A cultural icon of teenage angst, James Dean was a legend of cinema. Both his acting and fashion styles were singular, and after crashing his Porsche 550 in an accident that would take his life, he became the first actor to receive a posthumous Best Actor nod at the Oscars.
Today marks the anniversary of this accident so, to celebrate Dean’s short life – the actor died when he was just 24 – take a look at some of the icon’s most distinctive styles, and see what you can learn from a man who could do more with a plain white T-shirt than anybody else.
After enrolling in Santa Monica College, and starting to study law, Dean dropped out in 1951 to pursue acting full time – and it was around this time that he began to perpetuate the image of a moody, brooding young man.
Dean’s first major film role came in East of Eden, an adaptation of John Steinbeck’s seminal novel. Playing the emotionally complex role of Cal Trask, the producers famously were looking for ‘a Brando’. They found him in Dean.
Dean was a master of casual clothing. He commonly paired sneakers, t-shirts and jumpers with either jeans or formal trousers – always trying to make a statement through his fashion. Simple, practical and all about attitude, it wasn’t what Dean wore, but how he wore it.
The statement this simplistic style made was that teens are just trying to get by. With no time for flamboyance, Dean’s Rider 101 jeans are an icon of practicality – and are commonly believed to mark the birth of pop culture and the rise of the teenage.
Dean, who next starred in Rebel Without A Cause, was well-known for wearing his own clothes on screen – and often shared the same styles as his characters. The red cotton windbreaker worn by Dean in Rebel has since become the defining image of the icon.
Collar-flicking was a practice made popular by Dean. Instead of adding badges, buckles or embellishments to his jacket, the star would simply turn his collar up to give a basic garment something extra. Hanging the jacket over your shoulder was also a move made ‘cool’ by the actor.
Dean was obsessed with speed. As a racing driver in his spare time – except for when Warner Brothers banned Dean from racing during the production of Giant – much of his wardrobe was functional – from leather jackets for motorcycle riding to sneakers for ease when driving.
Pictured here with Elizabeth Taylor, Dean’s pompadour hairstyle became almost as popular as the films in which he starred. Achieved by sweeping your hair back and fixing it in place with product, this iconic cut necessitated Dean to always carry a comb – practical again, but Dean managed to turn this common household item into an accessory in its own right.
The last film Dean shot was Giant, a western in which he played a surly ranch hand. This was to be the first film in which Dean wore a costume rather than his original clothes – but interest in cowboy boots spiked after the film’s release nonetheless.
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