Virtually everything about Lieutenant Frank Bullitt is a little unexpected and undeniably cool. This ain't your average cop we’re talking about here. His clothes, his incredibly beautiful girlfriend, his car (a badass ’68 Ford Mustang 390 Fastback), everything about the guy—even his wicked cool upside down shoulder holster complete with rare Colt Diamondback .38 revolver—it all marks him as a breed apart.
McQueen would become the highest paid movie star in the world later in the 1970s when starring in the Towering Inferno, but he never again was this damned cool.
In the climactic second half of the film, he wears a hip, very mod blue turtleneck sweater, a sublime brown tweed jacket, charcoal slacks, and you guessed it: mid brown playboy-style ankle boots.
Above: McQueen -NOT walking on water- rather, walking on the bad guy’s large frame automatic pistol and shattered safety glass in the climactic scene of Bullitt. Note the snuff brown chukkas.
The sweater and tweed jacket catch the eye more than anything else on first viewing. Still, we’d posit the boots are really the coolest part of the outfit. The turtleneck is great, and so is the jacket. But the boots are something you can buy today and work into your rotation at will with chinos, jeans, or even (like McQueen did here), with dressier slacks and more upscale outfits.
When you look at McQueen’s various roles and photos from his private life (check out William Claxton’s Steve McQueen: Photographs for some amazing photography from the early years of his career through the mid-sixties—used paperback copies are currently as low as $5 and change on Amazon), the brown suede ankle boot is the one consistent item of clothing you see. Well, that and amazing cardigans.
But that’s another topic for another time.
Today, if you are in the US and looking for a pair of playboys like the ones worn in Bullitt, we’d have to recommend the English company’s Sanders Hi-Top Chukka Boot.
McQueen apparently wore Hutton brand boots in the movie, but the company has since changed hands, moved production to Spain, and today exports only to limited markets like Sweden. They are a little pricey too, and extremely well made (with real Goodyear welts, no less), if you can find them.
According to A Continuous Lean, Mark McNairy’s New Amsterdam version of the classic playboy is making this style of boot more popular than ever in the states…but it isn’t easy to find at the moment, either.
Above: Sid Mashburn Playboy Chukka Boot
For most of us, the Sanders boot is a superb alternative and quite nice in its own right. Sid Mashburn, the savvy Atlanta designer and menswear guru, sells a similar Sanders-made boot. It’s called the Playboy Chukka Boot.
It has three eyelets instead of two and is basically the Sanders George boot (whose origins are in the British military), in suede with a playboy crepe sole. Mashburn’s site describes it as a 60s favorite that is “slightly formal, super easy. A little Steve McQueen.”
We’ve been putting a pair of the Mashburn Playboy Chukkas through their paces here at VCH headquarters for going on a year now, and we love them. They are even more comfortable than similar Clark desert boots we’ve tried, probably due to their thicker soles. Although the snuff brown color is perhaps a shade darker than the ones McQueen wore in the movie, they are still quite beautiful and close enough to make you smile (and your friends envious).
McQueen is called the King of Cool for a reason. You can call for all the moratoriums you like, but we will continue to mine the gold that is his cool for as long as there are sites like this and books like Steve McQueen: Photographs.
The man had style.
Bonus photo—a rare one of McQueen “off-duty” and wearing the Bullitt playboy chukkas.
Bonus photo number two: McQueen and co-star Jacqueline Bissette on a Triumph motorcycle in Frisco during filming, with McQueen wearing the ubiquitous chukkas (looking a little more broken in here). Undoubtedly he had multiple pairs.