20 style lessons from Coen Brothers movies

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Tom Fordy

We’re not suggesting that you leave the house in the full dressing gown and jelly shoes combo, but you could do a lot worse than turn to The Dude and his Coen-verse cohorts for style tips. They are, after all, among the coolest and most distinctive characters to ever hit the big screen. 

So, whether you’re looking for advice on knitwear, moustaches, or even just how to put of a pair of shades, to coincide with the 4 March release of Hail, Caesar!, here are 20 need-to-know style lessons from Coen brothers films.

  • 20 style lessons from Coen Brothers movies

    Roll Necks Are For The Wood Chipper

    Movie: Fargo

    Evidence: Does Gaear (Peter Stomare) really hack partner-in-crime Carl (Steve Buscemi) to death over money? Or is because of Carl’s relentless wearing of roll neck sweaters, despite their continual presence on the fashion police’s ten most wanted list? Red, yellow, and even mustard under a fur-lined winter coat… Carl’s dedication to the roll neck knows no bounds. It’s just bad luck he happened to wearing one when it was quite rightly cut to pieces. A lesson for us all. 

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    Braces are the new belts

    Movie: The Hudsucker Proxy

    Evidence: Or to be more precise, braces are the old belts. But it’s time they sprang back into fashion, because as mailroom clerk-turned-company president Norville Barnes (Tim Robbins) proves, the suit has lost a certain old-timey charm since their demise. Like Norville himself, the mighty braces are straight, simple and hold the whole business together.

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    Back to basics is the height of cool

    The Movie: Inside Llewyn Davis

    Evidence: It’s really quite simple: coat, trousers, scarf and fingerless mittens. No fussing, no faffing. And yet somehow, Llewyn Davis (Oscar Isaac) is cooler than a vintage store full of hipster-fied cucumbers. It’s the kind of effortless style that the super-trendy would pay top dollar for, but can only be achieved by simply not giving a sh*t. Style that’s a true state of mind.
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    Wearing shades is an art form

    Movie: The Big Lebowski

    Evidence: The Dude’s ensemble is a piece of work in itself – jelly shoes, big cardigans, shorts – but it’s the shades that really, well, tie the look together. We all know shades are the universal symbol of cool, and The Dude wears a particularly tasty pair of Vuarnet 003s. It’s not what his Dudeness is wearing though, but how he’s wearing them – and knowing the perfect moment to slip them on. For instance:

    a) After getting his head flushed down the toilet,
    b) When having the last word in an argument over a peed-on rug
    c) Just before getting his dead friend’s ashes blown in his face

    When in comes to looking an absolute boss in shades, The Dude abides. You should too.

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    Dress to impress every single minute of the day

    Movie: The Man Who Wasn’t There

    Evidence: Billy Bob Thornton is a barber who gets tied up in a murky web of murder, dry cleaning, and UFOs. But despite all that, he recalls a golden time when men looked their absolute best no matter what. Just check him out – whether he’s at dinner, lounging around the house, or even at work in his barbering whites, he’s dressed immaculately. And not a crease on him.

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    A man needs a hat

    Movie: Miller’s Crossing

    Evidence: Hitman Tom (Gabriel Byrne) once had a dream that he was walking in the woods and the wind blew his hat off. “There’s nothing more foolish than a man chasing his hat,” he says glumly. But he knows the truth: his hat completes him. Tom’s is a Homburg, one of your classic old school brimmed hats. The pork pie, trilby, fedora and panama for equal mobster style.

  • 20 style lessons from Coen Brothers movies 6

    Have a selection of awesome shirts

    The Movie: Raising Arizona

    Evidence: Say what you will about H.I. McDunnough’s (Nic Cage). Sure, he’s an ex-con, he’s thick as two (very) short planks, and he’s a baby-napper. But he’s also a man who knows that a good shirt never goes out of fashion, which is why he’s got a seemingly endless selection of Hawaiian and patterned numbers. Worn over a white tee or vest it’s a strong look every time. 

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    The cowboy look never gets old

    The Movies: True Grit, No Country For Old Men, Inside Llewyn Davis, The Big Lebowski, Blood Simple

    Evidence: Part of Coens’ genius is that their movies are almost timeless. It’s no surprise then, that the cowboy – Americana’s most timeless icon – should make regular appearances. No matter what guise he takes – a narrator (Sam Elliot – The Big Lebowski), an accidental hero (Josh Brolin – No Country For Old Men), a gun-toting lawman (Jeff Bridges – True Grit), or a strangely comical backing singer (Adam Driver – Inside Llewyn Davis) – the cowboy is a recurring mainstay, a testament to a classic style that has never aged. So if in doubt, whip on a Stetson, pair of Levi’s and boots. You can’t go wrong.

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    Find a hair product that works for you and keep it to hand

     Movie: O Brother, Where Art Thou?

    Evidence: “I’m a Dapper Dan man!” announces escaped convict Ulysses Everett McGill (George Clooney), outraged that the local store doesn’t stock his favourite hair product. Even on the run, he refuses to look anything but his best. And it’s a pain we’ve all felt. So when you find a product that holds your hair exactly as you like it, always have a supply on your person for hair emergencies, and accept no substitutes.

  • 20 style lessons from Coen Brothers movies 9

    Tall hair is cool. Highlights are not

    Movie: Barton Fink, Burn After Reading

    Evidence: Question: When is it acceptable for hair to exceed two inches in length vertically?
    Answer: When it’s worn by Barton Fink (John Turturro), whose hair speaks volumes about his tortured genius and original geek chic. 
    Second question: When is it not acceptable for hair to exceed two inches in length vertically? 
    Answer: When it’s worn by personal trainer Chad Feldheimer (Brad Pitt), whose hair speaks volumes about him being an insufferable knucklehead.

  • 20 style lessons from Coen Brothers movies 10

    Matching your hat and suit works

    Movie: Blood Simple

    Evidence: For all his faults, scummy double-crossing P.I. Loren Visser (M. Emmet Walsh) has achieved something few others would even dare attempt – the matching suit and hat combo. Leaning casually against his car, basking in dusk sunlight, and wearing a cream top-to-toe, he’s a vision of the classic Southern style.  

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    But matching your shirt and trousers doesn’t

    Movie: The Big Lebowski

    Evidence: Never mind all the weird ball licking and fact he’s a certified sex offender, Jesus’s (John Turturro) real crime against humanity is the shocking purple combo – a clear warning to any man who ever dared to go all-in-one with his pastels.

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    Make a statement with your specs

    The Movies: Barton Fink, A Serious Man, The Big Lebowski 

    Evidence: Barton Fink’s are perfectly round for maximum eccentricity. Larry Gopnik (Michael Stuhlbarg) from A Serious Man has arguably the most Jewish frames of all time. Walter (John Goodman) from The Big Lebowski has the tinted lenses that make him look like the sort of 'Nam Vet you should just well avoid. In other words, your glasses should say something about you. Even if what they’re saying is, you’re a total crackpot. 


  • 20 style lessons from Coen Brothers movies 13

    Go dark when doubling up your denim

    The Movie: No Country For Old Men

    Evidence: The “Canadian tuxedo” might be one of the great laughing stocks of men’s fashion, but would take balls of steel to laugh in the face of its most sociopathic wearer, Anton Chigurh (Javier Bardem). This is largely because:
    a) He’d probably blow a hole in your brains with his cattle stun gun. 
    b) He actually makes it look damn good.
    The secret, it turns out, are shades of denim as dark as his soul. But you can’t deny – good style is good style. 

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    Few men can pull off the Colonel Sanders look

    The Movie: The Ladykillers

    Evidence: Even a man of Tom Hanks’ considerable acting prowess couldn’t pull this one off. Yes, the old Southern “devil’s goatee” is much forgotten and overlooked, but the rest of it is just one fat no. And we do mean fat.

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    Don’t be afraid to rock the knitwear out of season

    Movie: Inside Llewyn Davis

    Evidence: For some, a knitted jumper is an absolute no-no, something reserved for semi-ironic joviality at Christmastime. Then you see someone like Justin Timberlake wearing an orange one – yes, orange – and still managing to look as stylish as ever (to be fair, he has been bringing sexy back for about 15 years now). The lesson here is simple: anyone can work the knitwear if they’ve got the confidence and an impeccably trimmed beard.

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    The eye-patch is next level stuff

    Movie: True Grit, O Brother, Where Art Thou?

    Evidence: Though most men can wear a hat well, the eye-patch is something else. Take John Goodman’s Big Dan from O Brother, Where Art Thou? (a bit like an oversized Man From Del Monte), or Jeff Bridges’ Rooster Cogburn (who looks like the meanest son-of-a-bitch the Old West ever saw). In both their cases, the eye-patch is part of a look that demands that extra touch. It’s the difference between a memorable style and absolutely unforgettable one.

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    Dress to express yourself

    The Movie: Raising Arizona

    Evidence: Bounty hunter Leonard Smalls (Randall Cobb) doesn’t need to say a word. Just one look at his Mad Max-style biker leathers you know exactly who he is. Clothes truly should maketh the man, and there’s no doubting what kind of man Leonard is – a bona fide “vision from hell”. A raging psychopath, for sure, but Leonard certainly knows how to dress to express his inner feelings. 

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    The moustache is your most versatile accessory

    The Movies: No Country For Old Men, Raising Arizona, The Big Lebowski, Fargo, The Ladykillers

    Evidence: Big ones. Small ones. No-nonsense ones. Pencil ones. Hitler ones. All of these and many more have been seen in Coens’ movies. Each is different to the last and much more than just a piece of facial hair – a character in its own right. And who doesn’t want an upper lip with plenty of character, fellas?

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    The sailor look is coming back in a big way

    The Movie: Hail, Caesar!

    Evidence: You even don’t need to have seen Hail, Caesar! to know that man-of-the-moment Channing Tatum has achieved what Mr Stay Puft failed to do all those years ago – make the sailor boy outfit look sexy. This time next year we’ll all be wearing little bibs and jaunty hats. Get on board.


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Tom Fordy

Tom Fordy is a London-based writer. He is former men's magazine editor and is now works as a lifestyle and entertainment journalist and opinionated beard for hire. His interests include the great literary works of the 20th century, New Wave European cinema and the career of Hulk Hogan. Follow Tom on Twitter: @TheTomFordy

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