A lot has been written about Norman Jewison’s 1968 film The Thomas Crown Affair. If the reviews available at IMDb.com are any indication critics and audiences are split over it. I love this stylish ’60s crime film. It’s one of my favorite movies from 1968 and one of the best things about it is Fay Dunaway & Steve McQueen’s incredible wardrobes.
The basic plot of the film is rather simple. Steve McQueen plays Thomas Crown, a wealthy conman who masterminds a complicated bank heist. Hot on his trail is an ambitious insurance agent named Vicki Anderson (Fay Dunaway) and when the two meet sparks begin to fly. Will the lovely and flirtatious Vicki Anderson bring the world-weary Thomas Crown to his knees? Or will their steamy affair lead Vicki into lawlessness?
The Thomas Crown Affair is a film full of sensual pleasures. The actual bank heist that takes place makes for some thrilling entertainment but the romantic affair that blossoms between Vicki Anderson and Thomas Crown is really the heart and soul of the movie. The film simply drips sex and decadence. Morals be damned! Neither Vicki or Thomas is particularly likable, but watching these two self-serving individuals succumb to their passions and exploit one another’s desires is what makes The Thomas Crown Affair so damn compelling. It’s also a great looking movie with a terrific score by composer Michel Legrand. Dunaway and McQueen have rarely looked as beautiful and desirable as they do in this film. That’s partially due to Haskell Wexler’s stellar cinematography as well as costume designer Theadora Van Runkle.
Trend-setting fashionista Theadora Van Runkle created many of the awe-inspiring fashions seen in The Thomas Crown Affair. Van Runkle first began working in Hollywood as a sketch artist for renowned costume designer Dorothy Jeakins. She got her big break in 1967 after Dorothy Jeakins was forced to turn down an opportunity to work on Bonnie and Clyde. Jeakins suggested the 38-year-old Theadora Van Runkle as a replacement and history was made. Bonnie and Clyde was a huge success and garnered Van Runkle an Oscar nomination for Best Costume Design. Young people around the world began dressing like Bonnie Parker and Clyde Barrow. Hemlines dropped and women started sporting berets, while men began wearing double-breasted suits with wide lapels. Theadora Van Runkle’s impact might be hard to measure now, but the costume designer can be credited for bringing a vintage ’30s era look to modern fashion in the late sixties. Suddenly everything old was new again.
Theadora Van Runkle and Fay Dunaway developed a great working relationship on the set of Bonnie and Clyde. After filming ended Dunaway asked Theadora Van Runkle to design a personal wardrobe for her that included the Oscar gown that Dunaway wore in 1968 when she was nominated for her role as Bonnie Parker. When it came time for the actress to star in The Thomas Crown Affair alongside Steve McQueen, Dunaway suggested that Van Runkle should be hired to work on the film.
Theadora Van Runkle ended up creating all of Dunaway’s fabulous fashions for The Thomas Crown Affair and she also worked alongside Ron Postal and Alan Levine to help design Steve McQueen’s wardrobe for the film as well. Although The Thomas Crown Affair didn’t exactly have the same impact on the fashion world that Bonnie and Clyde did, it was a popular hit in 1968 and audiences were mesmerized with the film’s dazzling look.
Like Dunaway before him, Steve McQueen was also extremely impressed with Theadora Van Runkle and decided he wanted to work with her more after completion of The Thomas Crown Affair. Van Runkle would continue working as a costume designer for both actors for the rest of the decade. Her impressive fashion designs can also be seen on Dunaway in Amanti (1968) and The Arrangement (1969) and on Steve McQueen in Bullitt (1968) and The Reivers (1969).
Even though The Thomas Crown Affair didn’t win Theadora Van Runkle any awards, the movie’s impact on the world of fashion is undeniable. Van Runkle can be credited for giving the film’s two stars a distinct look that would help make both of them Hollywood style icons in the sixties. Many women wanted to look like Fay Dunaway and many men wanted to be Steve McQueen, but everyone wanted to be dressed by Theadora Van Runkle.