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The Style of Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy

Easily one of the most stylish movies of 2011, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy has been in our sights for a while. It’s got nearly all of our favorite things—British tweeds, outlandish glasses, a few well-placed Steve McQueen references, just for starters. So we sat down with costume designer Jacqueline Durran to find out where she dug it all up. If you’ve ever wanted to dress like a 1970s intelligence man, start here.

How much were you influenced by the real style of MI6?Well, because of security, there are no actual photos of MI6 agents. So what we did was we looked at people in similar professions. We looked at politicians, and the whole range of upper-middle-class British society. Anyone who came from the same background or went to the same universities.

We also had notes from a couple of people who had worked at MI6 in the ’70s. They said people went for style statements, ones that were just on the edge of being acceptable in that straight English middle-class world. One of the notes we got was that one of the real-life characters wore an orange suede desert boot. So we decided to give those to Bill Haydon [Colin Firth’s character].

Do you have a favorite item from the movie?I really liked the desert boots. I liked Esterhase. He was the most dressed-up of all the men. We overburdened him with costume because he’s not English. He comes into this world and he overcompensates. He does more than he needs to, too much. And of course I liked Smiley’s suit.

Smiley’s glasses are pretty impressive, too.We wanted to make quite a difference from the glasses Alec Guinness wore in the original series. But in the time between fittings, he [Gary Oldman] went looking for glasses himself, and he came back to London with those glasses. They were so good for him in finding the character. He got them at a vintage glasses store in Pasadena, but I forget the name. [ed. It’s Old Focals.]

We also loved Tom Hardy’s jacket.It’s one of those things. We decided Ricki Tarr [Hardy’s character] was a kind of Steve McQueen figure. But that style has been fashionable for so long, you can never get the original garments in that style. They’re too collectible; they’re too precious. You can just never find them. So we went to Belstaff, and that is Belstaff’s Steve McQueen jacket. I was nervous at the beginning because it’s such a strong statement, but I think it looks very good on Tom Hardy.