William Powell as Nick Charles in “The Thin Man” movies was one of the most stylish and debonair gentlemen to have ever graced the silver screen.
I realize that’s a pretty bold statement, especially considering the fact that I don’t think I’ve ever seen William Powell named in any type of “most stylish actors of all-time” listicles. Humphrey Bogart, Fred Astaire, Steve McQueen, James Dean, Cary Grant, Paul Newman, Alain Delon, Sidney Poitier — those are the names you’d expect to see.
But, for me, William Powell is more than deserving of a place in that canon. He’s suave, handsome, elegant, quick-witted, exceptionally well-dressed, and one hell of a martini drinker. Look no further for any of that than in his performance as Nick Charles in “The Thin Man” (1934) based on the book by Dashiell Hammett.
Before we go any further, I think you should know that I have an outsize obsession with “The Thin Man” movies. I can quickly list them all, in order, along with the years they were released. I can tell you who the killer was in each movie, which I’ll tell you is only possible after countless viewings and absorption of their somewhat convoluted plots. I can recite large portions of dialogue from memory, much to my wife’s chagrin. “The Thin Man” movies are why we always have a holiday meal of sea bass. They’re why I named our home Wi-Fi network Hotel Normandie. Why our cats are named Nick and Nora, and our dog, Charlie. And I even have the final line of Nick’s cocktail masterclass engraved on the back of my Jaeger-LeCoultre Reverso.
The important thing is the rhythm. Always have rhythm in your shaking. Now a Manhattan you shake to foxtrot time, a Bronx to two-step time, but a dry martini you always shake to waltz time.
My enormous enthusiasm for “The Thin Man” movies stems from one of my wife’s parents’ holiday traditions, which has now been wholly appropriated and enshrined in our home as well. There are six movies in the series — the original, After, Another, Shadow, Goes Home, and Song. After Thanksgiving, we watch the first movie, and each week after we watch the next in the series — one a week — which means that by New Year’s we’ve completed the cycle.
It was my wife’s suggestion that we do this, and one that I think she now wholeheartedly regrets, much like the time she got tired of trying to explain Passover to me and said, let’s just watch “The Ten Commandments” (1956), which I now subject her to every single year — all four hours of it.
But I digress.
Although I’ve long admired Nick’s style throughout all of “The Thin Man” movies — his 4×2 double-breasted shawl collar dinner jacket from “Song” is on my to-do list — it’s his first suit that I’ve always felt was a knockout, which is why I decided to recreate it with our “classic style, modern sensibility” ethos in mind. So let’s take a look at Nick Charles’ first suit from “The Thin Man” and then our updated version.
Nick Charles’ First Suit (& Outfit) In “The Thin Man”
We’re first introduced to Nick Charles at the bar preparing a martini — shaken to waltz time, of course — and presenting quite the cocktail masterclass to his captivated audience of servers and bartenders. He wears the same suit here as he does a couple scenes later at the Charles’ Christmas Eve party hosted at their home at the Hotel Normandie. It’s somewhat unclear whether those two scenes take place on the same evening, but he’s wearing the same outfit nonetheless.
And that outfit begins with a dark three-piece pinstripe (or chalk stripe) suit, though one would assume it would be a flannel chalk stripe given the time of year. The fabric seems to be a rather substantial weight and a nice structure, which leads me to believe that it is indeed flannel. In terms of color, well, that’s a tough one since the film is in black and white. One assumes it is either a dark navy blue or charcoal gray, though it’s impossible to know for sure. Various colorized promotional images show it as navy, but I’ve also seen it as black so we may never know.
Nick’s jacket is single-breasted with three buttons, a peaked lapel, and has a welted breast pocket, two flap pockets along with a ticket pocket, and does not have a vent. His waistcoat is a classic six-button version with two welted hip pockets. And his trousers, while a bit difficult to see, appear to have a plain bottom rather than a cuff. No belt is visible and I believe it’s safe to assume Nick wears suspenders and his trousers have side adjusters.
For the rest of his look, Nick wears a crisp white button-up shirt with a classic point collar and double French cuffs, which he fastens with oval cuff links. His tie is two-color with American right-down-to-left stripes, with the base color being darker than the suit. His pocket square is white — some claim it is linen, though the way it billows out suggest to me that it is silk — and we assume his dark Oxford shoes are black.
The cut is generous, as was the style of the time, and complements Powell’s physique impeccably. Let’s also not forget to mention the great example of mixing similar patterns on display — Nick’s suit and tie, both stripes, work because their different scales of the same pattern. All in all, it’s an exceptionally dashing and classic look.
A Suit Inspired by “The Thin Man”
I must admit that I’ve wanted to create a complete collection inspired by Nick Charles’ wardrobe in “The Thin Man” movies for some time, but wasn’t able to fully realize it this past year. Too much going on with the relaunch of the site and shop, but that’s neither here nor there. But I was determined to get at least one Nick Charles-inspired piece in the HSS Shop and what better place to start than Nick’s first suit.
I attempted to be as faithful as possible to Nick’s suit — three-piece, peaked lapel, pinstripe/chalk stripe, flap pockets plus a ticket pocket — though, of course, there are some modern updates as well as something of a roll of the dice on the color.
One thing I would like to mention is that I generally do not add a ticket pocket to my suits as I feel it can come off as try-to-hard, but here, and especially because this is a three-piece suit, I think it is more than appropriate and not the least bit out of place.
The differences should be pretty obvious, but I’ll go ahead an point them out anyway. The biggest difference between my suit and Nick’s is the way it fits. Nick’s suit has a much fuller fit, which was the style in the 1930s, and while I’m all for having a bit of room in my clothing these days, I think going with a full throwback look in terms of fit feels more than a bit costumey, which I’m not a fan of at all.
The next difference is the color — or rather, the darkness of the color — since we’ve already established that the jury’s out on whether Nick’s suit was navy blue or charcoal. It’s clear that Nick’s suit is a bit darker than mine. The reason is because we were unable to source a fabric that was an exact match.
For me, the more important thing to consider if I was trying to be as true as possible to Nick’s suit was the spacing of the pinstripes. There was a darker charcoal gray with a wide-spaced chalk stripe to consider, but keeping the tighter spacing seemed paramount, so I opted for this particular medium gray fabric. Not a bad choice, since it makes it just the slightest bit more versatile and less of a one-trick pony.
Two final (and minor) details that are a bit different from my suit vis-à-vis Nick’s. Rather than a jacket with no vent, I’ve gone with a double vent. And I’ve also chosen a two-inch cuff for the bottom of the trousers, as is my standard choice for a flannel suit. I’ll say it agin — I am all about classic style with a modern sensibility.
The Bottom Line
In conclusion, the timeless style of Nick Charles in “The Thin Man” movies continues to hold valuable style lessons for the modern man. While the fashion of the 1930s was decidedly different, the elegance, sophistication, and confidence displayed by Nick Charles are qualities that are still admired today — not to mention, worthy of emulation.
Our recreation of his first suit, while updated to fit the modern sensibilities, is a tribute to the timeless style that he represented. It’s a classic piece that can be a valuable addition to any man’s wardrobe. So, channel your inner Nick Charles, shake up a martini — to waltz time, of course — and step out in style.
Thanks, as always, for reading.