Steve McQueen is one of the lucky men in this world that has achieved icon status. The American actor was known as ‘The King Of Cool’ and his signature style definitely helped him achieve his nickname. McQueen was one of Hollywood’s original bad boys; a troubled youth that somehow beat the odds and made it big. But no matter how big he made it, McQueen always played by his own rules. And his impeccable dress sense still holds up today, inspiring menswear designers and style aficionados all over the world.
Steve McQueen: the origins
First, you must understand the essence of Steve McQueen. He’s not just any old Hollywood actor. He had a tumultuous childhood spent with various relatives across America. He had to suffer through two abusive stepfathers, which led to him to live on the streets and joining a gang - all while he was a teenager! He served a few years in the Marines before making his acting debut in New York Hollywood. While McQueen was still starting out, he began motorcycle racing as a way to earn extra money. Racing remained one of his passions throughout his whole life, and he often did his own stunts in films. It’s no wonder McQueen had the ability to make everything look incredibly cool!
With his rough background, you’d think McQueen’s go-to might be a leather jacket and blue jeans like the bikers of the 50s and 60s. But it was surprisingly refined: khakis, polo shirts, and 3 piece suits were part of his wardrobe staples. Still, he oozed a certain cool confidence that brought a casual air to all of his ensembles. How exactly can you bring out your inner Steve McQueen?
The 8 keys to having Steve McQueen's style
- Stock up on wardrobe staples, and turn them into signature pieces. Trendy isn’t really a word you could use to describe Steve McQueen. Stylish is. Avoid trendy pieces that you don’t think you’ll be able to wear in a few years time. Instead, go for tried and true classics like smart chino trousers, clean polo shirts, and quality knits like turtlenecks and cardigans. Definitely add a bomber and/or Harrington jacket to the mix. Stick to pieces with clean lines and minimal detailing to achieve the perfect timeless look.
- Master the art of high-low dressing. McQueen was ahead of his game with his perfect blend of smart and casual style. If he was wearing a suit, he’d usually pair it with a turtleneck or sweater instead of a shirt. If he was wearing chinos and a polo, he’d throw on a sporty bomber jacket. McQueen also used his footwear to direct the feel of his looks, either found in neat canvas sneakers or leather motorcycle boots.
- Embrace smart suiting. Though McQueen loved to mix things up, he was also a fan of traditional suiting, white shirt and all. He often wore 3-piece suits with clean notch lapels and a lapel-free waistcoat. Always the bad boy, McQueen would leave the jacket undone to show off the waistcoat and add a messy pocket square. That’s right - no specific fold! And if his tie had a pattern, it was very basic. He usually stuck to a tonal look.
- Sunglasses are your best friend. A cool pair of aviator shades were McQueen’s signature accessory (hint: he loved the brand Persol). They look amazing with any and every outfit: a suit, a bomber jacket/sweater/chinos combo, a Canadian tuxedo … if aviators don’t suit you, find the style that does and stick with it! McQueen never really wore any other accessories (besides his watch), which helped him achieve his simple yet distinctive sense of style.
- Stick to simple colors. Steve McQueen favored a simple color palette that suited his complexion. Lots of creams, greys, browns, and the occasional blue to draw attention to those baby blues. Get a good base of neutral colors to work with and choose one accent color that works for you. This will also make shopping a lot easier.
- Live the American Dream. If Steve McQueen didn’t embody the American Dream, we don’t know who did. McQueen spent parts of his childhood on his uncle’s farm, and paid homage to it by rocking some good old fashioned blue jeans. And when he did, he went all out with the double-denim or ‘Canadian tuxedo’ look. The key to pulling off this look? Go for slightly different shades and textures of denim. He also liked to bring his passion for motorcycles alive by using leather jackets as his signature piece of outerwear.
- Don’t be afraid to repeat outfits. The most stylish people always do, and Steve McQueen is the perfect example. Find a winning combination or two and repeat for as long as it makes you feel happy. As they say: if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. McQueen’s favorite combination was a bomber or Harrington jacket, undershirt (t-shirt or sweater), and chinos. This is an excellent recipe for men for many reasons. It’s timeless and it works in most kinds of weather. If you get too warm and need to remove a layer, you don’t have to worry about your outfit losing any style points. If the temperatures are dropping and you need to add a layer, it’ll still work with most types of coats. Plus it’s very easy to build your wardrobe around.
- Be cool. Maybe you’ll never be quite as cool as Steve McQueen - he did set the standard pretty high. But his undeniably cool attitude was the cherry on top of his flawless style. His personality shone through his clothes, which is why he could make seemingly preppy styles like polo shirts and chinos look badass. You don’t need to take up motorcycle racing or join a gang, just remember what sets you apart from the rest and own it.
To embody Steve McQueen, all you have to do is live fast, dress well, and stay true to yourself while doing it. Shop our Steve McQueen-Esque styles below!