Ready for Autumn: Best Windbreakers in Film

Clint Eastwood in Dirty Harry - Best windbreakers in film

Clint Eastwood in “Dirty Harry” (1971) | Warner Brothers, The Malpaso Company

As the leaves begin to go earthward and our evenings tend to become more and more homebound, we are slowly regaining our sense of style. Yesterday was the first official day of autumn and it’s time we acknowledged that we must wave summer farewell and start reaching for light layers of clothes, especially on the early crisp mornings. Ah, these crisp early autumn mornings… It just shows you that each season has its own beauty and things to be thankful for. And one of the best things about fall is the way it sharpens your sense of style. I mean, as soon as September 1st rolled in, sandals and shorts became a definite no-no even on those 30-degree C days. And you bet I can not wait to break in one of my favourite menswear-inspired piece, the windbreaker, which I literally stole from my husband, convincing him it was not fair for him to own both a leather bomber jacket and a classic windbreaker, especially that both items look just as good on women as they do on men. But let’s stick to the men for now: here’s an autumnal round-up of the men who have worn this classic jacket best.
James Dean in Rebel without a Cause - Best windbreakers in film

Janes Dean in “Rebel without a Cause” (1955) | Warner Brothers

James Dean in A Rebel without a Cause (1955)

The windbreaker – also known as a blouson, golf jacket or Harrington (Ryan O’Neal wore a G9 jacket in the TV Series Peyton Place and his character name was Rodney Harrington, hence the jacket’s informal moniker) – owes its appeal in large part to its functionality: it’s lightweight but showerproof. Its style (waist length with its trademark Fraser clan tartan lining, button-fastened slash pockets, zipper that goes up the front to an extended tab on the collar) dates back to 1937, to a garment factory in Manchester, England, where the first G9 blouson under the Baracuta brand name was made. The public service utility garment as well as the official attire of the presidents of the United States to wear on Air Force One, the windbreaker became a menswear staple in the second half of the twentieth century as it was adopted as part of the 1950s teenage uniform and went on to achieve cult status among Ivy Leaguers and Mods alike – everyone from John F. Kennedy to The Clash was fan of the jacket. But nobody contributed to sealing its legendary status more than Hollywood.

“When you first see Jimmy in his red jacket against his black Merc, it’s not just a pose. It’s a warning, it’s a sign,” director Nicholas Ray said about James Dean’s red windbreaker. Ray was a director who paid great importance to colour in his films and the colour red was a conscious decision. For Rebel, he called in a colour consultant and they looked for ideas in old copies of Life magazine. He chose to use primary colours in vivid blocks, creating symbolism through colour and costume. Costume designer Moss Mabry created three copies of the jacket. “Even though it looked simple, it wasn’t,” Mabry said. “The pockets were in just the right place; the collar was just the right size.”

The entire look became iconic – Dean wore the windbreaker almost undone but not quite, allowing that other 1950s youth essential, the t-shirt, to show, and pairing them both with the most democratic piece of all, the washed Lee jeans. It may have been a look in tune with the 1950s – Moss Mabry spent several days at Los Angeles high schools, observing the clothes and styles of teenagers and Nicholas Ray also showed him a picture from Life of a group of college students for inspiration – but it hasn’t aged one bit since. However, it was not just the look, it was something universal in what James Dean transmitted on screen, through looks, attitude and expression, and I believe therein lies his ongoing image as a hero, as an ideal.

Steve McQueen in The Hunter 1980 - best windbreakers in film

Steve McQueen in “The Hunter” (1980) | Rastar Pictures

Steve McQueen in The Hunter (1980)

The Hunter was Steve McQueen’s final film. Ralph “Papa” Thorson (McQueen) is a modern-day bounty hunter who goes after and captures criminals who have skipped on their bail to bring them back for a 20% of the reward to his bail bondsman employer. A running joke used throughout the film was that Thorson was a bad car driver. But there’s no joke about his dressing style. It’s right up there, where McQueen has always been, among the paragons of men’s style. The jacket McQueen wears in the film is not exactly a windbreaker, but a flight jacket (McQueen, however, often sported a traditional G9 Baracuta blouson off-screen).

The MA-1 nylon flight jacket, as it was officially named, was created specifically for the United States military in the 1950s and its functionality inevitably found a life in civilian service. It came in the standard air force sage green or army olive green, in light, windproof nylon, with chest tabs and sleeve pocket. Steve’s jacket has orange lining (known as Indian or rescue orange), a revision introduced in 1963 to the model (it previously had a sage-green lining), as the jacket was reversible and downed pilots wore their jackets bright side out to be more visible to search and rescue parties. This is arguably the most iconic of all versions of the MA-1, which, thanks to no small degree to Hollywood’s stars like McQueen, has become a classic.
Paul Newman in Winning 1969

Paul Newman, Cary Grant and Joanne Woodward on the set of “Winning” (1969) | Universal Pictures, The Newman-Foreman Company

Paul Newman in Winning (1969)

In Winning, Paul Newman plays Frank Capua, a rising race car driver who aspires to win the Indianapolis 500. Newman was a winning race driver in real life, too. He loved fast cars, but he arduously avoided the movie star image of expensive sports cars, although his various convertible Beetles were rumored to be equipped with Porsche engines. There is not much to be unforgettable about the drearily predictable Winning, but its leading man’s screen style is not one of those things. Maybe because by now Paul Newman had transcended the characters he played. You almost feel that you are expecting to watch Paul Newman, the man, on screen, especially with Joanne Woodward by his side. And we would expect to see Newman cladded in Ivy League style, as shown here, of which he was one of its most famous adherents. Suede windbreaker, striped sweater, chinos and driving shoes. It doesn’t get any more classic preppy than this.
Clint Eastwood in Dirty Harry - Best windbreakers in film

Clint Eastwood in “Dirty Harry” (1971) | Warner Brothers, The Malpaso Company

Clint Eastwood in Dirty Harry (1971)

Mr. Clint Eastwood, I feel I have been unjust to you. I have written about your films a few times, but not about your screen style. It’s time I undid that wrong and put you right up there with all the great male role models men and women alike pour over for style inspiration. And from a style perspective, Dirty Harry was Clint’s defining film. Admitedly, if we have to compare San Francisco cop style in movies, Eastwood’s Callahan has quite some competition from Steve McQueen in Bullitt. But while Bullitt prefers a more casual style, Callahan smartens up his look by wearing his herringbone tweed jacket with a burgundy sweater vest and burgundy/navy Guards tie, slim cut charcoal flannel trousers and his Ray-Ban Baloramas – his choice of sunglasses is in fact very suggestive for his character’s style; I love it how reactionary this choice of shades is, taking the regular idea of “cop” glasses and reinventing it altogether. His aforementioned prep school outfit looks new on him, too, while remaining practical and comfortable. And that’s because Clint carries it with such confidence and all-American cool.

But I would like to pause a little on the brown windbreaker he wears in this production shot above. That’s an American look, too, and he does such a great job again at smartening up an otherwise very casual look, by pairing the brown jacket with black jeans. It just works on him. And I love the colour brown. Why don’t men wear it more often?
Daniel Craig in Quantum of Solace - Best windbreakers in film

Daniel Craig in “Quantum of Solace” (2007) | MGM, Columbia Pictures, Eon Productions

Daniel Craig in Quantum of Solace (2008)

I have said it before and I will say it again. Daniel Craig makes a damn good modern-day James Bond. I am not debating who the best Bond is. I don’t know whether anyone will ever equal Sean Connery’s popularity, charisma and appeal as James Bond, and I’ve always been partial to Timothy Dalton’s 007. But Casino Royale is my all-time favourite Bond movie. Not only was it a very good film in its own right, but it was new, a new type of Bond film, with a story anchored in reality, stearing away from many James Bond movie rituals, starring my favourite Bond girl ever, Eva Green, and a 007 who was darker, sharper, edgier and colder, but also more human than the earlier Bonds (although Timothy Dalton was truly the first to impersonate a tougher, darker, more serious, but also more vulnerable Bond). But it was in Casino Royale where we really got to see Bond inventing himself.

James Bond’s style has gone through some changes, too, since Daniel Craig took over. That is not to say that, in the days of Sean Connery, Bond’s wardrobe was the exclusive domain of tailored suits. It was not. But the Bond of the 2000s wears jeans for the very first time in Quantum of Solace (2008). Along with them, a jacket inspired by Baracuta’s G9 Harrington nylon jacket, designed by Tom Ford, who created most of Craig’s Quantum of Solace wardrobe. On Daniel Craig, classic and modern merge perfectly.
sources: The Ivy Look: An Illustrated Pocket Guide, by Graham Marsh and J.P. Gaul / Icons of Men’s Style, by Josh Sims / Classic Hollywood Style, by Caroline Young / “James Dean Remembered” documentary

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