Author David Dowsey says it rivals Kylie Minogue's gold hot pants as the most famous single article of clothing in Australia. Comedian Billy Birmingham built a repertoire around it as the Twelfth Man. And a legion of fanatics wear theirs to the cricket as a mark of honour.
Call it cream, bone, white, off-white, ivory, or beige, but Richie Benaud's sports jacket has become almost as recognisable as the Blundstone boot or Akubra hat as an Australian fashion icon.
- Richie Benaud's style was anything but beige
The story goes that Kerry Packer had been watching a World Series Cricket match from Football Park in Adelaide when he phoned Benaud – the face of Channel Nine's rebel cricket coverage - with a command that he stand out more from his fellow commentators by wearing a lighter coloured jacket.
Benaud tried a light grey sports jacket instead, but Packer thought it still wasn't light enough. Channel Nine wardrobe department people sent Benaud to visit J.H. Cutler, one of Sydney's most experienced bespoke tailors.
Tailored to suit
John Cutler himself is no stranger to celebrity. Among his clientele have been Australian prime ministers (McMahon, Hawke and Keating,) Elton John, Rod Stewart and Packer's father, Sir Frank.
When the cricket commentator wandered into his tailoring studio asking for a light-coloured sports jacket, Cutler immediately recommended a cream, or light beige, rather than a white. "White can be too harsh on TV," Cutler told 51698009 this week.
The jacket that was agreed upon was made by hand from a pure Australian wool fabric which had been woven in England. Buttons were white mother-of-pearl.
"Richie was very fastidious," Cutler says. "He knew what he liked, and he loved the jacket I made for him."
Seven shades of beige
Over the years Cutler made at least seven versions of the sports jacket that was to become Benaud's style trademark. Each time a slightly different fabric was chosen, and so the colour varied. "That's where we got that song about the beige and the cream and the off-white, by Billy Birmingham. We joked about it a bit together. When he'd come in I'd say 'now what colour is it going to be this time'?"
Cutler says Benaud liked to be well dressed and loved clothes that fitted properly. "He was old school in his appreciation of good tailoring."
Fashionista and author David Dowsey has written about the famous Benaud sports jacket in his book, Making the Cut, a tome that looks at the 130-year history of the J.H. Cutler dynasty.
Richie's calling card
"I think that cream jacket is right up there with Kylie's hot pants when it comes to famous Australian clothing," says Dowsey. "I interviewed Richie about the sports coat several years ago. There were actually two of the original cream coats made, in case Richie spilled his lunch on one.
"I don't think people take the piss out of the jacket so much, as I think that they recognise it as Richie's calling card. Even years later, when he wasn't wearing anything like it; fans [collectively known as the Richies] would still turn up to the cricket in their cream coats. I think it's a way of honouring him, really."
The full story about Richie Benaud's sports coat – plus the attire of numerous other movers and shakers that J.H. Cutler has outfitted – is contained in Dowsey's book, Making The Cut, by Peleus Press.