Wets suits

It took a long time, but the White Suit has finally lost the stigma of Saturday Night Fever. And you don't have to be Martin Bell to wear one. By Nick Foulkes. Photographs by David Woolley

It all went wrong for the white suit in the mid- 1970s when John Travolta became an international star in the Bee Gee-fuelled epic that was Saturday Night Fever.

Before then, the white suit was seen as the de facto badge of office of the British colonial official. Armed with a white suit, a pith helmet, a fly whisk, the complete works of Kipling, a faithful manservant and little else, District Officers had enforced the rule of British law from Malaya to Madras and beyond.

The white suit survived the moral ambiguity of Graham Greene novels and the ousting of Batista from Havana (once, one of the great white suit capitals of the world).

Even during the Sixties, a white suit could still be used without a hint of irony as cinematic shorthand for a whole raft of colonial values. When, for the last time, Strangways leaves the bridge four at the Queen's Club in Kingston, Jamaica, at the beginning of Dr No, he wears the obligatory pale suit, pressed to perfection. His outfit positively reeks of ceiling fans, rum swizzles and rattan chairs. Even his last act, before the bullets from the silenced pistols rip into his body, is typical of a white suit wearer: with patrician condescension, he flips a coin to the assassins disguised as beggars who kill him.

Quite how we got from Strangways to Saturday Night Fever is still unsure. Perhaps it was the innate hubris of wearing a white suit that finished it off; perhaps it was its impracticality; or maybe it was simply the diminishing number of colonies where one could actually swagger about in a white suit without getting laughed at, or worse, ending up like poor old Strangways. As with the demise of the dinosaur, the changing status of the white suit remains something of mystery.

But its reputation collapsed when more "wrong" than "right" people started wearing it. A working-class Italian Stallion discovering his epiphanies in the suburban discotheques of Seventies' New York would have been unlikely to have founded his personal style on the look of British colonial officialdom.

No, the white suit of the Seventies owed more to gangster styling. And, these days, if we see a man on film in a white suit, the chances are that he is portraying the ruthless leader of a cocaine cartel. It is significant that John Travolta redeemed his career, and won his second Oscar, as a man in a black suit in Pulp Fiction.

The most famous recent appearance in real life of the white suit has been in politics. If Martin Bell - a lone, middle-aged, slightly corpulent, white-suited paladin, all at sea in an ocean of sleaze - is the best friend that the white suit has, then white suit wearers this summer will require one accessory above all others: a good sense of humour White single-breasted, crease- resistant suit, pounds 728 , by John Richmond, available from Selfridges, Oxford Street, London WI, and Flannels, 3 Brazil Street, Manchester; white rib, V-neck T-shirt, pounds 26, by 2(x)ist, available from Liberty, Regent Street, London W1, Carl Twigg, 61 Bridge Streeet, Manchester, and Fenwicks, Northumberland Street, Newcastle-Upon- Tyne.

Stylist Christopher Sanderson Model Freek Ruigrok, photographed in the Banyuwangi Selatan jungle in East Java during the Quiksilver Pro Surfing Championship Grooming products from the Pure Brilliance range by Aveda

White resin-coated jeans, pounds 54, and double breasted jacket, pounds 135, both by Jigsaw Menswear, available from 9-10 Floral Street, London WC2, 51-52 East Street, Brighton and Unit 32 Queen Victoria 0171 240 5651; watch and `Rash Vest', pounds 135, by Quiksilver, as before.

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
ebookNow available in paperback
ebookPart of The Independent’s new eBook series The Great Composers
Life and Style
Living for the moment: Julianne Moore playing Alzheimer’s sufferer Alice
Jay Z
businessJay-Z's bid for Spotify rival could be blocked
The spider makes its break for freedom
A propaganda video shows Isis forces near Tikrit
voicesAdam Walker: The Koran has violent passages, but it also has others that explicitly tells us how to interpret them
Ashley Young celebrates the winner for Manchester United against Newcastle
footballNewcastle v United player ratings
Arts and Entertainment
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    Ashdown Group: C# Developer - (C#, VB.Net, SQL, Git, TDD)

    Negotiable: Ashdown Group: Developer (C#, VB & ASP.Net, SQL Server, TSQL) - Pe...

    Recruitment Genius: Associate Sales Consultant

    £16000 - £19000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An Associate Sales Consultant i...

    Recruitment Genius: Operations Manager

    £25000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Well established and expanding ...

    Recruitment Genius: Water Jetting / HGV Driver - Industrial Services

    £14000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Skilled Labouring staff with id...

    Day In a Page

    War with Isis: Iraq's government fights to win back Tikrit from militants - but then what?

    Baghdad fights to win back Tikrit from Isis – but then what?

    Patrick Cockburn reports from Kirkuk on a conflict which sectarianism has made intractable
    Living with Alzheimer's: What is it really like to be diagnosed with early-onset dementia?

    What is it like to live with Alzheimer's?

    Depicting early-onset Alzheimer's, the film 'Still Alice' had a profound effect on Joy Watson, who lives with the illness. She tells Kate Hilpern how she's coped with the diagnosis
    The Internet of Things: Meet the British salesman who gave real-world items a virtual life

    Setting in motion the Internet of Things

    British salesman Kevin Ashton gave real-world items a virtual life
    Election 2015: Latest polling reveals Tories and Labour on course to win the same number of seats - with the SNP holding the balance of power

    Election 2015: A dead heat between Mr Bean and Dick Dastardly!

    Lord Ashcroft reveals latest polling – and which character voters associate with each leader
    Audiences queue up for 'true stories told live' as cult competition The Moth goes global

    Cult competition The Moth goes global

    The non-profit 'slam storytelling' competition was founded in 1997 by the novelist George Dawes Green and has seen Malcolm Gladwell, Salman Rushdie and Molly Ringwald all take their turn at the mic
    Pakistani women come out fighting: A hard-hitting play focuses on female Muslim boxers

    Pakistani women come out fighting

    Hard-hitting new play 'No Guts, No Heart, No Glory' focuses on female Muslim boxers
    Leonora Carrington transcended her stolid background to become an avant garde star

    Surreal deal: Leonora Carrington

    The artist transcended her stolid background to become an avant garde star
    LGBT History Month: Pupils discuss topics from Sappho to same-sex marriage

    Education: LGBT History Month

    Pupils have been discussing topics from Sappho to same-sex marriage
    11 best gel eyeliners

    Go bold this season: 11 best gel eyeliners

    Use an ink pot eyeliner to go bold on the eyes with this season's feline flicked winged liner
    Cricket World Cup 2015: Tournament runs riot to make the event more hit than miss...

    Cricket World Cup runs riot to make the event more hit than miss...

    The tournament has reached its halfway mark and scores of 300 and amazing catches abound. One thing never changes, though – everyone loves beating England
    Katarina Johnson-Thompson: Heptathlete ready to jump at first major title

    Katarina Johnson-Thompson: Ready to jump at first major title

    After her 2014 was ruined by injury, 21-year-old Briton is leading pentathlete going into this week’s European Indoors. Now she intends to turn form into gold
    Syrian conflict is the world's first 'climate change war', say scientists, but it won't be the last one

    Climate change key in Syrian conflict

    And it will trigger more war in future
    How I outwitted the Gestapo

    How I outwitted the Gestapo

    My life as a Jew in wartime Berlin
    The nation's favourite animal revealed

    The nation's favourite animal revealed

    Women like cuddly creatures whilst men like creepy-crawlies
    Is this the way to get young people to vote?

    Getting young people to vote

    From #VOTESELFISH to Bite the Ballot