Kevin Spacey as Sgt. Jack Vincennes, swaggering LAPD “celebrity” narcotics detective
Los Angeles, Christmas 1952
Film: L.A. Confidential
Release Date: September 19, 1997
Director: Curtis Hanson
Costume Designer: Ruth Myers
Curtis Hanson’s 1997 film adaptation of James Ellroy’s raw book is neo-noir at its finest. The story has it all: crooked cops, femme fatales, drugs, corruption, prostitution, gunfights, cigarettes, muted trumpets, and whiskey – straight. Needless to say, the three LAPD detectives each bring their own level of BAMF to the film.
The most notable, from a sartorial standpoint is Narcotics Sgt. Jack Vincennes, a cynical half-celebrity who forgot his motivations for police work long ago and now lives for his half-celebrity status, acting as technical advisor on a Dragnet-like TV show that stars the guy who played Lloyd Braun on Seinfeld.
Interestingly, Spacey was told to base part of his portrayal of Vincennes on Dean Martin. Spacey does this perfectly, paying homage to Martin without making his character a portrayal of the famous Rat Packer with a badge and gun. His gestures, persona, and the way he swings through the film, winning people’s trust with his charisma, is very reminiscent of the personable Dean Martin. Seven years later, Spacey would play Dino’s contemporary Bobby Darin in his pet project Beyond the Sea.
However, Vincennes does do one thing Martin would frown upon: he buys a drink and leaves the bar without even touching it. Imminent murder or untimely self-revelation be damned, Dean Martin would still find time to finish a drink!
What’d He Wear?
The first time we see Jack Vincennes is probably the way he would want all people to be introduced to him: dancing with a lovely actress who can’t keep her hands off of him. After a few flirtatious comments and the inevitability that the night will not be ending soon for either of them, he makes the unforgivable mistake of introducing her to Danny DeVito.
His evening now freed, DeVito enlists him into one of his many questionable quick-cash schemes.
Vincennes’ attire for the Christmas party is very importantly chosen, especially when compared to his two co-stars. Russell Crowe as the simple Bud White wears a brown off-the-rack suit with a short-sleeved white shirt and knitted tie. It doesn’t look bad, but it isn’t anything special. He looks just like a 1950s policeman from the movies. Guy Pearce, as the by-the-book Ed Exley, is first seen as a desk sergeant, manning the phones while the other men enjoy a liquor-soaked Christmas Eve celebration. His glasses, John Browne belt, and tie tightened up to the neck reflect his sense of duty and his sense of appearance; in order to be a great policeman, he must dress like one.
In a sense, Vincennes’ sartorial motivation is the same as Exley’s, only he believes that in order to be a great celebrity, he must dress the part. When we first meet him, Vincennes is forced to shift from a celebrity at a party to a narcotics detective. (“Forced” isn’t the right word, as he accepts $50 from Danny DeVito to make the arrest.) However, the role of celebrity remains during the arrest not only because of the posing and cameras, but because Vincennes is acting it out. He interestingly tells the actress that he teaches the TV actor how to act like a cop. During his raid, Vincennes forgot how to be anything but a TV policeman. He swings in through the door, announcing, “Freeze, police!” with his gun dangling from his hand as if the young half-naked couple is going to drop their weed and pick up a Tommy gun. He carries them out, being photographed – importantly – with a movie premiere in the background, and then swings over to the station.
For all of this, Vincennes keeps up his Dean Martin guise to keep the brutal truth of police work from tarnishing his self-image. He can be a good policeman and he wears a more traditional (but still noticeable) suit when he is. Appropriately for these first scenes though, he wears a casual sports coat, slacks, and a white silk tie over a white shirt.
The brown gingham sport jacket has patch pockets, a ventless back, and moderately wide notch lapels that roll to a two-button front. It fits him well but is a large cut, appropriate for the 1950s, especially a 1950s celebrity. Like all of his jackets in the film, it has 3-button cuffs. Vincennes wears a double-pointed white linen pocket square in the breast pocket.
Vincennes’ shirt is white, which appears to be the only thing he has in common with the other men, although his are always a touch nicer with double (French) cuffs, an especially stylish contrast to Bud White’s cheap short-sleeve dress shirts. His cuff links here are light in color, probably gold like most of the ones he is seen wearing. His tie is a white-on-white silk pattern, wide at the bottom and short – making him on par with the other men of the early 1950s. Interestingly, the tie’s self keeper is very high, right underneath his collar. A small convex-curved silver tie bar keeps his tie with his shirt. He also has a monogram on all of his shirts.
Vincennes’ trousers are brown pleated slacks that are finished with turn-ups (cuffs) on the bottoms. They have a high rise, falling just short of his tie blade. He wears a tan fabric surcingle belt with dark brown leather ends that fasten with a rounded brass single-prong buckle. When matching one’s shoes to a surcingle belt, one typically need only match the belt’s leather ends, but Jack Vincennes goes a step further by wearing two-toned spectator shoes in in brown and cream leather that echo both colors in his belt.
Finally, Vincennes has two accessories he is never without: a pinky ring and his Bulova Surf King watch. The pinky ring is gold with a large black square face and a pinhead-sized diamond in the center. His Bulova has subseconds and a stainless bracelet with brown leather inserts.
Go Big or Go Home
Vincennes was an individualist who dressed differently, acted differently, carried a different gun, and had his own twisted moral code to follow. Everything about him made him different from other policemen. However, if he truly was a celebrity, he would be no different than the others. His occupation made him stand out against the clean-cut, uniformed men he chose to work with.
Thus, Vincennes was an everyday man who lived a celebrity lifestyle and recognized it. Get a blazer that makes you stand out, without being obnoxious, and wear a white pocketsquare. Get a car that fits your personality, not your job, like Vincennes’ brand-new 1953 Studebaker Commander Starlight coupe in “Chippewa green” with a darker “Lombard green” roof. Wear an accessory that differentiates your hand or wrist from other people’s.
In keeping with his character, when Vincennes takes a few seconds to reflect after the drug bust, Dean Martin’s “The Christmas Blues” is heard. The song is a great lament about the holiday season as only Dino could sing it, and it reflects how hollow Vincennes is feeling on that Christmas Eve. If you don’t want to be sad on Christmas, Martin had plenty of great holiday songs to listen to instead.
Finally, if anyone has the gall to get blood on your clothing – whether its theirs or not – punch them so hard they forgot their name. That’s how protective Vincennes is of his image!
What to Imbibe
Vincennes was a whiskey man, drinking it straight in several scenes. We never see the actual brand, but it is very dark in color – more similar to American or Canadian than Scotch or Irish.
He smoked Chesterfields, which were the third leading brand (behind Camel and Lucky Strike) in the U.S. in 1950 with 66.1 billion sold that year. Coincidentally (or not at all), Jack Webb, star of Dragnet, was in a 1954 advertisement for Chesterfields.
For anyone who is curious, Dean Martin typically smoked Kent King Size and drank J&B Scotch or Martinis.
How to Get the Look
Jack Vincennes had a very unique look. Rather than try to copy it, which would just turn a nice outfit into a Halloween costume, shoot for your own sort of casual celebrity style. Just make sure it’s practical enough in case you’re enlisted to lead a police raid later that night.
- Brown gingham single-breasted 2-button sport jacket with wide notch lapels, patch breast pocket, patch hip pockets, 3-button cuffs, and ventless back
- White cotton dress shirt with point collar, breast pocket, double/French cuffs, and a monogram
- Light gold cuff links
- White silk necktie with white tonal floral pattern
- Small silver convex-shaped tie bar
- Dark brown pleated slacks with belt loops
- Tan surcingle belt with brown leather ends and a rounded gold-colored single-prong buckle
- Brown-and-cream leather spectator shoes
- Bulova Surf King stainless-cased wristwatch with clean white dial on brown lizard expansion strap
- White linen pocket square, folded with two points
- Black hip holster (RHD) for a Colt Commander semi-automatic pistol
With every other character carrying a .38 Special revolver, Vincennes exercises his need to be different and stylish. Thus, rather than the typical Colt Detective Special seen in White and Exley’s holsters, Vincennes carries a blued Colt Commander, a compact version of the famous and venerable M1911 that had been used by the U.S. military in both world wars.
The Commander was introduced in 1951, making it fresh on the market and something that someone like Vincennes would choose over the .38 snubnose. Constructed of blued steel, the Commander had the same Browning-developed single-action short recoil system as a full size 1911, but it was 3/4 lbs. lighter and a half inch shorter. The compactness makes it a good choice for an urban policeman and the look makes it a good choice for a flashy policeman.
It was offered in 9×19 mm Parabellum, .38 Super, and the powerful .45 ACP. When seen, it appears to have a slightly smaller bore than the .45 and, due to the .38 Super’s rarity and unreliability in films, this leaves the 9×19 mm as the likely caliber of Vincennes’ handgun. Thus, it would have a nine-round magazine.
Do Yourself a Favor and…
Check out the movie.
America isn’t ready for the real me.