Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Who Dressed The Beatles?: Pierre Cardin, Douglas Millings and the Collarless Suit of the 1960s

Below is a little snippet from a paper I just wrote for my History of 20th Century Fashion class. The paper is a comparison of the collarless suits created by Pierre Cardin and Douglas Millings, tailor for The Beatles. In my research I've often come across statements like "Pierre Cardin designed the iconic suits of The Beatles" and that "The Beatles made Pierre Cardin's suit fashionable in the 1960s" but I don't believe that Cardin deserves so much credit for this accomplishment. Although Millings is well known to Beatles fans, he is often only an afterthought when it comes to analysis of Beatles fashion.

I've included a section which compares the historical context and designs of the two suits. They are very similar, but I think their differences allot enough distinctive qualities. Let me know what you think...


It is important to realize that the collarless suits of Pierre Cardin and those rendered by Douglas Millings are similar, but not identical. It is highly likely that Millings drew his inspiration from Cardin's initial design. However, careful research reveals that the Cylinder style and the suits worn by The Beatles are unique enough to distinguish themselves apart.

Cardin's design of the 1960s are the epitome of simplicity. Part of the reason his designs were not favored by the fashion press initially was because they lacked the familiar features of menswear from that time – boxy, rigid jackets, stiff white shirts with angular collars, and broad trousers that were pressed so hard, they gave off the appearance of finely sharpened razor blades.[i] These suits of the 1940s and 1950s made young men look old, and old men look even older. This made for an even more apparent contrast between youth dress influenced by the edginess of Rock 'n Roll, and their fathers and grandfathers who still abided by a very formal style of dress.

Cardin’s final product was a slim, sleek design which had never been seen before from a menswear couturier. Cardin's models buttoned all five jacket buttons to the neckline, displaying just a peek of their tucked-in shirt collars and straight-form ties. Autumn ensembles were made of corduroy, with one breast pocket and two hip pockets on the jacket, and the spring ensembles were made of cotton, without pockets. The sleeves were purposely cut short to reveal the cuffs of the shirts underneath, highlighting Cardin's penchant for cufflinks.[ii] The trousers were pressed, but hung loosely on the hips of the student models.

Cardin's designs created a balance between the worlds of old and new. Still honoring the art of the tailored suit, he utilized his skills to soften the overall appearance of the male form. By removing bulky embellishments like lapels, tails, collars and cuffs, and tapering the trousers, Cardin created an outfit that literally “suited” a younger, hipper and burgeoning intellectual type of man. By using materials like corduroy and cotton, he also revoked the stereotype that men's clothing should be uncomfortable and stiff – Cardin, always looking to the future, knew that his suit was designed for a progressive generation.

Cardin's "Cylinder Style" suit (left) and Millings' Beatle suit (right). Notice the differences in design and construction.

Millings too could see this shift in the way the younger generation responded to fashion. Whether or not he studied Cardin's designs intently - or even followed the fashion press at all – is unknown, but he must have been somewhat in-touch with fashion enough to realize that his suits would truly set the standard for menswear of the time. An employee of Millings by the name of Tom Gilbey once remarked, “I think it’s fair to say that they [The Beatles] did steal that look fro Pierre Cardin. But their look did evolve from that.”

Millings never (publicly) admitted to where his inspiration came from regarding his collarless suits. In an interview he once said, “…I dreamed up the round-neck collar. I make no claims I invented it, but we did add individual touches - the bell-shaped cuff with the link button; this strange collar with the four buttons.”[iii] Indeed, Millings' design was strikingly similar to that of Cardin's. But obvious details make the collarless suit of 1963 different from the collarless suit of 1960.

The original suits from DA Millings and Son were made of gray wool mixed with mohair and came in several colors, some of which The Beatles never wore.[iv] This material was luxurious but comfortable, durable but flattering and the design proved easy to replicate for Millings once public demand for “Beatle suits” arose. The original suits also had mother-of-pearl buttons, which changed to more conventional materials after Epstein ordered several other sets for the band.[v]

Millings varied his construction from that of Cardin's suit. The most obvious detail was that he outlined the edges in black piping. The jackets have slit pockets angled at the hips – only some of Cardin’s suits had pockets, and when they did, they were patch-style. Millings’ suits also only have three buttons, which are buttoned to the neck in the same fashion that the Cylinder suits are shown. But the neck of Millings’ suits have an opening that slightly wider in circumference than Cardin's.[vi]

Millings also beveled the sleeves and added working buttonholes. The back of Millings’ jackets have 2 small, vertical slits that allow for comfort and ease of movement during performances – also a non-constrictive benefit when running from crowds of teenage girls. Scrutinizing these unique details shows that Millings created a “variation on a theme” that proved to be more successful than Cardin’s original designs.

[i] Joshua Sims, Rock Fashion, (London: Omnibus, 1999), 22-23.

[ii] Richard Morais. Pierre Cardin: The Man Who Became a Label, (Bantam Transworld LTD, 1991), 96-97.

[iii] Paul Gorman, The Look: Adventures in Pop and Rock Fashion. (London: Sanctuary, 2001).

[iv] "Liverpool Museums - Beatles Suit." Liverpool Museums - National Museums Liverpool. Web. 12 April 2010. .

[v] Douglas Martin, “Dougie Millings, 88, the Tailor for the Beatles,” New York Times, October 8, 2001, Obituary section.

[vi] Russ W, Lease, "Cardin vs. Millings Paper." Telephone interview. 29 Mar. 2010.


  1. thanks for this great essay. dispelling popular myths about fashion is always a good thing. the Millings-Cardin confusion is difficult to untie. great job.

  2. great post, well done. ironically the millings version looks more like cardin than cardin's version.

  3. I agree Steve! My research revealed that Cardin's initial RTW menswear line was not very well received, and he often credits himself as having invented the look of the Beatles. I often wonder however if this style of dress would have been as popular had The Beatles NOT worn it three years later...

  4. Chris Montez claims he was wearing a collarless jacket designed for him in Hollywood and when he was in England the Beatles took him to Dougie Millings shop where Millings appropriated style.

  5. Very interesting. In all my research I never came across that claim. Montez very well could have come across the design (it's not singular to any one designer and has evolved in menswear over time since the 17th century) based on the fact that Cardin had developed it in the 1950s. I also know that after choosing Millings as their main tailor they often took friends of theirs to his shop because they adored him so much. Montez also tends to ride on the tail-coats of The Beatles as well ;)

  6. Early London Modernists/Mods had already worn similar collarless, and or lapelless styles before Cardin's look.

    Jeff Dexter

  7. I just read more about the Montez link, and I think it's nonesense. The Beatles went to Dougie as he was the hot Rock'n'Roll tailor of that time. When Brian asked about dressing them up, a few new London friends directed them there. They picked up on my apre ski boots from Anello & Davide, and I also took them to my shirt makers direct from Dougie's workroom to Star Shirtmakers of Wardour street. And that's a fact.