It’s pretty impossible to deny the badassery of Bruce Lee. Most obviously, he’s one of the most prolific and influential martial artists of all time, paving the way for it not only to be represented in pop culture but as a serious physical art form in the west. As a whole, he really helped redefine Asian masculinity in the world and even bridged the gap between Western and Eastern culture through his short, yet influential life. As his original Hong Kong home was recently demolished, we find our thoughts drawn to the late Kung Fu master. And while we do live his films, it’s no surprise that these thoughts to drift into ones about menswear.
Who would have known that this man would serve as a style inspiration? In all honesty, as action stars like The Rock and Keanu Reeves have certainly upped their sartorial game both in and out of cinema, but Bruce Lee takes the cake, with a very interesting and prolific style journey. As Bruce was born in the 1940’s with experience in both the East and West, he had the rare opportunity to try out a few different styles that we can get ideas from.
OCBD, light wash denim, and chukka-style boots.
Though Bruce Lee’s most iconic outfit may be his two tone jumpsuit from Game of Death (which definitely can be replicated within streetwear), it’s interesting to note that he was a fan of traditional ivy league clothing, at least during his early years in America. This makes sense as this was the time when the ivy-trad look was extremely popular; you can see Bruce wearing OCBDs (in both plain and striped variations), rocking them with flat front, no break trousers. In one great picture with his child, he pairs the OCBD with well-worn denim and chukka-style boots, looking almost like it was inspired by the lookbooks over at Drake’s. In a slight contrast, his suits took some cues from the Continental and mod stylings, still with a slim fit but replacing the soft shoulders and 3-roll-2 of ivy with more “international” details like slanted pockets and clover leaf lapels. Mixing and matching fashion inspiration from around the world is something we like to do, mainly to keep our audience on their toes!
A fashion forward early 60's suit with rounded lapels and a single covered button.
Short sleeved stripe OCBD.
This generally minimalistic take on sartorial style all changed when Bruce soon got his fame and he (and the rest of the world) moved into the boldness of the late 1960s and 1970’s. No longer was an OCBD and trouser the way to go for casual. He was now free to experiment and be as flashy as he wanted, whether that meant wide collared shirts with drawstring closure, flared jeans, heeled boots, to even just a tanktop. He also seemed to be a big fan of suede jackets, rocking a deliciously blue model on occasion. It was the perfect time period for a man to break out of tradition (as he had already done with his career), experiment with style, and to be as flashy as they wanted.
Two-tone blue suede jacket.
This was certainly the case when Bruce wore tailoring in this new era, as his choices got even more ostentatious! Not only did the iconic sunnies, flared pants, and cuban heel boots get thrown in, but the waist got nipped, the shirt collars got bigger, and the lapels pushed the limits on what “wide” meant in the sartorial world. Ties were seldom seen, instead opting for the crazy printed shirts worn with the runaway collar. Bruce’s style soon became close friends with loud checks and broad shoulders, accenting his predilection for flared pants; at least he always remembered to keep his rise high! As 70’s fashion is coming back into play in the greater world of menswear (both in casual and tailoring), it’s good to look back at this kung fu master for some style inspiration.
Bold 70's proportions: wide lapels, strong shoulder, and a nipped waist.
Can't go wrong with a checked jacket and earth tones.
However, while we do appreciate all of his classic menswear moves, we also would be remiss not to mention his more subdued martial arts attire. The iconic blue tunic and trousers shows us that a non-traditional “suit” (here meaning a matching jacket and trouser) can be effective, providing a minimalistic take that is casual , akin to wearing a chore or safari suit. It’s sharp, echoing a normal tailored garment, but the vibe is accessible and easy going.
Of course there is no doubt that Bruce Lee also helps us make a strong case for the henley. With it’s silk like texture, simple closure, and snug fit, it’s equally at home worn on it’s own when fighting bad guys as it is when worn under a sleek casual jacket. With a high waisted trouser, it’s perfect for any manner of casual attire.
As you can see, from his martial arts clothing to his choices in suits, Bruce Lee certainly serves up some great style moves we can definitely bring into practice today. Like with all things, fashion should be a journey of self expression and you shouldn’t take shit from anyone.