Tuesday, 30 November 2010

Ivy Blah

Somebody's been in touch and given me the idea to name a forum or two that might be of interest to Steve McQueen style fans. I'll refrain from comment and let you find out what they're like, but feel free at the end of this post to give suggestions and to comment yourself. Here's three of the best, far as I can see:

Film Noir Buff Forums
Style Forum
The Fedora Lounge

OK, here we go. It's impossible to talk about Steve McQueen without mentioning Ivy League style. The Ivy League is the collective name of eight prestigious universities on the USA's East Coast that have plenty of ivy on their buildings. It also signifies a style of men's clothes, popular across the USA in the mid-20th century and epitomised on the campuses of these universities. It was the sort of thing Steve McQueen wore. I invoked the look a couple of posts ago when I put the word natural quite close to the word shoulders. Unpadded shoulders are representative of an Ivy sports coat. The term three-two roll signifies the style as well.

Brooks Brothers was synonymous with this type of clothing. People knew the shop particularly for suits, but its most popular item was the "oxford cloth button-down" (OCBD) dress shirt. Plenty of presidents wore Brooks Brothers clothes. John F. Kennedy, Richard Nixon, George Bush senior, Bill Clinton. Barack Obama wears Brooks Brothers. The Fitzgerald collection is based on JFK suits. Kennedy can still cause fucking mayhem in Ivy circles, not least because the absolutely out of control philandering bastard-hero sometimes wore jackets with only two buttons. We all aspire to that level of rebellion, but it's a wonder somebody didn't beat Oswald to it.

Persol 714 Steve McQueen limited edition
with double arrow on temple arm

Kennedy was another Persol fan, by the way, and while I think about it: I got the photo of the supposedly limited edition 714s a couple of posts ago from the Persol website. I noticed after, it's a normal pair of 714s with (probably Photoshopped) blue lenses. The limited version is supposed to have the double arrow on the temple arm. I think they've fixed the image at least, but a few people have a few things to say about the actual sunglasses. Persol's attempt to replicate the McQueen version* is half-hearted, and the folding system is botched to the point where it's easy to damage the glasses. Thanks in particular to the comment left earlier.

Don Draper: Madman

OK, back to Brooks Brothers. Stars like Andy Warhol and, well, let's just say everybody from Jimmy Stewart to Jack Kerouac wore their stuff too. TV drama Mad Men is beautiful in many ways including aesthetically, and those aesthetics are Ivy. I mean it has smoky jazzy Ivy style draped across every modernist chair. Brooks Brothers supplied the grey flannel suits.

Here, after all that, is the anticlimactic information I have to impart in terms of Steve McQueen style jackets: the current Brooks Brothers sports coats are a way from our beloved Bullitt version.

The Ivy Look

The Ivy Look: An Illustrated Pocket Guide is a recent book, and the authors' names are Graham Marsh and JP Gaul. If you have an interest in this style, I recommend it. The blurb on the back calls it "a pictorial celebration of the clothing and accessories that dominated the American male dress code from 1955 to 1965".

J.Press brown herringbone
Pressclusive sports coat

J.Press is a bit like Brooks Brothers. The Ivy Look refers to it as "the other original Ivy retailer". J.Press currently sells a sports coat, in its "Pressclusive" (hmm) range, which gets closer in ways to the Bullitt ideal than the jacket I recommended last post. It certainly looks fucking amazing in its own right. You lose on the pockets and elbow patches, and conventional Ivy is a centre back vent rather than one to each side. It's a brown herringbone "sack", though, which means it hangs loose, has the important unstructured tailoring, the soft shoulders (remember to fasten only the middle button!). [Update: old rather than new J.Press is unstructured!]

J.Press delivers to the UK. The jacket is usually $595/£380, but a 25% off sale makes it $447/£285. I don't know if that's just for around Thanksgiving or what. (Thanksgiving is an important harvest festival in the USA. I don't know how much it's celebrated around this, but they get the fourth Thursday in November and the next day off work every year, like we get Christmas and Boxing Day I think. I've just looked it up and they don't tend to get Easter or Boxing Day as bank holidays, so no need for jealousy.)

Some Ivy fans say they prefer J.Press to Brooks Brothers, that J.Press clothes are of better quality. Some prefer J.Press because Brooks Brothers are too popular, though. The next time you feel the need to defend your interest in stylish clothes from allegations of inherent superficiality, why not take solace in the what I have is better because I have it and you don't line of argument? Jesus Christ. Anyway, others say that both Brooks Brothers and J.Press stuff is poor quality. They say things aren't what they used to be. Well, that phrase is certainly as banal as ever. Thing is, people with a good deal more expertise than me have said it and, in this regard at least, I happen to put my trust in them. If they're right, the only way to get hold of the good stuff is on places like eBay. [Update: they're right! See Steve McQueen Style Ladies: Neile.]

It's easy to over think all this, though. Exclusivity is more important than quality, as real style-obsessed fans will tell you. The true Ivy devotees, for instance, have plumped to dress exactly like Julius Caesar for the next two weeks. Only they can say what's truly Ivy, after all. They'll wear replica sandals and a linen tunica for a fortnight, after which, depending on votes, they'll either dress as the Duke of Windsor on his 1937 European tour (this currently gets two votes) or the tambourinist from The Seekers (this has the other vote).

*A Hollywood optician called Dennis Roberts, whose clients also included Elvis, fitted the blue lenses to the "light Havana" colour (code 96) Persol 714 frames Steve wore in The Thomas Crown Affair. God is in the details and, while I'm at it, the earliest attribution of the phrase "God is in the details" is modernist architect van der Rohe.

PS This is quite a postscript for a frivolous style blog, I know, but I have to qualify my Mad Men admiration. Protagonist Don Draper, in episode six of the first series, works on a campaign for the Israeli tourist board. He flicks through Holocaust images.

Don: I can see why they want the guns.

I'm ashamed to say that, for a moment, I fear Mad Men creator Matthew Weiner has just used one set of atrocities to excuse another. (Others wrote the episode, but Weiner has discussed his direct involvement with that scene in interview.)

Don meets beautiful Rachel Menken later the same episode. He discusses the group he met from the tourist board.

Don: Well, those people at the meeting were definitely Zionists.
Rachel: Zion just means Israel.

Oh right, OK. Rachel and the group from the Israeli tourist board then become as one:

Rachel: I don't know, a country for "those people" as you call us, well - it seems very important.

Ayn Rand was a novelist, an advocate of self-interest, a critic of altruism. Atlas Shrugged is one of her best-known novels, in which the world's most successful people get cheesed off with the rest of us cramping their style. They up sticks until society all but collapses without them and we see the error of our ways.

People wonder why Mad Men references Rand. I read somewhere on the internet that Matthew Weiner is an Obama advocate, but I can't find anything to substantiate it. Is it possible to support both Obama and Ayn Rand? Brad Pitt is apparently a fan of both, which seems plausible. Obama was cool in the run-up for office at least, and as for Ayn Rand, well, Hollywood stars are prime candidates for a philosophy that flatters the spoilt inner child: "I always knew it was OK to be selfish! It's just like Atlas Shrugged - the world ceases to spin without me!" If Brad Pitt disappears, we can replace him with a poster.

If Matthew Weiner were an Ayn Rand follower, he'd naturally think of himself in terms as the titan, the superman behind Mad Men. He famously fired one writer soon after she helped win them an Emmy, and you can read stuff about that. I'm not a conspiracy theorist. Neil Armstrong went to the fucking moon. You can read about Weiner's behaviour towards the programme's writers and about the credits they receive. I get the impression that a Wikileak of the production would provide enough material for an award-winning television drama, but Mad Men itself is enough for now. It's a great programme. Much greater than the efforts of Matthew Weiner or any one person.

Now, how do I relate this back to Steve McQueen? My interest is healthily superficial. I care about his cardigans rather than his politics.

Friday, 26 November 2010

Updates Blah

Sorry for the broken promises and weirdly long intervals between posts. Steve McQueen Style is a lovely little world. It's just that taken as a whole, as you'd expect from the laws of the universe, everything else occupies more space.

Thanks for the comments. Do continue to reply to posts regardless of their age. I'll get round to crash helmets and the other things people want me to mention. It's just a question of when. One other thing: if you have a shirty disposition, so to speak, I can put up with it as long as you actually have something to say.

A word on style forums (not fora). They occasionally remind me of the time I saw two drunks shout about whose jumper was the best colour. The man with the dark brown said it was his and the man with the camel jumper said his was best. That was a shit argument. The worst bit was when it became apparent, from drunken mumbles between the shouts, the man in the dark brown jumper actually preferred the camel one and only argued otherwise because he knew his beer belly would look even worse in it. Everything was OK then, though, because my friend came out of the toilet and we went somewhere else. Forums are great if you want to get involved in pointless interaction but they also have, and are better for, engaging experts and a wealth of information.

OK, "news". Bad first: things are even more expensive. The average price, for instance, of Red Wing 3141 is now £160.

 Red Wing 8113

One comment posted on this blog, while we're here, remarks that Red Wing 8113s (Iron Ranger boot in the hawthorne colour) have something of The Great Escape.

Good news! L.L.Bean is a US shop that's been about since 1912. It's a favourite with Ivy fans (more on the nebulous notion of "Ivy" later). L.L.Bean Signature is an offshoot. It's a cack-handed attempt to grope young people, but it has a sale in which you'll find my beloved Sperry Top-Sider 75th Anniversary CVO. $45, or about £30. Beware, as usual, of import duties from the US. Delivery to the UK is reasonable, though. It's from $20, which is under £13. Thanks to whoever left that comment (Mr Bean?).

OK, countries. Some people, sometimes with good reason, like to know where clothes are made. I've mentioned that Sanders, George Cox and Church put their footwear together in England, Red Wing in the US.

Clarks suede desert boot (colour is "sand")

I prefer things made as close to home as possible, but Clarks desert boots (£79) are made in Vietnam. Some people say these Clarks are uncomfortable, hard to break in, too narrow (even the Clarks website says they're narrow). I find them the easiest thing to wear on the ends of my legs from the moment I buy them. I often go up a size with other shoes to compensate for my wide feet. Clarks desert boots fit perfectly in my true size 10. People sometimes put the boot into these Clarks, so to speak, and when they do, along with whatever other reason they seem to have, often they mention Vietnam.

Sperry Top-Siders and Keds are made in China. A company called Luxottica owns Persol and Ray-Ban, meanwhile, and the story is those brands were better before Luxottica owned them, which I'm sure is right. Companies can make things worse anywhere, though. Ray-Bans are made in China and Italy. Persols are handmade in Italy.

The 1947 501s I mention in this blog are made in the US, but your other Levi's are likely to come from Turkey, Poland, Mexico, Columbia. You should try to ensure it's made ethically and well, of course, but globalisation is the way of the world. I've intimated in other posts that Steve McQueen style is a tricky thing to achieve. I've also said Steve's clothes would look good first and historically accurate to the period in which his films were set second, and that's the attitude from which to draw Steve McQueen style lessons. His denim was made in the USA but, today, the cut of a pair made elsewhere might somehow imbue it with more Steve McQueenness.

Let me say it again for amazing effect: Steve McQueen style is a tricky thing to achieve. It raises arguments. Steve McQueen obviously, on the one hand, thought a good deal about the details of his clothing. He didn't, on the other, spend unhealthy amounts of time on the internet trying to dress like Steve McQueen. If there's one lesson you should take from this blog, it's be yourself and don't worry about the details.

OK, that's not right. The lesson you should take from this blog is the thing about clothes that look good rather than accurate. That'll do.

Wednesday, 17 November 2010


I'll post properly soon, I promise. "Steve Wears The Trousers." I was going to do T-shirts after that, but I'll probably do a winter special or at least jump ahead to cardigans.

It's this before anything, though.

Grand Prix Legends describes itself as the "leading vendor" of motor sport merchandise. They sell related books, DVDs, caps, T-shirts, leathers, helmets, even die-cast models of racing cars and bikes.

Grand Prix Legends has a range of merchandise that relates to Steve McQueen, but it goes beyond stuff that overlaps with racing. What's more, they've launched a sister site that just sells the Steve McQueen stuff. The King Of Cool has the strapline, "The unofficial McQueen lifestyle site". That's an horrific word, lifestyle. Some of the stuff they sell gives me the proper heebie-jeebies, too. How about a "Frank Bullitt holster rollneck"? Yes please, with an actual print of a fucking gun and holster on it. I know I get angry, but I fucking swear that I often take a breath, say "not my thing" and look the other way.

Bullitt (1968)

One thing sane people do, as we all know, is spend a good portion of their spare time on eBay searching for a brown tweed jacket a bit like the one in Bullitt. I'm a usual sort of size and still I have no luck.

J.Crew harvest herringbone Ludlow sports coat

I see, beyond eBay, a "harvest herringbone Ludlow sportcoat". It's on the J.Crew website. J.Crew is a lovely US shop, but they don't deliver to the UK (it sells for $275/£175).

Frank Bullitt jacket

Grand Prix Legends and The King Of Cool sell a "Frank Bullitt jacket" for £200. They've limited production to two runs of 250. It's a brown jacket, herringbone tweed from a Scottish mill. It has notched lapels, double vents, a three button front. It also has a two-button cuff, three pocket flaps and a top pocket. Yeah, it has elbow patches. It's close, in short, to the Bullitt shooting jacket. [Update: I was overexcited and failed to explain how it's close except in the important area of structure!]

The boss of Grand Prix Legends hooked up with a tailor. Together they watched Bullitt on Blu-Ray and studied close-up photographs of the jacket from the Petersen Automotive Museum in LA. The blurb on The King Of Cool website says the result is as close as you'll find to the one in Bullitt, and it's true. [Update: it's true except for the important area of structure! See Ivy Blah, Corrections And Clarifications, Steve McQueen Style Ladies: Neile, Newton Street Vintage.]

Both websites size the jacket S/M/L/XL/XXL/3XL. S is a 38, M a 40, L a 42 ... The label on my M Frank Bullitt jacket actually reads, 40R. That's my usual size, but I'm on the slim and small end of it. The jacket fits perfectly.

The other two labels sewn into this jacket give me the heebie-jeebies. The inside left has a Lieutenant Frank Bullitt name tag. It's small and subtle, but you know how I feel about these things. You get quite a big patch on the inside right with a picture and The King Of Cool on it. God. Help. Me.

Instant update! My girlfriend has introduced me to an intuitive little tool called a "stitch unpicker". Rather than try to tear off the shitty patch, I used this simple thing to get rid of it safely. It only took a few minutes. It left one long dangly bit of thread, which my girlfriend said was probably knotted in the lining (she's the thinker), so I cut that bit. The stitch imprint left behind from the procedure is neat and minimal.

"Steve Wears The Trousers" next time, definitely. If you have suggestions of jacket alternatives meanwhile, if you think the shoulders on this one should be more natural, if you have anything to say for yourself in fact, post a comment.