It was on the set of this film where Steve McQueen appeared wearing the blue tint lensed Persol PO 714 SM sunglasses for the first time. He was a fan of the brand and owned a personal collection. He transformed them into a legendary item. The Italian brand celebrated the actor by recently re-launching the model in a limited edition.
Steve McQueen suits up in Norman Jewison’s 1968 crime caper The Thomas Crown Affair, set in the upper class location of Beacon Hill in Boston. He was looking for a new type of character after his rebel roles from The Great Escape and Bullitt and wanted to change his screen image. Groomed down to the last detail, he emerged as the new Steve McQueen in The Thomas Crown Affair as arbitrage specialist/bank robber Thomas Crown. And once again, a movie elevated everyday clothes to cult status. Because the film, with a questionable narration and underdeveloped characters, is really about the style. And it’s Steve McQueen’s style that I’m talking about. Unfortunately, Faye Dunaway’s clothes, true to the modish 1960s fashion (Theadora Van Runkle was the costumes designer), look dated now. They are sixties excess. Viewed in the context of the ’60s though, Faye Dunaway’s wardrobe makes perfect sense – films that capture the spirit of the times so closely are to be appreciated. So maybe the issue I’m having with the feminine costumes is that the sixties fashion doesn’t appeal to me at all – it’s my least favourite fashion decade.
But then I look at Steve McQueen’s wardrobe, which has stayed relevant to this day, and I remember Domenico Dolce’s quote: “Women are into fashion, men are into style, style is forever.” He might very well have had this film in mind when he said that. Menswear, which is formed of far more classic staples than womenswear, has had little variations in time, apparent only in details, resulting in a linear evolution of a recognizable style. Women’s fashion is much more often subjected to change just for the sake of change.
In my interview with Richard Torregrossa, author of Cary Grant: A Celebration of Style, he regards The Thomas Crown Affair as one of the most influential moments in men’s style. Ralph Lauren and Tom Ford are of the same opinion. The film is a celebration of male sartorial self-expression. McQueen’s union of complete masculinity and sense of style, as dashing self-made millionaire, is what sealed the film’s enduring appeal, reconnecting men with a classic menswear elegance. Transformed brilliantly into character (he even had his hair cut by celebrity stylist and good friend Jay Sebring), Steve McQueen wears a series of perfectly tailored three-piece suits (their fitted cut anticipating today’s preference for form-fitting jackets) by Douglas Hayward (I previously credited Beverly Hills tailor Ron Postal, based on one of my sources, Caroline Young’s book Classic Hollywood Style, but a couple of readers and more recent research proved to be more accurate). The legendary grey Prince of Wales Glen plaid suit in the opening scene is one of them. A light blue shirt with large mother-of-pearl cuff links is counterpointed by a royal blue silk tie knotted with a dimpled half Windsor and a dove grey square pocket fills the breast pocket.
A slim fit, fine knit, mock neck sweater with contrasting colour details, checkered trousers and suede chukka boots.
McQueen also exercises his casual and sports look he has become famous for, having been proclaimed the “King of Cool”. The suede desert boots, for example, were a favourite style of Steve McQueen’s. The khakis – functional, comfortable and hard-wearing – were also an item that became a menswear staple thanks to Hollywood actors, including Steve McQueen. The navy blouson, or the windbreaker, completes the look (above and below) – neat, simple, casual, comfortable, lightweight and showerproof, smarter than a denim jacket and not as loaded with stereotype as the leather one. Steve McQueen had become an adherent and had worn one when he was photographed riding one of his many motorcycles for the cover of Life magazine in 1963.
He learned to play polo for the role and did all the stunts, like piloting a plane.
The straight point collar, a basic staple of the Ivy style. Steve McQueen’s was a champion of the style and his off-screen wardrobe was brim full of Ivy classics. The pin is the passport to the Ivy look.
And again in a casual outfit. From the looks of the sports footwear, I think he is wearing the Sperry canvas CVO, a classic since 1935, and one of the ultimate Ivy seals of approval, which still holds firm today. He’s wearing a denim jacket.
This beach outfit of Faye Dunaway’s (she’s Vicki Anderson, the insurance investigator who’s after Thomas Crown) is among the very few I like in her film wardrobe. Headscarf, sunglasses, white trousers and beige hand-knit sweater. It’s the simplest and most classic of them all. There is also the casual look below with that raffia market bag and one other knitted pullover-white pants look that I would easily wear today. The eyewear and hats are the only other items that have captured my interest.
Steve McQueen’s passion for cars and motorbikes is well known. He helped design this red dune buggy with Pete Condos, an off-road vehicle builder. Another collegiate garment is the chunky Aran knit sweater.
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bibliography: Classic Hollywood Style, by Caroline Young / Icons of Men’s Style, by Josh Sims / The Ivy Look: Classic American Clothing, by Graham Marsh and J.P. Paul / the article Crowning Glory, by Wei Koh, discovered via Mister Crew
screen stills captured by me from this Blu-ray edition