Perry Mason and The Case of the Flawed Fedora

'Perry Mason'

Oh dear. HBO Max’s Perry Mason origin story is set in 1932 Los Angeles, which you would never know by looking at this photo of Shea Whigham and Matthew Rhys. IMDB lists a huge number of costumers, so I can’t be sure who is the hat wrangler, but please. This is not how anybody wore a hat in 1932. This may surpass “Boardwalk Empire” in ridiculous costuming, which is an achievement.

Perry Mason
Good grief. Shea Wigham’s costume and newsboy cap look horrible. Nobody dressed like this in the 1930s. No one. That jacket looks like a horse blanket.

Why do films and TV shows set in the 1930s and 1940s have to be so wretched when it comes to costumes? (For reference on good period costuming, see “Chinatown” and “L.A. Confidential.”)

For reference: Proper men’s outfits from 1931-32.


Edward G. Robinson, “Little Caesar” (1931). Note the angle of the brim. Note the height of the crown. Note the width of the hatband. Note the lapels on the jacket, with matching vest. The hat isn’t stuck on Robinson’s head like a baseball cap. It’s meant to convey style and class.


A scruffy Edward G. Robinson still knows how to wear a hat.

Public Enemy
Edward Woods and James Cagney show the proper way to wear newsboy caps and sweaters in “The Public Enemy” (1931).

Cagney gives another lesson in the proper way to wear a newsboy cap and Woods doesn’t do too badly, either. Murray Kinnell as Putty Nose opts for a vest and bowler.

Public Enemy
Cagney may be maniacal in “The Public Enemy,” but at least how knows how to wear a hat. Again, note the height of the crown and the width of the hatband. And the angle of the brim.

And here we have multiple examples of how to properly wear a hat, from “Scarface” (1932), starring Paul Muni and George Raft. Note Muni’s double-breasted suit and wide lapels.

Any costumers paying attention? Anyone?

About lmharnisch

I am retired from the Los Angeles Times
This entry was posted in 1932, Fashion, Film, Hollywood and tagged , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

12 Responses to Perry Mason and The Case of the Flawed Fedora

  1. Benito says:

    Calling Eddie Mueller! He has the same observations


    • lmharnisch says:

      Yes, he has various presentations on TCM where he talks about hats, ties, etc. There is no excuse for anything this bad. I cannot imagine what look the production designer (John P. Goldsmith) and costume designer (Emma Potter) are going for.


  2. B.J. Merholz says:

    When it comes to hats, Larry, you’re the tops.


  3. Sheila says:

    Cagney’s drawn-on eyebrows, though–probably an anomaly even in 1931!


  4. This had me laughing out loud-loudly. I’m going to imagine the costumers’ defense would be that Perry & friend aren’t meant to look stylish but down & out, but I agree that even a deadbeat wouldn’t have worn that [wrong] hat that way.


    • lmharnisch says:

      The whole ethos of the Depression (that would be my parents — you know, the “Greatest Generation”) was to not look poor even if you were, especially when it came to clothes. Even if you were a farmhand wearing coveralls, you would have a clean and pressed white shirt. The whole “T-shirt, cargo shorts and three-day beard” is a modern phenomenon.


  5. Michael Lott says:

    ***Clapping Enthusiastically*** I’ve had the same thoughts when watching modern period dramas. All the costumers had to do is look at old movies and photos to get it right.


    • lmharnisch says:

      I don’t get it. I honestly don’t. There was a lot of interesting things going on in 1930s fashions, rather than looking like you picked through the 1970s rejects at Goodwill.


  6. I haven’t been able to make it all the way through . He looks worse than Paul Muni, after he’d escaped from the chain gang . Does he ride the rails to work every morning ? Such a shame, a talented cast to be sure, but the tiresome faux laconic ‘that is my best suit’ and food stains on tie, ‘and it’s mustard’ dialogue .. As Chandler said ‘glib dialogue is not wit’ . And didn’t they shave in the 1930’s . Almost every 1930’s movie I’ve seen seems to have a barber shop in somewhere ! Like you said, this era is only just out of living memory and not hard to research ! It’s called The Warner Brothers Archive.


    • lmharnisch says:

      I’ve been afraid to even look at it, based on the costumes. And Perry Mason not a lawyer? Sounds like they bought the rights and threw out everything but the names.


  7. James says:

    Perry Mason is supposed to be down and out in this pilot. He steals a necktie off a corpse because he doesn’t own one. And he’s not a lawyer yet. This is just the first episode.


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