Style icon: How to dress like Sidney Poitier

The Hollywood legend, diplomat and activist was a master of understated, simply stylish dressing. Here’s how to get his look…

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.

Style icon: How to dress like Sidney Poitier

Turnbull & Asser Plain White Cotton Shirt

£195

Buy Now
Style icon: How to dress like Sidney Poitier

Anderson & Sheppard Shawl Collar Sweater

£549.50

Buy Now
Style icon: How to dress like Sidney Poitier

Sunspel Showerproof Cotton Mac

£425

Buy Now

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.

Style icon: How to dress like Sidney Poitier

Frescobol Carioca ‘Roberto’ Shirt

£156

Buy Now
Style icon: How to dress like Sidney Poitier

Cubitts Herbrand Sunglasses

£125

Buy Now
Style icon: How to dress like Sidney Poitier

Orlebar Brown Travis Towelling Shirt

£245

Buy Now

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.

Style icon: How to dress like Sidney Poitier

Oliver Spencer ‘Newington’ Corduroy Coat

£490

Buy Now
Style icon: How to dress like Sidney Poitier

Loro Piana Shearling Coat

£6685

Buy Now
Style icon: How to dress like Sidney Poitier

Sandro Double-Breast Shearling Coat

£391.30

Buy Now

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.

Style icon: How to dress like Sidney Poitier

Thom Sweeney Cashmere Sweater

£695

Buy Now
Style icon: How to dress like Sidney Poitier

Ralph Lauren Prepster Twill Trousers

£115

Buy Now
Style icon: How to dress like Sidney Poitier

Hemingsworth Ecru Raglan Sweatshirt

£135

Buy Now

Want more Hollywood styling inspiration? Here’s how to dress like Marlon Brando…

Become a Gentleman’s Journal member. Find out more here.

Further Reading