At the risk of sounding like a line from the film, the costumes in Withnail I weren’t just worn, they were lived in. From the iconic tweed jacket to the plastic bags our antihero wears on his feet in lieu of wellies, the clothes were part of the mise-en-scene which signalled Withnail’s class displacement, his penury as a “resting” actor, and the ominous times (1969: the end of both the hippy dream and Withnail’s 20s). This “distressed rah” look mixed the country bumpkin with the grungy and pirouetted on the edge of eccentricity. Nearly 30 years after its release it remains a source of style inspiration, from the catwalk (Alan Taylor, Margaret Howell) and beyond (modern-day Jarvis Cocker, Peter Capaldi’s Dr Who, Russell Brand, Kate Bush’s son in her Before The Dawn shows).
Approach with caution if you’re attempting to recreate the look, however. I have tried and ended up looking like a roadie for the Libertines who probably suffers from gout. Here are five trends the film sparked.
The cascading, lived-in tweed coat
Costume designer Andrea Galer made the coat herself, incorporating cuffed sleeves and rather amazing tails. The Harris tweed design was lined with blue striped Indian silk and was meant to “resemble a 19th-century riding coat”. On Withnail’s back it seemed majestic, even though in reality it probably smelled of roll-up cigarettes, cheap booze and damp. The coat made a big return in the menswear collections of Alan Taylor and Craig Green (not to mention in Miss Marple re-runs on the Alibi channel).
The oversized white shirt
Based on a 1930s collarless dress shirt with a bib front, Withnail’s shirt was buttoned-up, at least one size too big and affectionately pulled out of his tweed trousers, like an anti-Simon Cowell. As Galer revealed, director Bruce Robinson envisioned Withnail as a character whose background was aristocratic but whose “life was deeply rooted in the sense of rejecting (the) establishment with (his) clothes”. And, as all rebels know, nothing says “I’m rejecting the establishment” like an untucked shirt (hi Mr Darcy).
The hairdos of Withnail and I (AKA Marwood: his name was revealed in the film’s screenplay) were both DIY and louche. Think: Echo The Bunnymen wreaking havoc at finishing school. Marwood’s was a mass of messy angelic curls while Withnail rocked both a slicked-back do and a mullet. Can currently be seen on: every single indie band in pubs across Withnail’s stomping ground of Camden.
The flamboyant cravat
Nothing says “I’m eccentric landed gentry. Now what is a ‘fax machine?’” than a cravat. The ones Withnail wore in the film were the perfect vintage touch to his look. Importantly they were less “Henry Conway” and more “Tom Baker in Dr Who” (no bad thing). The cravat made a comeback this year at Margaret Howell’s menswear show.
The dandy waistcoat
Unbuttoned or buttoned, the waistcoat – which was based on a 19th-century cut that used watermarked silk and sewed on rows of Edwardian braid – pulled together Withnail’s dandyish look with aplomb. Best not to wear the waistcoat on its own, however, as you’ll end up looking like Danny from the Script.