Linen seems to get a bad rap, and frankly, I can’t understand why. Is it the 80s connotations? The soft, unstructured feel of the fabric? The general overall loucheness of linen? People tend to whine about its crushability but the open, cooler weave is exactly what should make it a staple for summer, particularly given the Mediterranean-like climate in much of Australia. Added to the fact that a casual summer jacket in a linen blend looks just that bit more relaxed than a standard wool (or even cotton) version and you have all the reasons why a grown man’s wardrobe really should contain at least one.
While just happening to watch two classic 80s films – as you do – in American Gigolo (1980) and Pretty In Pink (1986), I was struck by just how prominently the fabric figured for three of the main male protagonists, particularly as a signifier of lightly-worn affluence. Pink’s teen dreamboat Blane (Andrew McCarthy) mostly favoured a nice line in soft-shouldered blazers which dirt-poor Andie (Molly Ringwald) immediately knew identified him as a “richie”, and so, sadly, out of her class; she having to make do with the more thrift-store fabrics you find on the wrong side of the tracks. Also in the yuppie corner, snooty rich kid James Spader as Blane’s evil friend Steff spends most of his time in the film smoking or smirking – sometimes both – only pausing long enough to make a few nasty observations about “class” like some kind of caustic Thurston Howell III, yet all the while still managing to lounge around in a nicely pressed linen suit. That was just how we did things in the 80s.
Meanwhile downtown, Richard Gere in Gigolo plays Julian Kaye, a prostitute without a heart of gold, but nevertheless at the very top of his game with every home gadget upscale Eighties Man could desire, all lit by moody filtered venetian light. Of course. But when he’s not in his Deco bachelor pad working out in gravity boots he’s pretty much swathed head to toe in acres of the stuff. Rarely has a male hooker looked so casually cool while taking care of business, which incidentally also includes seducing proto-Cougar Lauren Hutton and being framed for murder. It certainly is a busy life. Whether strutting downtown in Beverly Hills, jacket casually over one shoulder, or just cruising to Palm Springs in his convertible Merc R107 SL to service a kinky client’s wife, Julian seems to owe it all to linen: mainly unstructured blazers and shirts paired with casual trousers, and of course the odd slim knit tie thrown in, just for good measure. The subtext to all this surely being that laconic doesn’t necessarily mean lack of attention to detail – not when top notch Italian tailoring is involved in any case.
Which brings us to the bulk of the film’s wardrobe as designed by the then-emerging Giorgio Armani, the aim of which was to help break the label into the American leisure-wear market. The film and strategy were so successful that to this day, it’s rumoured Richard Gere can still walk into any Armani store on the planet and choose whatever his heart may desire, courtesy of an appreciative and ever-grateful Giorgio.
So, given the current homage to all things 80s the time may also be just about right for a linen rethink – not just the go-to fabric for Armani’s iconic Julian Kaye but more like potential friend to the louche, the laid-back, and lotharios everywhere. Even if your name’s not Blane.