The Power Players Of Oversized Style

Seven of the biggest names to raise the broad-shouldered-suit game.

I’m living in a box,” sang British three-piece Living In A Box on their 1987 debut single “Living In A Box”. But even if you were fortunate enough not to be living in a box during the boom-and-bust 1980s, you might well have been wearing a suitthat resembled one.

The broad-shouldered ideal is sewn into the origins of the modern suit, but came into its own with the boxier silhouette favoured by the jazz musicians and matinée idols of the 1950s. Some 30 years later, this form resurfaced, albeit looser and bulked out, as if jacked on steroids, reaching an apex with Mr David Byrne’s attire in Talking Heads’ 1984 film Stop Making Sense.

Synchronise your watches. In keeping with the 30-year cycle of fashion, the trend is set to repeat itself once more. Round about… now. So it’s worth taking note of the men who wore the oversized look best first (and second) time around and the style icons who lived life to the fullest (or at least allowed their tailors to).

Mr Alain Delon

For the titular role of 1999’s The Talented Mr Ripley, Mr Matt Damon imitated the look of a playboy heir. But in Plein Soleil, the 1960 French-Italian adaptation of Ms Patricia Highsmith’s thriller, Mr Alain Delon perfected it. With his brooding good looks and glorious tan, he has the appearance of a man accustomed to spending his time idling aboard a yacht anchored off the glittering Amalfi Coast. The relaxed open-necked Oxford shirt and generously proportioned stone jacket go some way towards helping him fill the part. Ms Highsmith was said to have loved Mr Delon’s portrayal but was disappointed with the way the film ended, with Ripley seemingly apprehended. Mr Delon himself definitely got away with it, though.

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Mr Clark Gable

Here is silver screen legend Mr Clark Gable boarding a flight in London in the early 1950s. By then, his handsome face was lived in and slightly crumpled, but impeccably groomed, with a hint of playfulness. Likewise, his travel wardrobe. The knitted tie and the check of the blazer (and what looks like a matching hat under his arm, folded in with a newspaper) are a fun take on the rigid dressing conventions of the day. During the golden age of commercial flight, the aircraft cabin would no doubt have the space to accommodate the ample wingspan of Mr Gable’s jacket. Perhaps the most remarkable thing about this picture is that Mr Gable appears to be boarding the plane backwards.

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Mr Steven Spielberg

“You stood on the shoulders of geniuses to accomplish something as fast as you could, and before you even knew what you had, you patented it and packaged it, and slapped it on a plastic lunchbox,” lectured Mr Jeff Goldblum’s leather-jacketed mathematician Dr Ian Malcolm in Jurassic Park (1993), a movie that itself shifted a good few lunchboxes. Tapping into the smarts of those who have come before and making them your own was a lesson that the film’s maker, Mr Steven Spielberg, learnt long before. Seen here in Venice in 1980, the director teams the blues of his trademark cap and checked shirt with a blazer the tone of the fabled lagoon behind him, with a strong structuring that almost stretches across the horizon.

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Mr Nick Kamen

Best known for wearing – or rather, removing – a close-fitting pair of 501 jeans in Levi’s groundbreaking 1985 advert “Laundrette”, model turned pop star Mr Nick Kamen could also pull off a much bulkier outfit. This suit, brazenly worn to what looks like a black-tie event, captures the unsubtle hyper-masculinity of the 1980s wardrobe, with all its key attributes dialled up to 11. Note not just the girth (and, out of shot, length) of the jacket itself, but also the ample Mr Harry Hill-style shirt collar. From the gait of the wearer to the pinstripes of the fabric, every line is at a rakish angle.

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Mr Richard Gere

With its louche wardrobe created by Mr Giorgio Armani, American Gigolo, released in 1980, set the tone for the following decade. And that tone was beige, putty, tan – above all, natural. For a film that marks the watershed moment when menswear loosened up, and brought the Italian designer into Hollywood’s orbit, it is surprising to learn that the suiting that Mr Richard Gere seems born to wear was originally intended for another actor, Mr John Travolta. When the lean, 6ft 1in-tall Mr Travolta pulled out of the project and the broader, 5ft 9in Mr Gere was lined up for the part, new clothing had to be hastily made. The warm, unstructured jacket, shown here with an old school tie, looks anything but rushed. 

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Mr Marlon Brando

When On The Waterfront was released in 1954, Mr Marlon Brando was riding high on his early critical acclaim. He’d made his name sporting a leather jacket, white T-shirt and jaunty cap in The Wild One the year before, but looks more at ease here, on the waterfront himself in Bandol, a small town near Marseille. With a nod to France’s proud nautical heritage peeking through in the form of a Breton stripe, Mr Brando confidently treads a fine line between active duty and shore leave. Cinched at the waist with a single button, this blazer accentuates his powerful frame.

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Mr Bryan Ferry

The band Roxy Music were as polished in the flesh as on record. Much of that was down to fashion designer and stylist Mr Antony Price, who also worked with Mr David Bowieand Duran Duran to literally shape the 1980s. In Roxy Music frontman Mr Bryan Ferry, Mr Price found the perfect muse. Where Mr Ferry’s contemporaries often played up the glamorous trappings of the age for effect on stage, he lived them. A show of material wealth here involves a carefully considered wealth of material. Mr Ferry’s ensemble is kept simple, with an unstructured blazer, pleasingly creased to go with the tousled hair, an air tie and a suitably continental backdrop. The nonchalant shrug of the shoulder is more down to the wearer than the jacket. In short, you can have too much excess. More than this, there is nothing.

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