Steve McQueen as Lt. Frank Bullitt, renegade San Francisco inspector
San Francisco, Spring 1968
Release Date: October 17, 1968
Director: Peter Yates
Costume Designer: Theadora Van Runkle
Steve McQueen’s character in Bullitt is often remembered for two things: his handling of the green fastback Mustang during the car chase and the iconic tweed sport jacket and rollneck jumper he wore. Just before that sequence, we see Lieutenant Bullitt pulling an all-nighter at the hospital after the fatal shooting of the witness his men were protecting.
Our groggy lieutenant arrives at the hospital with a thick, high-fastening cardigan layered over his casual open-neck shirt, trousers, and—of course—his shoulder holster.
What’d He Wear?
As Bullitt’s Mustang squeals to a stop in front of the crime scene early in the morning, our titular hero leaps out dressed for the long night ahead, whatever that may entail. Bullitt assured his fellow officer he would be at the Hotel Daniels in five minutes, so we can assume he pulled together these versatile layers in just a fraction of that time. His garb has been wisely chosen to serve him well, whether he’s spending hours waiting for surgical updates with a PB&J or running down flights of stairs in pursuit of a dangerous assassin.
The ribbed brick red wool cardigan follows the same style as the shawl-collar cardigans that Steve McQueen famously favored on- and off-screen, photographed by William Claxton wearing a navy blue cardigan for a drive up the California coast in 1964 and then wearing an almost identical brown sweater the following year in The Cincinnati Kid. The sweater has five brown woven leather buttons that close the lower half, with an additional one positioned at the neck that folds the shawl collar over his chest for additional coverage and warmth.
McQueen cuffs the end of each raglan sleeve. The two patch pockets at the hips seem relatively shallow, but McQueen still manages to shove a pair of brown gloves into the right pocket.
A brown sueded leather strip backs each side of the sweater’s placket, reinforcing the buttons on the right side and the buttonholes on the left, though these strips extend only halfway up the inside of the sweater, cut away at the bottom of the shawl collar.
McQueen wears a pale blue cotton shirt patterned with a blue micro-check and detailed with a point collar worn open, a front placket, breast pocket, and barrel cuffs.
McQueen’s trousers appear to be the same charcoal flannel flat front slacks with slanted side pockets and plain-hemmed bottoms that he would pair with the brown tweed jacket and blue turtleneck the following day. He also wears the same black leather belt with the shining silver single-prong buckle.
McQueen also wears his now-iconic Hutton’s Original Playboy two-eyelet ankle boots with their saddle brown suede uppers and black crepe soles, worn with black ribbed socks.
Still a few years away from debuting the Rolex Submariner and Heuer Monaco watches he would be famous for wearing in movies like The Hunter and Le Mans, respectively, McQueen’s Bullitt wears a Benrus Series #3061, a commercial version of a U.S. military-issued field watch with a polished steel round case, busy black dial, and worn black leather strap. His sole accessory aside from the watch is McQueen’s usual
Perhaps just to throw off any budding sartorial bloggers a half-century later, Bullitt carries a brown overcoat when getting into the ambulance at the crime scene. At first I wondered if this was the brown shooting jacket from later in the film, but it is definitely an overcoat and slightly different in color.
Go Big or Go Home
Although the favorite scenes of the movie are typically the car chase and the final airport pursuit, this sequence is often regarded to be one of the most realistic in film. Filmed in an actual hospital with actual doctors, the medical procedures shown in Bullitt offer a greater verisimilitude than in some media about medicine, such as E.R. and Grey’s Anatomy where doctors all just sleep with each other and shout dramatically after losing a patient.
Additionally, despite being more of a renegade than his superiors might like, Lt. Bullitt is still a realistic renegade cop. He’s not Martin Riggs, drawing his gun when he feels like looking at something metal. Even when in pursuit of a suspect, “Ice Pick Mike” (according to the soundtrack), he keeps his hand over his holster but never draws. This is the mark of a responsible and well-trained policeman.
Main point: don’t be a jerk.
Bullitt’s revolver, a 2″-barreled Colt Diamondback in .38 Special, isn’t seen as clearly in these scenes. I offer up a little more detail about it in my prior Bullitt post. Since we see the holster best in these scenes, I’ll instead focus on that.
McQueen based his character on Dave Toschi, a San Francisco homicide inspector who also inspired Clint Eastwood in Dirty Harry. Toschi had made himself famous for his work investigating the Zodiac killings shortly after Bullitt was made and would later be portrayed by Mark Ruffalo in the 2007 film Zodiac. As part of his preparation for Bullitt, McQueen met with Toschi and was impressed enough by his armament that he had his own copy made of Toschi’s custom fast-draw shoulder holster.
Steve’s is a light brown right-hand draw holster, naturally worn under his left armpit. The cream-colored straps extend over both shoulders with a small light brown leather reload of six .38 Special rounds is carried on the right side. The holster provides a fast and natural draw and conceals cleanly underneath a jacket or sweater. The one downside is that the weapon is aimed directly at the wearer’s armpit, but with a well-maintained gun that isn’t drawn with a finger on the trigger, this shouldn’t be a problem. Otherwise, Darwinism steps in.
How to Get the Look
Bullitt’s look is smart for San Francisco but is also good for any place with unpredictable weather.
- Brick red ribbed wool shawl-collar 5-button cardigan sweater with raglan sleeves, two open hip pockets, and top-fastening hidden button
- Pale blue mini-check shirt with front placket, breast pocket, and buttoned barrel cuffs
- Charcoal flannel flat front slacks with belt loops, side pockets, and plain-hemmed bottoms
- Black leather belt with steel squared single-prong buckle
- Hutton’s Original Playboy mid-brown suede 2-eyelet ankle boots
- Black ribbed socks
- Benrus Series #3061 wristwatch with round polished steel case and black dial on dark brown worn leather strap
- Safariland Model #19 shoulder holster (brown leather, RHD, with tan strap) for snubnose Colt Diamondback
- Thin gold necklace with St. Christopher medallion
If you’re looking for a Steve McQueen-style cardigan to fill out your collection, Iconic Alternatives has done some great work finding modern McQueen-esque options.
Do Yourself a Favor and…
Look, you work your side of the street, and I’ll work mine.