Do you want to know how to fit in with the Florida motor racing clique? Have you ever wondered what to take to Connecticut but never to New York? In 1958 John Weitz answered all these questions and more in his paperback primer “Sports Clothes for Your Sports Car”. For the $1.95 cover price your sartorial quandary would to be identified and addressed from your brown suede chukkas to your car’s ideal picnic basket.
As recently as 1948 the English racing critic had dismissed the garb of the crowd at New York’s Watkins Glen track in no uncertain terms: “American racing crowds have little dress sense….a cross between Laramie and Alice in Wonderland”. But times were changing.
The trend setting sartorial quirks of the drivers had long been noted and John Weitz eulogizes all aspects of eccentric dress from Louis Chiron’s polka dot scarf, Schell’s two-tone loafers to Count Johnny Lurani’s roll neck sweater. The author’s philosophy is simple: “To those of us who like the way a sports car sounds, why deny a little vanity?” But it’s not the style of the reckless playboy at the wheel in Weitz’ main concern but rather those who would travel miles to stand on the other side of the fence to watch their heroes risk their necks to compete and entertain.
In Weitz’ view it was imperative that the spectator look right; to dress right. Knowingly sharp and modern but with a keen eye on their environment and ever mindful of practicality. Setting his ‘East Coast’ stall out early Weitz from the off humorously brushes aside the “preening peacock” fashions paraded under the Californian sun at the Pebble Beach track; people overdressed “from the hubcaps up”. The East Coast race fans are his real interest. Hardcore enthusiasts with clothing taste to match.
There’s something quite gossipy and modern about the way detail and trivia is collected and analyzed in this 50+ year old clothing primer that belies its age, and for good or for ill it strikes a minor chord with today’s celebration of ephemera and celebrity watching. More “OK” Magazine than Haynes manual is what I’m trying to get at. Weitz may have been uniquely qualified in this department being both a fashion designer and a committed amateur racer and there’s a hell of a lot of detail packed into those 120 pages. It’s interesting to note that Weitz was to observe the revival of a 1920’s collegiate fashion sense amongst the racing crowd some 30 years on with reappearance of items such as the Letter Man sweater and the dreaded raccoon coat. The cars too began to approximate the small, low slung, seat of your pants rides of the previous generation.
Thankfully the youthful Ivy vibe translated itself in an altogether sharper and more tasteful way to the man in the stands peering through his binoculars. At Florida’s famous Sebring track the dress code is “lightweight sports coat, knitted shirt, slacks and loafers” with a raincoat over your arm just in case. Sebring is the location of Weitz’ sole concession to ‘glamour’ with his recommendation to buy a ‘paddock ticket’ by which means the ordinary spectator can observe the “exceedingly well dressed people who are members of Florida Automobile Racing Club (who often include) movie stars and other well known folk, and frequently they are a good fashion show in themselves”.
The New York haunt of Watkins Glen in September is serious suede chukka territory with the unpredictable weather sometimes necessitating heavy soled Cordovans. With corduroy slacks and flannel shirt for Weitz it’s ‘comfort first, smart second’. You at track side and you at your warm and dry motel can often be a distance of a mile or two across rough terrain and unmade roads. Sober grey flannels and a plain open neck OCBD will successfully transfer you from track to a post race supper with only the swankiest restaurants necessitating a tie. Have a plain knit stashed in your car’s glove compartment just in case – alongside your pig skin gloves naturally. The blazer or tweed sport coat will need to be topped off as the Fall meets Winter. Ivy style flat caps? Of course, with the occasional dark green Tyrolean spotted. You’ll notice that Weitz is quite specific with his colours.
By way of contrast the relaxed atmosphere of the Bridgehampton, Long Island meet in June will allow for Bermuda shorts, slacks and matching hatbands “as mad as you please” and under your sports coat here your V neck will be cashmere. This is East Coast peacock territory:
“Day or night, tomato colored linen slacks, pyjama stripe pants or bright red sports shirts are quite a usual sight. As are foulard print pocket handkerchiefs and Madras sports jackets”.
Weitz deems Lime Rock and Thompson Raceway both Connecticut in the unpredictable Spring and Fall as “Ivy League territory. The clothes of the area are ‘deep country’ in the tweediest of terms”. As with Watkins Glen and Bridgehampton the emphasis is on preparation for the ‘variable’ weather and the need for a tan coloured Trench or Duffel. Combine this with “a bulky black sweater, grey whipcord slacks, grey cashmere socks and a bright red woollen shirt”. One noticeable difference between here and the other East Coast gatherings is the definite need for a tie in “rather stuffy” Connecticut restaurants. A similar summary is placed too on race meetings in both Virginia and Maryland.
Whereas Weitz is very specific as to type of clothing best worn he rarely strays in to what I guess what we’d now might refer to as product placement. At the drop of a hat throughout his text he advocates the wearing of long sleeve polo shirts of the wool knit variety for both racer and spectator alike. To this effect he name checks “LaCoste” (sic) at the close of the book and recommends the reader mail David Crystal of Seventh Avenue, New York for a list of stockists. It may be interesting to note that Lacoste is the only brand name mentioned in the book other than that of the cars, the serious racing driver kit and the actual automobile accessories.
With special thanks to Andy B for gifting me the John Weitz book in the first place. All the black and white illustrations used above come from “Sports Clothes for your Sports Car” and, as far as I can gather, were in turn originally licensed from Esquire magazine.
And to conclude, a brief return to Watkins Glen, New York c.1965. Some great clothes here IMHO with the then retail prices noted. This includes a lovely Stanley Blacker blazer. Quite an infamous item of clothing in some Anglo Ivy circles I’ll have you know!
Driver Richie Ginther (left) with Ford Motor’s Roy Lunn wearing
Blazer by Stanley Blacker $60
Stretch slacks by anthony Gesture $15
Shirt by Aetna $6
With drivers Jim Clark left and Pedro Rodriguez right, at centre:
Wool Glen-Plaid jacket by Stanley Blacker $60
Wool & Orlon slacks by Esquire $17
Stretch shirt by Matson $11
Ascot by Handcraft $5
To the left, British racing legend Graham Hill, to the right:
Hop-sack weave blazer and slacks cordinates by J&F $65
Oxford buttondown by Manhattan $6
Silk ascot by Handcraft $5
Shaggy Dog pullover by Himalaya $15
At right, driver Joakim Bonnier. To the left:
Fortel and cotton seersucker jacket by Haspel $35
Placket shirt by McGregor $6
Centre and right, Elaine and Sterling Moss.
At left, sleeveless wool sweater vest by Fashion Hill $9
Oxford shirt by Sero $6.50
Alpaca tie by Rooster $3.50
Arnel & cotton jacket by Gordon Ford $35
Centre left, two button Arnel & cotton jacket by Mavest $35
Lambs wool sweater by Robert Bruce $12