The Avengers: Steed’s Signature Suit

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Steed-Brown-Suit-Velvet-Collar

With the first day of September here, it’s time in the Northern Hemisphere to look toward autumn clothes. John Steed of The Avengers, played by Patrick Macnee, wears mostly autumn appropriate clothes with some of the most interesting details. Previously I’ve written about his navy high button two suit and his grey three-piece suit with covered buttons, but now I’m finally getting around to writing about one of his signature suits. This signature suit jacket style has a button one front, no breast pocket and a velvet collar that usually matches the colour of the suit. The jackets have different pocket and vent styles. Macnee said of his signature suits:

I like the idea of velvet for the collars, it helps mould and complement the suits. There are no breast pockets and only one button to give the best moulding to the chest. Plus a deliberately low waist, to give the effect of simplicity, but with an individual style.

According to the book Reading between Designs by Piers D. Britton and Simon J. Barker, Macnee designed his own suits with the help of tailor Bailey and Weatherill of Regent Street. Steed’s signature style made its way in various forms throughout all the seasons of The Avengers and The New Avengers.

Notice the mother-of-pearl buttons on the waistcoat
Notice the mother-of-pearl buttons on the waistcoat

The pale brown flannel suit featured in this article—he also wears his signature suit in other shades of brown, grey, blue, olive and burgundy—is taken from the 1967 episode “The £50,000 Breakfast” and has a button one front, a velvet collar and no breast pocket. Single-button cuffs, double vents placed further to the sides than usual, and slanted, jetted hip pockets contribute to the ultra-sleek look of the suit. The jacket is cut with straight shoulders on the natural shoulder line, a clean chest, closely-fitted waist and flared skirt. The low waist that Macnee mentioned in the quote above is particularly flattering to his not-so-slim figure. The suit’s waistcoat has six buttons and a straight-across bottom. The trousers have a trim, tapered leg and probably a flat front. The buttons on the suit are black mother of pearl.

Steed-Brown-Suit-Velvet-Collar-4Steed wears a cream herringbone silk shirt with a cutaway collar that has a copious amount of tie space. Such a wide collar is not flattering to Macnee’s very round face, and a more moderate spread would be ideal for him. However, the wide collar and large amount of tie space provide plenty of room for the windsor knot he uses to tie his steel blue repp tie. A simple tie is necessary because there is so much going on in the suit’s details. Steed’s umbrella has a pale brown canopy that matches his suit and a whangee wood handle. His sandy beige bowler hat has a dark brown ribbon. Steed’s shoes are light grey suede slip-ons with cap-toe and monk strap, but the vamp is low like on a slip-on shoe rather than high like on a monk shoe. The shoes are actually very similar to George Lazenby’s shoes in On Her Majesty’s Secret Service. Steed’s light grey socks match his shoes.

Few people could get away with dressing like John Steed, and even Steed looks somewhat ridiculous. But his clothes show creativity in a way that doesn’t look garish or sacrifice good tailoring, and they serve as an excellent inspiration for those looking to have a little extra fun when bespeaking a suit.

19 COMMENTS

  1. It’s a bold look and not one I think I’d entirely want to emulate. There’s just a bit too much going on in the details of this jacket, for me, as you say, Matt.

    For that reason it reminds me of the Roger Moore suit from ‘The Man Who Haunted Himself’ you’ve featured (https://www.bondsuits.com/the-man-who-haunted-himself/) – beautifully cut but would be better with a marginally more conventional approach.

    This jacket might be worn more successfully as an odd jacket, I think. As such it would look less eccentric but still be an interesting and unusual piece.

  2. Hi Matt,

    Great post, and I’m glad to see that you are continuing to look at the Avengers. I think, however, that Pierre Cardin designed Macnee’s suits for the second (color) series with Diana Rigg, which you are showing here. Macnee got credit for clothes designs in the Linda Thorson series.

  3. Is a bold look indeed,but in the age of “peacock revolution” was quiet and sober.
    I have ever valued that McNee wore relatively large tie in the years of ultra-slim ties.
    He not was a fashion conformist like Roger Moore/The Saint,and had a personal and recognizable style that was very well with his figure.
    I think that the Steed’s style is never exised in the real world,but was a brilliant amalgan of neo-edwardian of 50s and peacock of 60s. Real great.

  4. Funny how with the passage of time Steed’s style has now come to be viewed with fair admiration and some envy – and I include myself in this.

    I remember when the Avengers were first being shown in the 60s, discussing with my father Steed’s unique wardrobe; my father thinking him too affected and ‘charlie’ to have any merit. That, I remember, seems to have been the general consensus at the time, as too much of his suits and accessories toned, blended and matched. The colour-co-ordinating bowler hats were seen as a step a long way past sublime.

    Personally, I now think the jackets are too close into the waist to look comfortable – an inch or so more would be fine, along with a couple of extra inches in length. But that is too ‘classic’ in style for Steed who was a main talking point in an age of Bond, Mods and the peacock revolution. Neil Roger, a real life character of the Avengers era carried that style off perfectly (I have wondered if Steed was modelled on Roger), and was photographed by Norman Parkinson. The pictures are well worth seeing.

    • Steed’s style goes deliberately over the top, but it works in the slightly surreal context of the show. The waist of the jacket is certainly too “nipped” – it’s almost as if they are trying to make Patrick Macnee look like George Lazenby – it just doesn’t work very well.

    • In fairness, the nipped-in waist wasn’t excessive the previous season (for which this particular suit was, I think, made). By the time of “£50,000 Breakfast” Macnee was getting decidedly stout, and quite apart from the inherent problems of a thick waist it doesn’t seem as though his clothing was altered much to accommodate this. By the end of the run of Rigg episodes he was wearing a slightly more generously cut variant on the “signature” jacket, usually without the waistcoat. He does note in his memoirs and elsewhere that he was put on a weight-loss regimen when his next co-star, Linda Thorson, was cast (as, bizarrely, was she), and claims that his suits were “taken in” after this slimming process was accomplished. Whether that’s true or not, the “Steed suits,” which return with a vengeance in the final series, certainly look much better.

    • I remember ‘Charlie’ being used to label what are judged to be clumsy attempts at upper class ostentation. An example might be a pair of concrete lions at the head of a driveway to a modest house or large McMansion (or indeed the McMansion itself!) I recall an acquaintance showing his friend his new suit, who opinioned that the lining of rubarb silk was a bit Charlie and got a terse reply “There’s nothing wrong with a bit of flash!”

  5. If one leaves aside, temporarily, the accompanying accoutrements such as the matching bowler and shoes and the velvet on the top of the lapels, I don’t see that much which is particularly ostentatious about this suit and, in that form, it could easily be worn and not attract particular notice. (Or perhaps any man wearing a well fitting suit will attract notice nowadays, for better or worse?)

    However, Steed/McNee certainly had a style of his own which is always admirable in anyone. I actually liked the more adventurously colored ties (I seem to recall some paisleys) which appeared in the final 1960’s series although McNee lengthened his sideburns at that time and his hair appeared a tad longer too; a concession to 1968/69 fashions. So, like Bond, even McNee’s character, who was, ostensibly, a man out of his time – an Edwardian dandy cut loose in “Swinging” London – wasn’t completely so either.
    Btw, Diana Rigg looks particularly attractive in that first photo. “The thinking man’s crumpet” as someone once said about some lady…

  6. The Avengers, once they went to film instead of ‘live’ studio (Diana Rigg onwards) grabbed British iconography and ran with it. Killer milkman, eccentric millionaires, London buses, telephone box headquarters, military airbases, country lanes, manor house estates, Lotus Elans, Bentleys, Jaguars, dapper business suits, bowler hats and umbrellas. It makes sense Steed wore a less contemporary and somewhat heightened variation on what people had worn in the city for years.

    Ps his full name: The Hon.
    John Wickham Gascoyne Beresford Steed MC, OM (thanks, Wikipedia).

  7. I may be a minority but I actually like one button suits. I think this particular suit looks very good, aside from the lack of a chest pocket. I really like the way the front has a wide cutaway and emphasizes the nipped waist.

  8. I’m a bit late to the party, but great to see a new post on Steed. I for one really like his signature style, especially the velvet collars and one-button fastening.

    An interesting note regarding this particular ensemble is that the unusual shoes worn in this scene only appears in this episode. They are also present in the Series 5 photo shoot (with Twiggy and others) paired with the Cardin-designed light grey double-breasted introduced with the colour series. As for the striking similarity to the shoes in OHMSS, Steed also wears a brown suede variant (without toecap if I remember correctly) in ‘A Funny Thing Happened On the Way to the Station’. As with the light grey ones, the brown design feature in one episode only.

    • After recently re-watching the series I thought I should point out my own error: the grey slip-on shoes does in fact also make an appearance in episodes ‘The Hidden Tiger’ and ‘Epic’, both times worn with the light grey DB suit mentioned above.

  9. Is there any photos of Diana Rigg wearing Steed’s suits ? Diana would look great in anything , including very masculine wardrobes.

  10. Steed is the benchmark for me. I’ve never had a bespoke suit made, but all three made-to-measure ones I’ve done are more influenced by MacNee’s designs than anything else. As Matt rightly points out, the suits on the show are very much costumes, particularly by the time Emma comes along, but it’s pretty easy to remove those elements to turn it into a unique Steed-style garment that can actually function in the non-business real world and still stand out as unique and classy. It seems that the silhouette is especially important in a Steed-influenced suit, and that I’ve tried to keep as close to MacNee as possible within the confines of made-to-measure. One thing I would add is that, although I do get the waistcoats made, I wear them probably less than half the time with the suits because, for better or worse, they are worn by people rarely enough these days that it can turn the suit into something more costumey in all but select modern situations.

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