Steve McQueen. America’s anti-hero. The King of Cool. The Sixties’ style icon. He was a man, a myth, a legend and a beacon of free-and-easy fashion for an entire generation. In fact, McQueen’s laidback looks endure to this day; ensuring that we’re all still inspired through the lockdown by his timeless casual wardrobe.
So what was it about McQueen’s style that still resonates? The man was an avid proponent of the capsule wardrobe, never going far without his versatile blue denim jeans, Harrington jacket and iconic Persol sunglasses. He dressed tonally, occasionally head-to-toe in denim, or even bright white. And he wore these clothes in such a striking way; at once elegantly and nonchalantly. Just look at McQueen in a three-piece suit — he makes it look as easy and natural as when he’s wearing swim shorts and an unbuttoned linen shirt.
So, if you’re struggling to shrug off your pyjamas during quarantine, we’ve rounded up six of Steve McQueen’s most classic, cool and casual looks to guarantee you’ll self-isolate in style.
Pull on a pair of ‘Steve McQueens’
There’s a reason that these iconic denim threads are called ‘Steve McQueens’ in rhyming slang. The actor was rarely seen without a pair of jeans pulled on, whether they were classic blue, restrained grey or bright white. Slim-fit, selvedge and erring just on the right side of short, your off-duty McQueen wardrobe starts with a double-dose of good quality denim.
From Sunspel, these Japanese denim selvedge jeans feature custom-branded buttons and rivets, logo-embossed leather patches, and a subtle white seam detailing that becomes visible when the leg is rolled — and, as McQueen will show you, they should be. For the icon’s lighter look, try Brunello Cucinelli’s mid-rise tapered white jeans. Or, for the rougher, readier style, Ermenegildo Zegna’s take on the style are washed-out and whiskered.
Button up (or don’t) a quality, versatile shirt
As a doyen of versatility, it should come as no surprise that McQueen’s shirt collection was extremely eclectic. True, he had the wing-tip button-downs and cotton-pique shirts to pair with his three-piece suits. But we’re more interested in how the actor elevated his casual shirting. From cotton polos to linen offerings, no-one did insouciant shirting like Steve McQueen.
Just look at this denim shirt from Beaufort & Blake for inspiration. Paired with a pair of the above jeans, you’ll have a classic McQueen double-denim look ready to go. Or opt for a polo shirt from Sunspel, perfect for an afternoon shooting your revolver in the desert. But our favourite Steve McQueen shirting moment has to come from the set of The Thomas Crown Affair, seen above, when he slipped on a coral linen unbuttoned button-down during a spin on a dune buggy.
Lace up simple, subtle footwear
As light on his feet as he was around the track, McQueen’s collection of footwear was a lot like the man himself; functional, fashionable and incredibly hard-wearing. The actor had a soft spot for a pale pair of canvas kicks, simple lace-up sneakers that could jump from his motorbike to the film set to the side of a pool. And his other signature shoes were Chukka boots — soft in suede and endlessly versatile.
To bring a bit of McQueen’s footwear fashion into your own wardrobe, look no further than the subtle trainers of North 89, whose No-1 designs blend the actor’s affinity for sneakers and suede. Uniform Standard will offer you a more classic, white sneaker — and Crockett & Jones is the ideal option if you want to follow in McQueen’s snuff suede, rubber-soled footsteps.
Slip on a pair of signature sunglasses
Few style icons throughout history have looked as good in sunglasses as Steve McQueen. And sunglasses are cool on even the dullest of days — so it takes someone particularly stylish to elevate them even further. Predictably, McQueen took on this challenge, and could be seen slipping on shades everywhere from racetracks to backlots of film studios.
His favourite pair were these legendary folding 714 frames from Persol. He loved them so much that they even took starring roles in some of his films — such as The Thomas Crown Affair mentioned above. But they weren’t the actor’s only sunglasses. He also had a taste for the Aviator style, such as these Collier frames from London-based brand Cubitts — as well as round-lensed, brown-framed sunglasses like Oscar Deen’s Otis sunglasses.
A white T-shirt is more of a statement than you think
Like his contemporary, James Dean, McQueen mastered the white T-shirt. How much is there to master, you may think? But the skill is making a statement with such a simple garment. And, paired with nothing but jeans or a simple jacket, McQueen became one of the mid-century movie stars who managed to promote this basic layering piece from supporting part to lead role.
If you’re looking to introduce simple McQueen style to your own work-from-home wardrobe, few brands make these tees better than Sunspel— crafted from lightweight, ultra-fine, long staple Pima cotton. Alternatively, Frescobol Carioca’s option comes with a crew neck and in a linen blend perfect for summer. Or, for 100% cotton, Love Brand’s Lockhart design is simple, understated and would almost certainly get McQueen’s stamp of approval.
Invest in knitwear to discover McQueen’s softer side
And then there’s the knitwear. For a man who was more than a little rough around the edges, McQueen had a surprising penchant for some soft knits. From sweaters to cardigans, the actor’s collection of woollen threads has been well-documented in his off-duty moments — and show an even more casual side to the style icon.
We’re particularly fond of his pared-back crew neck jumpers. Worn on-set early in his career, and with jeans later in his life, this fine navy sweater from Luca Faloni is the perfect way to imitate McQueen’s pullover style. Or, for an even more versatile colour, why not try a grey round-neck from Artknit Studios? Of course, the real star of McQueen’s knitwear show was his dark green cardigan — and this ribbed, shawl-neck Tom Ford option is the perfect way to honour the icon.