Silent Styles: or How I See Charlie and Buster From Their Clothes

This post is my contribution to the Fashion in Film blogathon, hosted by Angela of The Hollywood Revue.

But before.. have you seen Google's tribute to Jim Henson? I've been playing with the monsters for about half an hour now (my favourite's the blue one!)

Anyway, I spent weeks trying to decide on what I want to write for this blogathon. Cleopatra? Annie Hall? Bonnie Parker (and her berets)? Amy Jolly? This? That? I was confused. (Note to self: it's always good to have one or two ideas for your topic, but list down more than TEN ideas and you're lost). I wanted to address that little black dress that was the point of Breakfast At Tiffany's, and I wanted to poke at Scarlett's curtain dress, I even wanted to admire Fred's sharp style in most of his films and Ginger's bold dresses, but... but... I can't choose just one topic. I just can't. Everytime I am forced to choose, be it choosing epic or romance, buying this pair of shoes or that pair, or wearing this blouse or that dress, I feel like Charlie Chaplin when experiencing nervous breakdown. I go crazy!

Wait... Charlie Chaplin? Oh, that's a topic. Isn't he the one who played The Tramp? That little fella with baggy trousers, mini bowler hat and a moustache that you either love or hate? Yea, that dork that I just adore too much? (See how I describe him from his style? See how it's so relevant to this topic?) Add in Buster Keaton and his porkpie hat, and there I have it! The Silent Styles! They're like kings of silent comedies, no? They have their signature styles, no? There's no denying that both Chaplin and Keaton were memorable in their movies not only because they're slapstick funny, but also because of their styles. The way they walk, the expressions they make, the clothes they wear, and the fact that they're both small in size compared to other men. They're legendary!
my first ever Chaplin film!

Chaplin is most memorable for his Tramp character. The Tramp has ridiculously unproportioned clothes. He's peculiar, gets into the unlikeliest situations, walks like a penguin (he sometimes reminds me of one), but there's a reason why he dresses himself like that. His small bowler hat and cane are there to emphasize his 'good sense' of style. He wants to look smart, like a gentleman, so there you have that body-fitting jacket with perfect fitting arm holes that seems comfortable enough to move around. But from the waist below... it's a whole different thing. Baggy trousers. Shoes two sizes too large. He suddenly looks laughable!

But that's the point: The Tramp is a poor man whose condition is supported by his daily attire; although he wants people too see him as a honorable gentleman despite his status, his strange outfit makes him look otherwise. Like a clown. His personality doesn't help. Clumsy, awkward, exaggerated, sometimes inept. This foreshadows the Tramp's character in films like City Lights or Modern Times, where he struggles to find AND maintain a job or pursue the damsel in distress, but often fails because of some silly mishaps. It's his strong persona that makes him so adorable and likeable from the beginning to the end... and ultimately gives him a happy ending.

Buster Keaton is a whole different type of funny. He's the serious-looking man who gets stuck in the craziest situations. He wants to chase the girl of his dream, he wants to get the job done, he wants to save the day, but there's always something that gets in his way. But he doesn't want that! He just wants his plan to go out perfectly! Why can't he go out on a date with his girlfriend without anyone interfering? Why is it so hard for him to not be such a klutz? His character is always so pitiable and overlooked, and Keaton carefully selected his wardrobe to accentuate this. Plain and decent, he looks forgetful and sad. But he never forgets that clean everyman look and that signature hat which makes him stand out in the crowd (aside from the stoic expression). Of course, in the end he develops into a modern day hero. He's original. Buster Keaton is le awesome. We can relate to him. We want to, right?

The things that create Buster: porkpie hat, a deadpad expression and everything else in between
There's a saying that goes 'your expression is the best thing that you can wear' --or something like that-- and when it comes to Buster Keaton, it's his morose expression that makes him so memorable. That plus the hat and some costume that fits his character, and he's good to go. Like how Chaplin's Tramp image is his asset, Keaton's hat and face is his own. It defines their characters and distinguishes them from other comedians. Notable mention is Harold Lloyd and his Harry Potter glasses too. Both are somewhat klutz who excel in slapstick comedy, but if Chaplin is supposed to be the poor clown-like gentleman, then Keaton is supposed to be the decent man who experiences it the hard way. Similar theme, different approach. Which is your favourite? Porkpie or bowler hat? Sad face or square moustache?


More relative to fashion, until today the duo (can I call them that? Ha.) still affect the current trend. They're portrayed, talked about and interpreted differently by many artists. Julie Haus was inspired by Chaplin for her Spring 2010 show. Most notably, both Chaplin and Keaton are the inspiration for John Galliano's Spring 2011 Menswear Collection. I was amazed when I first saw the pictures. It's like seeing real Charlie Chaplin, only thinner and handsomer! And Buster's hat is so recognizable the first moment I saw a model wear it with an all-white suit. They even pay tribute to Harold Lloyd and Max Linder, another great comedian which had Chaplin's respect. It's like silent comedy, the runway way. Check it out here, here and here.



Thank you thefoxling for the amazing runway photos!


  1. How cool that John Galliano paid tribute to the silent comedians in his runway show! I had no idea about that, that is pretty amazing. Thanks so much for your great post!

  2. Wow, this was a great post. You really dug into the greatness of the Chaplin and Keaton characters. And I'm so impressed by the runway tribute.

  3. Excellent, well written post! I am absolutely blown away by the runway photos. How cool is that? Thank you so much for sharing them. And thank you for highlighting Keaton and Chaplin.

  4. Wonderful post. I just love watching Chaplin as The Tramp.

  5. I know right, and he quite succeeded in revamping the image of The Tramp and Mr. Keaton! I just knew from the first time I stumbled upon these runway shoots I had to talk about them here!

    Thank you for reading!

  6. Wow...I have to admit those fashion show photos were scary! (but cool that they used Chaplin and Keaton as inspiration).

    I really enjoy that you focused on men's clothing while most of us focused on women. :)


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