Steve McQueen as LT Ferguson “Fergie” Howard, enterprising U.S. Navy officer
Venice, Summer 1961
Film: The Honeymoon Machine
Release Date: August 23, 1961
Director: Richard Thorpe
Costume Designer: Helen Rose
To commemorate Steve McQueen’s birthday 91 years ago today, let’s take a look at how the King of Cool incorporated some of his personal style into one of his earliest—and least popular—movies.
Based on Lorenzo Semple Jr.’s 1959 play The Golden Fleecing, The Honeymoon Machine belongs to that unique sub-genre of ’60s farce that made light of Cold War paranoia and seemed to end up with everyone throwing punches (executed suitably in The Glass Bottom Boat, poorly in the 1967 Casino Royale.)
The role of the mischievously ambitious, Nietzsche-quoting naval lieutenant Fergie Howard was originally intended for Cary Grant, however the middle-aged actor was nearing his retirement and turned the job down. Rather than casting another screen vet of Grant’s age and standing, the production went in the opposite direction and brought on Steve McQueen for what would be his third top-billed movie after The Blob (1958) and The Great St. Louis Bank Robbery (1959).
The Honeymoon Machine turned a profit but McQueen considered it a dark mark on his career, reportedly walking out of the first public screening and vowing never to work for MGM again. Don’t worry, Steve… The Great Escape is only two years away!
What’d He Wear?
“We can’t get into the casino in Navy uniform, it’s off-limits,” Fergie comments before teaming up with civilian scientist Jason Eldridge (Jim Hutton) and fellow officer Beau Gilliam (Jack Mullaney) to execute their plan that uses a secret computing system to engineer their own luck at the roulette table. For Fergie and Beau, the plan requires changing into civvies. Both men would end up in suits by that evening, but Fergie takes a more casual approach to his off-duty daytime wear, peeling off his summer whites and pulling on a comfortable powder blue sweater just in time for the ingenue admiral’s daughter Julie Fitch (Brigid Bazlen) to surprise the conniving trio in their suite.
Not yet at the levels of superstardom that would allow him to bend his screen costumes to meet his off-screen wardrobe, McQueen still incorporates some elements of his personal style preferences into Fergie’s attire, particularly the soft V-neck sweater that resembles one his photographer pal William Claxton would shoot him wearing several years later during production of Baby, the Rain Must Fall in Texas.
The powder blue sweater from The Honeymoon Machine looks to be made from a soft wool, likely cashmere. As McQueen wears it comfortably sans undershirt (which curiously also does with his uniform tunic), there may even be some manmade fiber blended into the sweater’s construction that would keep it from being too itchy; indeed, acrylic had been a popular alternative to cashmere for nearly two decades at the time of the production, and a well-traveled naval officer would no doubt appreciate acrylic’s washability and defiance to moths… though this fear is more outwardly expressed by the LTJG Gilliam with his multi-mothball suits.
McQueen’s pullover sweater has long set-in sleeves with ribbed ends that he folds back once at each cuff. The narrowly ribbed V-neck dips just low enough that he can effectively wear it without an undershirt without breaking decorum, while still suggesting a more liberated attitude than his suit-and-tie comrades.
This timeless sweater style is still considerably available to find 60 years later, offered among the wares at Bloomingdale’s, Brooks Brothers, Cashmere Heartland, Gobi, Lona Scott, and State Cashmere, among others, as well as affordable cotton alternatives from Amazon Essentials for those whose budget, skin sensitivity, or general preference would exclude cashmere.
Dark gray wool trousers provide a neutral, grounded bottom half against McQueen’s light sweater. These flat front trousers have gently slanted side pockets, button-through back pockets (with a button through the back right), and plain-hemmed bottoms. McQueen holds them up with a plain black leather belt with a silver-toned single-prong buckle.
McQueen’s ribbed socks may be a shade darker than his gray slacks, but they otherwise provide near-perfect continuity of the leg line into his penny loafers. Maine-based manufacturer G.H. Bass popularized this style of footwear when it launched the “Weejun” shoe in the mid-1930s, becoming an Ivy staple over the decades to follow. The legend that prep students kept a penny in the diamond-cutout saddle slot gave rise to the term “penny loafer” that many contemporary shoemakers use to market their loafers to this day, including Bass itself with their Bradford model. (Aspiring kings of cool may also look to Bass’ Larson or Whitney weejuns to complete their Ferg-alicious look.)
McQueen wears oxblood leather penny loafers that coordinate and complement—rather than outright matching—his black leather belt, a variation on the “rule” suggesting gents should match their belt and shoe leather. Of course, the casual nature of his outfit—presumably donned primarily to lounge around his hotel suite—would override any strict sartorial expectations, as may the fact that McQueen’s untucked sweater would cover his belt… when he’s not being acrobatically pushed over the room’s furniture, of course.
The shoemaker may be discerned from the bottoms of the hard tan leather soles, though the shoes’ profile and the signature “beef roll” stitching on each side of the saddle straps suggests that McQueen may indeed be wearing genuine Bass Weejuns.
Before he’d strap on iconic timepieces like the Rolex Submariner or the Le Mans-era Heuer Monaco, McQueen wears a stainless steel wristwatch in The Honeymoon Machine, detailed with a white dial (with silver sub-registers at the 9:00 and 3:00 positions) and worn on a unique bracelet that appears to be accented with gold-finished inlays.
Famously a southpaw, McQueen wears his watch on his right wrist, balanced by a wide-surfaced silver signet ring on the third finger of his left hand that may be personalized with an engraved monogram.
What to Imbibe
Upon arriving in Venice, Fergie makes an expensive order from room service, requesting “two bottles of Scotch, two bourbon, two vodka, one gin, one vermouth, one cognac.”
Evidently, champagne would also be delivered as he mixes up “a mild concoction of brandy, vodka, and champagne” to toast with Julie at the start of their date that evening, though the intimacy devolves into chaos once their scheme—and liquor collection—envelops more and more people, including the clueless signalman Burford Taylor (Jack Weston).
How to Get the Look
Before changing into his suit for the evening to match his partners-in-crime, Steve McQueen looks characteristically cool, casual, and comfortable in his simple spring-friendly outfit of a powder-blue pullover sweater, gray slacks, and penny loafers.
- Powder-blue cashmere long-sleeve V-neck sweater
- Dark gray wool flat front trousers with belt loops, slanted side pockets, jetted back pockets, and plain-hemmed bottoms
- Black leather belt with silver single-prong buckle
- Oxblood leather penny loafers
- Dark gray ribbed socks
- Silver monogrammed signet ring
- Steel watch with white dial (with two silver sub-dials) on gold-inlaid steel bracelet
Do Yourself a Favor and…
Check out the movie.
You know, there was once a great philosopher named Nietzsche who said “live dangerously, it’s the only time you live at all.”