We Can’t Forget It: The Menswear In Chinatown (1974)

Who could forget the belt back suits and epic ties?

Unlike a few of the menswear movies I’ve covered on this blog, I had actually seen Chinatown before. I believe I was a freshman or sophomore in college at the time, with a growing inclination toward classic and vintage clothing. It was the story that compelled me. I love mystery movies, so a film that literally took home the Academy Award for Best Screenplay was a must watch for me; the menswear aspect of it was a bonus. By the end of that fateful watch, I could talk turkey with my film major pals as well as finally understand why the vintage scene would always rave about Mr. Jake Gittes’s wardrobe. Seeing foulards and belt backs fantastically done in a non-Golden Era movie is certainly an experience.

Fast forward to today, and Chinatown remains one of my favorite movies of all time. It’s not even about the clothes. The story (and mystery) is just so good, with the infamous downer ending hitting you like a ton of bricks. It would definitely be a dream to make a film like this, with interesting characters, a truly awful villain, and a compelling conspiracy that isn’t too complicated. I love showing it to people for the first time; it’s always worth it to see their faces when we get to Evelyn’s revelation.

Now clothes are still a reason why I enjoy the film. The costuming is done extremely well, not just in terms of period accuracy (they look damn good for being 70s approximations of the 30s), but in how they characterize each person. Jake Gittes is a PI who seems to have done well for himself, apparent in his fashionable use of 3PC suits (complete with belt backs) and tonal pairings with shirts and patterned ties. Hollis Mulray is a goody engineer at the LA DWP and as such wears a sensible grey suit and bowtie. Noah Cross, the evil land baron, wears a western hat with both his casual and “formal” attire. In true great film costuming fashion, even the side characters and extras look great.

The biggest thing is how serious it all seems. Chinatown doesn’t come off like it’s trying call attention to how old-timey it is, a problem felt by almost every other movie I’ve covered. It’s hard to believe that The Sting only came out one year before. The Sting‘s costuming is good, but it definitely feels a bit dated or try hard. Chinatown feels natural and almost timeless. Like Spencer says in the podcast, the film almost seems like it’s trying to be a movie you would have seen in the 1930s rather than a period flick. You can just tell by the neckties. The Sting looks like they found comparable 30s tie patterns but in fat 70s neckties. Chinatown keeps it accurate with tight four-in-hand knots.

While I don’t necessarily like to dress like a specific fictional character (outside of Safin), it’s hard not to be envious of Jake Gittes. His foulard ties are great, not to mention the various back details on his sport suits. It’s a shame we don’t have those details readily available anymore or at least done in the same tasteful way. I will say that like The Sting, this movie did inspire me to actually buy something: a white linen DB suit. I guess I do regret selling my Palm Beach one to Jay (but that’s because I got too big for it).

I just gotta stop watching movies with cool outfits. Maybe next we’ll finally cover Live By Night.

Anyway, you can listen to a preview of the bonus episode coverage of Chinatown below or subscribe on Patreon to get access to it and all of our Bonus Pods. You’ll also get access to our Discord, which I think is one of the best menswear communities in the known universe. Trust me.

Also read BAMF style. He’s better than us at this sort of thing!

Jake starts off strong with a white DB 3PC. Note that the cream stripe in his tie is an exact match to his shirt.
A bi-swing back!
Sport suits are cool. That action back was meant to help with movement while keeping the silhouette intact.
Plaid suit and foulard tie? Hell yeah.
He gets one more wear out of the white DB. The outfit is good, though this medallion tie does seem more 70s than 30s. At least the tie doesn’t get a fat knot.
Another tonal pairing. I like that tie– cream foulards are always super summery to me.
And the pattern itself has vintage precedent!
A damn good cut.

A center reverse box pleat!
A contrast collar pink shirt with a taupe suit and a Prince of Wales tie.

This tie looks pretty 40s (or 80s).
Same goes for this one.
Now this is great. It’s also the only time he wears a collar bar.
Mark Cho even did a similar look!
Really cool octagonal glasses. Also note the diamond weave jacket, striped shirt, and cream paisley tie. Fantastic spring/summer look!
Silk PJs.
The one thing I don’t like about this costuming is Jake’s hats. They don’t look right, being a bit “flat” and non-angular.
Just compare his hat to Golden Era ones.
The brim isn’t snapped down and the dimples and crown feel too blunted. It makes for a soft, sterile look which honestly feels at odds with the PI character.
He would straight up look better without the hat in any scene.

Noah Cross wears an embroidered guayabera shirt, suspenders, and a silverbelly hat when you first meet him on Catalina.
Maybe Bode needs to copy it.
He later wears a brown corduroy suit with a red sash. This is a cool look for such an awful person.

A Norfolk suit to show how old this photo is.
Hollis Mulray looks great in a grey DB. Maybe I should wear mine with a bowtie!
Yelburton, Hollis’s replacement, also wears a grey DB but this one is a 3PC.
The cops have better hats than Jake. It’s cool to see the more casual thin band on Escobar’s fedora. You can also see that his suit is much more 70s than Jakes thanks to the high gorge and sharp edges on his notch.
Escobar doesn’t seem to have any costume changes.
Gittes’s assistants have cool individual style. I like the grey 3PC on the right, especially since its an SB and the peaks are horizontal.
This guy seems to be wearing a 1940s tie.
A close match for the one on the bottom left!
Evelyn’s lawyer seems very old-timey, with his stiff club collar shirt and Pince Nez glasses.

This kid’s shirt is sick as hell.
Some Spencer style on the right.
Curly too, though you wouldn’t want to be like him.
Mulvahill has a cool block stripe tie.
I like the tonal shirt pairing.

The Records dweeb, wearing the SaD special: a reverse stripe spearpoint and an abstract tie.
Farmer style with a straw hat and air tie.
The racist guy.
Unironically a great fit from this gardener.

Don’t forget to support us on Patreon to get some extra content and access to our exclusive Discord. We occasionally stream on  Twitch, but you can watch the clips on Youtube.

Oh and don’t forget, we do a podcast every two weeks!


 EthanMWong | StyleandDirection

The Podcast is produced by MJ.

Big thank you to our top tier Patrons (the SaDCast Fanatics): Philip, Shane, Jarek, Henrik and Alexander.


  1. Nick · 27 Days Ago

    You should review the clothes Raging Bull.


  2. Nils-Åke · 27 Days Ago

    Nice article, but don’t forget about the sequel “The two jakes”. It’s a very mid sequel tbh, that doesn’t seem connected to chinatown but sort of is.

    Clothes there are also quite sharp.


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