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
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. 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 clean-looking light gray taupe suit. The suit has many nods of ’70s styling, such as very large lapels, large pocket flaps, and extra long rear vents, but avoids looking overly aged. The material appears to be a silk blend, giving the suit a certain “shine” at some angles.
The suit jacket is single-breasted with large notch lapels. Many suits of the ’70s have stitched edges on the lapels, but this one doesn’t and makes the suit cleaner-looking and less aged. It fastens in the front with two buttons and has four buttons on each cuff. The fit is large, with especially long sleeves hanging from the natural shoulders. There is a breast pocket and straight hip pockets with large flaps. Joe stays cool in the suit throughout with very long rear double vents.
Joe also wears the suit with other casualwear while in Florida, including a brown striped polo and a Hawaiian shirt.
The trousers are flat front with belt loops and plain-hemmed, slightly flared bottoms. He wears a distinctive belt through most of the film, a thin brown leather belt with a rounded gold clasp.
Pistone’s light cream short-sleeve shirt is very ’70s as well with a very large point collar. It buttons down a plain front and has no breast pocket. The fit is somewhat baggy, but looks good under the suit. While some people stipulate that a short-sleeved shirt should never be worn with a suit, most people agree that this only applies to more formal suits worn with neckties. Also, since fashion in the ’70s was basically a decade of “don’ts”, finding something that can still look sharp – like Pistone’s suit – is a welcome anomaly.
Underneath, Pistone wears his usual undershirt, a white sleeveless ribbed A-shirt. The contrast between the undershirt and the button-down helps identify the latter as a light cream rather than white.
We don’t often see Joe’s feet, but he appears to be wearing a pair of dark brown leather loafers – possibly sueded boat shoes or moccasins – and cream dress socks, very appropriate footwear for the event and outfit.
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.
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 rims, likely model # L0205.
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.
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
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 gray taupe silk blend single-breasted suit, including:
- Single-breasted 2-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
- Light cream short-sleeve shirt with large point collar and a plain front
- Brown leather belt with a rounded gold single-prong buckle
- Dark brown sueded moccasin-style boat shoes
- Cream dress socks
- Ray-Ban gold-framed aviators with dark lenses
- Wristwatch with gold case, square white dial, and black leather strap
- Gold necklace with cross pendant
- Gold Claddagh ring on left ring finger
Do Yourself a Favor and…
Buy the film.
Donnie may have to kiss mob asses to get ahead, but he doesn’t have any time for his fellow agents:
Are you trying to get me killed with that fucking suit… that purple fucking car? Don’t say the word “plotz”. You understand?