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On Seeking the Perfect Steve McQueen Playboy Chukka Part I

Now that we’re safely past the moratorium on Steve McQueen posts that Kempt called for six months ago, we’re charging straight ahead with a piece on something we’ve long had an interest in: the search for the perfect Bullitt boots.

Yes, the style blogoshere is rife with talk about the King of Cool’s affinity for brown suede desert boots, amongst other things.

If you don’t already know the brown suede desert boot/chukka/playboy was a staple of McQueen’s wardrobe both on and offscreen, you haven’t been trolling the style forums and blogs for very long. But trust us, McQueen was a big fan of brown suede ankle boots.

In his breakout, star-making role in 1963’s The Great Escape he wore WWII US Army brown M-43 “roughout” brown ankle boots. They were almost identical to the US Marine Corps boots worn by McQueen in the late 1940s as a young Marine. (A bit of trivia: the Marines always called their field shoes/boots “boondockers" back in the day, a reference to their use in the field or boondocks.)

It’s quite possible McQueen developed a liking for brown suede ankle boots while serving in the Marines. Judging from his outfit in Escape, the actor had quite a bit of latitude in choosing his wardrobe. It’s an early, definitive essay on the hip, cool Steve McQueen look circa 1963.

He wears “drainpipe” chinos that hardly resemble WWII issue—they’re much too slim fitting; the M-43 boots; an original US Army Air Forces A-2 leather flight jacket that’s probably a 1943 Rough Wear 27752 contract. He even wears a blue civilian sweatshirt—with cutoff sleeves! We suspect McQueen chose each piece of this “uniform” for maximum coolness and the boots were no exception.

He wore a brown pair of playboys (suede ankle boots with super thick soles like Van sneakers) as early as 1960 in his appearance in the “Man From the South” episode of Alfred Hitchcock’s Presents. McQueen’s most iconic use of suede ankle boots however, was in 1968’s Bullitt. Everything about San Francisco Police Lt. Frank Bullitt was cool.

The late 1960s were McQueen’s time, the height of his star power and über coolness, and Bullitt may be the ultimate Steve McQueen movie. That’s a bold statement, but the epic chase scene alone guarantees its first-place ranking in the pantheon of McQueen’s oeuvre.

Stay tuned for more in Part II of On Seeking the Perfect Steve McQueen Playboy Chukka

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