Generally, I’m not a big one for individual style icons; I tend to prefer examining the features of specific historical periods or trends when it comes to dressing. Michael Caine however, is an exception. I grew up watching classic retro films with my father, and upon discovering Michael Caine’s films of the 60s and 70s fell in love with his debonair gravitas – and the impact of his suits.
His dress sense taught me two things. Firstly, wherever possible, invest in the classics and put your own subtle twist on them. Secondly, if you want to dress in a truly timeless fashion, it has to be kept simple. In all of his tailored roles, garments are classic and the colour palette minimal and understated; but he never fails to look the sharp English gentleman. He somehow never looks conscious of wearing a suit and tie – pulling off perhaps the greatest trick of all for the wearer of fine suits – exuding relaxed and effortless elegance. One only has to watch the first twenty minutes of ‘The Italian Job’ to get a sense of what I mean. Caine strolls through the film with a jocular swagger, part the character’s and part his own. You can sense he feels comfortable in suiting and this adds in large part to the appeal of his style.
Another reason that his tailored style exhibited in films of the 60s and 70s remains so appealing today is that his suits were ahead of their time in terms of cut and shape; he deliberately seems to avoid trends and sticks with classic shapes. The result is a truly timeless look.
His blue three piece suit in ‘Get Carter’ is the ideal example. Cut with a well-proportioned notched lapel – not too slim, not too wide – which avoided the short-lived 70s trend for huge, deeply bellied lapels with low gorges. The cut of the jacket is perfectly fitted to modern proportions, not too slim and with no excess drape and the five button single breasted waistcoat adds just enough gravitas, whilst also remaining a very simple cut. Finished with a pale blue shirt – which again avoids standing too tall as was the fashion for 70s shirt collars, and a plain black silk tie – of a quite obviously superior silk, the ensemble is about as simple as it gets and allows the quality and cut of the suit itself to shine through.
Note also his jet black trenchcoat by Aquascutum, cut in a model which the firm still produces today – with the black tie working with the black trenchcoat when worn, keeping the look dark and mean – as befitted the character. Furthermore, because these were his own clothes, and he wasn’t forced into an off-the-peg suit from a film wardrobe procured especially for the film, Caine looks as effortless as he does anywhere else, whilst also bringing a fair bit of menace to his role as a gangster – a prowling Jaguar in a black trenchcoat. Steve Mcqueen pulled off a similar trick in the Thomas Crowne affair, having his suits made weeks before the show, he wore them everywhere for a fortnight before filming started to break them in and get comfortable in high-end tailoring.
Michael Caine’s affinity with tailoring is obvious, given his many years of faithful patronage of London tailors Douglas Hayward, as well as a couple of houses on Savile Row. Also charming is that in many of his films, Caine’s tailor is credited alongside the cast and production team. Hayward was a true celebrity tailors of the time, and remains one of the most fashionable tailors in London.
Douglas Hayward himself was one of the fathers of those suits which possessed the unique understated elegance that characterised the best tailoring of the 60s and 70s. Douglas Hayward was also James Coburn, Lawrence Olivier and Roger Moore’s tailor of choice, amongst many other celebrities and for all of them, produced classically proportioned and effortlessly dapper garments.
It’s also telling that in one of Caine’s earlier films the importance of a good suit is stressed from the very opening. As Charlie Croker emerges from prison in ‘The Italian Job’ and steps into his car, almost Caine’s first words are ‘take me to my tailor’. Some fifty years later, Michael Caine remains a tailoring icon – as the head of the Kingsman Agency in ‘Kingsman the Secret Service’, to be released this October. Caine plays a senior spy in the film whose cover is that he’s supposedly a tailor, and the film is set to be a very dapper affair indeed.
There is just something to be said for a man (whether he celebrity or not) who understands the classics and that in order to look truly stylish, one must not affect to be stylish, but must simply feel relaxed in his clothes. Michael Caine understands both, and this has always showed in his effortless personal style.