How to Dress Like Charlie Chaplin in "The Tramp"

by Christine Bartsch

Chaplin's derby and cane are both costume pieces and comedy props.

David Livingston/Getty Images Entertainment/Getty Images

In the 1915 silent short film “The Tramp,” Charlie Chaplin plays the titular hero -- a childlike vagabond armed with charm, dubious scruples and questionable work ethic. Originally appearing in several Keystone films produced in 1914, Chaplin portrayed his most-famous character in dozens of films throughout his career. The lovable scamp delighted audiences with silly slapstick, amusing romances and his iconic costume. Become your own version of the Tramp with an ill-fitting, worn-out outfit designed with comedy in mind.

Ill-Fitting Coat

In "The Tramp," Chaplin’s jacket is a version of a tuxedo tailcoat known as a morning coat or a cutaway. The black coat was too small for Chaplin, causing the fabric to stretch and pull when he buttoned it. The too-tight fit, along with visible stains and frayed cuffs, gave the jacket a worn-out, secondhand appearance. Pick up an inexpensive morning coat or an ordinary blazer at a local thrift store and then age the fabric with a belt sander. Complete the look by buttoning only the top button and removing the rest completely.

Mismatched Vest and Tie

The Tramp’s polka-dot tie and plaid vest clashed even in black-and-white. This deliberate contrast contributed to the character’s persona, depicting him as a down-on-his-luck gentleman attempting to wear the proper attire even if it didn’t coordinate. Chaplin himself might have amped up these contradicting patterns with bold, clashing hues, had he played the Tramp in color. However, for a Tramp-inspired costume, it’s best to opt for a black tie with white polka dots and a subdued, tan or blue plaid vest to better imitate the black-and-white Tramp.

Gargantuan Pants

Rumor has it that Chaplin first conceived of the Tramp’s oversized pants while jokingly trying on fellow Keystone comedian Fatty Arbuckle’s pants. As with all the costume’s elements, the too-large pants are meant to give the impression that the tramp is as well-dressed as he can be in hand-me-down clothes. Select a pair of cuffless pants of an inexpensive cotton or twill that are too large at the waist and too long at the ankle. Add a belt or suspenders to keep the oversized pants in place.

Loose Shoes

Chaplin’s Tramp costume included worn-out work shoes several sizes too large for him, a choice that contributed to the character’s distinctive penguin walk. Search for a pair of leather high-ankle shoes or laced boots for a close match to the Chaplin-era common work shoe. For even more accuracy, warp the leather with water, buff the leather thin with the belt sander and draw some fake holes in the soles with a black permanent marker.

Pint-Sized Mustache

Before Adolf Hitler made it infamous, the facial hair worn by Chaplin’s Tramp was known as the toothbrush mustache. Although similar in size, approximately the width of the nose, there is a notable difference between the way Chaplin and Hitler wore the style. Hitler’s version has straight sides, making it almost perfectly rectangular. Chaplin’s version tapers out toward the lip, giving the small mustache a trapezoidal shape.

Quintessential Accessories

Chaplin outfitted his Tramp with several iconic accessories to aid his slapstick comedy. He used a thin, bamboo cane to accentuate his comedic penguin walk and as a hook to tease and torment his hapless victims. The cane also served as a handle for the hobo sack he slung over his back. Craft your own hobo sack from an oversized bandana tied together to carry belongings, such as a sandwich and a brick to whack any would-be hooligans. As Chaplin did, complete the look with a black derby hat one size too small to keep the hat in place during pratfalls.

Photo Credits

  • David Livingston/Getty Images Entertainment/Getty Images

About the Author

A former art instructor, high school counselor and party planner, Christine Bartsch writes fashion, travel, interior design, education and entertainment content. Bartsch earned a Bachelor of Fine Arts in communications/psychology/fine arts from Wisconsin Lutheran College and a creative writing Master of Fine Arts from Spalding University. She's written scripts for film/television productions and worked as the senior writer at a video game company.