Five British Style Icons
What is it about British style that makes the whole world sit up and take notice? Is it the sleek silhouette of a perfectly-cut Savile Row suit, the shine on a pair of immaculate brogues, or the hit of Burberry check under an elegant trenchcoat?
The British way of dressing has influenced men around the world, and little wonder, when it’s had such great ambassadors. Here, we’re going to take a look at five great British style ambassadors of the twentieth century.
Michael Caine brought a new way of being to British film – a working class guy from London who could dress as well as the toffs, but in a way that looked comfortable, effortless and unpretentious. This would come to the fore in the Harry Palmer films, where his low-rent James Bond character would rail against the establishment, which he knew more than. Caine even managed to make thick-rimmed glasses cool, a look which is very much in style again today. While some of his choice of roles over the years has been – well, questionable, he never fails to look effortlessly stylish when he appears on or offscreen.
Friend and one-time flatmate of Michael Caine, Terence Stamp is the absolute epitome of sixties British cool. Stamp galvanised such films as Billy Budd, Far From the Madding Crowd and Theorem with his magnetic presence, and looked great in all of them. Stamp was one of the first clients of legendary Mayfair tailor Doug Hayward, who would revolutionise British style by designing lighter, less formal suits. Stamp’s still going strong today, as an elegant silver fox, though he was forever fixed in the sixties by the Kinks’ song Waterloo Sunset, where he is Terry namechecked as “Terry and Julie (Christie)”.
Not a lot of people know this, but the archetypal gentleman of Hollywood’s Golden Age, Cary Grant, was actually English. Archie Leach was born in Bristol, but would change his name in New York doing vaudeville. He would catch the eye of Mae West, the first in along line of leading ladies that would include Katherine Hepburn and Grace Kelly. He looked immaculate in a tailored dark wool suit and polished shoes – his secret? As he said, “it isn’t only money that determines how well a man dresses—it’s personal taste.”
Connery’s another sixties icon who’s still with us, and still cool. Eyebrows were raised when a Scottish ex-milkman nabbed the role of English gent James Bond, but Connery’s effortless way with a suit and a quip soon convinced everyone. Connery had also previously been a bodybuilder, so was a big guy – six foot three – who could look at ease in a three piece suit. He would also prove a trendsetter with his Harris tweed jacket in Goldfinger, which has recently been recreated by the company.
Paul Smith is simply the most influential British men’s designer of the last thirty years – a man who made boxer shorts the standard for underwear, and ‘relaxed’ the suit, making it suitable apparel for all occasions, not just wedding and funerals. As well as dressing style icons, he’s a bit of a style icon himself, noted for the attention he pays to colour and fabric, such as the splashes of colour in his outfit through accessorising with handkerchiefs. Well deserving of his knighthood – only the second tailor after Hardy Amies to be so honoured by the Queen.
Feeling inspired? Why not go and find your own British style?