With Easter nearly here and spring finally taking over after a long winter, some men may be looking to incorporate more color into their wardrobe.
Steve McQueen as Thomas Crown, millionaire criminal mastermind
Boston, June 1968
Film: The Thomas Crown Affair
Release Date: June 19, 1968
Director: Norman Jewison
Costume Designer: Alan Levine
Tailor: Douglas Hayward
Thanks to films like The Great Escape, The Sand Pebbles, and – most recently – Bullitt, Steve McQueen was at the top of the Hollywood game in 1968. He was already popular enough to be demanding about his roles, and his reputation for difficulty just enhanced the “bad boy” status he was cultivating.
The 1960s, arguably one of the most turbulent decades in American history, was a very difficult time for a celebrity to maintain popularity. The Beatles shed their mop tops and matching suits to follow the trends being set by the counterculture. Steve McQueen, on the other hand, changed his image, taking the role of debonair protagonist Thomas Crown in The Thomas Crown Affair.
Crown still had the devious charm that moviegoers had come to associate with McQueen, but he was filthy rich, wearing expensive suits and playing with toys while stealing even more money for himself. It was the sort of character his usual audiences would have hated, but McQueen injected enough of his own personality into the role that The Thomas Crown Affair became one of his most lauded films.
I previously wrote about the first suit McQueen wears in the film, a Glen Plaid three-piece with blue accents, and used the description from Rake of Crown’s “sartorial bravado”; just because he wears suits, Crown isn’t part of the establishment. He’s more like a spy, slyly challenging convention. He doesn’t need to rob banks for money, but he likes it, mostly because it’s something he shouldn’t be doing.
What’d He Wear?
Crown is a high-level executive, so he owns the clothing for the part. His suits are a fascinating mix of cutting-edge businesswear and progressive colors. A narrative contemporary like Don Draper would scoff at Crown’s unorthodox dress, and that’s exactly what Crown would want.
For his date night with Vicki – the insurance investigator played by an obviously stunning Faye Dunaway – Crown wears a dark gray wool three-piece suit. The suit itself is a very stoic, traditional suit. Some of the suit’s more unique details, like the long rear jacket vents or the straight bottom of the waistcoat, indicate that it was cut in the same style as the louder glen plaid suit from the opening sequence.
The suit jacket is single-breasted with slim notch lapels that roll down to a two-button front. The jacket is cut traditionally with natural shoulders and a gently suppressed waist. The long double rear vents are a fashion-forward nod at the time, as single rear vents were more typical on American business suits.
Crown’s jacket has flapped hip pockets and a welted breast pocket, which Crown accentuates with a silver and black paisley silk pocket square, puffing through the top of the pocket.
The cuffs close with two buttons on each wrist, which marks the only major difference between the style of this suit and the glen plaid suit as the earlier suit had single-button fishtail-style cuffs.
The vest (or waistcoat) of Crown’s suit is distinctively cut straight across the bottom, an on-and-off trend that enjoyed its last hurrah in the mid-to-late 1960s. It was also notably seen on a gray flannel three-piece suit worn by Sean Connery in the Thunderball pre-credits sequence. Crown’s vest is single-breasted with five buttons down the front and open hip pockets.
The trousers are technically flat front due to the lack of pleats, but they have noticeable darts about two inches forward of the side pockets. Darted-front trousers are typically the domain of high-end or bespoke suits and allow the trousers to fit more comfortably over the hips. The trousers have standard open side pockets rather than the frogmouth pockets of the glen plaid suit trousers.
Crown’s trousers also have plain-hemmed bottoms with a short break over his shoes, a pair of a dark cordovan leather cap-toe balmorals worn with dark gray socks. The socks match the suit enough to continue the leg line down into his shoes.
While Crown may ignore some sartorial conventions for artistic or nonconformist purposes, wearing contrasting socks would look garish rather than unique. Thus, his adherence to this convention is a wise choice.
In another move that would send Don Draper into an absolute tizzy, Crown wears a lilac hairline-striped shirt. Soft pink isn’t a color traditionally associated with aggressive business executives, but McQueen pairs it with the serious gray suit to keep his outfit grounded while still being eye-catching.
McQueen further hurls sartorial insults at Draper by perfectly matching a mauve silk necktie with his shirt. While not a conservative look by any means, Crown’s understated color draws the eye and avoids the garishness of an all-pink suit. (Sorry, Gatsby.)
The shirt has double (French) cuffs, which Crown fastens with the same round mother-of-pearl cuff links worn in the opening sequence. The front of the shirt appears to be placket-less, indicating a more luxurious French-inspired style.
Although he opted for a gold Patek Philippe pocket watch in the opening sequence, Crown wears a wristwatch with this suit. McQueen alternates between two wristwatches in the film, both worn on his right wrist. In more casual scenes, he wears a gold Jaeger-LeCoultre Memovox, but with his suits he opts for a gold Cartier Tank Americane on a thin black leather strap. In this case, we are naturally seeing the latter.
Crown picks up Vicki with an overcoat slung under his arm that is a shade darker than the gray suit. We don’t see him wear the coat, but it appears to be single-breasted with notch lapels and a deep burgundy lining. The slightly visible label may be London Fog, but someone with sharper eyes than I have would need to make the final call on that.
The suit is briefly seen later in the film when Crown is out on a date with another woman, wearing a more conservative shirt-and-tie combination. For this date, he wears a white shirt with a gold pin through the tab collar and a dark red silk necktie.
Go Big or Go Home
Impress your date by challenging her to chess, sipping brandy, and smoking fine cigars. Keep it up and you two will be doing a lot more than just playing chess all night.
According to director Norman Jewison in an interview in Sight and Sound magazine…
There was one paragraph in the script which said they sat down to play chess. I’d worked with the author, and it was his first film. And I think the phrase he used was “chess with sex.” And since it was the only physical contact of the two characters, I became involved with the scene and felt that it should – well, I wanted to film the longest kiss in screen history. I thought this one physical thing should tell everything about that aspect of their relationship, so that I wouldn’t have to deal with it anymore. So we ended up spending three days shooting a kiss. I must say it was a marvelous inspiration from the cameraman. [Haskell] Wexler and I devised all sorts of things to keep the scene going and build it cinematically.
How to Get the Look
Crown effectively adds color to what would otherwise be considered a conservative business suit, making it appropriate for both the office and an after hours date.
- Dark gray wool three-piece suit, consisting of:
- Single-breasted coat with notch lapels, 2-button front, welted breast pocket, straight flapped hip pockets, long double rear vents, and 2-button cuffs
- Single-breasted waistcoat with 5-button front, open hip pockets, straight-cut bottom
- Darted-front trousers with side pockets, plain-hemmed bottoms, and short break
- Soft lilac striped button-down dress shirt with moderately-spread collars and double/French cuffs
- Mauve silk necktie
- Dark cordovan leather cap-toe balmorals
- Dark gray dress socks
- Cartier Tank Americane wristwatch with a gold case, white face, and thin black leather strap
- Large round mother-of-pearl cuff links
- Silver and black paisley pocket square, worn puffed in the jacket breast pocket
- Dark gray single-breasted overcoat with notch lapels and burgundy lining
Do Yourself a Favor and…
Buy the movie.