George Jung’s White Leisure Suit in Blow
Johnny Depp as George Jung, international cocaine dealer
Miami to Colombia, Summer 1977
Release Date: April 6, 2001
Director: Ted Demme
Costume Designer: Mark Bridges
Pablo Escobar: So, you’re the man, huh? Who takes fifty kilos and make them disappear in one day.
George Jung: Actually, it was three days.
As a multimillion dollar-earning international drug dealer, George Jung was well-known to drug culture and law enforcement by the time Bruce Porter’s 1993 book, Blow, was released. However, it was the Ted Demme-directed 2001 film of the same name that brought Jung’s life into the mainstream with Johnny Depp in the lead role.
At the time of the film’s release, “Boston George” himself was serving time as federal inmate #19225-004 at the Federal Correctional Institution, La Tuna in Anthony, Texas. Jung was transferred to Fort Dix and scheduled to be released on November 27, 2014, but he was released early on June 2, living in a halfway house as he readjusts to society.
Although the world has changed plenty in the twenty years since Jung was imprisoned last, he is emerging into freedom as famous as he ever had been. Twitter was ablaze the night of June 2nd with users declaring their plans to watch Blow in honor of Jung’s freedom.
What’d He Wear?
One of the most iconic scenes of the film features Depp’s Jung confidently strutting into the Miami airport with bags full of cash after selling fifty kilos of cocaine in three days. Ram Jam’s “Black Betty” plays as Jung – all in white with rock star hair and bushy sideburns – strolls up to the Colombian drug thugs and hands them their money. His easy confidence makes the otherwise tacky outfit look cool, and his self-assured façade only crumbles when he is informed that he will be loaded onto a plane to Colombia with the sweaty mustachioed smugglers. Despite this turn of events, Depp does what few men were able to do even forty years ago; he manages to look cool in a leisure suit.
Although now associated with kitschy ’70s disco culture, leisure suits actually emerged on the west coast just before World War II as summer casual attire among the Hollywood elite, thus giving them the name of “Hollywood suits”. Prior to the Hollywood suit, casual men’s attire often ranged from English khaki safari jackets to the heavier tweed Norfolk jacket. The functions of both jackets were combined to create what is now referred to as a leisure suit. The popularity of the leisure suit remained dormant until the end of the swinging ’60s when the counterculture began taking over and synthetic materials were a manufacturing boom. These two phenomena collided and the leisure suit took off as an informal and youthful alternative to the business suit, which was seen as too conservative. Leisure suits boomed during the ’70s, showing up everywhere in films and television until dying out quickly at the beginning of the next decade.
Jung wears several leisure suits over the course of Blow, but it is his cream-colored suit for his “airport strut” that is considered to be the most iconic. This leisure suit is made of woven texturized polyester. The jacket is a safari-style jacket with large shirt-style collars and five large gray-and-white plastic buttons down the front, although Jung keeps his jacket open throughout the sequence. The single buttons on each squared cuff and on the epaulettes (or “shoulder straps”) match those on the front of the jacket.s
There are four mitred patch pockets on the front of the jacket, with two large lower pockets on the hips and two smaller pockets on each side of the chest. The pockets have inverted box pleats and close with a button through the pointed flaps. Like the collars and epaulettes, the pockets have stitched edges.
The rear of the jacket is clean save for curved vertical seams that extend out from each armpit and curve downward down the rear of the jacket. They are similar to the seams found on the front of Michael Caine’s suede jacket in 1969’s The Italian Job, except Caine’s jacket featured the curved seams on the front.
Although some men often wore contrasting trousers with leisure suit jackets, Jung’s trousers match the cream textured polyester of his coat. They are flat front with a moderate rise and belt loops for his matching cream leather belt, which fastens in the front through a squared gold single-prong buckle. The bottoms are plain-hemmed and, unique for the era, do not have much flare. The front pockets are frogmouth-style pockets, which were commonly seen on men’s casual trousers during the 1960s and 1970s.
Although leisure suits could be worn with any shirt – including some men opting for a shirt and tie for a more formal look – Jung chooses to wear a white ribbed mock turtleneck (or roll-neck) jumper. The jumper is lightweight enough that Jung can wear it comfortably tucked into his trousers.
We only see them when he first enters the airport terminal, but Jung wears a pair of white leather plain-toe derby shoes with squared toes. His socks remain unseen, but they are likely a cream-colored dress sock to continue his leg line into his shoes. Plus, any other color of socks would be unexpected given his total white/off-white look in this scene.
The single visible accessory of Jung’s ensemble is a pair of super-’70s sunglasses, which could’ve come straight off of Elvis Presley’s face. The particular model is Polaroid Cool-Ray 420 Fast Back, with “420” being especially telling given Jung’s early career commodities. These sunglasses have dark lenses and solid aluminum frames with a copper tint.
Due to their association with ’70s artists like Neil Young and bloated Elvis, Fast Backs have remained popular for disco-oriented attire. Cheap plastic versions are sold at nearly every dollar store around, but genuine vintage pairs can still be found online for reasonable prices.
Go Big or Go Home
Pablo Escobar: Our business here today is cocaine, yes?
George Jung: Si. Yes it is.
Pablo Escobar: I need to find an Americano who I can trust. One with honor, intelligence…
George Jung: You need an Americano with balls, Señor Escobar.
Pablo Escobar: Yes, and balls, Mr. George.
While selling drugs is not a good idea – and the movie eventually shows us that – George’s ability to work with people and conduct business in a manner to benefit everybody is worth lauding. Pablo Escobar mistrusts the shifty Diego despite being one of his own countrymen, but George’s honesty and self-assuredness impress him enough to allow the three to enter into an association providing drugs to the largest market of buyers in the world at the time.
Of course, what most people remember instantly about this sequence isn’t George’s mind for business… it’s the badass effect of watching the white-suited Depp striding through the airport with Ram Jam’s “Black Betty” underscoring each step.
While it may be best remembered as a Southern rock anthem thanks to Ram Jam, the song’s origins can be definitively traced to blues singer and ex-convict Huddie “Lead Belly” Ledbetter in the early 20th century. Before that, the song’s meaning becomes cloudy. Some link it back to an 18th century marching cadence about a flintlock musket, while other interpretations provide a more penal link with “black betty” being either a penitentiary transfer wagon or a whip. In American Ballads and Folk Songs, John A. Lomax and Alan Lomax’s 1934 volume about American ballads and folk songs (interestingly enough), it is said that:
Black Betty is not another Frankie, nor yet a two-timing woman that a man can moan his blues about. She is the whip that was and is used in some Southern prisons. A convict on the Darrington State Farm in Texas, where, by the way, whipping has been practically discontinued, laughed at Black Betty and mimicked her conversation in the following song.
The first recording of the song was a year earlier, in 1933, when convict James Baker led a group of fellow inmates at a Sugar Land, Texas prison in an a capella field recording for the Library of Congress. Lead Belly himself recorded the song in New York City for the Musicraft record label; this recording ended up on Lead Belly’s 1939 five-disc Negro Sinful Songs anthology.
“Black Betty” remained in the domain of blues musicians until 1977, when the band Ram Jam released a hard rock version on their self-titled album. The album reached #34 in the Billboard Pop Albums chart in the U.S., and the song became an instant hit, reaching #18 in the charts. The song drew criticism from civil rights groups NAACP and Congress of Racial Equality, calling for a boycott.
Of course, the boycott didn’t stop anything. The use of Ram Jam’s version in Blow revived its popularity, and “Black Betty” has found its way into at least thirty different films, television shows, and advertising campaigns since Blow‘s release in 2001, not to mention countless usages at sporting events.
How to Get the Look
While most people would be rightfully laughed at for wearing a leisure suit in public (especially an all-white one), Depp manages to make it look cool. Perhaps this may inspire false confidence for some retro-minded men, but hey, it probably won’t kill you to try.
- Cream textured polyester leisure suit, consisting of:
- Safari jacket with shirt-style collar, 5-button front, epaulettes, 1-button cuffs, four button-flapped patch inverted box pleat pockets on chest and hips
- Flat front trousers with belt loops, frogmouth front pockets, and plain-hemmed bottoms
- White ribbed lightweight wool mock roll-neck jumper
- Cream leather belt with gold square single-prong buckle
- White leather plain-toe derby shoes
- Cream dress socks
- Copper aluminum-framed vintage Polaroid Cool-Ray 420 Fast Back sunglasses with dark brown lenses
Do Yourself a Favor and…
Check out the film and read the book too!
So in the end, was it worth it? Jesus Christ. How irreparably changed my life has become. It’s always the last day of summer and I’ve been left out in the cold with no door to get back in. I’ll grant you I’ve had more than my share of poignant moments. Life passes most people by while they’re making grand plans for it. Throughout my lifetime, I’ve left pieces of my heart here and there. And now, there’s almost not enough to stay alive. But I force a smile, knowing that my ambition far exceeded my talent. There are no more white horses or pretty ladies at my door.
Just to name a few items from 1970
Jung turned a cottage industry into big biz
Some of the cc Cowboys started legit businesses.
Still in business.