Kramer brings back the look of the '50s

June 15, 1995|By Lisa Lytle | Lisa Lytle,Orange County Register

"I established the Kramer look, but I wasn't going for a real hi retro thing. These are the clothes he's always just worn, and never bought any new clothes. . . . Kramer never loses anything. If you throw something out, Kramer wants it."

-- Michael Richards on his "Seinfeld" character Cosmo Kramer in P.O.V. magazine

In the sitcom "Seinfeld," Kramer posed with nothing between him and his Calvin Kleins. For George Costanza's dad, he invented the "bro," a bra for men.

Cosmo Kramer -- Kramer, if you please -- is prime-time television's certified style meister. He's inspired the comeback of easy, patterned knit tops and rayon shirts with subtle prints such as dads wore in the '50s.

When he makes his semigrand entrance, usually from the door to Jerry Seinfeld's apartment, he has retro written all over him, especially when he's with Jerry and George, who wear more conservative clothes. Kramer's sleeves hang a bit short, the colors seem faded. His loose-fitting cotton pants are a tad too short and make him look even taller. When it gets cold, he puts on a brown stadium jacket with broad vertical stripes on the front or one of his single-breasted brown sports coats. On his feet are his signature white socks and black Doc Martens oxfords.

People think of Kramer's dress style as a whole, rather than the parts, said menswear expert Tom Julian, a trend analyst for McFallon Elligott, a Minneapolis marketing company. "In Kramer's wardrobe, they see an era: full-button shirts, the Eisenhower jacket, wider collar, bowling shirts, old colors. But ultimately, it's Kramer's offbeat personality that makes the clothes unique."

Not that Southern California clothing makers such as Split, Soul and Counter Culture are out to replicate the actual shirts and jackets Michael Richards wears as Kramer. Mostly, they're conveying the '50s influence by culling colors such as muted olive, brown, slate blue and gray and borrowing details such as prints or decorations from Kramer's wardrobe. Kramer himself often wears soft rayon print shirts, but clothing companies have broadened the Kramer look to include knit shirts.

Dave Petrie, designer of Split in Huntington Beach, Calif., last year named one of its color-blocked rayon twill shirts Kramer, said Gus Buckner, promotions and marketing director.

These days, you'll find Krameresque tops in surf and skate shops. They're the short-sleeve drapey rayon shirts with scattered prints and big, short-sleeve button-front knit shirts with a subtle geometric pattern running down the placket. The colors will always be muted.

Still, people who like the Kramer style don't see themselves trying to look like him. If anything, inspired by Kramer, they're trying to find vintage clothes that define their own individuality as well.

Charmaine Simmons, costume designer for "Seinfeld," shops almost entirely at thrift stores and costume-rental stores for Kramer's wardrobe.

"He hardly wears any clothes from this decade," said Ms. Simmons, who has been outfitting Kramer for four years. "Consequently, the fabrics are really used and worn in. His shirts are so thin, they look beaten to death."

Which is perfect for Kramer's quirkiness. Kramer's look, according to Ms. Simmons, was a collaboration between her and Mr. Richards.

"Michael was very instrumental in coming up with ideas," Ms. Simmons said. "As the stories got more reliant on Michael for the comedic touch, we went further and further into finding the right look for him to maneuver in.

"Kramer is a kinetic kind of guy. He needs clothes that are looser and allow him a range of motion. He's always running into things or running out of somewhere," she said.

KRAMER STYLE

The hair: Tall, with volume on top. Finger-comb the curls to make them rise.

The shirt: Soft, drapey prints, usually of thin rayon. Sleeves are short; the hem is never tucked in

The jacket: A stadium jacket that buttons up the front, or a tweedy sportcoat

The pants: Loose-fitting, especially at the seat, and cropped at the ankles

The socks: Usually white

The shoes: Black oxfords by Doc Martens

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