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Thursday, June 26, 2008

GQ: The 50 most stylish men of the past 50 years, 4/10

...and what you can learn from them.

Part 4 of 10

Photo: Eve Arnold/Magnum Photos

Malcolm X

After six years in prison, Malcolm X emerged a completely changed man—not least in the way he dressed. Whereas he once ran the streets in a brightly colored zoot suits—the hustler’s uniform—he now wore sober, monochromatic suits with narrow lapels and skinny ties, often topped off by stingy-brimmed fedoras. “As a minister in the Nation of Islam, you had to present yourself in a certain way,” says Ruth E. Carter, the costume designer on Spike Lee’s 1992 bio-pic. For Carter, who tracked down the artisan who made his star-and-crescent ring (“He wanted to show people he was pure in his faith,” she says), Malcolm X’s style was consistent and transparent, a window into the substance of his character and message. “He believed that if you present yourself with respect, then people will respect you—and that’s what he did. He gained the respect of millions.”

• A short-brimmed fedora is heroic and hip. And you might have noticed, they’re also back in style—whether in wool (for the winter) or straw (for the summer).

Photo: Topham/The Image Works

Yves Saint-Laurent

In 1954, a wool-trade group held its design contest in Paris—a sort of Project Runway for the ’50s—and the winner of the dress category was a shy, gangly 18-year-old from Algeria. He was tall and slim, almost hiding behind his creation in a skinny suit and wire-framed glasses. But the competition’s prestige helped get him a job at Christian Dior, and that was all Yves Mathieu-Saint-Laurent needed. In three years, Monsieur Dior, France’s most cherished designer, was dead at the age of 52, and Saint-Laurent, at just 21 years old, took the reins. He found some aggressive horn-rimmed glasses and, after his first collection, was hailed by the French press as the savior of haute couture. Saint-Laurent ultimately asserted himself as his own brand. He loosened his collar, relaxing into hashish and caftans in Marrakech, and by 1971, in ads for his men’s cologne, he even posed nude. His hair had grown out, but he looked right into the camera, wearing nothing but those signature glasses.

• Find a signature item and stick with it. Saint-Laurent wore a version of these bold glasses throughout his career.

Photo: 1978 Sanford Roth/AMPAS/MPTV

Paul Newman

During the 1950s and ’60s, the early years of a career that spanned more than half a century, Paul Newman did his best on-screen work in a tight undershirt and slacks. This ensemble, which was often accessorized by a cigarette and a glass of bourbon (preferably J.T.S. Brown, neat), was tailor-made for the collection of misfits, hustlers, and broken-down drunks that Newman immortalized. Offscreen, Newman was thoughtful, dignified, decent—a family man. He may have represented the ideal of what a man should look like in a tuxedo, but he was at his best in a V-neck sweater or an oxford cloth button-down shirt and plain-front trousers. According to Newman’s publicist and friend of more than fifty years, Warren Cowan, “After Paul won the Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award in 1993, he had a bonfire with his tuxedo because he said he never wanted to wear a black tie again. Shortly after, he gave away his entire wardrobe. He’s down to just a few pairs of slacks and cords, a few shirts and sweaters. He says his life is much simpler. He’s much happier.”

• Go buy a white oxford cloth button-down-collar dress shirt. Now. You can wear one with a suit or a blazer, or with jeans, cords, or khakis.

Photo: Yulsman/Globe Photos

Jack Kerouac

Flower power was all well and good, but Jack Kerouac often wondered aloud how the Beats could’ve given birth to such Technicolor bravura. Kerouac’s look was broken but unbowed—as he once said: “ragged, beatific, beautiful in an ugly graceful new way.” And yet his aesthetic is everywhere today: That Brooklyn hipster rocking overalls under his Carhartt jacket while reading Hart Crane? That kid in San Francisco sporting scuffed oxfords and a frayed collar, with Madame Bovary stuffed in his back pocket? They’re paying unwitting tribute to the man who exploded the 1950s world of straight-white pretensions, rejecting the notion that class was synonymous with value. An uneven artist perhaps, and a troubled one to be sure, but unequivocally a man: the originator of blue-collar cool.

• Personal style isn’t about buying the trendiest labels or most expensive suits. It’s about establishing a look that’s all yours and sticking with it.

Photo: Herb Ritts/Lime Foto

Johnny Depp

After almost a quarter century in front of the camera, Johnny Depp has shown us everything but himself. Not an easy task when you’ve got those cheekbones, that tousled hair, and an unmitigated youthfulness, which Depp has worked hard to cloak by playing reclusive savants and rock ’n’ roll pirates. But we keep searching, trying to nail down his hobo chic—a style that derives from a life spent kicking around the dusty South and the French countryside. “I don’t think he’s remotely interested in fashion. He’s a complete instigator of fashion,” says Penny Rose, the costume designer who collaborated with the actor to create Pirates of the Caribbean’s randy Jack Sparrow. “His look is always eye-stopping, clever, and completely individual.” Or, like the last two drags on one of his hand-rolled cigarettes, raw and unapologetically gratifying.

• A tweak here and there can elevate even the simplest outfits. Notice the rolled-up sleeves, the neckpiece, the beat-up boots instead of sneakers. Small moves like these separate you from the pack.

Written and Reported by Andy Comer, Hilary Elkins, Alex French, David Gargill, Randy Hartwell, Howie Kahn, Cole Louison, Laurence Lowe, Trent MacNamara, Jordan Reed, and Luke Zaleski

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