Alain Delon and the glory of the shirt

In the pantheon of menswear style icons, the 60s managed to conjure up more than its fair share. Perhaps it was the heady mix of sexual revolution, liberalism, musical hedonism and stacks of drugs that prompted men to shed the strict uniformity of their forefathers' aesthetics, in exploration of a new and free sense of individuality. Whatever it was, it worked. Sean Connery, Steve McQueen, Jimi Hendrix, Jean-Paul Belmondo, Cary Grant, Anthony Perkins, JFK, the Stones, Beatles, Jim Morrison, the list goes on and on. But there’s one name that is plucked out of the handsome bag time and time again and referred to for his chiselled good looks and easy summer style and that’s French actor Alain Delon.

Now despite the fact that most people will not have seen any of Delon’s films (we’d thoroughly recommend you watch Plein Soleil (Purple Noon in the US) - the original adaptation of Patricia Highsmith’s novel The Talented Mr Ripley - and the thriller La Piscine starring Romy Schneider and Jane Birkin), anyone with a passing interest in style will recognise Delon from the countless menswear ‘style icons’ articles he as featured in. But what’s truly remarkable about Delon’s style is just how unremarkable it is. Really. While his contemporaries in the 60s were experimenting with paisley silks, bell bottoms, Mod style and whatever else, Delon’s casual aesthetic was unapologetically simple: tapered tailored trousers and a classic shirt with turned-up sleeves. He was a scion of the French Riviera after all, where noblesse and wealth were worn in a refined, chic, and at times bohemian way.

We so often think of shirts now as wardrobe staples, given that many of us wear one to work every day, but the shirt as espoused by Delon is far more than that. Delon’s preferred styles were plain, rarely patterned (although he was fond of the occasional Batic print short-sleeved shirt), and came with a classic spread or button-down collar. Two or three buttons undone - de rigeur for a French heartthrob, and the sleeves partly rolled up the forearms to expose a little more of that golden Cote D’Azur tan. The shirts he wore with tailoring were fitted, while his casual styles had a bit more in the body, ripe for a nonchalant French tuck into a pair of tapered white jeans or chinos.

Perhaps it was the whole ‘Frenchness’ about him (and presumably why he never made it big in a six-year attempt to crack Hollywood). In England, we’re historically predisposed to think of shirting from a military heritage - crisp whites and stiff collars barking for a tie, but Delon showed us that the shirt can be every bit the casual, insouciant star of an outfit. Where once ‘rolled-up sleeves’ implied the getting down to hard work, Delon reminds us that the shirt is also something to lie around in on hot, breezy summer afternoons, when your only worry is if you have enough bottles of Minuty to get you through to sundown. It's alternative, the t-shirt or polo can be undeniably chic when styled in the correct manner, but the shirt has a lazy sophistication that they can never attain.

We may never reach the heartthrob heights of Delon, or come close to his boyish good looks, or have svelte torsos that look like they were carved from the cliffs of Cap Camarat, but we can embrace the humble shirt, much as Delon did, with an appreciation for its glorious simplicity.

 

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