In the past we haven’t featured younger men very often in our Gentleman of Style series, but Benedict Cumberbatch is an exception. While style is inherently part of an actor’s image, Mr. Cumberbatch’s style beautifully brings together the elements of a classic wardrobe with excellent attention to detail, fit, and a modern flair.
Though he certainly has an actor’s budget, Benedict Cumberbatch is one of the few young actors in Hollywood that embraces classic style in a way that is both distinctive and approachable. Let’s take a look at his career and style.
The Early Years
Born in London in 1976, Benedict Timothy Carlton Cumberbatch has the honor of using three letters after his name since November 2015, when the Queen appointed him Commander of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire. The title of CBE is granted to those with considerable achievements in the arts, sciences, and charities.
His family is no stranger to the thespian art. His father, Timothy Carlton, has had a long career on stage, in TV, and in the movies. Benedict grandfather, Henry Cumberbatch, was a naval officer of both World Wars and a member of London’s high society. As Benedict himself said once, “I was brought up in a world of privilege”. And his mother, Wanda Ventham, is known for her role as Colonel Virginia Lake in the 1970s sci-fi TV series UFO. We won’t comment on his looks, which obviously didn’t harm his career either.
Without a doubt, Benedict Cumberbatch’s career is on the rise. The theater – with a focus on Shakespeare – was his first acting venue: he played Titania (from A Midsummer Night’s Dream) at 12. His drama teacher at Harrow School, Martin Tyrell, said he was “the best schoolboy actor” he had ever met.
On his gap year, he volunteered to teach English at a Tibetan monastery in India and then studied Drama at the U. of Manchester. After that, an MA in Classical Art at the LAMDA (London Academy of Music and Dramatic Art) refined his talents. It was announced recently that Cumberbatch will succeed Timothy West as President of LAMDA.
What about playing both Victor Frankenstein and his creature? That is what he did on alternating nights in a stage production of Mary Shelley’s famous novel in 2011. The monster was a lucky charm, for he received what is called the “Triple Crown of London Theatre” in the same year: he received the Olivier Award, Evening Standard Award and Critics’ Circle Theatre Award for his performance.
The first decade of 2000 saw him appear frequently on the television, but his first hit was the 2004 BBC television film Hawking, showing the scientist’s early years at Cambridge. His performance earned him the Golden Nymph for Best Performance by an Actor in a TV Film or Miniseries, as well as his first nomination for a BAFTA TV Award for Best Actor.
In 2010, he portrayed both Van Gogh and Sherlock Holmes, a role that also granted him lead actor nominations.
His filmography is ample, and it starts with a first movie called To Kill a King (2003), where he plays a royalist. The role of William Pitt the Younger in Amazing Grace (2006) garnered him a nomination for British Breakthrough Acting Award for the London Film Critics Circle.
His first lead actor role was in Third Star (2010) as James, a young dying writer that goes on one last trip to Wales with some friends. Adam Robertson, one of the producers, said that “He was just perfect. You believed he was a writer, he had that kind of poetry. The first draft was quite dialogue-heavy and for Benedict, it wasn’t an issue.” After that, Spielberg directed him as Major Jamie Stewart in the 2011 War Horse drama.
Fans of Tolkien heard Cumberbatch as Smaug the Dragon and as the Necromancer in The Hobbit trilogy (2012-14); the dragon’s expressions and movements were also his. (I recognized the eyebrows!). Benedict Cumberbatch was also cast Khan in the 2013 Star Trek Into Darkness, directed by J. J. Abrams; the role was originally portrayed by Ricardo Montalbán for the Star Trek TV series.
Also of 2013 are The Fifth Estate with BC as Julian Assange of Wikileaks fame; 12 Years a Slave as William Prince Ford, a slave owner; and Charles Aiken in August: Osage County, a movie for which he recorded a song. One of my favorite Cumberbatch performances is his Alan Turing in The Imitation Game (2014): this role earned him nominations for the Golden Globe, BAFTA, SAG (Screen Actors Guild), and Academy Award for Best Actor. His stirring performance of the persecuted cryptologist led him, according to Wikipedia, “in an open letter published in The Guardian on 31 January 2015, Cumberbatch asked for pardons of all gay and bisexual men who were convicted under the same now-defunct ‘indecency’ laws as Alan Turing was.”
Comic book fans surely enjoyed his portrayal of Doctor Strange (2016). At the San Diego Comic-Con in the same year, he promoted the movie in a simple gray t-shirt, one of his sartorial tricks: always try to blend (and not stand out) in a given situation.
And do it naturally, with sprezzatura, the near-magical quality that Cumberbatch seems to dominate and that was defined by The Book of the Courtier‘s author, Baldassare Castiglione: “to avoid affectation in every way possible as though it were some rough and dangerous reef; and (to pronounce a new word perhaps) to practice in all things a certain sprezzatura [nonchalance], so as to conceal all art and make whatever is done or said appear to be without effort and almost without any thought about it.” (We’ve talked about it here, for instance.)
He met Sophie Hunter (b. 1978 at the set of 2009’s Burlesque Fairytales, a 2009 drama. She studied avant-garde theatre in Paris and trained at the Saratoga International Theatre Institute in New York City. Fluent in French and Italian, she is also a skilled pianist. The couple married on February 14, 2015, on the Isle of Wight and they have two sons, Christopher Carlton (2015) and Hal Auden (2017).
Stylistically, Mr. Cumberbatch is unique in Hollywood in that he rarely tries to call attention to himself with his fashion choices. He’s often commented on his “posh” British upbringing, which undoubtedly influenced his more traditional approach to fashion. That being said, his effortless and always-appropriate attire make him notable as an example of the style of a modern gentleman.
He appears to wear formal clothes more comfortably than less formal attire; in fact, casual attire doesn’t seem to suit him or his natural style tendencies. While most of his suits are crisp and well-cut, the aforementioned gray t-shirt he wore to Comic-Con in 2016 was too large and it was paired awkwardly with dress pants and sneakers. It seems that he dresses down when the occasion requires it, but even in his more casual private moments, he prefers button-down shirts and cardigans paired with slim fit chinos.
He likes Spencer Hart suits, dark suits (navy, midnight blue or black), shirts with initials (mostly white), tweed jackets, scarves, layers, and the occasional monochromatic outfit. As perfumes go, he enjoys Hermès fragrances such as Terre d’Hermes. His signature accessories are scarves, flat caps, thick glasses, and trilbies.
He knows his body type and therefore what looks good on him. He’s a tall, thin man, and he wears trimly cut suits and pants, which he pairs with thin lapels and narrow ties. He favors classic outerwear, such as trench coats, simple overcoats, leather jackets and waxed cotton jackets (often called a Barbour jacket).
Overall, his style tends towards classics; he clearly enjoys a more formal style than the average actor his age, and he wears exceptionally good black and white tie. In fact, he’s probably the only high-profile attendee of Met Ball that actually wore a proper white tie ensemble without a major faux pas. This is a man that clearly understands the rules of classic style, even if he does choose to break them from time to time.
He generally wears a pocket square and a tie with a jacket, and when he goes without neckwear, he’s careful to select more casual jackets such as this linen, patch pocket jacket in a rust color. Here he “breaks” the rules by pairing this combination with a more formal peaked lapel.
He is aware of the power of a good hat, such as in these pictures: at the 2014 French Open Men’s Final in Paris he dons a Lacoste with Persol sunglasses, grey trousers, and a blue straw hat, as well as … white tennis shoes, of course.
At the Chelsea Flower Show (also in 2014), he wears a white straw hat with a light gray blazer and salmon shirt.
In yet another day of that tennis tournament, his preference leaned towards a Richard James suit, shirt, and tie, with a Wimbledon button pinned below the boutonnière. His father, at his left, was also quite elegant in a striped jacket, pink shirt and matching tie.
He seems absolutely at ease in formalwear, such as this white tie by Tom Ford worn at the Met Gala in 2014, when he was seen along with Tom Ford himself. Anna Wintour, the USA Vogue editor, was quoted saying BC was the only person to “hit the white tie theme right on the head.”
Nominated for an Academy Award, he showed up at the event in a nice summery dinner jacket with shawl collar designed by Scabal, once again complemented by an almost invisible black pocket square with Cumberbatch’s signature TV fold.
Sometimes, such as in this Royal Opera House concert on February 2015, a few days before his marriage, he likes to coordinate colors with his wife, Sophie Hunter. The black tuxedo jacket is complemented with a small button saying “Save Soho”, a campaign to protect the performing acts in London’s Soho from the CrossRail 2 which Cumberbatch embraced.
At the world premiere of “The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies” in Leicester Square, BC chose a silk lined Giorgio Armani dinner jacket tie, this time a regular one – showing that when you know the rules, you can to break them. That being said, we still believe a dinner jacket looks much better with a black bow tie. In this case, one in black velvet bow tie or one matching the lapel silk would have been superb.
When Queen Elizabeth decorated him with the CBE cross, he wore a bespoke morning suit with pearl-gray tie and a nice touch – a Remembrance Poppy enamel brooch. After all, the ceremony was in November, and the poppy is worn then to commemorate military personnel who died in war.
Obviously, he can also look dapper in everyday suits or jackets, such as the Dolce & Gabbana trimmed grey jacket with a burgundy Richard James shirt he wore at the Variety Studio event. He was promoting The Imitation Game at the Toronto International Film Festival with Keira Knightley – she played the role of Joan Clarke, the only female codebreaker to work in Alan Turing’s group.
Oh, Yes: his socks matched the shirt!
In 2013, in an event celebrating The Global Fund at Apsley House, BC wore an Alexander McQueen windowpane suit with a skull print tie and – yup, you guessed it – a crisp pocket square.
On The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon, in 2016, he donned a navy Burberry suit and a matching shirt.
How to Get Benedict Cumberbatch’s Signature Look
- Dress up. When in doubt, choose slightly more formal attire for the occasion.
- Learn the rules. While Mr. Cumberbatch was brought up with British sartorial tradition, he’s a great example of first learning the rules so you can break them elegantly, rather than brashly.
- Embrace layers. Classic layering is flattering and stylish on everyone.
- Wear what looks good on you. Since he’s tall and thin, you won’t see Mr. Cumberbatch wearing pleats anytime soon, since they would overwhelm his frame.
- Keep the color palette muted. Even though we’re a big fan of color, a wardrobe composed of navy, gray, white, blue, and green is incredibly versatile.
- Wear classic pieces with modern cuts. Mr. Cumberbatch favors trim (but not too trim!) dress pants, suit jackets, and cardigans.
- Wear a hat. He may be trying to hide from the paparazzi, but a hat is undoubtedly a classic and stylish accessory for winter and summer.
- Don’t forget the scarf. It’s an accessory he favors more than others.
- Master black and white tie. This is Mr. Cumberbatch’s forte – when the pressure is on to look dapper, he always delivers because he knows how important the rules of classic style are with the black and white tie.
- Buy classic brands. You won’t see Mr. Cumberbatch wearing Kanye West’s clothing anytime soon. When he chooses a certain garment or accessory, he goes with the classic brand: Ray-Ban for Wayfarers, Lacoste for polos, or Barbour for waxed cotton jackets.
The Benedict Cumberbatch style has a few clear points, such as the discrete pocket square, dress code mastery, wearing what looks good on you, and rules that are bent every now and then. He’s a modern Gentleman of Style. What do you think of Benedict Cumberbatch’s style?