By Andrew Yamato
Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, so we couldn’t help but be amused to see Suitsupply’s latest marketing campaign: a model dressed in a ready-to-wear approximation of the iconic wardrobe Alan designed for Michael Douglas’ corporate raider Gordon Gekko in the classic 1987 Oliver Stone film Wall Street. Suitsupply and the Custom Shop are on near-opposite ends of the retail spectrum for tailored clothing, so we don’t fear poached clients; indeed, we may end up being beneficiaries of Suitsupply’s considerable marketing budget if their promotion inspires a few of their customers to take a closer look at Alan’s original Gekko look. In its elements, if not their full-on combination, they would find it has aged remarkably well — probably because it was well-aged to begin with.
It’s ironic that Alan Flusser — the original champion of “permanent fashion” — is the man responsible for creating a look so intensely identified with a specific time and place. New York in the 1980s was of course a riot of different style cultures, but the whole show was fueled by the ambition and avarice of stock traders and other corporate “masters of the universe,” and in the wake of Wall Street’s massive critical and commercial success, Alan was calling their sartorial tune as no individual before or since.
The clothing and accessories Flusser assembled to help bring Gekko to life were impeccably pedigreed but hardly fashionable. It was the height of disco chic when Alan established Alan Flusser Designs in 1978, and he spent the next decade proselytizing old-world elegance as captured in Hollywood movies and interwar menswear magazines, many elements of which found their way into Michael Douglas’ Wall Street wardrobe.
The white contrast collar shirts Gekko made infamous are artifacts of a time when men wore dress shirts with detachable starched collars and cuffs — the labor and cost-saving inventions of a frazzled housewife in Troy, New York, who had observed that these are the first parts of a shirt to get soiled and worn out. Locking these collars into place under Douglas’ cleft chin was a gold collar pin, to properly arch the tie — not the sensible kind that slides on without doing any damage, but the real ones you punch through your collar like a spear. The unusual horizontal stripes featured on Gekko’s shirt bodies were a sartorial sensation in 1987, but far from being fashion-forward, they too were a throwback to the 20s and 30s, when custom shirtmakers made similar shirts for such noted dressers as Anthony Drexel Biddle, Jr.
Tie bars have again become popular in the wake of Mad Men, but many younger adopters could benefit from a Gekko/Flusser master class in how to wear them: not high, tight, and straight — where they strangle the tie if not the wearer — but lower, allowing the tie some dimension and movement, and angled downward, with precise sprezzatura imprecision.
Perhaps the single most dramatic element of the Gekko look were his gut-end Eton-striped Thurston braces. Wall Street made this hitherto vanishing accessory a must-have to the point of becoming an instant white collar cliché. Although aesthetically prominent, their primary purpose is functional: to maintain trousers at the correct height on the natural waist. This was especially important given the cut of Gekko’s double-breasted power suits — the look that Flusser made, and that made Flusser: the drape.
Draped clothing has lost none of its power to arouse passionate opinion since its debut in the 20s and 30s. Originally the creation of the Prince of Wales’ tailor Frederick Scholte (and later adopted by the burgeoning Savile Row house Anderson & Sheppard), the drape cut entails slightly extended shoulders, high armholes, a soft full chest tapering to a trim waist, and broad pleated trousers intended to be worn with braces. It’s a louche, incomparably comfortable cut that allows for maximum freedom of movement (not for nothing was it famously a favorite of Fred Astaire). The fullness over the blades and chest falls in soft vertical ripples that aficionados prize but which both the ultra-conservative and the ultra-modern tend to balk at. To be fair, it’s not the most youthful cut, and as fashion continues to market an ever-younger ideal, it's fallen out of favor with those seeking more body-conscious clothing. For a certain hardy breed of savvy dressers, however, a touch of drape continues to signify easy elegance, substance, and power.
Power was of course exactly what Flusser wanted to convey with Gekko’s clothing. It’s what Michael Douglas himself recognized in Alan’s personal attire on their first meeting, and knew his character needed. Throw in a few ancient madder ties, slicked-back hair, and a cellular phone the size of a cinder block and you had the ultimate F-U gear for doing battle in the snakepits of 80s corporate finance. It was a look Alan had been offering to an exclusive coterie of clients at his recently opened Custom Shop, but Wall Street blew things wide open, and hundreds of would-be Gekkos beat a path to his door.
Looking at the film today, one isn’t so much struck by how dated Gekko’s attire looks than by how well it’s held up. To be sure, it’ll always take some brass to wear a pinned contrast-collar shirt, but there’s a growing number of young dressers willing to be noticed for exactly that type of classic style. Thurston remains the gold standard for braces (even if the coveted gut ends have long been discontinued). Gekko’s suits themselves appear slightly wide in the shoulders and a touch long in the skirt, but nothing that couldn’t be tweaked by a good tailor, and we regularly have clients bring in their 30-year-old coats for exactly that service. The updated Flusser house style we offer today is sleeker — shorter, less drape, narrower shoulders, trimmer trousers — but it remains essentially a shapely suit that enhances the wearer’s body rather than just wrapping it.
Gordon Gekko was intended as a villain, a seductive but ultimately cautionary figure. Instead, he became an icon of success and an inspiration to countless would-be power players. It is of course possible that Gekko’s enduring appeal speaks volumes about the sorry state of ethics and morality in modern America.
We prefer to think it’s just the clothes.