You know it’s been an odd fashion year when TV’s spiffiest clothes-horse is a guy with one name who has electromagnetic hair and sports shirts that went out with the Peppermint Twist and burning rubber on Main Street.
Kramer may be closer to Oscar Madison than Oscar de la Renta, more a young Fred Mertz than a young Fred Astaire, but Jerry’s hot-wired neighbor on the hit NBC sitcom Seinfeld exudes a sort of time-warp elegance. “Kramer’s completely at one with what he has (in his closet],” explains Michael Richards, the 44-year-old actor who helped come up with his character’s retro look. “He doesn’t think too much about what to wear. He puts something on, and he’s out the door. It’s loose, it’s taken care of, it’s done.”
Since Seinfeld’s debut four years ago, Kramer has emerged as TV’s hippest oddball. One reason for his cachet has been Richards’s obsession with his character’s clothes. The 6’2″ actor (35″ sleeve, 17½” neck) approached his creation like Michelangelo eyeing the Sistine Chapel ceiling. The challenge was to find cheap clothes that fit Kramer’s flaky image. Inspiration struck when Richards came across well-aged Shirt Jacs, rayon shirts—many of them two-toned—from the ’50s and ’60s, in a second-hand store. Kramer’s closet now
holds, he estimates, some 35 vintage shirts (as well as a bizarre wardrobe of other antique fashion oddities), some rented from costume shops, some picked up at swap meets and thrift stores.
Excessive fussiness? Not to Emmy winner Richards, who in real life prefers contemporary shorts and T-shirts. “If Kramer has some corny scene about papayas, we’ll put him in something that looks Polynesian,” says Charmaine Simmons, Seinfeld’s costume chief. “If he’s had a bad day, it’ll be something darker.” And Richards is quick to point out that Kramer may be offbeat, but not off his rocker. “Kramer’s not a slob,” says the actor. “He’s always neatly dressed in a nice shirt and pants.” As for those Shirt Jacs, Richards maintains, “they’re really cool; I’ve seen lots of people wearing them.”
Indeed he has. Shirt Jacs are selling as fast as specialty stores can stock them, at prices ranging as high as $130. In fact, Kramer is a reflection of an egregious new trend that may soon show up in your neighborhood. Who’s buying? Says Ron Goldstein, general manager of American Rag Cie, a hot L.A. spot for used clothing: “Every customer in the world from Europe and Japan to people in show business, artists, musicians, even middle-class people from Encino.”