The Rugged-Yet-Refined Style of Steve McQueen

Posted by Ethan M. Wong on

It’s no surprise that we love old movie stars here at Craftsman Clothing. Hell, we’ve named quite a few famous jackets after them.  But our love of them extends beyond a simple honorarium. We believe each and every one of them provide great sources of style inspiration, both on and off screen! 

That brings us to Steve McQueen, a man who does it all: wearing suits, leather jackets, and simple shirts.

Let’s remember that leading men in the 1950s-1970s were quite different from the Golden Era Stars of old. Sure, suits were still worn (it seems great style was a requirement to be a movie star), but the characters and the actors playing them were more nuanced. They had more emotion, range, and weren’t portrayed as perfect.  These qualities and an overall more rugged demeanor, defined guys like James Dean and Steve McQueen, the latter of which we discuss today.

Now Steve McQueen was cool. Devilishly so with a winning attitude. This allowed him to slip into many roles of the era that seemed almost too natural for him, whether that was as Detective Frank Bullitt or Thomas Crown. And as you’d expect, each of these roles featured great style. Even off camera, he looked good, adding to the developing revolution of American Style. Not only was the ivy look coming into play, but it also became acceptable to wear simple tee shirts, chinos, and desert boots.  McQueen wasn’t the only one doing the look, but he was certainly one of the most famous adopters.


While McQueen did also die young, we are eternally grateful for his contributions to film and American style as we know it today. He was a classic man who did it all, rocking everything from denim shirts to a simple crewneck sweater. Enjoy some of our highlights of Steve McQueen's rugged yet easy approach to menswear.


While most men were known for their suits and ties, McQueen seemed to make a name for himself by wearing knitwear.  It was quite different for the time, since some form of button-up was the top of choice, tie or no tie. It’s thanks to him that we’ve begun to see knitwear (of all types) as a viable choice for outfits, not simply relegated to home wear.

By looking at his photographs, it’s clear that he had affection for sweaters and sweatshirts. It spices up a normal shirt and tie combo, but McQueen shows us his rebel side and often wears them on it’s own, just like a tee shirt. It was irregular for the time, but fits in with the casualization of menswear happening in America. He looked rough with an “I don’t care attitude”, which fit his personality of his real life and the characters he played.

Another piece he liked to wear was the shawl collar cardigan.  These versions are different than the ones that look like a sweater vest with sleeves, with these ones having a chunkier knit and a wide collar. These come off more like a casual blazer, something you wear to relax while still looking smart.  It may look a bit grandpa style to some, but you can't deny that McQueen rocks it well.


Of course, one of his preferred pieces was the turtleneck. We’ve talked about it before during our holiday party piece and we’ve featured it across our social media, but it really is one of the coolest things you can wear in classic menswear. With its high collar and solid color (we prefer solid navy or cream), it provides a sense of minimalism that is as sleek as McQueen himself.

We see Steve wear a few of these, most famously in Bullitt, where he paired a dark turtleneck with a brown tweed jacket.  With it, he looks polished with an edge, seeing himself apart from the normal shirt-and-tie wearing guys in the film. However, he also has worn turtlenecks apart from this famous role, rocking chunky turtlenecks without tailoring, like with denim jackets or leather jackets. McQueen makes it clear that turtlenecks go with just about anything.

Casual Jackets

It should be no surprise that casual jackets look so great on Steve McQueen.  Again, this was a time that tailoring was no longer en vogue for most men.  Instead, casual jackets reigned supreme, as gentlemen opted to look more rugged than refined.

McQueen knew this, as he’s photographed wearing a variety of different pieces of casual outerwear. The leather A-2 from The Great Escape is probably the most famous, but he did wear others as well.  The classic Harrington Baracuta was also one of his favorites (James Dean also rocked a similar one), being the ideal piece for his casual ivy style that he was first known for.  However, he later embraced more rugged looks, going as far to wear shearling or even the classic denim jacket.

The way he wears each of them so effortless with a simple pair of jeans or khakis is exactly the vibe we fell in love with.  It’s why Craftsman Clothing got its start producing the best pieces of casual outerwear so that you too could look good, even if you’re not wearing a suit. 


One thing you’ll notice across all of these photographs is that Steve McQueen was almost always in chinos. He rose to prominence in the post-war period, which meant that many shops had surplus of khakis; they were more casual than the wool trousers worn by men in the past, but as we said earlier, America was getting more casual.  That helped McQueen slip naturally into these “new” pants and looked good wearing them with everything.  

It’s so easy to see why khaki chinos (with a high rise and straight leg) are one of the quintessential pieces of American casual menswear, especially when you look at McQueen. They’re perfect for tailored jackets, for sweatshirts, for cardigans, or for your undershirts. It’s why we’ve made sure to always have a steady stock of chinos, just done up as gurkhas to make them a bit more interesting.


By now, if you’re being attentive, you’ll observe that Steve McQueen rarely wore dress shoes.  It’s a bit of foreshadowing to today’s approach to classic footwear, as most of us here seldom wear lace-ups at all, instead opting for loafers, but McQueen didn’t even do that! He had three main forms of shoes: suede desert boots, workboots, and canvas sneakers.

These are all a bit rugged, leaning more on the ivy side (contributing to how American it looked), but they work completely with his style. McQueen also didn’t seem to care if they got distressed and beat up, as it added to his aloof nature and attire. It really went to show that traditional footwear isn’t always necessary to be a stylish, well dressed man! Feel free to wear what you like and completely own it.


Despite all his overall relaxed approach to classic menswear, Steve McQueen still knew how to look good in a suit, showing that he had complete mastery over style. 


Minimalism again was the name of the game here.  Solid suits, in a straight fit suited McQueen well, and he knew it; he appeared just as suave in tailoring as he did in his favored khaki chinos and leather jackets. 3PC suits (like the one in the Thomas Crown affair) were some of his favorites, but he did have a penchant for the double breasted.  Note that these DBs were a bit different than the ones you’ve come to know today. True the 60s era, they had a 6x3 button stance which elongated the torso and accentuated his slim but built physique.

Of course, even if you aren’t into full suits, McQueen also provides a strong case for at least owning an immaculate odd jacket.  

In closing, we understand that most of us today, especially thanks to quarantine, don’t need to wear head-to-toe tailoring, but that doesn’t mean we can’t still look stylish. Steve McQueen gives us all the inspiration we need, whether we want to wear a turtleneck and jacket to just a crewneck sweatshirt and chinos.  In fact, with all the difficulties with this coronavirus going on, we could even take his rugged demeanor as well, just to settle into the look completely.

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