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
ebookA delicious collection of 50 meaty main courses
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

    Guru Careers: Trainer / IT Trainer

    £30 to £32k : Guru Careers: We are seeking a Trainer / IT Trainer to join an a...

    Recruitment Genius: Fence Installer - Commercial

    £25000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This privately owned Fencing Co...

    Recruitment Genius: Sales Executive - OTE £22,000

    £17000 - £22000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: If you answer yes, this company...

    Recruitment Genius: Project / Account Manager and IT Support

    £18000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This world leader in Online Pro...

    Day In a Page

    Mullah Omar, creator of the Taliban, is dead... for the fourth time

    Mullah Omar, creator of the Taliban, is dead... again

    I was once told that intelligence services declare their enemies dead to provoke them into popping up their heads and revealing their location, says Robert Fisk
    Margaret Attwood on climate change: 'Time is running out for our fragile, Goldilocks planet'

    Margaret Attwood on climate change

    The author looks back on what she wrote about oil in 2009, and reflects on how the conversation has changed in a mere six years
    New Dr Seuss manuscript discovered: What Pet Should I Get? goes on sale this week

    New Dr Seuss manuscript discovered

    What Pet Should I Get? goes on sale this week
    Oculus Rift and the lonely cartoon hedgehog who could become the first ever virtual reality movie star

    The cartoon hedgehog leading the way into a whole new reality

    Virtual reality is the 'next chapter' of entertainment. Tim Walker gives it a try
    Ants have unique ability to switch between individual and collective action, says study

    Secrets of ants' teamwork revealed

    The insects have an almost unique ability to switch between individual and collective action
    Donovan interview: The singer is releasing a greatest hits album to mark his 50th year in folk

    Donovan marks his 50th year in folk

    The singer tells Nick Duerden about receiving death threats, why the world is 'mentally ill', and how he can write a song about anything, from ecology to crumpets
    Let's Race simulator: Ultra-realistic technology recreates thrill of the Formula One circuit

    Simulator recreates thrill of F1 circuit

    Rory Buckeridge gets behind the wheel and explains how it works
    Twitter accused of 'Facebookisation' over plans to overhaul reverse-chronological timeline

    Twitter accused of 'Facebookisation'

    Facebook exasperates its users by deciding which posts they can and can’t see. So why has Twitter announced plans to do the same?
    Jane Birkin asks Hermès to rename bag - but what else could the fashion house call it?

    Jane Birkin asks Hermès to rename bag

    The star was shocked by a Peta investigation into the exotic skins trade
    10 best waterproof mascaras

    Whatever the weather: 10 best waterproof mascaras

    We found lash-enhancing beauties that won’t budge no matter what you throw at them
    Diego Costa biography: Chelsea striker's route to the top - from those who shared his journey

    Diego Costa: I go to war. You come with me...

    Chelsea's rampaging striker had to fight his way from a poor city in Brazil to life at the top of the Premier League. A new book speaks to those who shared his journey
    Ashes 2015: England show the mettle to strike back hard in third Test

    England show the mettle to strike back hard in third Test

    The biggest problem facing them in Birmingham was the recovery of the zeitgeist that drained so quickly under the weight of Australian runs at Lord's, says Kevin Garside
    Women's Open 2015: Charley Hull - 'I know I'm a good golfer but I'm also just a person'

    Charley Hull: 'I know I'm a good golfer but I'm also just a person'

    British teen keeps her feet on ground ahead of Women's Open
    Turkey's conflict with Kurdish guerrillas in Iraq can benefit Isis in Syria

    Turkey's conflict with Kurdish guerrillas in Iraq can benefit Isis in Syria

    Turkish President Erdogan could benefit politically from the targeting of the PKK, says Patrick Cockburn
    Yvette Cooper: Our choice is years of Tory rule under Jeremy Corbyn or a return to a Labour government

    Our choice is years of Tory rule under Corbyn or a return to a Labour government

    Yvette Cooper urged Labour members to 'get serious' about the next general election rather than become 'a protest movement'