The Icon’s Closet: Paul Newman

Five timeless items you need from Newman’s own wardrobe.

Paul Newman: The Icon's Closet - 5 Items You Need Modesty, loyalty, and self-deprecating charm defined Paul Newman. He was a modern-day Renaissance man whose skills extended beyond the cinema to motorsports, entrepreneurship, and philanthropy. Newman earned his first Academy Award nomination for Cat on a Hot Tin Roof in 1958, setting the scene for an iconic career in films including The Hustler, Cool Hand Luke, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, The Sting, Slap Shot, The Verdict, The Color of Money, and Road to Perdition. In addition to his steady film career as an actor, director, and producer, Newman was also a passionate yet quietly successful auto racing competitor and a co-founder of Newman’s Own, a food company that continues to donate 100% of its after-tax profits to charity. “You can only put away so much stuff in your closet,” was Newman’s personal ethos and a motivation for his generous philanthropy and activism. A look inside Newman’s own closet reveals a modest yet elegant sartorial approach rooted in classic American prep style and consistent with the actor’s quiet class.

White Oxford Cloth Button-Down Shirt

Paul Newman in a classic men's style white oxford shirt

A master of the classic oxford cloth button-down shirt both on- and off-screen, Paul Newman looked anything but “buttoned down” in this staple of American Ivy League style. White and pale blue OCBD shirts were his go-to with a tie in roles like Sweet Bird of Youth, Torn Curtain, and Harper through the ‘60s, and the actor himself would dress them down with casual trousers or off-white jeans through his life. The key to finding an OCBD shirt like Newman would have worn? Look for something with a slim and trim fit, a breast pocket for sunglasses, and long sleeves that can be worn buttoned, half-rolled, or rolled up past the elbow.

Paul Newman wearing a classic white Oxford shirt in one of his movie roles

Pick up this knit tie while you're at it

Gap’s solid slim fit oxford shirt in white and “imperial blue” would have surely found a place in Newman’s closet, and – for $49.95 – you can add it to your closet for a reasonable price. The white “Northrop Poplin” slim fit shirt from Target’s new Goodfellow & Co. line may appeal to budget-focused shoppers with its lower $22.99 price tag. Or for something that’s available with 2 days shipping and free returns on Amazon, check out their Goodthreads line for $25. Newman took this menswear classic to the next level, whether paired with a tie, dressed down with jeans, or layered under a sweatshirt, which brings us to…

Cotton V-Neck Sweatshirt

Paul Newman in a vintage photo wearing a v-neck sweatshirt The v-neck sweater in cashmere and merino wool has been a luxurious menswear staple for at least half a century, but what of its sportier cousin, the cotton v-neck sweatshirt? Unlike some male stars who refused to be seen in anything that couldn’t be tailored, Newman wore sweatshirts with pride if the situation called for it. Often seen on his motorcycle in a crew-neck sweatshirt, the actor was also the subject of a 1958 photo shoot where he strolled along a Long Island beach, rakishly sporting a cotton v-neck sweatshirt – not tailored but somehow the perfect fit. American actor Paul Newman, circa 1958 in a v neck sweatshirt The inexpensive cotton v-neck sweatshirt suited Newman’s simple but stylish approach to dressing where earnest practicality often yielded elegance. Crew-neck sweatshirts are far more common, but activewear brands like Maddins and Russell Europe each offer inexpensive cotton and cotton blend sweatshirts with a slight v-neck in a range of colors, including the Newman-esque heathered gray. A well-fitting crew-neck sweatshirt can add a youthful, athletic layer to your OCBD when worn with just the right level of insouciance.

Canvas Sneakers

Vintage photo of Paul Newman's canvas sneakers

Whether he was knocking back some brews at sea or dressing down for a weekend at home, Newman turned to the timeless, reliable canvas sneakers in a range of colors from light to dark. Many shoemakers have developed their own canvas sneakers for both men and women, but Converse remains a leader in the game with the low-top Chuck Taylor All Star. Vans also offers a solid variety of canvas sneakers at budget-friendly prices.

Oversized Sunglasses

Paul Newman in a vintage photo sporting oversized aviator-style sunglasses Newman pioneered wearing oversized sunglasses before they were cool, making an impression at the 1963 March on Washington and wearing various pairs throughout his lifetime to protect the actor’s famous baby blue eyes from the sun. L.G.R. seems to specialize in Newman-styled eyewear with their Havana acetate-framed Asmara and Tripoli models channeling the bold vibe of the actor’s preferred specs.

Looking for a subtler approach or not sure if a big frame is worth a multi-hundred-dollar investment?? Try the A.J. Morgan “Move On” sunglasses for only $15.

Daytona-Style Watch

Photo of Paul Newman's Rolex Daytona chronograph watch Paul Newman might be the only man in the world to have both a salad dressing and a luxury watch named after him. Inspired by racecar drivers, Rolex’s estimable Daytona offered a natural appeal for Newman the auto sports enthusiast. The story goes that Newman had received his first Rolex Daytona from his wife Joanne Woodward in the late 1960s. He would go on to wear one every day of his life from 1972 until his death in 2008, establishing the Rolex Daytona “Paul Newman” as a model that horologists can identify based on subtle yet specific dial elements. One of these watches, a Rolex Cosmograph 6239 known to have belonged to Newman, is expected to yield millions at auction on October 26. (It wouldn’t be the first time; an auction in Geneva last May found a gold Paul Newman Daytona selling for $3.7 million.) Rather than shelling out a few million bucks for a Newman-owned watch, you can find an affordable alternative in the quartz-powered Invicta Speedway, offered in a number of variants including a stainless case with a black dial and three white sub-dials. Of course, Newman himself would have little interest in a multi-million-dollar watch, caring only for the watch’s ability to carry out its primary duty. Image of Paul Newman wearing his classic Daytona watch When presenting his daughter Nell’s then-boyfriend James Cox with one of his own Daytona watches in 1984, the same watch that will be auctioned on October 26, Newman reportedly told the young man: “Here’s a watch. If you wind it, it tells pretty good time.”

There’s no doubt Paul Newman pioneered his own signature, timeless style. What elements are in your closet?

Nick Guzan is a public relations consultant and writer living in Pittsburgh. He blogs about men's style in movies and TV at BAMFStyle.com. His interests include old movies, muscle cars, maritime disasters, fast food, and single malt Scotch.

  • Zac Silk

    My on the go uniform for college is usually a white Oxford button down, canvas sneakers.

    Usually in the summer I’ll grab a pair of oversized sunglasses. But as you mentioned Nick the fit of all these garments is so important.

    It’s definirly for Oxford’s at least worth trying a few different brands go see which fits you best.

    • rogun

      Speaking of oxford shirts, I’m not convinced that Newman is wearing one in either picture. All the winkles in the first one make it look like linen. The second doesn’t have a button down collar, which is somewhat unusual for an oxford shirt.

      • Zac Silk

        Good eye there Rogun, personally for my climate Oxford shirts work well for me compared to linin.

        There are a few pictures of Newman wearing Oxfords such as the one I’ve found so I’d say it’s still an essential. https://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/decd3d60811cba32242186315b23ca4b19fcfb681ca6495ecb56fc8cc511f15f.png

        • rogun

          Yea, that’s certainly an oxford. They’re nice shirts, but not my favorite. Most of them have box pleats and button down collars, which are 2 things I’m not crazy about. Still, in the right weather, and oxford is a great shirt, and judging by the grey/blue skies in the picture, Newman seems to know when they’re appropriate.

  • Jay Amari

    I wear the Rolex Air King… simpler, and far less pretentious than the Daytona (do we really need to have three different time-measuring units in one watch!?).
    My Air King is a simple white-faced Roman-numeral dialed without the date –
    My acting style too, I hope, is as simple as my watch, and the rest of my wardrobe, but whereas some prefer a variety of colors, I like simple brown, or white oxford shirts, and prefer jeans – since I live in New York it is a prerequisite that most of my wardrobe is black… although sometimes only my mood reflects that.
    https://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/b4bd19760907f16b14b4db468f3f19b5d2bc247621a30706f941d420f945069c.jpg

  • Larry Lucoe

    Trying to convince Oakley to bring back the “Crosshair 2.0” https://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/d94063b1ebf0afa8820bb5018f07094386a917d2a4f403de1b2d7c14a89c6d32.jpg
    They look as cool as Paul Newman on the bullet train (they make anyone look good). Help the cause by emailing [email protected] with the suggestion. Thanks.