Working Titles – Dead Poets Society

Working Titles takes a closer look at specific films with a denim and workwear aesthetic with the goal of examining the material’s shifting cultural image.

Everyone has been asked their favorite movie before; whether it’s by a first date or the memorable question and answer form you fill out when you’re opening a bank account. Everyone has also felt the subsequent panic of not being able to recall a decent one on the spot. In a bid to never feel that way again, I keep a short list of my favorite films. Currently, it consists of films like The Shawshank Redemption, One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, two films we’ve happened to have already covered in our Working Titles series, as well as Good Will Hunting, a film we’ll probably cover in the future. I don’t like to typically add to the list unless I’m blown away; however, I can safely say that I’ve just added another in Dead Poets Society

Set in 1959, Dead Poets Society follows a group of young lads as they try to navigate the trials and tribulations of high school. Their world is turned upside down when an unconventional teacher (played by Robin Williams) takes over their English class and tells the boys of a secret society that goes against the status quo. Encouraged to seize the day – the movie’s tagline – and to live their lives with conviction at any chance they get, the philosophy quickly turns to tragedy, and the boys are left to pick up the pieces. 

Now, I’m no movie critic, so don’t expect a deluge of beautifully put-together adjectives that’ll have you subbing to Amazon Prime to watch the film quicker than you can say ‘Carpe Diem’. I mean, I write about jeans, and sometimes socks. But, what I will say is that this movie is excellent in so many ways. We live in an era of instant gratification, conditioned to want everything yesterday. It’s applicable to films, too. Look at every Marvel film ever. They’re littered with explosions, stunts, and action. Dead Poets Society couldn’t be further from that. Not only is it thought-provoking, it’s emboldening, and inspiring. From knee-slapping moments to tear-jerking scenes, the films got it all, including great garb. 

If I had to describe the style of this movie in one word, it would be ‘ivy’. Now, I’m not going to go into too much detail about the history of ivy league style and how it came about – you can read our Style Starter for that, as well as other sources like Take Ivy by T. Hayashida. But what I will talk about is the different looks that make this film so stunning to look at from a styling perspective. Let’s get into it. 

Uniforms Galore

Most of the movie takes place at Welton Academy, a fictional private boarding school for boys located in Vermont. Now, because I’m from the UK, the concept of wearing a uniform for schools such as a shirt, tie, and blazer, is very normal. Among all types of schools may I add, from state to fee-paying. However, sometimes the uniform can get totally out of hand. Eton College, a very famous school here in the UK typically reserved for rich kids, royalty, and the like, has a uniform that’s straight out of the early 20s. 


Image via Eton College

Welton’s is a little more subdued, but still looks damn good. If they wanted to play it safe, they would have paired black or charcoal trousers with the black blazers and called it a day. Yet, they’ve gone with the light grey flannel trousers which, I think, complements the black beautifully. The red accents on the blazer crest and ties are also, just, chef’s kiss. Strong start. 

Image via IMDb

The Boys


Image via IMDb

Now, the group of boys that we follow throughout the film are an odd bunch. I don’t think you’d typically put them together in real life. You’ve got boffins in Neil Perry, rebels in Charlie Dalton, hopeless romantics in Knox Overstreet, and shy shoegazers in Todd Anderson. Interestingly, their respective styles somewhat match their personalities. This is what I find so interesting about style generally. Two people could wear the same garments yet style them so differently. 

Take Perry for example. Throughout the film, we follow Perry as he battles against his Father for independence, both at school and in his personal life. While Perry is as smart as they come, we learn it wasn’t easy for him to get to Welton. Unlike a lot of the other boys, Perry’s family isn’t wealthy, so it’s plausible that the world of suits and shirts doesn’t come as naturally to Perry as it does for peers such as Charlie Dalton. Perry’s take can feel a little formal at times, often seen wearing the full uniform, blazer, shirt, and tie. Dalton on the other hand can often be found with a half-tucked shirt, loose tie, and a cigarette hanging out of his mouth, a look that reinforces his character in spades. 


Image via IMDb


Image via IMDb

While these might be personal, stylistic choices, I don’t think it’s far-fetched to assume that their upbringing played a part, too. That’s the thing with ivy style. Back in the day, in the 50s and 60s, ivy league schools were typically reserved for the privileged, like Dalton. Hence why ivy is known for mixing a formal foundation with a kind of, nonchalant, scruffy yet refined layer over the top – it’s a welcome juxtaposition.  


Image via IMDb

One other thing I wanted to touch on was the sportswear. To say I’m a fan of vintage sweatshirts and tees is an understatement. And my thirst was quenched when the boys got together to row and play soccer in a couple of scenes. Gray is the name of the game, combined with collegiate print slapped over the front in bold font, something brands have been taking inspiration from ever since. 


Image via IMDb


Image via IMDb


Image via IMDb


Image via IMDb

John Keat Brings The Heat


Image via IMDb

O, Captain! My Captain! Watching Dead Poets Society was a little bittersweet for me. I haven’t watched a film starring Robin Williams since he passed away in 2014, and I was reminded pretty quickly of what a character he was. Nevertheless, I never had him down as much of a style icon, especially against the likes of Steve McQueen and Paul Newman. I mean, he’s been photographed in a lot of A Bathing Ape gear, but, I think he looks his best in the costumes of films like Good Will Hunting and Dead Poets Society. In this one, he had costume designer Nancy Konrady to thank for making him look A1 throughout. 

John Keating – the character Williams portrays – has a pretty consistent look throughout the entire movie, tip-toeing the line between trad and ivy. Naturally, it’s on the more formal side, but he is a teacher after all, which means he needs to set a precedent for the boys. Now, for me, the main difference between trad and ivy is the fit, among other things. Both styles tend to incorporate the same garments of clothing. For example, sports coats, repp ties, khakis, etc. However, trad cuts tend to be far more billowy and tent-like than ivy. Ivy is the slim/tapered of trad, if you will, with some added crop for good measure. 


Image via IMDb

On-duty Keating wears oxford button-downs and formal shirts interchangeably in a range of patterns, from your classic French blue stripe to your farmer-esque windowpane. What I like most is his tie game. Rather than playing it safe and going for single, complementary colors, Keating rocks a range of patterned ties, typically repp ties, which makes sense given the traditional establishment that Welton Academy is. On the bottom, again, Keating mixes and matches extremely well. From regular fit corduroy slacks and khakis to formal wool flannel trousers, Keating’s shirt and pant pairings are on point. He even chucks in a pair of sand-colored chukkas for good measure. On top — the camel overcoat —a total classic in menswear. I’m more of a Balmacaan guy myself, but I appreciate the look nonetheless. 


Image via IMDb


Image via IMDb


Image via IMDb


Image via IMDb


Image via IMDb


Image via IMDb

Now, there’s one particular fit that really sticks out to me, and that’s off-duty Keating. At one point during the film, Neil performs in a play, which Keating and the rest of the boys attend to support. There are only a couple of shots of it, but Keating has paired a black turtleneck with a herringbone tweed blazer, which looks pretty unreal. Not something I think I could pull off, but awesome nonetheless. Kudos to Nancy Konrady once again. 


Image via IMDb


Image via IMDb

Get the Dead Poets Society Look

Hailed as one of the greatest school movies of all time, Dead Poets Society is a masterpiece. What might be considered a slow burn for some, for others, it’s as dramatic and emotionally draining as they come. However, one thing’s for sure, I know I’ll be remembering the movie for a lot more than just the styling. Regardless, here are a bunch of items you can get if you’re feeling particularly ivy.


BKT35 Unstructured Jacket in Flecked Donegal Tweed, $215 from Brooklyn Tailors


Knickerbocker Icon Oxford, $145 from Knickerbocker NYC


Drake’s Striped Wool Tie (left) and Navy and Red Quad Stripe Grenadine Silk Tie, available for $95 and $185 respectively from Brooklyn Tailors


J. Press Shaggy Dog Sweater, available for $245 from J. Press


BKT50 Tailored Trouser in Flecked Donegal Tweed, $155 from Brooklyn Tailors


Drake’s Crosby Moc-Toe Chukka Boot, $500 from Drake’s