Cinema is a 120 year old American born art form that can bridge generational divides, makes a great first date, and also connects people from all corners of the globe across socioeconomic, political and language gaps.
Cinema is the ultimate equalizer, and the impact of a film is really only accessible in retrospect. There’s a reason every girl ever has envied Marilyn Monroe and hung one of her famous photos on her wall. Just as there’s a reason every guy ever kind of wanted to be an archeologist, spy, or at least have the leather jacket and tux that come with it. As a wise man once said, “we speak that which we know, and we bear witness to that which we have seen.” As American men, we shape our image on the infinitely cool of the rugged and handsome icons that have come before us. In that spirit, we present 10 films that elevated the game for men’s style forever.
1. THE WILD ONE (1953)
The Outlaw: Fiddler cap, Leather Rider Jacket, White Tee & Engineer Boots.
Marlon Brando may take the prize as the cinematic embodiment of American masculinity. While this 1953 outing about outlaw biker gangs terrorizing a town might be a tad cheesy and dated by today’s standards, it cemented Brando’s enduring place in celluloid as the ultimate alpha male.
In America, we like our icons individualistic, nonconformist and with a little outlaw blood pumping through their veins. Brando’s portrayal of biker Johnny Strabler is all of those things, and if the character is the living embodiment, the leather jacket is the symbolic embodiment. Traversing the divide of men’s styles, it’s a staple worn by biker, adventurer, rocker, gunslinger and dapper gents alike. If you haven’t yet taken the leap yet, chances are the leather biker jacket is on your most coveted item list. Against clothing logic, this thing gets better when it has seen a few tough years and lived through a few adventures. Thanks to Johnny you have the blueprint for an iconic outfit: biker jacket with a white tee underneath, and a pair of raw selvage denim.
A stint in an outlaw biker gang may not be for you, but rocking this classic look on a friday night is something worth fighting for.
2. REBEL WITHOUT A CAUSE (1955)
The Rebel: Red Anti-Freeze Windbreaker, White Tee, Blue Jeans, Boots and restless angst.
With only a few quotable sayings, an infinitely imitable swagger and three screen performances James Dean died a tragically young death to be immortalized as a pinnacle of American cool. Whether on stamps, posters or in the collective consciousness his legacy refuses to fade. While all three of his performances are great, we’ve chosen his portrayal of troubled teen Jim Stark in Nicholas Ray’s “Rebel Without a Cause.” It might be all houndstooth jackets, slacks and white oxfords for school, but, by night, sporting a red anti-freeze jacket with a collar that refuses to stay down, a white tee, indigo-dyed denim and boots this guy could make leaning on something cooler than all your best dance moves and pick up lines combined. It’s a style that’s as resurgent, tame-less and timeless as the man that wore it. Think about how many times you looked at yourself in the mirror and refused to put your jacket collar all the way down, or decided to sit on the stoop and roll up your jeans before you headed out the door.
3. GOLDFINGER (1964)
Sophisticated Spy: Formal Dinner Attire, Walter PPK depending on the danger factor.
It’s not debatable that James Bond is one of the coolest guys on the planet. He drives the hottest car, seduces women as easy as taking a breath, knows his cocktails and saves the world with style to burn. While the character has seen his share of different actors in the role, and wardrobe changes to come with it, the most iconic Bond style is sporting the formal dinner attire. Maybe the most iconic moment comes when he pops up out of the water, and sheds a scuba suit to reveal a full tux with a white dinner jacket, finished with a red flower in his lapel – all to plant a bomb, and have a near fatal encounter with duplicitous belly dancer. Let’s be honest with ourselves, we’ve all wanted to be the man. Nobody does it better, and there are probably very few men who haven’t listed globetrotting super spy as one of their top choice for careers. The white dinner jacket tux under the scuba suit is one of the most memorable moments in a film franchise where the accessories are as important as the characters. It may impossible for a man to look bad in this classic stable of men’s fashion. Elegant and classy to a default, it’s every responsible gent’s job to step out in a tux at least once in his life.
4. THE THOMAS CROWN AFFAIR (1968)
Part Time Crook/Full Time Heart Breaker: 3 Piece Suit, Pocket Square and a few chess pieces.
Steve McQueen will forever and always be one of the coolest gents to ever grace celluloid. Rumor has it that he only agreed to wear the suits for this Norman Jewison helmed classic if he got to play with toys like dune buggies and gliders. We’re fine with that trade off. It’s really never been cool to live slowly, anyway. Aside from containing arguably the hottest chess game in cinema history, it also has the legend of being as sub-zero and infinitely fashionable as a rich dude who plans robberies for kicks and seduces the insurance investigator looking into him. While McQueen may not have felt all too comfortable sporting those three-piece suits, he sure as hell did them justice. The linen leisure shirts maybe haven’t withstood the test of time, but the three-piece will live on like our admiration for the man who spent his free time doing cooler, more dangerous stuff than the characters he portrayed in the movies.
5. AMERICAN GIGOLO (1980)
Tres Chic Man About Town: Camel Trenchcoat, Armani Suit & Skinny Tie
Maybe the epitome of 80’s vapid style over substance, Paul Schrader’s L.A. set drama about a male escort who gets falsely accused of murder sure makes the paid company game look profitable and glossy. Richard Gere’s Julian might be the most downright best looking and best dressed (cough…cough) gentleman caller in cinema history. Watching Julian traverse L.A. in a bevy of tailored Armani formal to evening ware, you can’t help but feel that it’s imperative for every man to own at least one suit. Whether you’re heading out on the town and you want to steal the room, or you just happen to have to clear your name of murder, you’ll never feel sharper and more confident than wearing a suit. Plus we owe a lot to Mr. Gere – he proved going grey is sexy, and a good tie will always be the perfect finisher for a fine suit ensemble.
6. RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK (1981)
The Adventurer: Beat up Brown Leather Jacket, Safari Shirt, Khakis (pleats optional), Satchel, Military Belt, Fedora & bull whip (depending on your office’s policy, of course).
Riffed from serial pulp-dom, everyone’s favorite professor may be ruggedly handsome enough to have made us all at least look at the archeology program at our college. When this Dr.’s not teaching smitten coeds, he’s off trying to protect some of the most important artifacts in human history from the forces of evil. It’s a truly iconic role in which the great central performance, by beloved Harrison Ford, is no less important than his instantly recognizable and signature clothing choices. We all know that no responsible adventurer ever takes off without his hat, well-worn leather jacket, satchel and bull-whip, but don’t forget the finer touches like a sturdy pair of khakis and a safari shirt with plenty of pockets. Every good man seeks a good adventure at least once in their life, and it’s important to always remember fashion isn’t purely for looks; you always have to pick the right clothes for the job at hand.
7. TOP GUN (1986)
The Fighter Pilot: Bomber Jacket, White Tee, Aviators & helmet hair.
Love him or hate him, it’s undeniable that Tom Cruise has been one of the most successful, talked-about and lusted after stars of the last 30 years. This was no more apparent then his seminal performance in this late 80’s beefcake military drama. Come on, you know it took your breath away too. Is it possible to take off in a plane and not hear Kenny Loggins immortal, “Danger Zone” in your head? It might have one of the most patently ridiculous love scenes in cinema history and a shirtless volleyball sequence that is arguably a bit too long. Still, pretend you weren’t envious of Tom burning across the night on the back of a bike sporting a bomber jacket, white undershirt and pair of jeans. Then, there are the aviator shades. Oh, the aviators. We can only imagine that the Air Force saw a drastic increase in applicants in ‘86 & ‘87. Both central fashion pieces were developed for flight jockeys, but every well-dressed man has owned at least one of them in their lifetime. The new versions certainly have their merit, but we have to be a little envious of the vintage pieces that are still floating around in the skies and in our lists of most sought clothing items.
8. PULP FICTION (1994)
The Sangfroid Hitman: Black Suit, White Dress Shirt & Black Tie.
Okay, okay film noir gumshoes and the Blues Brothers were suiting up with the classic black suit & tie long before this quintessential Tarantino outing. Still, this zeitgeist-capturing modern classic from one of our great American auteurs, may have forever cemented the look as professional cool, because come on guys a little savior faire goes a long way at your job, and it begins when you get dressed in the morning. The ensemble may not be the easiest to get blood out of, but you can never go wrong. Vincent Vega and Julius Winnifield made us all believe that we could successfully merge the workplace with the pop iconic. Best to remember that your workplace wardrobe doesn’t have to sacrifice dapper for professionalism, and only a few small tweaks need to be done for those after hours drinks or awkward nights out with the boss’ wife.
9. OCEANS 11 (2001)
The Con: Suit, no Tie, Dress Shirt with open top buttons.
This early 2000’s instant classic spawned 2 sequels took an archaic Rat Pack fluff piece and updated it with a collective cast, whose swag and handsome can’t even register on the Richter scale. The story about a crew of con men’s convoluted scheme to rob a Vegas casino has more effervescent style than a dozen black & white cologne ads. It’s hip, funny and cool in strides, but going one step deeper, it’s a filmic testament to the tie-free suit ensemble. Those dessert afternoons can get plenty hot, and sometimes rocking that “Air Tie” is the best medicine. Keeping in mind a suit isn’t just a stuffy office obligation, but it’s a surfeit way to be the handsomest gentleman you can be. Vegas, baby.
10. DRIVE (2011)
The Modern Cool man of Few Words: Short Sleeve Henley, Quilted Satin Driving Jacket (Scorpion not optional), Dark Denim, Leather Boots, Leather Strap Watch & some Driving Gloves for good measure. Hammer optional.
The filmic testament to retro cool modernized. Like a modern industrial space in the gentrified part of town, Nicholas Winding Refn’s film takes the entire austere, existential pure-cinema cool of yesteryear and gives it an injection of the modern era. All of which is rooted in an infinitely cool Ryan Gosling as a stock car driver who moonlights as a getaway man. It’s about time to admit that he’s our generation’s McQueen. If this Driver’s style is grease monkey, then you might start to think that you’ve chosen the wrong career. Filling in for the laconic antiheroes of yesterday Gosling is a jacket-wearing, henley-staining, and damn masculine character worthy of a modern trend setter. Matched with denim, you have the perfect fashion marriage of modern with old school style. You might not be able to track down a scorpion jacket that’s not just a halloween costume, but a lightweight bomber will always get the job done. You can’t go 10 minutes into this film without thinking this is coolest guy in L.A. Wanna go for a drive?