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Monday, May 30, 2016

Alternative Style Icons - Howard Hamlin From Better Call Saul Is Quietly The Best Dressed Man On Television

Bugger Don Draper and Harvey Specter, they can disappear into the archives for all I care; the most elegant and stylish man on television is Howard Hamlin from the television series 'Better Call Saul' although I am starting to fear he has one trick and there are some minor problems in his dress sense.

For those of you who did not indulge in the television series Breaking Bad, you are unlikely to have started watching Better Call Saul unless by accident or on recommendation. For those of us who did watch Breaking Bad, it was the spin off that was much anticipated.

The series begun by showing Saul Goodman ( played by Bob Odenkirk) as a man with a new identity following on from the aftermath of the carnage created in Breaking Bad. The series starts out slowly and is less action packed than Breaking Bad but in that less intense and less dramatic series you find yourself lulled into the slower cadence and differing style of television, the difference between say a lively road house diner (Breaking Bad) and a slow cooked Italian meal (Better Call Saul).

The journey that the writers take us on is one discovering how Jimmy McGill becomes Saul Goodman over time and the process, much as life is, is not clear cut, it's a slowish journey of a man who doesn't fit into the world of the 'good' , or at least society's conformists,  but who is not 'bad' either. The characters that the writers create are more Chekhov than Tolstoy, offering us a layered pastiche of emotions and encounters which show just how complex human beings can be.

Many of these emotional and psychological traits play out in the wardrobes of the characters, primarily in that of the main character, Jimmy McGill.

McGill is seen as an upstart and confidence man by his brother Chuck and to a lesser degree by Chuck's law firm partner Howard Hamlin (Patrick Fabian). In fact in the first series, as McGill tries desperately to set himself up and antagonise the establishment (Howard Hamlin and his team at Hamlin, Hamlin, McGill), he spends much of his time trying to replicate and mimic the personal style of Hamlin. After he comes into some money McGill finds a tailor and whilst choosing his outfits he says 'I want the Tasmanian wool' for his suit and that he would prefer 'West Indian Sea Island cotton' for his shirts, clearly verbalising what he understood of Hamlin's own wardrobe. It is a delightful moment of television where the under-dog is trying to match up his armour to that of his nemesis. In fact, the show makes it clear that these men consider their suits as armour, which is why Hamlin's character is so well dressed.

According to ET online , the brains behind Howard Hamlin's look is the costume designer Jennifer Bryan. She apparently said to the actor Patrick Fabian at the beginning of the show 'Oh, I am going to make you look good' and begun by putting Fabian into 'the finest Italian suits I've ever had on my body' adding that whilst he was reluctant initially with the tie bar and the knit ties, he realised that this was only because he lacked any fashion sense as a native of Los Angeles.

So why do the clothes matter so much? Because they create the tension that's needed between the powers that be (Chuck and Howard) and those that are on the make. We see how Jimmy McGill can't quite catch Howard Hamlin, whose trade mark white club collar with golden tie bar locks down a finely knitted silk grenadine tie on a slim notched lapel suit in greys, pin stripes and more recently the internet sensationalised 'Hamlindigo' blue (the blue Hamlin wears). When McGill tries to emulate Hamlin he looks cheesey and more and more like a confidence man. It's only when McGill starts experimenting in his own suits and tie combinations that we start to see the character of McGill form which we know will eventually have a metamorphosis into Saul Goodman. We know from the beginning of the show that eventually McGill must become Goodman, but that journey stylistically is made even more enjoyable seeing the ebbs and flows of menswear as McGill starts wearing wider lapels, more vibrant colours, more contrasting shirt combinations, loud silk choices for his neck tie and so on.

This transformation is made even more powerful as it is a reaction against his older brother Chuck whose conservatism is more like a father like figure to Howard Hamlin than as an older brother like figure for Jimmy McGill. In effect, the use of costume and the theatre that goes with it aligns Chuck the elder statesman with Hamlin the upright establishment against everything spivvy, which is Jimmy.
Jimmy's colleague and friend Kim Wexler (Rea Seehorn) then wears clothes which do everything to fit in. She plays a role which appears conformist, like the non descriptive garments of slaves under the ruling masters. Jimmy McGill's role is to then also appear to Wexler like a non-conformist who tries to seduce her to join the revolution against the establishment.

All of this of course is just my opinion. It is well worth watching the series to form your own view. What this show lacks in a body count it makes up for in subtlety and slow characterisation.

My only reproach towards the wardrobe of our new silver fox sex symbol, Howard Hamlin, is that his suits are too narrow in the lapel and the jackets cut too short. Either this is an error on behalf of the costume designer or else it is offering us a kind of 'mid life crisis' look into the world of Howard Hamlin, that perhaps beneath his smooth but tough countenance lies a man who is trying to fight not to lose his youth. Time will tell what direction the writers will take his character. It just seems that two of the best dressed characters on television ought to be switching out their lapels. Harvey Specter from the television series Suits looks like he would be more aligned to Howard Hamlin's lapels and vice versa. The same I might add, I would have thought for his trousers. It seems incongruous that Hamlin's character would choose to wear a belt considering how fastidious and tidy he is elsewhere.

Anyway, regardless of of lapel sizes belts and jacket lengths, we have a new style icon in Howard Hamlin, and may his rise continue.

High club collar, tie bar, silk grenadine tie, 'Hamlindigo' blue... Patrick Fabian's character 'Howard Hamlin' is a new menswear style icon.

Sky blue shirts with white club collars are a real characterisation point for HH's character
Two peaks on the pocket square, Tasmanian wool, West Indian Sea Island cotton for shirts, HH's character enjoys the best materials but in a conservative manner refraining from vibrant checks, patterns or hues and maintaining a clean look at all times.

Jimmy McGill (Bob Odenkirk) tried to emulate Howard Hamlin by ordering similar materials and cuts of his suit so that he might poach his clients. 

The elder like stateseman brother, Chuck, of Jimmy McGill, a brilliant legal mind, often wears clothes which match his social position and standing in the community. His button down collars are one such cue.

The modern office slave, Kim Wexler seldom steps out of conformist clothing for the office.

Harvey Specter, another style icon of menswear in televsion, might actually suit better the lapels worn by Hamlin and vice versa. 

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