Unseen And Undarted: New Book On King Of Cool Steve McQueen

Steve McQueen (3) (20) copy 2_crop copy

© Photograph Judith Jamison/Barry Feinstein Photography, Inc.

A new book shows that Steve McQueen could wear an undarted sack jacket and more than live up to his title as king of cool. Based on candids and stills from the movie “Bullitt” taken by friend Barry Feinstein, “Unseen McQueen” is due out next week from Reel Art Press.

The book includes a foreword by “The Ivy Look” co-author Graham Marsh, who writes, “McQueen wore probably the most influential set of Ivy threads in movie history.”

He should have qualified that by adding “in the eyes of England.”

Marsh, who lives in London and works at Reel Art, admits that McQueen’s sportcoat, with its dual vents and ticket pocket, is “an Ivy hybrid.” Now some of you fuddy-duddies, reactionaries and retro-eccentrics would say, “I’m aware there are Ivy-esque jackets out there, but in my mind they’re simply incorrect; call them Ivy failures.”

But things are different in England, and, if the forum “Talk Ivy” is to be trusted, largely due to his wardrobe in  “Bullitt,” McQueen is held up as one of the Ivy apostles, alongside retailer John Simons and the guy in the Stanley Blacker for Cecil Gee ad (more on that in an upcoming post). McQueen’s non-kosher jacket is lionized as the apex of cinematic Ivy threads for a couple of reasons: it’s from the past, not the present, and it’s worn by an “everyman” (movie stars qualify as “everyman,” or at least their characters do), not a white-shoe lawyer who went to Yale. (Marsh also refers to McQueen as “our man,” a curious habit English Ivy fans have when talking about American actors of the past.)

The jacket went up for auction earlier this year and fetched $720,000.

As for the rest of McQueen’s “Bullitt” costume, here’s Marsh’s description:

Under the jacket is a navy blue cashmere turtleneck sweater. At the bottom of the narrow, plain front trousers are a pair of the brown suede Playboy chukka boots that are still sought after today. Over the total outfit is a tan, fly front raglan sleeved single-breasted raincoat. Oh yes, and for those off-duty moments he wore that iconic, brown, shawl-collared cardigan.

However, what really makes these classic Ivy clothes work is the McQueen swagger — for which, unfortunately there are no guide books. That, plus he knew there is no substitute for digging the clothes you wear.

In addition to providing an intimate look at McQueen’s “Bullitt” wardrobe, “Unseen McQueen” depicts the actor working and hanging out on the set, taking time off to race cars, and generally living up to his moniker as the king of cool.


© Photograph Judith Jamison/Barry Feinstein Photography, Inc.

Steve McQueen (2) (8) copy

© Photograph Judith Jamison/Barry Feinstein Photography, Inc.

One more thing: leafing through “Unseen McQueen” reminded me I have something in common with the king of cool besides just a taste for turtlenecks and hybrid-Ivy jackets.

We’ve both worked with Jacqueline Bissett. — CC


37 Comments on "Unseen And Undarted: New Book On King Of Cool Steve McQueen"

  1. Jack Lemon wore more “influential Ivy threads” in The Apartment than McQueen ever dreamed of stuffing onto his Harley.

  2. I “suspect” that at the apex of Ivy style, Ivy ultra-orthodox were very few (maybe some BB clerk).
    The most of the peoples simply rejoiced to a beautifull jacket.
    The most Ivy “observant” probably were guys that were not very interested in clothes that took the average jacket on the rack.

  3. I think the higher up the social ladder, and the deeper into Ivy-clad social circles, the more peer pressure there was to have the right clothes. Down at the Main Street level it was more passing fashion with far less need to be kosher and correct.

    There are plenty of anecdotes on this site about this pressure. I believe Boyer says in our Q&A from year one that a young man newly arrived in a natural shoulder environment (typically college) would be counseled not to get the right brand or item, but to simply go to the right store, where everything was correct and you didn’t have to worry about it.

    All of this, of course, is just fascinating social history to me. Everyone should know by now that I don’t personally choose clothes based on whether or not they pass some Ivy litmus test.

  4. CC, you proved by wearing that blue satin tie! Wooo hoo!

  5. It will go down in Ivy Infamy.

  6. What strikes me about McQueen’s jacket in that photo at the top of the post is how loosely it fits his shoulders. That’s like a 90s drop-shoulder look.

  7. Christian, do you know the watch Mr. McQueen is wearing here?

  8. No, but I bet someone out there does. Did you try googling it?

  9. Roy R. Platt | November 13, 2013 at 4:49 pm |

    Some in the UK might feel that Steve McQueen wore the most influential Ivy clothing and some in the USA might feel that Richard Wattis wore the most influential British clothing and was the most typical Englishman in film.

  10. @Cam:

    I believe McQueen’s watch is a Benrus DTU-2/AP MIL-W-3818B.

  11. Squeeze
    That’s a Triumph not a Harley.

  12. I have never once thought that Steve McQueen looked cool. I don’t get it. What am I missing?

  13. His movies?

  14. Jack
    You are correct, he collected many brands of cycles and raced them. He was and is best known for his connection to Triumph, as shown in the photo above.

  15. Jacqueline Bissett is great, she is wonderful in John Huston’s “Under the Volcano,” and I liked her in Claude Chabrol’s “La Cérémonie.” She is always pretty.

  16. Steve McQueen was an angry, mixed-up street kid who did time as a juvie at Chino (the prison, not the trousers) and later in a Marine Corps brig for going AWOL. He later squared himself away and became a lean Marine. He was about as preppie as Dolph Ziggler of the WWE or the mayor of Toronto. But McQueen looked real good and wore “trad”-type clothes that were available everywhere in the 1960s, but today can be had only at six or seven elite retailers nationwide, plus eBay and some Salvation Army stores. He was not reputed to be very bright. But he looked good and rode cool Brit-bikes that squirted out a half-quart oil every hour. And he looked good.

  17. DSF
    I would suggest McQueen’s life is a story of redemption, in that he got his act together. I must ask what motorcycles didn’t leak oil in the 50s an 60s? 😉

  18. MAC: The Hondas and Kawasakis didn’t leak very much back then. Nortons and Triumphs leaked always. Sometimes they leaked parts, too. (That’s what happens when the factory’s jig and pattern makers are always on strike or getting laid-off for trying to do their job too well.) So Norton and Triumph went out of business. As for McQueen getting his act together, I don’t disagree with you. He was always a good actor, anyhow. And he looked good.

  19. In the winter of 1984, I was rushed to NY by my company, to train some young guys coming into the brokerage business. I was staying at the NY Hilton. Across the street, there was a Citibank, which was the only bank we could cash our per diem checks at. It was on the ground floor of the CBS building. As I was ready to cross the street, I looked out the corner of my eye, and there was a very familiar face, with a sweater coat, jeans and a wool scarf worn as a scarf over her head. I did a double take, and said “Miss Bissett?” She smiled and nodded. As she had on no makeup at all, I snapped quickly “I thought so, you look gorgeous today.” Big smile, said thank you, and crossed the street. I was so starstruck I missed the light 🙂

  20. A.E.W. Mason | November 14, 2013 at 4:02 am |

    I don’t get this at all. Do we want to look “cool”? I don’t. If someone told me I looked “cool” I’d go look in a mirror to see what I did that was wrong. It would be interesting to set side-by-side some online definitions of “Ivy League” and “cool” as adjectives.

  21. Charlie Davidson, whose dressing of Miles Davis in 1954 was the inspiration for this website, is a unique gentleman who blends an upholding of tradition with a cool sensibility. He uses the word often in everyday conversation, and once raved about a BBC documentary entitled simply “Cool.”

  22. Comment by cameron — November 13, 2013 @ 3:27 pm
    “What strikes me about McQueen’s jacket in that photo at the top of the post is how loosely it fits his shoulders. That’s like a 90s drop-shoulder look.”
    I agree. In order to fit comfortably over a sweater, you have to go over-size. Too much so in this case.

  23. Interesting.

    A review of the older Norman Hilton ads inspires the response, “Cool.” There are plenty from which to choose.

    The best, I think, is the lad at the gas station, reading what appears to be a map. His combo is the basic stuff: a hopsack blazer, gray flannels, white OCBD, subtle tie. And yet. There’s something at work, and it’s not just the sunglasses and dangling cigarette. Okay, both help. But I agree that Ivy, done up a certain way, is “cool.”

    Another favorite is the middle-aged chap (typical in a NH ad) sitting on a sideline bench at the Princeton game, football players lined up behind him. Legs crossed, gray trilby in full effect. I haven’t seen a Prince of Wales tweed like that in years. The throat latch is attached, the gray flannels are creased. The overall feel–well, just cool.

    No oversized horn-rims or weird hairstyles or way-too-narrow pants. Just cool. I get it.

  24. I think we should just stop now and start a new post on whether the Ivy League Look is inherently cool, square or neutral, so all the comments can go there.

    Of course it depends on how you’re definining cool. Justin Timberlake (or some such) or Marlon Brando in a leather jacket are extreme examples. It’s more a sensibility. In every prep school and elite university — not to mention every other place where men would gather to work or socialize — in all decades there were guys who were cool and guys who were nerds.

    Cool, that is, within that particular context, no matter how traditional the context may be.

    Plenty of book and film examples we can dissect, if it’s easier than real life.

    And I just realized it gets even more complex because Ivy as a clothing genre was “cool” in the sense of being sharp and current during the heyday, then immediately uncool for young men starting in 1968.

  25. That was quick! Glad to be of help.

  26. Appreciated. I make those kinds of typos all the time and when someone points them out it makes most sense just to fix the error and then remove the comment, since it refers to a typo that’s no longer there.


  27. This book is just another product to cash in on the endless fascination with McQueen. I suppose Graham Marsh was asked to write a preface for it and he delivered accordingly. A quick look at one of his other books; ‘Hollywood and the Ivy Look’ will confirm that, as you say, many other stars of the day were photographed wearing far better outfits than the one McQueen wore in Bullit. I’m afraid the turtle neck kills it for me, I don’t really like them as a casual item, let alone with a sports jacket. He did have a nice raincoat in that film though.

  28. Having met you in person I can say that you’d look great in a turtleneck. You should reconsider.

  29. Ha ha! No, far too itchy, I’m still getting used to shaving.

  30. DSF
    Yes in the late 60s the Japanese cycles destroyed the British cycle industry, once the most dominate in the world. The inability to modernize was caused by the perfect storm of militant unions and the British government’s economic policies. Triumph has gone through many different ownership configurations, but it has continued to manufacture cycles since 1902 and continue today.
    I have owned antique Triumphs that didn’t leak, but one needs to always backtrack on the way home to retrieve parts that might have vibrated off. 😉

  31. McQueen doesn’t appeal. Any man who would raise his hand to a woman is no gentleman.

  32. @Woofie

    Afraid I don’t believe you. Wore mine yesterday. They’re not scratchy. You clearly object for other reasons, which is fine. Some guys with understated personalities find them too dramatic (turtlenecks certainly present your face on a kind of pedestal). Or maybe they think turtlenecks carry too much cultural baggage, like you need to be a sailor or French existentialist to pull them off.

    There may be something to that, actually. I remember a season when I wore them almost daily, and I just realized it was during my one semester in grad school.

    I was reading French lit.

  33. Q: why don’t the English make stereos?

    A: they can’t figure out how to make them leak oil.

  34. Q: Why do the English drink warm beer?

    A: Lucas made refrigerators too.

  35. Saw Bullitt as a first run feature in 1968 at a theater in old downtown Monterey, CA.

    The audience gasped out loud during the unexpected stomach-churning chase scenes down the steep hills of nearby San Francisco.

    McQueen WAS cool. I’ve seen photos of him wearing a traditional navy wool shawl cardigan on the rocky coast just south of Carmel.

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