Ask a hundred (American) men to name a style icon and chances are the plurality will mention Steve McQueen. Born Terrence Steve McQueen in Beech Grove, Indiana in 1930, McQueen had a tumultuous upbringing that saw him relocate half a dozen times and suffer abuse at the hands of his mother’s various husbands. After dabbling with petty crime and being remanded to a Boys Republic, McQueen cleaned up his act in his later teens and eventually volunteered with the Merchant Marines—though he did abandon his post. In 1947, McQueen joined the Marines, oscillating between being rebellious—resisting arrest after going AWOL for two weeks—and commendable—saving the lives of five Marines and being assigned to guard President Truman’s yacht—before being discharged in 1950.

McQueen took up acting in the early ’50s, bouncing from acting school to small television roles before hitting his stride in the ’60s, when he developed a reputation as a stylish anti-hero who challenged the status quo—both in character and as a personality. He was good-looking, well-dressed, and exuded a laissez-faire attitude that, when combined, help explain why McQueen came to be revered as the epitome of masculine coolness. While McQueen received an Oscar nomination for his performance in The Sand Pebbles, in 1966, his acting skills had little to do with his rise to prominence or with his becoming the highest paid actor in the seventies. Instead, it was about McQueen’s silver screen style; and while countless blog posts and magazine articles have covered McQueen’s style exhaustively, what’s often overlooked is how McQueen used his characters’ style to build his brand and raise his profile as an actor. McQueen is often lauded for his seemingly effortless style, but, when you look at the bigger picture, it becomes apparent that it was actually born out of a concerted effort to shape his “brand.”

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