Redford & Preppy Mistrust

By Patrick Michael Hughes

This Week in History/Past

Robert Redford in Three Days of the Condor

Thirty –five years ago in November 1975, the American political landscape was deluged with suspicion. The nation’s inclemency was intensified by the final days of a protracted Vietnam War and the implications of the Watergate scandal which resulted in the first and only resignation of a US President, Richard M. Nixon, in August 1974.

Three Days of the Condor, a political thriller directed by Sydney Pollack and featuring Robert Redford, was released on November 14, 1975. The story was based on a popular malfeasance novel written by James Grady. The drama’s suspense capitalized on the public’s mistrust of insider coalitions and clandestine cover-ups. Redford portrayed a deskbound CIA operative, code name “Condor.” The character is caught in a murderous power struggle of moral ambiguity on behalf of his employers.

The Ivy League menswear throughout the film earns the distinction from GQ Magazine as one of the 25 most stylish films of all time. The coatless winter flair — including simple shirting, a tie, a crewneck sweater, tweed blazer, denim jeans and hiking boots — are all notably campus quad attire. “New England preparatory schools, conservative Protestant values and social stratification collectively created an environment which produced the uniform we know today as the preppy look,” according to Chris Hogan, Editor-in-Chief of Off the Cuff: Classic. Modern. Style.

It is similar to the style seen in the characterization of the apathetic Hubbell Gardner in the 1973 film The Way We Were, another Pollack film riddled with relationship and political complications, and McCarthyism. All the President’s Men, a political memoir and 1976 film directed by Alan J. Pakula, is about Woodward and Bernstein’s exposure of the Watergate scandal. Redford portrayed the ‘properly askew’ Yale alumnus Bob Woodward.

Bernie Pollack is the noted Hollywood costumer who created the looks for Redford in Condor and All the President’s Men. “He wore one outfit through the whole picture!” recalls Sydney Pollack, when asked about Robert Redford’s wardrobe in Condor.

It may look like a simple ensemble, however it was created with great care to define Redford’s character, Joe Turner, as an educated researcher unaccustomed to corruption and peril. “We wanted an intellectual East Coast thing,” Bernie says. “Some sort of jacket, a chambray shirt with a wool tie — not a silk tie but a wool tie, which gave him a bit of a rougher, kind of college-professor look.” .

In the final scene of Condor Joe Turner is dressed in a classic dark pea coat. He is incensed and outraged at a covert CIA emissary and asserts “You think not getting caught in a lie is the same as telling the truth?”

Suggested Reading:

Aldrich, Nelson W. Old Money, The Mythology of Wealth in America

Birnbach, Lisa. The Official Preppy Handbook

Fussell, Paul. Class: A Guide Through the American Social Status System

Ishizu, Shosuke (photos by Thayashida). Take Ivy

Kidd, Chip and Lisa Birnbach. True Prep: It’s a Whole New Old World

Marsh, Graham. The Ivy Look: Classic American Clothing – An Illustrated Pocket Guide