Iconic Style: James Dean

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Sep 11, 2013 | By HB HQ

An original series where we unearth the story and style behind iconic photos.

In September of 1955, James Dean accelerated his Porsche 550 Spyder on Route 466 toward Salinas, CA. He reached 85 mph as a young Cal Poly student turned his Ford into the lane. Dean’s Spyder, “Little Bastard,” was a recent purchase, and he was driving to Salinas between films for a race. He steered the car into a side-step slide, to avoid collision...

When asked about the danger of racing cars, Dean had once responded: What better way to die? It’s fast and clean and you go out in a blaze of glory.

Dean’s life was shadowed by the tragedy of his mother’s death, when he was nine years old. After her death, Dean was sent to Fairmount, Indiana, to be raised by his aunt and uncle. There, he was immersed in a Quaker upbringing, and played on the baseball, basketball, and track teams in high school.

After graduation, Dean moved to California to live with his father, and he enrolled in UCLA to study acting. Before long, he dropped out to pursue his career. Guided by a mentor, Rogers Brackett, Dean moved to NYC, where he was admitted to the famed Actors Studio, to study method acting.

Quickly, his career accelerated, and in 1954, he signed to be the lead in East of Eden. It would be the first of his three films, and the young actor stole the stage, receiving a Best Actor nomination. 

Off the stage, Dean began riding motorcycles and racing cars. He rode a 1955 Triumph TR5 Trophy, and traded-up his 1955 Porsche Super Speedster for “Little Bastard,” the sportscar he accelerated in on Route 466...

The Spyder hit the Ford and flipped off the road. The actor was 24. He’s been immortalized as the face of an angst-charged generation of youngsters, based off his characters in East of Eden and Rebel Without a Cause. 

But Dean off-screen was a passionate student of his craft, and an inspired driver. And, although he will be forever marked by the tragedy of his young death, we remember him here as he lived—with foot on the accelerator, heading north to the track, going fast.

For your own rebel’s adventure, we’ve assembled a James Dean-inspired style guide:

Breton Shirt: JCrew ($85); Long-Sleeve Polo: JCrew ($54.50); Jean: Lee 101 ($120); Belt: Tanner Goods ($105); Shoes: Volley ($38); Pomade: Imperial ($20).