If you’ve ever heard of film star Fred Astaire then you must certainly have heard the famous assessment given on his first screen test report: “Can’t sing. Can’t act. Balding. Can dance a little.” A slight understatement of Astaire’s talent and considerable charm perhaps? Astaire was one of the greatest dancers of his time (here’s just one very famous example) but he also became known for his sartorial elegance which has ensured his status as an enduring style icon.
Astaire preferred British tailoring to American and often got his suits made on Saville Row. He was elegant when casual, wearing beautifully tailored sports coats and trousers in muted hues with his socks providing a punch of colour. And when wearing a top hat and tails he looked as if it was the most comfortable form of clothing in the world.
Astaire gave a comprehensive interview about his style to GQ magazine which is well worth a read. In it he discusses his aversion to “conspicuous” dressing, his love for double-breasted suits, and his preferred way to knot a tie. It is obvious that Astaire is extremely knowledgeable in sartorial matters and the fact that he returned to tailors with the same garment several times to get just the right fit is evident in every photograph.
I couldn’t end this post without including the following video which sees Astaire paired with my favourite movie star of this era, Gene Kelly. Kelly and Astaire were considered to be two of the best dancers of their time but they were very different in style. It is perhaps best summed up by Cyd Charisse who partnered with both of them: “As one of the handful of girls who worked with both of those dance geniuses, I think I can give an honest comparison. In my opinion, Kelly is the more inventive choreographer of the two. I think, however, that Astaire’s coordination is better than Kelly’s. Kelly, on the other hand, is the stronger of the two. To sum it up, I’d say they were the two greatest dancing personalities who were ever on screen. But it’s like comparing apples and oranges. They’re both delicious.”
Astaire and Kelly admired each other professionally and Kelly was also a fan of Astaire’s sartortial style, once saying, “I used to envy his cool aristocratic style, so intimate and contained. Fred wears top hat and tails to the manner born — I put them on and look like a truck driver.”