Sidney Poitier isn’t just an actor. Of course, he is 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 is also a director, an author, an activist and a diplomat. He’s a businessman, an inspiration — and a seriously natty dresser.
Poitier’s signature style is seriously nonchalant. He may be considered one of the 20th century’s best-dressed men, but the actor didn’t achieve this 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 overcoat. Single-breasted and dark in colour, you may think New & Lingwood‘s option would make an inconspicuous top-layer for an unremarkable look. 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
New & Lingwood Marston Unlined Raincoat
Don’t shy away from patterns and prints
But ‘basic’ doesn’t mean ‘boring. And Poitier’s wardrobe wasn’t all discreet detailing. In fact, like many Hollywood greats, some of the actor’s most recognisable looks were captured in front of the camera. And, although the image above may have been shot on the set of In the Heat of the Night, the 1967 film served up one of Sidney Poitier’s most striking, summery looks.
It all starts with that printed, patterned summer shirt. And that’s a tricky look to get right. Most men wear such shirts to make a short-sleeved statement — to turn heads and grab attention. But Poitier, naturally, wore his frond-adorned number with less pomposity. Instead, the lesson here is to prize the pattern over any bluster or bombast. 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
Surprise, surprise. Poitier’s layering again. In fact, look closely and you’ll notice 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; another 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 colours don’t push things too far. The same can be said for Loro Piana’s exceedingly expensive option; understated, yet incredibly well-made. Even this duffle from The Kooples (currently on sale) has a straight, no-nonsense fit to ensure it doesn’t shout too loud.
Oliver Spencer Shearling-Lined Coat
Loro Piana Shearling Coat
The Kooples Duffle Coat
Keep your summer styling simple
But enough with the layers. As the clouds clear, we’re thinking about summer — and that was Sidney Poitier’s season. Born to Bahamian parents and raised beneath Miami’s swaying palms, the actor knew how to navigate a heatwave. And, similar to the way he approached his winter wardrobe, he did it in singular, simplistic style.
White 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, Artknit Studios and Hemingsworth spin silk 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.
Artknit Studios Silk Sweater
Ralph Lauren Prepster Twill Trousers
Hemingsworth Ecru Raglan Sweatshirt