Costume Plot: Tom Ripley in ‘The Talented Mr Ripley’

To celebrate the release of The Two Faces of January today I thought I’d look at the Ann Roth and Gary Jones’ costumes from The Talented Mr Ripley – another Patricia Highsmith adaptation. (SPOILERS for The Talented Mr Ripley abound and if you haven’t seen the film – why not?)

The film (and the book) look at the life of Tom Ripley mostly concentrating on what happens following the murder of Dickie Greenleaf. Costume plays a huge part in this. In the same way that Catch Me If You Can is concerned with taking on different identities so is this film – but with very different outcomes. The aim was to do a normal costume plot but I realised that it’s more interesting to split Ripley into his different incantations: Tom Ripley and Tom Ripley as Dickie Greenleaf – the Dickie Greenleaf he wanted Dickie to be.

Tom Ripley

Ripley in New York

The first time we see Tom he is playing the piano wearing a borrowed jacket and it is this jacket that sets off the whole chain of events. Without the Princeton insignia he would never have been approached by Herbert Greenleaf. But he still made the decision to lie. Ripley has never fitted in and this was an attempt to not seem like an outsider. To belong in the entitled world he watches and attends to in the bathroom of the opera. Back in New York we have the first sight of Ripley’s corduroy jacket that makes regular appearances throughout the film.

Ripley in Italy

The clothes he wears when in Italy are the firm establishment of him and his differences from Dickie. His wardrobe is limited, well worn and not fashionable or particularly well maintained. The clothes serve a purpose but they are just another way in which he doesn’t fit in. When Dickie mentions getting him a suit made he feels like this is his true acceptance into Dickie’s world. However short-lived. His suit at the airport also show the first of Ripley’s button-down shirts. This is a common recurrence and helps to add that “buttoned up” view of Ripley and firming up his outsider status. He is dressing the same way in Italy that he dressed in New York. (With the swimming “trunks” a notable exception. They are seen only once and even on the beach Ripley cannot fit in.)

Ripley in Italy 2

The whites and blues are becoming more common here and contrast against Dickie’s cream colours plus his silk polos. Dickie is the wealthy American abroad and fully inhabits the part.

Ripley in the Bar

We have Dickie’s Italian friend, Ripley and Dickie. The style differences between the three is very noticeable. Even in a laid-back environment Ripley appears severe and overly structured.

Ripley in Rome

Dickie mentions getting Ripley a suit made. This feels like Ripley’s true acceptance into Dickie’s world. However short-lived. (Notice the return of the cord jacket I highlighted earlier.) Any acceptance is destroyed by the meeting with Freddie and Ripley’s subsequent game of dress up in Dickie’s clothes. The foreshadowing is combined with Ripley’s true enthusiasm and joy of “being” Dickie. If meeting Freddie was the beginning of the end, this revelation sped up the process.

Ripley on the Boat
The costuming of Dickie and Ripley is particularly important here because it enables the hotel concierge to fairly legitimately mistake Ripley for Dickie. We needed to see them dressed in a similar fashion so that someone who doesn’t personally know the two of them could be easily mistaken. Ripley’s shirt is undoubtedly a poorer quality than Dickie’s but that slight difference wouldn’t be noticed for such a fleeting moment.

Ripley post Dickie's death

From now on we have a different Ripley. We have Ripley keeping up appearances as Ripley as well as “being” Dickie. The key difference for this section of the film is Ripley’s hair. As “Ripley” it is usually parted on the right and when he’s “Dickie” it’s parted on the left. These are the examples of Ripley being Ripley but with Dickie’s hair. The first image is from Ripley’s return to tell Marge that Dickie isn’t returning. He’s already discovered that he can impersonate Dickie and his journey is about to start. This is the first appearance of the black polo neck jumper but this piece becomes important in showing Ripley’s inner turmoil. Then we have Ripley meeting Marge and Peter. He’s back in a suit we’ve already seen, as well as a knitted tie we’ve already seen. Then we have Ripley disposing of Freddie’s body. He may have been dressed as “Dickie” when he killed him but “Ripley” is doing the dirty work. Ripley has been the killer really – not Dickie. Following yet another murder Ripley has retreated back to the black polo neck jumper.

Ripley

The hair parting has returned to “Ripley” and Ripley has come to Venice to see Peter. He starts the journey with the black polo neck and the cordroy jacket but these are quickly replaced with a white polo neck – actually belonging to his Dickie persona. Ripley for Peter is very different from Ripley for Dickie or Marge. He is closer to the Dickie persona and is much more comfortable in who he is. He fits with Peter. He starts wearing more of his Dickie clothes and is less awkward and ill at ease. The corduroy jacket disappears. The button-down shirts disappear.

Ripley

On the cruise away with Peter (when the search for Dickie has been stopped and the matter apparently settled) Ripley has fallen back to the black. His short-lived happiness is destroyed by the presence of Meredith. She remarks that she barely recognised Dickie – this is Ripley as Ripley. He’d left Dickie behind but unfortunately for Peter, that is not to be. The big black coat he wears drowns him as Ripley is drowned in his own lies and deceptions.

Ripley as Dickie

I always thought it would be better, to be a fake somebody… than a real nobody.

Dickie
Ripley’s confidence levels soar when he’s Dickie. He has beautifully cut suits, sharp shirts and silk ties. The Dickie he thinks Dickie should’ve been. He even surrounds himself with his own Marge – Meredith. Most of his suits are in dark colours but the first suit has the warm tones that we associate with the real Dickie.

Dickie

We finally see Ripley having his suit fitted. The best costume here is Ripley’s dressing gown with silk pyjamas.

Dickie

In fact the only thing that looks like Dickie is you.

Freddie has a point. The first costume is one of Ripley’s most Dickie-ish costumes. The warm but muted colours, the soft fabric quality – these are obviously a step up from his Ripley clothes. The next polo shirt is the one we see later when he plays piano for Peter. A light cream shirt makes a nice comparison from the last time we saw Ripley – disposing of Freddie’s bloodied body. Then there’s the white shirt he wears talking to the police another time. His guilt compared with the purity of the clothing makes for the perfect dichotomy.

S x

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3 thoughts on “Costume Plot: Tom Ripley in ‘The Talented Mr Ripley’

  1. Pingback: Costume Stories, This Week: Grace of Monaco & Penny Dreadful |

  2. Thanks for this. I enjoy your analysis of the style representation of Ripley’s move from less freedom to greater freedom and confidence as he steals Dickie’s identity. For even more depth, I suggest you dive into the details of the late 50s state of the Ivy League style (which Tom starts off with) and the more continental style (which he adopts from Dickie).

    Tom’s clothes at first are quite typical of what students at, say, Princeton would have been wearing at the time. That is, the look we first see him in is already a thorough impersonation that served him in his earlier setting (it’s not just the patch on the blazer that fools Mr. Greenleaf). His limited wardrobe apes the look of a wealthy WASP. This helps tell us that what we are about to see him do in this film has long been his mode of survival.

    The problem for Tom is, Dickie has left the world of Brooks Brothers button-downs far behind, and Tom lacks the means (at first) to quickly adapt with a new wardrobe. What worked for Tom back in New York no longer works in Italy. There would be nothing wrong with his cord jacket for fall at Princeton, Columbia, or Yale in the late 50s, but it is sorely out of place in sunny Italy when Freddie jabs at him for it.

    Just as life keeps throwing new scenarios at Tom that his previous deceptions haven’t prepared him for up to the end of the film (sadly for Peter), his style always shows his mastery of previous situations but a need to adapt once again to what is to come. He is the image of a chameleon transforming in slow motion.

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