The History of Leather Part 26 – Steve McQueen

Posted on 04/08/14

The other king of cool (1963)

Perhaps the king of cool you might have thought of in the earlier piece, who could forget Steve McQueen? Once the highest-paid film star of all time, Steve McQueen was known for being a no-nonsense man’s man. An everyman like James Dean, but an everyman for the more mature generation rather than the younger generation.

The Automatic might well have claimed to be teenage Steve McQueens in their own right, but them doing so missed the point of what Steve McQueen represented. Steve McQueen was a man with a wealth of experience under his belt. He wasn’t a young buck like James Dean. McQueen was, a lot like the leather jackets that he sported, a lightly weathered classic.

That came out more patronising than intended…

He briefly served as a US Marine no less, and had a genuine love of car racing and motorcycles, along with hunting and fishing. He even learned kung fu from Bruce Lee. It’s this same athleticism and masculinity that Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin tries to channel in his annual calendar shoots (honestly, these exist), only Putin somewhat ironically adds a healthy dollop of homoeroticism to proceedings.

In a truly male fashion, McQueen, as recalled by his son Chad, didn’t take fashion too seriously. “His persona was about flying under the radar, being stylish but low-key”. Classic pieces and designs were what he defaulted to, refusing to cover himself in labels and branding – a far cry from the look-at-me fashion trends of today.

The closest modern analogue to McQueen’s style would be Daniel Craig’s conception of James Bond. Sporting the same Harringtons, leather jackets, khakis and polo shirts that McQueen himself sported (though not literally), it’s no wonder the producers turned to McQueen’s masculinity as a source of inspiration after the comparative camp of Pierce Brosnan’s Bond.

McQueen’s style serves as a great reminder of the kind of masculinity that you rarely see in the present day. Today’s men are orange, primped “lads” without a single hair on their body, other than their carefully sculpted hair, of course. McQueen’s leather jackets and Harringtons were second skins. As rugged and low-key as he was, and with legacies that have endured and will continue to endure along with McQueen’s own.

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