A passion for food + fashion

Friday Follies: Depression Chic

In Fashion, Film on May 22, 2009 at 5:01 pm

Friday Follies [n., pl.] postings on Fridays about fashion and food in film from guest bloggers with impeccable taste.


Now that economic tides are ebbing, and Clara Cannucciari’s Depression-era cooking YouTube blog has morphed into a bona-fide hit, I feel the time is ripe to whip out my obsession with early ’70s hit The Sting. This deliriously enjoyable caper set during the Depression stars Robert Redford and Paul Newman at the height of their game. As if that weren’t fun enough, the flick also won an embarrassment of Oscars—among them prizes for best film, best director and best costume design.

Legendary Hollywood costumer Edith Head oversaw the wardrobe—recreating a fanciful version of a real, down-at-the-heels historical period, which still yields delicious inspiration today.

The rag-time theme of this film achieved immortality, deservedly so. But if we’re ready to embrace old-time snacks like pepper-and-egg sandwiches, why not take fashion cues from Ms. Head’s witty interpretations of Depression garb?

In this flick, Redford (playing a small-time, backwater grifter) first busts on the scene in a snazzy dark beret, a smart striped shirt and a three-piece suit tailored sharply enough that I suspect his lapel could have sliced clean through chilled butter. I happen to have a theory that Redford in his prime embodied all that is good, wholesome, and smart-allecky inspiring about America, but I’ll forsake it now for objective evidence: Namely, Redford’s outfit in a subsequent scene—a striped, double-buttoned suit in proper brown, accessorized with a proto-psychedelic tie. It’s the kind of look that transcends fads and registers as perpetually elegant.


Newman (playing a famous, down-on-his-luck grafter with a drinking problem) initially appears messy and drooling, but later cleans up nicely in a wide-lapel gray suit and a wide, geometric-pattern tie.

There are some issues that defy logic in this film—note appearance of Redford’s and Newman’s characters in impeccable tux gear with just-so turned-up collars and smart bow ties—Um, they’re lowly grifters!—but overall this is as much a feast for the brain as it is for the eyes.


Sure there are flaws—the flick features solely ONE female character, and she turns out to be an evil bitch. But overall, the delightful twists of the plot dovetail with the wardrobe to create a gorgeous cinematic experience.

If I was to apply to apply the style lessons of The Sting to our everyday lives, I’d boil it down to this trifecta: 1. When in doubt, wear a beret. 2. Sport a tie—or make sure you date/marry a man who is comfortable donning a tie 3. Never discount the possibility of crafting a new persona just by slicking back your hair with gel and combing it down into a part.—Sorina Diaconescu


  1. there is no justice–otherwise you’d be a cultural critic at a leading magazine somewhere. Just one slight quibble: yes, they are lowly grifters, but they are wise and experienced, which is why it’s not incongruous that they would possess a collection of “costumes”–including an elegant tuxedo.

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