Elio, Elio, Elio. Oliver, Oliver, Oliver.
Like pretty much everyone who watched Call Me By Your Name when it came out in theaters this past winter, I haven’t been able to stop thinking about it. There are an infinite number of things about the film I’ve turned over and over in my head — the dialogue, the acting, the subtle body language, the unique depiction of a complicated gay romance — but the sense of style exhibited by protagonists Elio and Oliver has proved to be one of the most captivating. It is emphasized, in large part, by the film’s overall aesthetic and setting — “Somewhere in Northern Italy,” we’re told during the opening credits. Every detail is lush and saturated to the extreme. I imagine if I’d closed my eyes after each scene, I would have seen blooms of orange behind my eyelids, as if I had been staring straight into the sun.
The clothes themselves are relatively simple — striped T-shirts, blue button-downs, swim trunks, jean shorts, khakis, polos — and yet, it is abundantly clear that not a single wardrobe choice happened by accident. Oliver’s swim trunks are bright solid colors, punchy yellow and exuberant kelly green, seemingly embodying his confidence, his American-ness, his take-up-the-whole room personality. Elio’s, meanwhile, are kookily patterned with paisleys and abstract shapes, an apt reflection of his constant self-examination, his mix of naïveté and precociousness and the inherently maze-like process of what it means to come of age sexually, particularly as a young gay man.
I also don’t think it’s accidental that although the story technically takes place in the 1980s, the clothes strike just the right balance of classic and classically quirky that they could conceivably appear in any decade. Maybe that’s why I was so drawn to them and so eager to have them seep into the way I dressed this summer. I wanted to look lush and saturated, too, which is why I couldn’t resist styling a few outfits inspired by the film.
The idea of simply wearing a button-down paired with khaki shorts holds its own sort of appeal, but I was also curious to see how I could evoke the mood that the outfits in Call Me By Your Name seemed to effortlessly convey without being too literal about it. When I looked at a film grab of Oliver wearing a blue button-down, khaki shorts, white tennis shoes and white socks, I thought about how he looked like he was wearing an adult version of “play clothes.” To reinterpret that, I dreamed up a sky-blue monochrome look composed of a striped linen button-down (a twist on the usual silhouette thanks to its subtle scoop neck), loose-fitting trousers and strappy white kitten-heeled sandals: “play clothes” for the version of myself that wants to feel utterly relaxed and utterly put-together at the same time.
I applied the same not-so-literal treatment to Elio’s paisley swim trunks and striped T-shirt, an outfit that caters to the best of summertime impulses (i.e. jumping in the nearest body of water on a whim). I took this concept and rearranged it around a floral dress. With a T-shirt underneath, an otherwise purely aesthetically pleasing garment is bolstered by the boon of utility and primed for adventure — strolling, picnicking, ice cream-getting. I can get as sticky as I please, pop the T-shirt in the wash, rinse and repeat.
Since all of the outfits in the movie leaned casual, I decided to give two of them a day-to-night transition makeover (in my personal Call Me By Your Name style fantasy, “going out” summertime attire is involved). Khaki shorts became a pale slip skirt and a mint-colored button down became an aquamarine top. Jean shorts and a red polo became a matching knit top and shorts combo. Simple sandals (day!) or wedge espadrilles (night!) can be administered depending on the scenario at hand.
Perhaps the most important stylistic revelation to come out of all of this, though, is my rekindled appreciation for timeless sunglasses shapes. I’ve been on a tiny sunglasses beat for a long time now, but Oliver and Elio make a very strong case for not-so-tiny frames. Not only do they go with everything, but they also slide down like a smoothie, sartorially speaking: delicious and satisfying, but not obtrusive to the extent that they steal the show.
Ultimately, this exercise reminded me why I love approaching style inspiration as a feeling instead of a strict guideline. I don’t have to copy something exactly or purchase the precise thing to experience an aesthetic thrill. Maybe everything I need is already in my closet. Maybe my version of khaki shorts is a wisp of a skirt with slits as high as the Chrysler building. As long as whatever I’m wearing mentally transports me to “Somewhere in Northern Italy,” I know I’m onto something.