Fashion & Passion in The Thomas Crown Affair

thomasc3
Fay Dunaway & Steve McQueen in The Thomas Crown Affair (1968)

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.

tc1
Fay Dunaway & Steve McQueen in The Thomas Crown Affair (1968)

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.

thomascfashions
Fay Dunaway modeling some of Theadora Van Runkle’s costume designs
for The Thomas Crown Affair (1968)

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.

7 thoughts on “Fashion & Passion in The Thomas Crown Affair

  1. AR says:

    Never seen it, so I have no opinion, but I must say that I’m glad to see you posting more often lately.
    I need to take a look at that Top 10 list. Sounds interesting. I like some of the picks.

  2. Keith says:

    Hey Kimberly. Great write up on one of my favorite films of the 60’s. I watched this again not long ago. I still really enjoyed it. It’s one of my favorite films of both McQueen and Dunaway. They were both at the top of their game. I do love their wardrobes in this film. Both look so stylish. I would love to have his clothes from this movie. I really dig the first picture that you posted. I loved the chemistry between these two. Seeing how their sparks for one another would affect the climax was quite interesting.

    P.S. I posted my write up of the Matt Helm spy flick Murderer’s Row this morning if you wanna check it out and leave me some comments. Thanks.

  3. cinebeats says:

    AR – Thanks! I think you’d enjoy the film since I know you’re fan of crime films too. It’s really a great example of modern noir.

    Keith – It’s easily one of Dunaway and McQueen’s best films and I’m glad you enjoyed the pics. I’ve been really busy lately so I haven’t had much time to keep up with all the blogs I enjoy visiting. Hopefully I’ll get some more free time soon.

  4. Ashley McCormick says:

    I agree with you about the wardrobes in the film, everything was tailored, chic and sexy. Thank you for this fantastic article about one of the FAVORITE movies from the era. I must also commend the overall content of your blog, I too share a love of 60’s and 70’s cinema and I am so excited to explore everything else you’ve written.

  5. Joe Valdez says:

    Fantastic article on costume design accompanied by some very sexy visual aids, Kimberly.

    It’s too bad that the actual movie that went along with all that wardrobe is pretty terrible. The original Thomas Crown Affair feels made up on the fly; it’s dull, it’s vapid, it’s incomprehensible. Nobody else seems to be in the movie except the two stars. I felt the remake was actually much more sophisticated and fun. If you could transport Steve McQueen and Faye Dunaway into that film, you’d have a classic. The 1968 version deserves to stay in its time capsule.

  6. cinebeats says:

    Ashley – Thanks so much! I’m glad you enjoyed the post and I hope you find my blog archives worth a read.

    Joe – Thanks for sharing your thoughts and I’m glad you enjoyed my post, but I couldn’t disagree with you more about the film. I don’t find anything dull, vapid or incomprehensible about the movie at all. My opinion is the complete opposite in fact since I think the film is anything but dull. The film also tells a rather simple heist story with a romantic/erotic twist so I’m really baffled that you find it incomprehensible.

    As for the remake, I don’t have an opinion on it since I’ve only seen bits & pieces of it on television, but generally speaking I find all of John McTiernan’s films beside Predator incredibly dull, predictable and just plain hard to sit through. Naturally I’m not eager to sit through his Thomas Crown remake in its entirety. I’m also not fond of the leading actors in the remake. I honestly can’t name one film that Rene Russo or Pierce Brosnan has been in that I’ve enjoyed watching. I find them both to be really boring actors.

    Different strokes for different folks as they say. As I mentioned in my post, this is a film that seems to divide people.

  7. Vanwall says:

    The original was kind of a John O’Hara reality, without the bitterness – the best of everything, shiny cars, clever manipulation, shiny shoes, very good looking….like a nice, neat corpse. It was dead flat for me. If visuals are any measure of things, tho, it had a very influential effect, and jeez, I wanted Steve McQueen’s wardrobe in a bad way – the best looking one for many years to come. Dunaway’s was truly eye-popping, but not in a way that interested me particularly, and not really very long-lasting. This was essentially an eye-candy exercise, and I like watching it for that aspect, so it succeeded on one level. I don’t reach for the remote when it comes on, but I don’t get exited, either. I can’t say the remake does anything, either – the looks and cleverness didn’t transfer down thru the ages.

Comments are closed.