Please settle a debate: Joe Pesci’s suit in My Cousin Vinny – a great moment in movies for men’s fashion, or the greatest moment in movies for men’s fashion?
Excellent question, M! I am pretty sure that you and I are not alone in being thoroughly sick of the usual contenders mooted for best moments in movies for men’s fashion, all of which are utterly tired cliches by now. Yes, yes, Richard Gere in American Gigolo, Cary Grant in North by Northwest, Steve McQueen in Bullitt, Colin Firth and Daniel Craig in whatever, blah blah freaking blah. These examples are the men’s magazine equivalent of describing something as “the new black”. They’re boring, they’re hackneyed and they’re not even all that true.
Sure, all of the above are good-looking men, and it looks like someone gave some thought to their wardrobe, but so what? That’s not what I call a “great fashion moment”. A great fashion moment in film is when someone wears something that is supposed to look good, gives onlookers ineffable joy and, finally, so utterly suits the character. For example, I haven’t really loved a Wes Anderson film since he stopped writing with Owen Wilson after The Royal Tenenbaums, but one thing that man does is give good men’s fashion moments (which is not that surprising considering Anderson often seems far more interested in aesthetics than in humanity in his movies, but that’s a discussion for another time).
I would strongly argue that the best movie moment for men’s fashion this century is the totally awesome corduroy suit worn by the eponymous hero in Fantastic Mr Fox. The Adidas tracksuits worn by Chas (Ben Stiller) in The Royal Tenenbaums give me a similar thrill of pleasure and deserve a place on “greatest men’s fashion moments in cinema” far more than boring ol’ American Gigolo.
You see, M, this is the difference between what real people think of as great fashion moments and what fashion magazines think of as great moments. This difference, I find, is more pronounced in men’s fashion because women are trained from a young age to see fashion as fantastical, aspirational and intimidatingly glamorous. Men, on the other hand, are generally not. So whereas men’s fashion magazines cite ridiculously glamorous examples of “men’s fashion moments”, actual men themselves tend to look at them, shrug, think, “That looks expensive” and then smile at the thought of, say, something Joe Pesci once wore. Also, unlike magazines, real people are not beholden to giving their advertisers a nod and therefore are not legally compelled to mention Richard Gere’s suits from American Gigolo-which-were-made-by-Armani-have-I-mentioned-that-a-billion-times-already every time the subject is raised.
Which brings us neatly to My Cousin Vinny. It always surprises me that this movie came out as recently as 1992 because this film has the definite feel of the late 80s to me, something from the same era as, say, Weekend at Bernie’s and other such classics (as regular readers will know by now, there are no higher compliments from me). Yet time has not been kind to My Cousin Vinny. It is now generally used as an eye-rolling punchline, and yet this is not the film’s fault. Marisa Tomei, who plays Vinny’s fiancee in the film was, for no real justifiable reason, given an Oscar for her performance and so instead of the film being remembered as quite a satisfying little comedy, it is sneered at for being the recipient of one of the least deserved Oscars of all time. Which isn’t really fair (to be honest, Crash deserved the Oscar less), and I would urge all readers of this Pulitzer-prize-winning column to make some time this week to enjoy My Cousin Vinny. You will not regret it.
Now on to his suit. You do not specify whether you mean his original leather-jacketed outfit or the amazing burgundy velvet three-piece suit that he wears to court. Seeing as you specify “suit”, I’m going to assume you meant the latter, and quite right, too. Anyone who doesn’t take pleasure in seeing Joe Pesci in a burgundy velvet three-piece suit is a person who possesses neither soul nor eyes.
But what of the other great male fashion moments on screen? Well, you’ll be happy to know I’ve devoted my life to compiling such a list and here, for the first time ever, I shall exclusively reveal my findings:
10. Joe Pesci’s burgundy velvet suit in My Cousin Vinny, tied with Ben Stiller’s tracksuits in The Royal Tenenbaums.
9. Michael Douglas’s permanently unbuttoned shirts in Romancing the Stone.
8. Sean Connery’s blue flannel playsuit in Goldfinger, tied with Roger Moore’s banana yellow ski suit with flared trousers in The Spy Who Loved Me.
7. Michael Douglas’s braces in Wall Street.
6. James Spader’s amazing suits in Pretty in Pink.
5. Wesley Snipes’s layered sportswear in White Men Can’t Jump.
4. Woody Harrelson as the style incarnation of the 90s in White Men Can’t Jump.
3. Rob Lowe’s bat vest in St Elmo’s Fire.
2. Michael Douglas’s vomit-patterned shirts in The Jewel of the Nile.
1. Al Pacino’s special Sicilian outfit (waistcoat and flat cap) in The Godfather.
A fine list, I’m sure you’ll all agree. So as you can see, M, Vinny’s suit is not the greatest fashion moment for men’s fashion onscreen, but it is one of them. I reckon Vinny would be cool with that.
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