Dressing for fall – especially in a city like Pittsburgh – can be difficult when the morning is 40°F, the temperature climbs to 75°F at noon, and a humid rain falls just in time for the drive home. And yet, Steve McQueen found a way to be prepared for all weather while looking cool and comfortable at the same time.
Steve McQueen as Lt. Frank Bullitt, San Francisco inspector (they don’t call them detectives in the SFPD)
San Francisco, Spring 1968
Release Date: October 17, 1968
Director: Peter Yates
Costume Designer: Theadora Van Runkle
The definitive Steve McQueen style blog has a great statement:
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.
Although a relatively simple look, McQueen’s tweed jacket, blue rollneck, and desert boots grew to icon status for several reasons.
- It was used during the film’s ten minute car chase that still beats out anything that Vin Diesel could hope to match today.
- He looks really damn cool.
One thing about Bullitt – everything he has looks easy to pull off. But all of it – from the jacket and car to the gun and holster – will make you try harder than you had anticipated. The damning part of it all: Steve McQueen never needed to try.
What’d He Wear?
One misconception that some people have about San Francisco is the assumption that, being a Californian city, it enjoys a warm summer or any warmth at all. Having spent a week there one August, I can personally testify that the weather was often in the high 40s and low 50s, vindicating my afterthought packing of the long-sleeve polo that I had brought “in case there’s a chilly night”. Sidenote: San Francisco often preys on this misconception and plenty of tourists are often seen scattered throughout the town wearing brand new San Francisco hoodies that they purchased at one of eighteen vendors on any city block.
Due to the climate of San Francisco and the SFPD’s policy of dressed-down Sundays during the ’60s, the already rebellious Lieutenant Bullitt tosses aside his Douglas Hayward-tailored conservative navy suit from the day before and dons a brown tweed shooting jacket with a blue rollneck, charcoal slacks, and suede desert boots with a khaki raincoat for the chillier morning and nighttime scenes.
Of everything, Bullitt’s jacket gets the most attention from both fans and sartorial blogs – this fan and sartorial blogger is no exception. Bullitt wears a brown herringbone tweed wool shooting jacket woven from light and dark brown yarns, created by Academy Award-winning costume designer Theadora Van Runkle. (It was evidently based on a style that McQueen enjoyed in real life, as he was photographed wearing a similar jacket while leaning against a Jaguar about three years earlier.)
The single-breasted jacket has a three-button front with the narrow notch lapels rolling over the top button to only reveal the bottom two; when he wears the jacket closed, Bullitt only fastens the middle button. The three buttons in the front and the two on the edge of each cuff are all brown urea rather than the leather clusters that often appear on tweedy jackets like this.
Although the jacket features some European influences like the ticket pocket and sporty double vents, the loose, undarted fit and soft, wide shoulders are the result of an American cut. While this makes sense given our American protagonist, it is also a practical decision so that Bullitt can comfortably wear his shoulder holster under the jacket without an unsightly or uncomfortable bulge.
Bullitt never leaves the urban trappings of San Francisco, but the tweed shooting jacket’s swelled edges along the lapels and pockets nod to its origins as rugged rural attire for a country sportsman. In addition to the aforementioned ticket pocket on the right side, Bullitt’s jacket also has a flapped pocket on each hip and a welted breast pocket. (You can tell that a different jacket was used for when he covers Ross’s corpse in the climax as that jacket has patch hip pockets.)
Part of what differentiates Bullitt’s jacket as a shooting jacket rather than just a sportcoat are the long suede patches on each elbow. The right elbow patch is a more traditional round shape while the left patch is a longer, more distinctive shape designed for resting on the ground while the wearer would aim a rifle. Interestingly, the patches’ tobacco shade of brown suede closely resembles the similarly colored suede of Bullitt’s desert boots.
After production wrapped, Steve McQueen held onto the jacket (for obvious reasons, I think!) and eventually gave it to his son Chad. Chad recognized its iconic role in movie history and donated it to the public exhibit at the Warner Brothers Museum in Burbank, where it remained on display until it became part of Bonhams’ “Profiles in History” auction in July 2013. The jacket initially sold for $720,000 but the sale was never completed so the jacket remained on display in Bonhams’ New York City showroom until it was finally successfully auctioned in January 2014, according to Hemmings. More information about the jacket and auction can also be found at this GoLive.com page.
The King of Cool, a lifestyle site dedicated to all things McQueen, developed its own Scottish tweed replica that currently sells for £249.99, in addition to a number of other clothing replicas from his films.
Underneath the shooting jacket, Bullitt wears a rich French navy blue long-sleeve turtleneck sweater (or rollneck jumper, if you will) made from medium-weight cashmere. The jumper is ribbed on the folded-down rollneck, the rolled-up cuffs at the end of each sleve, and along the waistband.
While this link suggests that the jumper may be from Ballantyne, Marks & Spencer offers a very affordable merino wool and acrylic blend slim fit rollneck jumper that would do the trick. A Bullitt-inspired merino and acrylic replica is also available from TheKingofCool.com for £69.99.
McQueen wears the jumper with no undershirt, another indication that his must be fine cashmere rather than a lesser wool that would have him scratching like a junkie by day’s end. Unfortunately, no undershirt also makes that fine cashmere more susceptible to sweat.
McQueen wears a pair of charcoal gray flannel flat front trousers with belt loops along the medium-low rise waistline. He wears his usual black leather belt with a squared steel single-prong buckle. The trousers are cut straight through the hips down the legs to the plain-hemmed bottoms. They have slightly slanted pockets on the sides and likely jetted pockets on the back as well.
Throughout his life, McQueen was famous for his brown suede desert boots. In Bullitt, he wears a pair of Hutton’s Original Playboy two-eyelet desert boots in saddle brown sueded leather with charcoal-colored crepe soles. McQueen wears them on screen with black socks in thin ribbed wool.
They are often mistakenly thought to be from the Italian firm Tod’s, in part due to Bullitt advertising material claiming that he wore Italian boots, but they have been confirmed to be the Hutton’s model. McQueen’s career-long association with chukka boots – from The Blob (1958) to Papillon (1973) – is nicely chronicled on this blog, which also confirms the Hutton’s identification after initially misidentifying them as Sanders & Sanders boots. A pair of similar brown suede chukka boots, albeit with three lace eyelets, is available from TheKingofCool.com for £99.99.
Bullitt battles the morning and late night chill by wearing a khaki waterproof cotton balmacaan-style raincoat. The coat is single-breasted with a 5-button fly front; one button fastens under the shirt-style collar (as well as a small metal throat latch) with four equally-spaced brown plastic buttons down the front.
The minimalist raincoat has slanted hand pockets on the sides and a single back vent. The raglan sleeves end with pointed half-tabs on the cuffs that each close with a single button. The maker of the coat could possibly be identified by the tattersall lining in a finer check than the familiar tartan plaid used by Burberry.
Around the time that Bullitt was made in the late 1960s, major actors like McQueen and Robert Redford frequently wore their own daily jewelry in their movies, regardless of the jewelry’s connection to the role. The Danbury Mint markets a gold-plated St. Christopher medallion on a thin gold rope-weave necklace identical to the one worn by Steve McQueen in Bullitt and other films. According to Danbury Mint:
The medal features the traditional image of St. Christopher — the patron saint of travelers — who, according to legend, safely carried a young child believed to be Jesus across a treacherous river. The pendant was a gift from Steve McQueen’s wife, Neile, as a reminder of her heartfelt love and devotion. This cherished memento is crafted of solid 14kt gold-plated sterling silver, and engraved with “Saint Christopher Protect Us” on the front and the raised relief inscription “To part is to die a little” on the back. The medal features a highly polished outer rim on the front for a tastefully elegant contrast. A coordinating 22″ rope-weave chain also crafted of 14kt gold-plated sterling silver is included with the pendant.
As a watch aficionado well-known for his Rolex Submariner and TAG Heuer Monaco in real life, McQueen sported a much more practical timepiece that would make sense on Frank Bullitt’s wrist. The watch has been positively identified as a Benrus Series #3061, a commercial version of a watch issued to U.S. GIs during the Vietnam War with a more civilian-friendly polished steel case on a well-worn black leather strap. The 17-jewel hand-wound watch has a branded black dial with a red-tipped second hand arrow, which Worn & Wound notes as differentiation from Benrus’ military Mil-W-3818B and GG-W-113 models that used the same Benrus DR 2F2 hacking movement.
There is no denying Steve McQueen’s influence on men’s style, but it is also worth noting that one of his most popular wardrobe items from Bullitt was inspired by a real-life policeman. McQueen noted the way that SFPD Inspector Dave Toschi (who would later be portrayed by Mark Ruffalo in Zodiac) wore his service revolver in an “upside down” shoulder rig, so he incorporated it into Bullitt’s costume.
Bullitt carries his Colt Diamondback revolver in brown leather shoulder holster worn under his left armpit for a right-hand draw, despite the fact that McQueen may have been left-handed in real life. The shoulder rig is secured by a series of off-white chamois leather straps, although there is nothing to fasten to his trousers. A single strap loops around his right armpit – with a small brown leather carrier for six extra rounds of .38 Special.
Often suspected to be a Safariland Model 19 holster, Bullitt’s shoulder rig also received the replica treatment from TheKingofCool.com.
Go Big or Go Home
While the way Frank Bullitt dresses is undoubtedly cool, it is his attitude that makes him such an aspirational character. Certainly influenced by McQueen’s own brand of swagger, Bullitt looks both effortlessly cool and reasonably vulnerable whether he’s dealing with thickheaded bureaucrats, shotgun-toting crooks, or his beautiful and artsy girlfriend (played by Jacqueline Bisset).
McQueen’s portrayal of Bullitt proves that it takes a lot more than clothes to make the man. You could get yourself a custom-made tweed shooting jacket, a cashmere rollneck, and even a ’68 fastback Mustang; if you start squawking like Joe Pesci in Lethal Weapon 2 (or Joe Pesci in any movie, really), you’re not gonna get taken seriously. On the other hand, you’ve got Steve McQueen waltzing into a corner bodega after stealing a newspaper and buying Swanson TV dinners in bulk… it shouldn’t look cool, but it does.
Bullitt’s cool factor was further enhanced by the fact that every move he made was scored by Lalo Schifrin’s hip soundtrack. Tracks like “Ice Pick Mike” and “On the Way to San Mateo” ooze jazzed-up ’60s grooves while nodding at the film’s basic premise as a police procedural. “Shifting Gears” is a special favorite of mine; as you may have guessed by the title, this is the track that plays when Bullitt’s Mustang first faces off against the assassins’ Charger. (To his credit, Schifrin argued that his score shouldn’t be used over the chase itself, allowing the sounds of the roaring engines to impress audiences instead.)
Bullitt’s Mustang is arguably the most remembered part of the movie and for good reason. McQueen drives a 1968 Ford Mustang GT-390 fastback in “highland green” that was stripped of most of its external styling, including driving lights and any Ford or Mustang badging. Although there is no “gear shift shot” as many chase scenes now include, Bullitt’s car clearly has a four-speed manual gearbox rather than an automatic transmission. The California license plates are JJZ 109.
Two Mustangs, each fitted with a 390 cubic-inch Ford “FE” V8 engine, were loaned to the production by Ford and modified by Max Balchowsky to go head-to-head against the two black 1968 Dodge Charger R/T models with 440 Magnum V8 engines. Director Peter Yates had originally intended for the cars to go no faster than 80 mph, but the two legendary muscle cars quickly outperformed even that and reached speeds just over 110 mph during some of the chase.
Although McQueen’s face is clearly visible (as he intended it) during many of the stunts, the majority of driving was performed by stunt coordinator Bud Ekins. One notable sequence where McQueen is obviously behind the wheel finds Bullitt just missing a turn and being forced to rapidly back up and burn out as he takes off back in pursuit of the Charger. Initially a mistake, it was left in the film as an additional nod to realism as not all police lieutenants are perfectly trained stunt drivers.
If you want to know who’s driving, check out the rear view mirror during the interior shots; McQueen’s gum-chewing face is reflected when the mirror is down, and the mirror was flipped up when Ekins was driving so as not to reveal the swap.
Bullitt’s outfit has become one of the most iconic men’s costumes in movie history, inspiring a movement of men embracing the masculine intersection of professorial and hip.
- Brown herringbone tweed 3-roll-2-button shooting jacket with notch lapels, welted breast pocket, flapped hip pockets with a flapped ticket pocket on right side, 2-button cuffs, long sueded elbow patches, and short double vents
- French navy blue medium-weight cashmere turtleneck/rollneck sweater with ribbed turtleneck, cuffs, and waistband
- Charcoal gray flannel flat front straight-cut trousers with belt loops, slanted side pockets, and plain-hemmed bottoms
- Black leather belt with steel squared single-claw buckle
- Hutton’s “Original Playboy” saddle brown suede 2-eyelet desert boots
- Black ribbed wool dress socks
- Khaki waterproof cotton single-breasted knee-length raincoat with shirt-style collar, 5 front buttons, slanted hand pockets, 1-button pointed half-tab cuffs, and long single vent
- Benrus Series #3061 polished steel wristwatch with black dial on black leather strap
- Gold-plated medallion of St. Christopher on a thin gold rope-weave necklace chain
- Safariland Model 19 brown leather RHD shoulder holster with cream chamois straps, for snubnose Colt Diamondback
A true individualist, Lt. Frank Bullitt even carries an unorthodox sidearm. While his fellow detective Delgetti and Stanton each pack a standard Colt Detective Special service revolver, Bullitt carries a custom 2″-barreled Colt Diamondback in his “upside down” quickdraw shoulder holster.
Much like the rest of his stuff, Bullitt’s piece would also send you on an extensive search as it seems much less rare than it actually is. If you can find a Colt Diamondback anywhere, that’s great. If it’s a 2″-barreled snub nose, even better. To really emulate Bullitt, make sure it’s a .38 Special, as Diamondbacks were also made as a .22 and no police officer would (or should!) carry a .22 on duty. Finally, the hardest part is making sure it has the rounded grips of a Colt Detective Special like Bullitt’s piece.
The Diamondback was offered from 1966 until 1988 and also was made in .22-caliber. The .22 would be a poor choice for a policeman’s duty weapon, but would work for an assassin. Peter Boyle’s character in The Friends of Eddie Coyle actually used a full-length .22-caliber Colt Diamondback during the film’s finale.
Why not just give Bullitt a Detective Special? For one thing, movie heroes always need to have different and slightly cooler guns than the people surrounding them. Furthermore, the Diamondback had just been introduced two years earlier, in 1966. A cool detective like Bullitt would have the newest gun. Additionally, the Diamondback was a deluxe model, more similar to the premium grade Colt Python than the more commonly-seen Detective Special.
Bullitt’s Diamondback has a wide serrated target hammer, ventilated rib, fully adjustable target quality sights, and full-length barrel underlug, which help differentiate it from the Detective Specials carried by his partners.
Do Yourself a Favor and…
Bullitt is a rare example of a movie that arguably surpassed the popularity of its source material. The original novel, Mute Witness, was written in 1963 by Robert L. Pike (as “Robert L. Fish”). The basic plot of a maverick cop ordered to guard a mob witness who ends up murdered remains intact, but Pike’s NYPD Lt. Clancy being transformed into SFPD Lt. Bullitt is one of many major changes. (Of course, the famous Mustang vs. Charger car chase was also added for the cinematic adaptation.)
If you’re interested in checking it out, the book is available on Amazon.
Look, you work your side of the street, and I’ll work mine.
If photos from the production are any indication, Steve McQueen had plenty of fun making Bullitt as he frolicked with beautiful women and sped around San Francisco in beautiful cars. Each of his three on-screen outfits is supplemented in behind-the-scenes photos with a pair of the iconic tortoiseshell Persol 0714 folding sunglasses that McQueen made famous.