In 1943, seventy-six Allied prisoners tunneled their way out of the the “Stalag Luft III” POW camp in western Nazi-occupied Poland. Only three of them made it to friendly territory, while the rest were either recaptured or gunned down in their attempt. Despite the relatively minimal success, the story of “The Great Escape” has become one of the most beloved examples of Allied defiance from World War II.
Much of that fame is due to John Sturges’s superb adaptation of the breakout, The Great Escape in 1963. The film features a cast of rising stars: Richard Attenborough, James Garner, Donald Pleasance, James Coburn, Charles Bronson, and most iconically Steve McQueen do their best to “harass, confound, and confuse the enemy”.
The clothing they wear is especially important, as each man arrived at the camp with scarcely more than their uniform. Yet their BDUs simply won’t pass for civilian wear after they escape. So they tailor their standard issues to match plain clothes before the breakout, with the understanding that being caught out of uniform could mean execution as a spy.
When The Great Escape was made, only 18 years had passed since the end of the war, so there was still a great deal of surplus and vintage to use in the film. The movie has since become one of the most drool-worthy productions for military clothing fans. Japanese brand Toys McCoy even reproduced every single piece of McQueen’s outfit in 2009.
McQueen’s character, Hilts, was a fighter pilot before the camp, hence his A-2 Flight Jacket, but the rest of his outfit is a little off of standard issue. His navy blue sweatshirt, cropped at the elbows and faded almost purple; his dress khakis, which usually bloom in a full fit but McQueen apparently insisted they be tailored slim; and his Type III Service Shoes, the Army’s standard “non-polish” rough-out leather combat boot.
But what he’s most known for is that classic baseball and glove, the only thing that keeps him sane (while trying the sanity of everyone else) in the cooler after repeated escape attempts. He may not have made it to free Switzerland, but that dah-dunk-thwap against the cell wall and back to his glove has made it deep into the cultural consciousness.
Our take on Steve’s classic duds:
Merz B. Schwanen Slim Fit Shortsleeve Sweatshirt
Made (ironically) in Germany and available for $149 at East Dane
Unis Gio in Vintage Khaki
Made in USA and available for $198 at Unis
The Real McCoy’s A-2 Flight Jacket
Made in Japan and available for £1495 at Superdenim
Louisville Pro Flare Horween Baseball Glove
Origin unspecified and available for $150 at Ball Gloves
Rawlings Official Major League Baseball
Made in Costa Rica and available for $20 at Amazon
1943 Type III Service Shoe
Made in USA and available for $220 at WWII Impressions