Sidney Poitier wasn’t just an actor. Of course, he was an actor — and a mighty good one at that (Poitier became the first black man to win the Academy Award for Best Actor, in 1964). But he was also a director, an author, an activist and a diplomat. He was a businessman, an inspiration — and a seriously natty dresser.
Poitier’s signature style hinged on nonchalance. He may have been considered one of his generation’s best-dressed men, but the actor didn’t achieve that accolade by wearing haute-couture and high fashion. Instead, Poitier took simple clothes, basic styles — and elevated them in his own subtle way. Below, we’ve taken four of the Hollywood legend’s key looks, and revealed how to dress like Sidney Poitier…
Learn the power of layering
The first lesson is the most important. Whether he wore a light jacket on a summer’s day or went five layers-deep for winter, Poitier’s eye for throwing together shirts, sweaters, cardigans and coats was second-to-none. Take this image as proof, shot outside the Apollo Theatre in Midtown New York in 1959.
Here, Poitier lays a fashionable foundation with a simple white shirt. It’s an easy start; every man owns one (if you don’t, invest in the best from Turnbull & Asser). Next, he throws on a classic shawl-collar sweater, similar to the below by Anderson & Sheppard. There’s a little texture in its weave for interest, but nothing too flashy. And, finally, another menswear staple; the raincoat. Single-breasted and dark in colour, you may think Sunspel‘s stripped-back option is too unremarkable to turn heads. And yet Poitier uses a similar style to deliver a masterclass in frosty day dressing.
Turnbull & Asser Plain White Cotton Shirt
Anderson & Sheppard Shawl Collar Sweater
Sunspel Showerproof Cotton Mac
Don’t shy away from patterns and prints
Poitier’s wardrobe may have been basic, but it certainly wasn’t boring. And, like many Hollywood greats, some of the actor’s most recognisable looks were captured in front of the camera. The image above was shot on the set of 1967’s In the Heat of the Night, but this style also epitomised Poitier’s off-duty, striking summer looks.
It all starts with a printed, patterned summer shirt. And that’s a tricky look to get right. Most men wear such shirts to make a short-sleeved statement. But Poitier, naturally, wore his frond-adorned number with less pomposity. Instead, the lesson here is to prize pattern over bluster. Wear something you like, whether that’s a softer pattern from Frescobol Carioca, or a non-floral offering from Orlebar Brown. And, of course, top it off with some signature sunglasses, such as Cubitts’ classic ‘Herbrand’ frames.
Frescobol Carioca ‘Roberto’ Shirt
Cubitts Herbrand Sunglasses
Orlebar Brown Travis Towelling Shirt
Make a statement with your outerwear
Back to the Poitier school of layering for our next rule. Look closely, and you’ll see that this is the exact same shirt-and-sweater combo as above. But you wouldn’t know it, would you? And that’s all down to a solo statement piece; a fur-lined overcoat. Young Poitier knew you didn’t have to bedazzle your outfit with accessories and affectations. Instead, photographed here outside ‘Ribs in the Ruff’ — a barbecue restaurant the actor owned in Harlem — Poitier makes a style statement with a single, shearling flourish.
This lesson, then, is simple. Go for one bigger, bolder garment over many smaller, idiosyncratic touches. Oliver Spencer’s shearling option is also corduroy — but the muted green colour doesn’t push things too far. The same can be said for Loro Piana’s exceedingly expensive option; understated, yet incredibly well-made. Even this peacoat from Sandro (currently on sale) has a shorter, no-nonsense fit to ensure it doesn’t shout too loud.
Oliver Spencer ‘Newington’ Corduroy Coat
Loro Piana Shearling Coat
Sandro Double-Breast Shearling Coat
Keep your summer styling simple
But enough with the layers — let’s once more look forward to summertime. That was Sidney Poitier’s season, after all. Born to Bahamian parents and raised beneath Miami’s swaying palms, the actor knew how to navigate a heatwave better than most. And, like his pared-down winter wardrobe, he dressed for summer in singular, simplistic style.
Neutral, light tones were key to Poitier’s summer wardrobe (as they were to Steve McQueen’s). Photographed here on a London balcony in 1980, Poitier is wearing soft sweats — albeit with some subtle arm and collar detailing. If you’re looking for similarly breathable threads, Thom Sweeney and Hemingsworth spin silk, cashmere and Supima cotton to great lightweight effect. And, to complete the all-white, all-preppy ensemble, there’s no better brand than Ralph Lauren — a designer himself known to number among Poitier’s most enduring, enthusiastic fans.
Thom Sweeney Cashmere Sweater
Ralph Lauren Prepster Twill Trousers
Hemingsworth Ecru Raglan Sweatshirt