My real purpose is not to analyze the causes and effects of the James Dean phenomenon but to talk about his clothes and his image. Certainly you couldn't have expected a scholarly, unfrivolous post from this me. In the future, you should know better. Anyway, the easiest way to get my point across would be to do a pic spam, but that isn't at all sufficient or in-depth, so I shall try to write a paragraph for each picture and point out some things you might not have noticed, if I notice them myself (not likely). If you like this, please tell me, because if I get the feeling no one cares for this format, I won't do it very often.
"It takes 500 small details to add up to one favorable impression."
Here we see a lot of the elements that were part of Jimmy's persona. This picture was taken in some sort of art room or gallery and he is posing similarly to the statue on the table behind him, representative of his artistic side. It is also a very modern photo--it practically could have been taken yesterday--and the colors of Jimmy's clothes are an essential part of this. The combination of cool dark blue and white is very sleek, colors which also happen to be brought out by the color of the statue, the table, and the hazy background. If you have seen modern movies that take place in the past, something that keeps them from looking completely authentic is the tint of the film, which is often blue or gray in today's movies, but was yellowish seventy years ago. The blue tint here lends a very modern touch.
Here I see a distinct Brando resemblance around the mouth, but that is beside the point. Instead, notice the minimalist combination of brown and white, the leather rather than metal watch band, the lack of a tie, and the hair. The extremely messy polar opposite of your typical boy next door's hair. There is nothing precise or polished about this image. However, it has a similar quality as Grace Kelly's snow-covered volcano persona. Jimmy may be wearing a suit, but beneath it he is his sensual, untamed self.
The same contradiction is present here. Jimmy is wearing a suit in the same sleek brown and white, but the jacket's off and he's sitting on a hot car (hot in no small part because he's on it) with his hair messed up as usual. In so many pictures, the background color seems selected to set off the modern, clean colors of his clothing--in this picture, that is done by the cream car and the brown thing sticking up in the back. Also see the lace up boots, which add a rugged touch to the outfit.
This picture is hard to see, but it does show a few things. As elegant a shot as it may be, the modern coloring is all that saves Jimmy from looking like a near tramp. That and the fact that the clothes he is wearing are actually very nice...just wrinkled and very casually put together.
See the clean line of the black t-shirt, the contrast caused by the sunlight streaming through the odd curtains, the moody look, the unshaven face (you see that SO often now), and the messy eyebrows. He looks properly untouched up--but considering how different most men in the fifties were styled up for photos, this was probably a more offbeat shot. Have you ever seen Cary Grant this way? I haven't even seen Marlon Brando like this. I can't think of anybody famous before James Dean who posed so naturally--and by natural I mean without the dressings and stiffness of a typical movie star.
To finish it off, here are four photos of James Dean that I believe show four sides of his image that were important to his success: