Bullitt’s Navy Suit
Steve McQueen as Lt. Frank Bullitt, maverick SFPD inspector
San Francisco, Spring 1968
Release Date: October 17, 1968
Director: Peter Yates
Costume Designer: Theadora Van Runkle
Tailor: Douglas Hayward
There is little dispute among both film and automobile fans that 1968’s Bullitt features the best car chase scene in movie history. Steve McQueen faces off in a fastback Mustang GT against two hitmen in a black Charger. By now, diehard fans of the film know that the Charger legendarily overtook and outpowered the Mustang during the actual filming, although it was still edited to have McQueen’s driving emerge victorious as the Charger ended up, sadly, in a ball of flame.
Although he actually wears his casual attire of a brown shooting jacket, dark blue rollneck, and charcoal slacks for the car chase, BAMF Style has yet to cover the first outfit McQueen wears as Bullitt, a relatively conservative navy blue suit… until today.
What’d He Wear?
Bullitt’s suit was tailored by Douglas Hayward, the legendary British designer who also suited Roger Moore, Sean Connery, and Michael Caine for various films.
The dark navy suit is traditional, strong, and would be as appropriate to wear in 2013 as it was in 1968. Although he is the younger, hipper character, Bullitt avoids the very fashion-forward (but now dated) look that Chalmers dons with his gray three-piece.
Bullitt’s jacket is cut like the typical men’s business suit, with slim notch lapels, a single-breasted 2-button front, and a single vent in the rear. A breast pocket remains unadorned and two flapped pockets are positioned straight across each hip.
The trousers of Bullitt’s suit are flat front with plain hems and are worn with a black leather belt, fastened in the front by a dull brass squared clasp. There is a pocket on each side of the pants and, given the traditional look, it can be assumed that there are two jetted pockets on the pant rear as well.
Under his suit, Bullitt wears a pale blue shirt with a moderate spread collar, white buttons down a front placket, and buttoned barrel cuffs.
The tie has a dark olive green ground and a red-and-blue floral pattern over it. It is tied in a small and tight four-in-hand knot, loosely fastened around Bullitt’s neck. He is evidently not a man to wear ties and avoids them whenever possible. This is definitely a character trait rather than a McQueen trait, as he looks sharp in a necktie whenever he has to (if The Thomas Crown Affair is any indication).
Bullitt’s footwear is a simple pair of leather plain-toe oxford shoes with black socks.
His overcoat is the same raincoat worn in some of the later scenes at the airport, a beltless khaki raincoat with five buttons down the front and one button on each cuff. There is an open slash pocket on each hip and a deep single vent in the rear. Visible when Bullitt is talking to Cathy, the raincoat has a dark plaid lining on a tan ground.
Bullitt completes his look with his field watch, identified as a civilian Benrus Series #3061 with a round polished steel case and black dial, fastened around his right wrist with a well-worn brown leather strap. Save for the thin gold necklace with the St. Christopher medallion worn under his shirt, this is his only accessory worn in the film.
The suit is Bullitt’s most conservative look. As we learn from his after-work activities, a late night date at a beatnik coffee shop with his artistic British girlfriend, Bullitt is not the typical cop.
How to Get the Look
Bullitt injects some flavor into the traditional suit he wears as a plainclothes detective.
- Dark navy wool tailored suit, consisting of:
- Single-breasted 2-button suit jacket with notch lapels, welted breast pocket, straight flapped hip pockets, and single rear vent
- Flat front suit trousers with belt loops, side pockets, and plain-hemmed bottoms
- Pale blue dress shirt with a moderate spread collar, white buttons down a front placket, and button cuffs
- Dark olive green necktie with a red and blue floral pattern
- Black leather belt with square dulled brass single-claw buckle
- Black leather plain-toe oxfords
- Black 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 field watch with black dial on black leather strap
- Gold-plated medallion of St. Christopher on a thin gold rope-weave necklace chain
- Brown leather RHD shoulder holster with cream chamois straps, for snubnose Colt Diamondback
Do Yourself a Favor and…
Check out the movie and, if you can, get your hands on a ’68 Mustang GT-390 fastback.
Bullitt is perhaps as near to the perfect BAMF Style film as movies come. Classic in everything: car, couture, music, actor, armament (well, the holster anyway — Diamondback never did much for me). And Jacqueline Bisset.
Max, you’re right about that. McQueen and Yates really nailed together an outstanding and stylish film that still manages to be a gritty and realistic crime drama. No denying Bisset’s beauty either.
I wonder why they switched to a Diamondback. Bullitt was based on Dave Toschi and, from everything I’ve read, Toschi carried a 3rd-gen. Detective Special. Maybe they wanted something with a different look without sacrificing realism?
No doubt the Diamondback has a more distinctive look than the Detective, which would be the most obvious Hollywood explanation. Practically speaking it was marginally more capable and refined than the Detective, but not by much in 2.5″ guise, and not in any meaningful way for usage by a SF inspector. I’d much rather have seen Bullitt with a Python. Now THAT would have been an upgrade, but still in the ZIP code of what an urban detective might carry.
That watch is probably not a Tag Heuer – and Definitely not a chronograph. Rather, it is a military watch, most likely of Korean war vintage given McQueen/Bullitt’s age, or perhaps early Vietnam era. There are many threads on online watch community forums debating the exact brand – the watch style was dictated by the US Armed services and manufactured under contract by various American companies such as Bulova and Hamilton. Most sites I’ve seen say it is a Benrus. You can see the watch in a few scenes: when Bullitt is on the phone, when he first starts chasing the Charger, and when he and his partner are opening the confiscated trunks.
The main point for this excellent site, however, is that even with the dressy suit shown on this page (in contrast to the more casual look we usually associate with McQueen in the film) the character of Frank Bullitt still wears a no-nonsense everyday watch, built simply but ruggedly. The watch would be a mechanical movement and manual wind, with only a second hand and a second set of 24-hour numbers painted inside the main 12 on the matte black dial. No Date, no extra frills, no bling. Plastic (hestalite) crystal, which would stick up above the stainless steel case. Medium size crown. The watches of this type from the Vietnam and later periods can be anywhere from 35-39 mm in diameter (32mm models are probably from WWII or the Korean War); my guess is Bullitt’s is a 36, which was standard men’s size in the 60s. And they are still produced and old ones are readily available for not too much money. If you are not a stickler for US- Made, Seiko makes many very nice battery powered models.
Keep up the nice work with your site, I enjoy it very much.
this is the story on his chrono watch
interesting news, is that both of the Mustangs have been found, and the ‘hero’ car was just unveiled http://www.roadandtrack.com/car-culture/classic-cars/a15158920/original-bullitt-mustang-steve-mcqueen/
As far as the criticisms of the Diamondback revolver re concerned , what did Inspector Dave Toschi carry ?