Donnie Brasco’s Yacht Party Suit

Johnny Depp as Joe Pistone in Donnie Brasco.

Johnny Depp as Joe Pistone in Donnie Brasco (1997).

Vitals

Johnny Depp as Joe Pistone, aka “Donnie Brasco”, FBI agent undercover with the mob

Miami, Winter 1979

Film: Donnie Brasco
Release Date: February 28, 1997
Director: Mike Newell
Costume Designer: Aude Bronson-Howard & David C. Robinson

Background

In September 1976, FBI agent Joseph D. Pistone began an undercover operation with the Mafia that was to last six months and ended up taking five years. He eventually worked his way through the Bonanno family in New York as well-respected associate “Donnie Brasco” and was on the path to getting made before the feds decided to pull Pistone out. Joe wanted to stick around to deliver an embarrassing blow to the Mafia by having them initiate an FBI agent, but his superiors saw the potential risks and—in addition with the mob-ordered hit required to formally “make his bones”—Pistone was pulled from undercover in mid-1981 after almost five years as Brasco.

Part of Pistone’s work took him to Florida, where he was to support a fellow undercover agent in the development of the King’s Court nightclub. As Brasco, Pistone needed the “permission” of long-time Florida boss Santo Trafficante. “Lefty” Ruggiero, a long-time soldier with dreams of his own, asked Donnie to arrange a party on the water for Trafficante and his old-timers. Pistone turned to the FBI, requesting a boat, and was given The Left Hand, a boat previously used in a federal sting operation.

In 1997, after the release of Pistone’s book about his adventures, Mike Newell directed Donnie Brasco, an underrated film chronicling parts of Pistone’s operation starring Johnny Depp as the undercover agent and Al Pacino and Michael Madsen as his mobster pals Lefty and Sonny, respectively. The yacht party is one of the highlights of the film, with Pacino’s Lefty bitterly watching (“with my eyes, I see it!”) as his protege Donnie drifts toward rising mob capo Sonny Black.

What’d He Wear?

Once he hits Florida, Joe/Donnie gets plenty of wear from a light stone-colored suit that bridges the business-friendly gray and “fun in the sun”-ready tan. The suit takes on a sheen under the Florida sun that suggests the possibility of silk blended in with the wool suiting.

An example of costumes saying a lot about their characters. Lefty’s leisure suits may been the height of mid-’70s fashion, but are not nearly as timeless as Pistone’s suit.

Consistent with fashions of the 1970s, the single-breasted suit jacket has deep double vents, wide flaps over the hip pockets, and large notch lapels, which roll to well above the two-button front. The suit jacket appears to be somewhat oversized, most noticeable in the excessively long sleeves that bunch at the wrists and still envelop his hands.

Sonny Black issues Donnie his new command.

Sonny Black issues Donnie his new command.

Joe orphans the suit jacket to be worn with more casual trousers while in Florida, sporting this combination with a taupe striped knit polo and a vibrant Aloha shirt, both to be featured in later posts.

The suit’s matching trousers are flat front with slightly flared plain-hemmed bottoms. Through the belt loops, he wears a distinctive slim brown leather belt with a rounded gold-toned buckle.

"Go to the bow. I'm gonna stay in the stern. Go to the bow. Stay there. I'm so disgusted with you, you know that?"

“Go to the bow. I’m gonna stay in the stern. Go to the bow. Stay there. I’m so disgusted with you, you know that?”

Ian Fleming’s vision for James Bond notwithstanding, short-sleeved shirts are typically not ideal for wearing with suits—especially in warm climates like Florida—due to the potential for sweat and body oils to affect the inner sleeves of the suit jacket.

Despite this, Joe/Donnie proceeds with wearing a cream short-sleeved shirt with his suit while aboard The Left Hand, and at least he looks dressed down when he removes the jacket. The shirt has a typical Disco era large point collar with a plain front and no breast pocket. Like the suit jacket he wears over it, Joe/Donnie’s shirt is a bit baggy.

Pacino looks every bit of 1979 in his leisure suit and tinted glasses. Depp, on the other hand, could easily slip into a party today... if only that shirt wasn't quite so big.

Pacino looks every bit of 1979 in his leisure suit and tinted glasses. Depp, on the other hand, could easily slip into a party today… if only that shirt wasn’t quite so big.

Underneath, Pistone wears his usual undershirt, a white sleeveless ribbed A-shirt.

Having temporarily retired his trademark cowboy boots for more Florida-friendly footwear, Joe/Donnie wears a pair of brown sueded leather moccasins with cream dress socks.

Yet another contrast: Pistone looks sharp but understated in his taupe suit, but his fellow undercover agent—in a purple paisley leisure suit and matching shirt—didn't quite get the "understated" memo.

Yet another contrast: Pistone looks sharp but understated in his taupe suit, but his fellow undercover agent—in a purple paisley leisure suit and matching shirt—didn’t quite get the “understated” memo.

To fit in with the mobsters around him, Pistone keeps his accessories gold and plentiful. His wristwatch has a gold case over a square white face, strapped to his wrist with a black leather bracelet. He wears a gold necklace with a large cross.

When Al Pacino says, "Go to the bow. I'm staying in the stern. Go to the bow. Stay there," Johnny Depp takes it seriously.

When Al Pacino says, “Go to the bow. I’m staying in the stern. Go to the bow. Stay there,” Johnny Depp takes it seriously.

Interestingly, Pistone also wears a gold Claddagh ring on his left ring finger. While Claddagh rings are typically associated with Irishmen, the Italian-American Pistone evidently wore one in real life, as did his wife. According to a great interview from March 2008, “Even Joe also likes to wear symbolic jewelry. He shows me the Claddagh Ring, an Irish symbol of friendship and love, a ring that he shares with his wife. It’s always the details that show how much better reality is than imagination and how much greater than Johnny Depp is this now elderly gentleman, hale and hearty with his pot belly. Like this symbol of the Celtic faith, something that has nothing to do with Donnie Brasco and with all the imagery Italian-American, chosen to symbolize the link with the woman who has remained close to him throughout their lives, despite everything.”

Joe’s sunglasses, which we only see in Miami, are a pair of classic Ray-Ban 3025 aviators with gold frames and dark lenses, likely model # L0205.

Dark-lensed aviators are also great for sleeping your way through boring conversations, though I can't imagine meeting the boss of a statewide crime family qualifies as a boring conversation.

Dark-lensed aviators are also great for sleeping your way through boring conversations, though I can’t imagine meeting the boss of a statewide crime family qualifies as a boring conversation.

Go Big or Go Home

Joe/Donnie celebrates in style aboard the yacht, drinking whiskey neat and hobnobbing with mob bosses and topless dancers. Whether he was worried or not about being on a boat with all of the mobsters (The Sopranos taught me that this is a genuine worry…), Joe manages to relax despite pissing off his mentor Lefty and dealing with an absolute ninkompoop, a fellow FBI undercover agent who comes pretty close to blowing the operation. If Joe is able to let his hair down in a situation like that, you should have no problem dropping your worries for a relaxing afternoon in the sun.

Joe/Donnie enjoys a taste of the good life while he can.

Joe/Donnie enjoys a taste of the good life while he can.

One of my favorite things about the film is the eclectic ’70s soundtrack, which covers all the bases from rock, pop, and disco to jazz and schmaltzy vocals. During the party in particular, we hear Blondie’s “Heart of Glass” from the stellar 1978 album Parallel Lines, an album which also yielded the popular “One Way or Another”, heard earlier in the film.

We are also treated to “Love Machine” by the Miracles, a 1975 disco hit that has become the most-used song in Motown history with a resume ranging from Disney comedies to Denny’s commercials.

How to Get the Look

Johnny Depp in Donnie Brasco (1997)

Johnny Depp in Donnie Brasco (1997)

Don’t make the mistake of looking like a plotz for your next yacht party. Get a sharp lightweight suit that’ll both look good and be comfortable in the sun.

  • Light stone-colored silk-blend single-breasted suit, including:
    • Single-breasted two-button suit jacket with large notch lapels, welted breast pocket, flapped hip pockets, 4-button cuffs, and long double vents
    • Flat front trousers with belt loops and plain-hemmed bottoms
  • Cream short-sleeved shirt with large point collar and plain front
  • Brown leather belt with a rounded gold single-prong buckle
  • Dark brown sueded moccasin-style boat shoes
  • Cream dress socks
  • Ray-Ban RB3025 gold-framed aviator sunglasses with dark lenses
  • Gold wristwatch with white square dial on black leather strap
  • Gold necklace with cross pendant
  • Gold Claddagh ring on left ring finger

Do Yourself a Favor And…

Check out the movie and also the real Pistone’s book.

The Quote

Are you trying to get me killed with that fucking suit… that purple fucking car? Don’t say the word “plotz”. You understand?

4 comments

  1. Max

    It is disappointing how little attention this film (easily in my top 20) gets. To me it sets the standard for “undercover” movies, and every performance of every actor is a tour de force. It also stands as an impressive reminder of how good of an actor Johnny Depp was before he became a caricature.

    Despite its obvious excesses, the ’70s left behind a number of style points that deserve to be preserved (I found the 80s to be far more dreadful), and Depp’s Donnie Brasco is a study in how to deploy them.

    Excellent post. Thanks for it.

    Like

    • luckystrike721

      Thanks, Max! I agree all the way – the speed from which it can go from comedy to thriller at some moments gives a good perspective on how unnerving this must have been for Pistone. The actors really do bring their A game, and yes, it’s refreshing to see Depp without a pirate costume or Native American face paint!
      Every decade has probably had its style lows, but the ’80s really let it creep into everything from casual to black tie. In DB, Depp certainly looks perfect for 1979 without sacrificing a more timeless style. I believe you requested for some of the leather to be analyzed on here. Once we get into the cooler months, you can expect to see all of that posted! I’m trying to track down some more information – perhaps on makers, etc. – but there’s surprisingly little out there.

      Like

      • teeritz

        Definitely an underrated film, it out-Scorseses Scorsese, and it contains Pacino’s last great role. And I agree with you guys. The ’80s sucked in terms of fashion. Although, there was a mild resurgence in 1940’s-style wide-lapelled double-breasted suits, but man, the trousers were baggy! The Seventies would have been a better decade to dress in, but hell, I was eleven years old when Tony Manero was hogging the dance floor.

        Like

  2. Pingback: Donnie Brasco’s Brown Leather Jacket | BAMF Style

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