Autumn is just one day away (although I am going to ignore that and stretch summer just a touch longer, to the 22nd of September, the official end of summer), so it makes perfect sense to start talking and seeking real style again. As if I needed a reason to talk about Humphrey Bogart.
Bogart made personal style into an art form. He was a very smart and well-read man, he struck a chord with men and women alike and he hated the whole “movie star” thing. He made a parody of the “stars-at-home” images suggesting a healthy outdoor life, by posing for the camera while sitting on the couch, dressed in a white shirt and tailored trousers with socks and sandals, and surrounded by his dog, tennis racquet, golf clubs, and fishing rod. He stood apart through his honesty, integrity and confidence. He was a template for masculinity. Even in those days, when class and genuine style were the norm, Bogart raised above it. He thought he was no better than anyone else and that’s how he lived his life. “A man with a tough shell hiding a fine core. […] By showily neglecting the outward forms of grace, he kept inferior men at a distance.” – Alistair Cooke, in the book Bogie: A Celebration of the Life and Films of Humphrey Bogart, by Richard Schickel and George Perry.
Humphrey Bogart had an unmatched magnetism, which hasn’t dissipated with time. “His reputation never depended on his looks, but on the force of his exceptional talent, the intelligence, subtlety and depth he brought to his performances.” That’s exactly where his true sense of style stemmed from. A sense of style that was built in time, just like his stardom. “He was no overnight sensation, his ascendency took time and patience.” Don’t all good things take time and patience?
The Maltese Falcon (1941) established the emblematic image of the trench-coated, hunch-shouldered figure of Bogart, the front brim of his fedora tilted downward. Not only was film noir defined, but also the quintessence of the private eye: hard boiled, cynical, ruthless, courageous, driven by an ethical code that he alone understands and respects. That look became his trademark.
In The Big Sleep (1946), simplicity was the key word for Marlowe’s wardrobe: plain shirt, plain tie, plain jacket, trench, a great overcoat, and a few great little details like the fedora, the watch and the perfect pocket square – you don’t have to try too hard, it doesn’t take much effort, but it’s all it takes to dress well. In The Treasure of the Sierra Madre (1948), his look wasn’t that polished (John Huston took his actors from the comfort of the studio and exiled them in the dusty aridity of Mexico, an environment that plays out as a true character, willing to challenge whatever good is left in a man), but his acting was taut and edgy, one of his most memorable roles. No one was prepared for Bogart’s bold performance, different from what he had done so far, “acting that is clearly based on observation and imagination rather than on attractively polished aspects of his private self,” a performance that would only be equaled by his part in In A Lonely Place (1950).
And, in real life, Bogie found a woman that matched his style, his class. Lauren Bacall’s name was often tied to Bogart (much to her annoyance), but I believe each burnished the other’s legend. They simply were that good together.
Humphrey Bogart remains one of the most legendarily well-dressed film stars of all time, his style on and off screen as iconic as anything else about him. And not one note of false glamour to amuse the public.
photos by me from the book Bogie: A Celebration of the Life and Films of Humphrey Bogart | quotes from the book