the stars, or Carroll & Co, both of Beverly Hills, and he had rules about colours: no brown to be worn after dark, but only black or, at a push, dark grey. His favourite suit was the sharp one he wore in Pal Joey, and to show it off in the promotional shots he slung his coat over his shoulder. In the 1960s he imported his suits from Savile Row. (In private Sinatra displayed a penchant for pastel colours; his clothing could be pink, lilac or lavender. But his favourite colour was orange; a typical example is the jumper that he wears in his first scenes in Ocean's 11).
And then there were the hats. Sinatra had dabbled with them since childhood. But in the 1950s they became a permanent feature -partly as a tribute to the style of Humphrey Bogart, partly as a way of covering his receding hair- and iconic. He wears a snap-brim of some description on fifteen of his twenty Capitol album covers, at a variety of angles, and expressing different moods: the hat perches spryly on Swing Easy, is pushed back in open-hearted resignation on In The Wee Small Hours but points straight ahead on the winking face of Come Dance with Me!, a bullish part of Sinatra's confident invitations. “It was like an extension of him”, said his daughter Nancy.
And then came the tuxedos. “There is no better Sinatra”, ran the album liner notes of The Main Event, “than the Sinatra in a tuxedo”. He wore a beautiful white tux for his Hollywood Bowl appearance in 1943, but in the Vegas years he stuck to black. He told the author Bill Zehme that “a tuxedo is a way of life” -and shared some tips. “My basic rules are to have shirt cuffs extend half an inch from the jacket sleeve. Trousers should break just above the shoe. Try not to sit down because it wrinkles the pants. If you have to sit, don't cross your legs”. This would elevate his performance into a formal occasion. Sinatra knew that if he walked onto the stage in anything else he would diminish himself and disappoint his audience.
In the late 1960s, when fashion changed, Frank dallied with the prevailing styles: a white polo neck here (on the cover of his 1968 Christmas album), some love beads there (on Francis Albert Sinatra Does His Thing) and even a Nehru jacket (also on this 1968 TV special). All were brought off with some dignity. But in the 1970s, after his comeback, there were disappointments: big open collars flapping over shapeless sweatshirts emblazoned with “Ol' Blue Eyes Is Back”; dowdy baseball caps, as far too many photographs demonstrated; and an appalling $3 golf hat on the cover of Some Nice Things I've Missed. It was good to see Frank so relaxed but this inclination towards everyman leisurewear did not suit the Chairman of the Board.
During the concert years from 1974 until 1994, the tuxes stayed -but the wigs got worse. They weren't too bad in the 1950s and 1960s: discreet widow's peaks or grown-out crew cuts. He even went without for a time, in the early 1960s, but soon afterwards came the comb-over, which got shorter at the end of the decade and shaggier in the 1970s. By the 1980s his rug had evolved into a brushed-forward silver rake that was extremely distracting.
But even on stage in his latter years, when wielding his microphone and whipping the cord, immaculately tuxedoed, he contuined to cut a geriatric dash.
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