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Film fashion: The clothes make the men in 'Frost/Nixon' and 'Revolutionary Road'

November 26, 2008 |  4:00 pm

Rage_road_3It’s that time of year when the studios release all their big Oscar contenders, and the media scramble to see screenings. So far, I’ve seen two — “Revolutionary Road,” the darkly depressing tale of 1955 suburban nothingness with Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet, based on Richard Yates’ novel and directed by Sam Mendes; and “Frost/Nixon,” the screen adaptation of Peter Morgan’s play about the 1977 David Frost/Richard Nixon TV interviews, starring the incredible Frank Langella and Michael Sheen, and directed by Ron Howard. 

What struck me about both was the tremendous role clothing plays in the stories. And I’m not talking about glittering gowns as eye candy. I’m talking about clothing as a character vehicle. In “Revolutionary Road,” the men’s fedoras are a symbol of the monotony of the punch-the-clock jobs men found themselves in at the time, following in the footsteps of their fathers, only to realize that they never had a chance to dream their own dreams. 

One scene that was particularly stirring was when DiCaprio stepped off a commuter train at Grand Central Station in New York City into a sea of lonely fedoras. He was no one and everyone at the same time.

The menswear as a whole is less slick and Madison Avenue than in “Mad Men,” whose first season took place at roughly the same time. Costume designer Albert Wolsky's approach is more nuanced, which means there's more to look at. DiCaprio wears a lot of skinny ties with diminutive knots, voluminous high-waist trousers and richly textured jackets.

Rage_frostIn “Frost/Nixon,” Sheen plays dandy British talk show host Frost with all the wide ties, and even wider collars to match. His hair is something of a character itself-- coiffed into a perfect helmet and worn with deep sideburns and arched eyebrows -- a parody of all that TV journalism has become since that moment. Frost, the forerunner of the modern day metrosexual, is too well-dressed in Nixon’s opinion, his horse bit Italian loafers too effeminate. “I think a man should wear shoes with laces,” one of Nixon’s trusty aides says.

The shoes are a defining point of difference between the two men, between Nixon and a generation he never understood. But in the end, it’s those shoes that bring the characters together in what might be the most poignant moment in the film.

It’s fun to relive Los Angeles in the 1970s for a couple of hours, from the glamour of Frost’s Beverly Hilton Hotel suite, to the inside of the hotter-than-hot Ma Maison restaurant, with Frost's gal Caroline Cushing dressed by costume designer Daniel Orlandi in a liquid jersey a la Halston.

But what was really a hoot was the first class cabin of the plane Frost took across the Atlantic, with its silver tea service and cocktail bar. Can you imagine? Let’s chew on that as we head out of town on the busiest travel day of the year. 

-- Booth Moore

Photo of Michael Sheen as David Frost in "Frost/Nixon" courtesy of Universal Studios.

"Revolutionary Road" poster courtesy of Paramount Vantage.