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Steve McQueen

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In the nearly three hundred posts that I’ve written for this site over the past couple of years I’ve covered a pretty inexplicable range of topics – from robes, to Rodney Dangerfield, to Ralph Lauren wearing a crown. And that’s just the “r’s.” But there’s also a fair amount of topics that I’ve never even touched upon. Some of that is because I simply don’t have the expertise (for example if you want to read about watches, just head on over to Hodinkee, as Ben Clymer and crew have probably already covered whatever chronometer related query you may have), and sometimes it’s simply a case of me not caring about an item, such as shorts which I haven’t worn in years. But if there’s one thing I’m always surprised I’ve never covered it’s glasses.

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Granted, I’ve worn the same pair of eyeglasses for about five years now – a pair my hometown optometrist made from back when I was first diagnosed with subpar eyesight, which have served me just fine so far (although at this point they’re cloudier than a May day.) But, where I always struggle is in the sunglasses department. The one pair that I do own, one of many misguided purchases over the years, are Ray-Bans “New Wayfarer,” of which I can only assume the design team confused “new” with “too small for your Charlie Brown-esque head.” Of course there’s a fine line between glasses that are diminutive and a pair of “Stunner Shades” that could be found at an MC Hammer IRS fire sale, and smack dab in the middle of that spectrum lies the Persol 714.

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If there ever was a genre for “good ol’ American films,” I have no doubt that The Great Escape would reign boastfully at the top of that list. It’s the ultimate World War Two era drama, pitting a rag-tag team of Allied POW’s against a flock of German soldiers that are at once both clueless and ruthless. Released in 1963, the film is a great piece of Cold War propaganda, using a tale of WWII triumph and sacrifice to remind the viewer that we must always march onward in the face of evil. Aside from its rah-rah patriotism, The Great Escape has long been heralded for its style, especially the epic motorcycle jump courtesy of Steve McQueen during the film’s finale. Of particular note for me though was the knitwear on screen, which was just as varied and roughed up as the film’s characters.

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James Garner’s looking a bit too neat in a rollneck sweater and fresh-pressed pleated pants combo, while standing next to James Coburn in a remarkably threadbare knit

As an interesting aside, it was actually The Great Escape that helped immortalize McQueen as one of Hollywood’s first “superstars,” with all the baggage that comes with such a title. The cast and crew of the film recall McQueen being temperamental at best and impossible at worst, as he drank, screwed, and complained his way through the shoot. Nonetheless, McQueen and the rest of his motley brigade, which included the likes of James Garner and Charles Bronson, still managed to scrap together one of the greatest war movies ever made. If you somehow haven’t seen it yet, I suggest you head over to Netflix and give The Great Escape a watch on the double.

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George Peppard and the Cardigan Layer

George Peppard and the Cardigan Layer

New York Fashion Week is nigh upon us here in the city, which means that it’s been about a year now since I first came face to face with the bizarre world of “capital F Fashion.” In that year, my style hasn’t changed much, (which I’m happy about for a multitude of reasons, not the least of which is monetary), so with a few exceptions here and there, I plan to keep it pretty boring and just wear the same pieces this time around as I did twelve months ago. Although, there are two things that I wore heavily this past winter, but will remain in my closet this time around, and that’s my pair of down vests. It was around this time last year, as menswear was reaching it’s peak of Italian infatuation, that the down vest was thrust from the L.L. Bean back catalog, slimmed down and reinterpreted as winter’s layering pièce de résistance for much of the younger generation (myself included.)

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If there’s one thing you can say about Steve McQueen it’s that the man’s garnered a lotta ink over the years.  I think it’s impossible to have any sort of conversation about style without seeing McQueen’s name pop up at least once, I mean I personally have mentioned him in every post this week, but I’m not going to apologize for that one.  It seems that everyone’s approached the McQueen story in one way or another at this point, but that doesn’t make it any less interesting and if there was ever a time for me to give the man a proper write up, it would be this week.

Looking at actors these days, there’s just something amiss about them.  Everyone’s too polished, too rehearsed, too public, too egotistical, it all just feels wrong.  How can I relate to people that I can’t even respect?  If you look at actors from the sixties and seventies they did things, real things that were downright admirable.  They rode motorcycles, gave to charity, smirked at the camera, got arrested, made mistakes, and all they while acted at the top of their game.  Of course, every one of those feats that I just listed belong to one man in particular, Steve McQueen.

So why McQueen?  What exactly made and still makes him so revered as the “King of Cool.” Personally, I feel that the answer lies in his love for motorcycles.  The fact that McQueen rode like he did, not for the publicity, because it was something he sincerely enjoyed, tells us everything about why he became so prolific.  It wasn’t about him being some calculated machine for Hollywood to control, he was just a man who had a rough upbringing that was one part farm life, one part city life, and filled with wild situations throughout (I won’t delve into this here because his story is a winding one, but if you get a chance you should all read about McQueen’s formative years, they were undeniably fascinating.)  McQueen was an ex-Marine, with a troubled past, who rode motorcycles, and not to over-simplify things, but I’d say that’s a pretty damn good summary as to why the man became so legendary both on and off screen.

McQueen was not merely a collector, although he certainly did that, amassing over a hundred bikes in his day, but he was a venerable competitor as well.  In an interview McQueen once admitted that his passion for moto-racing stemmed back to a tricycle that his great-uncle had given him as a toddler, but it was in the sixties that he really made his mark in the racing world.  Even as he was becoming one of Hollywood’s most well known actors, McQueen competed in grueling off-road races such as the Baja 100 and the International Six Day Trial.  Those images of McQueen, dressed in a mud covered moto-jacket and smiling as wide as he can, have been engrained in the male psyche for decades.  Let’s face it, we’ve all felt emasculated by a McQueen photo at one time or another, but that’s the point.  In this era everyone’s so preoccupied with everything being perfect, I look at a photo of McQueen at the end of a brutal dirt-bike race and he looks better than anyone out there today.  McQueen’s shirts were faded because he broke them in himself, his clothes fit him well because he wore them to death, he looked comfortable and happy because he was, and he was so damn cool because he didn’t fake it, he just lived it.

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