It opens with a Princeton crested navy blazer, closes with a duffle coat and in between The Talented Mr. Ripley traverses between the Ivy League world of New York City, the cobblestone steps of Italian cities, and concludes with a nod to the English countryside. As the diabolical Tom Ripley (played by Matt Damon) arrives in Italy from New York to bring Dickie Greenleaf (played by Jude Law) back to the city and his father’s shipbuilding empire, he is clothed in pleated trousers, a black knit tie, and what appears to be a Brooks Brothers button-down, which would’ve been standard issue for any “Princeton man” of 1955. I won’t spoil the story by detailing Tom’s exploits as a con artist, although Damon’s performance as one of the most finest liars to ever grace the silver screen is worth the price of admission alone. But it’s the costumes, running the spectrum from trad to Neapolitan to Anglo that wrap the entire film in a blend of hopsack, cord, wool, and cashmere which covers all the character’s ruthless deeds and personality flaws, making them seem all the more sinister from behind those fine threads.
Early in the film, once Tom has arrived Italy, Dickie jokes with him about how he washes his same shirt in the sink every night just to wear it again in the morning. It’s Tom’s first basic wardrobe, of two jackets (one corduroy, one dark with a slight checked pattern) one shirt, odd trousers, a tank watch (the watches and sunglasses in the film are impeccable throughout), and brown oxfords that he wears at all times, even to the beach, that marks the first half of the film. And then, as he transforms from an underprivileged export from the east coast, to a high society ex-pat on an extended holiday, he begins to adopt the garb of the land. In Rome, off Dickie’s recommendation (“Let me buy you a jacket. When we get to Rome, there’s a great place – Battistoni,”) Tom picks up some of the city’s legendary slightly shouldered, higher gorged suits and overcoats.. He begins wearing Prince Albert slippers, with his cuffed linen trousers, and Italian rugbys, keeping up the charade as some sophisticated American immersed in Italy’s culture, right down to the shirt on his back.
As the film progresses, the lines blur further, as Tom gets caught between his two identities, bringing about the looks I find most intriguing. Right near the end, Tom travels through Venice, wearing a new overcoats over one of his freshly minted Roman suits, but with a coarse repp tie hanging prominently in the center of it all. It’s this Italiatrad blend that portrays Tom as a man caught between two worlds, neither entirely comfortable with his present self, nor able to leave the past behind. It’s within this confusion that we end the saga of Tom Ripley, as he is left alone, fleeing on a boat, wearing a drab English duffle to cover his clothes, both Italian and American.