Johnny Depp as Paul Kemp, expatriate American journalist
San Juan, Puerto Rico, Summer 1960
Film: The Rum Diary
Release Date: October 28, 2011
Director: Bruce Robinson
Costume Designer: Colleen Atwood
“In summary, this airman, although talented, will not be guided by policy,” heralded Hunter S. Thompson’s honorable discharge from the U.S. Air Force in November 1957, a considerable understatement given the iconic writer’s eventual symbolic anti-authoritarian status.
Following his discharge, Thompson tried a few journalistic stints in New York but was fired by Time (for insubordination) and the Middletown Daily Record (for damaging a candy machine) and moved to Puerto Rico in 1960.
Having failed to procure a position with the San Juan Star, Thompson wrote for the El Sportivo sporting magazine… though it folded quickly after his arrival. His experiences in San Juan formed the basis of The Rum Diary, a novel that he penned shortly after his return to the U.S. the following year, although it wasn’t published for more than three decades.
While it would be inaccurate to describe The Rum Diary as a strict roman à clef, its morose, restless narrator Paul Kemp is clearly modeled on Thompson himself, and Thompson’s friend Johnny Depp was naturally tapped to play the role in the film adaptation.
What’d He Wear?
In an interview with Lucky around the time of the film’s release, costume designer Colleen Atwood explained that “[Depp’s] character has a slightly Midwestern meets southern style that is very American and not at all European. His clothes are fairly stiff, but they kind of wilt in the heat, so it feels more relaxed. His stuff was all made out of this ’60s cotton.”
Paul Kemp dresses for his some dangerous escapades in Puerto Rico with the summer friendly layers of a light windbreaker, lightweight short-sleeve polo shirt, chinos, and desert boots. They are essentially the same elements that he wore earlier with the jacket of his blue gabardine suit, but dressed down with a windbreaker instead.
The modern idea of a windbreaker evokes an unlined rain jacket made from a paper-thin synthetic polyester or nylon, often brightly colored and fitted with a hood. In fact, windbreakers have a far more elegant pedigree, dating back to the 1940s as the trademarked name for a line of casual gabardine zip-up jackets made by John Rissman & Son in Chicago (like this one).
In The Rum Diary, Johnny Depp wears a stone-colored cotton gabardine blouson that shares much more in common with the original Rissman windbreaker than its modern descendent. This was a very common garment for dressed-down gents in the late 1950s with a notable cinematic example from the era being the dark windbreaker, almost identical in every detail, that Robert Mitchum wore in Thunder Road.
The flat collar has a wide extended throat latch tab on the left side that, when closed, would fasten to a button under the right side of the collar, creating a quasi-Harrington “funnel neck” to protect a wearer’s throat from the elements.
The jacket’s two outer patch pockets are so large that they take up the entire lower half of each front panel. Each pocket has a slanted, jetted opening.
The waistband is elasticized and the zip pull is shaped like an arrowhead. The cuffs at the end of each set-in sleeve have two buttons to adjust the fit on an arrow-pointed tab, although Kemp typically leaves his cuffs undone.
As he did with the blue suit jacket, Kemp cycles between two light-colored and lightweight cotton polos.
The pale blue cotton polo is the only real shakeup to Kemp’s otherwise monochromatic off-white palette in these scenes. The short but full set-in sleeves fall to his elbows, and he leaves the top two buttons of the shirt’s long three-button placket undone. The shirt has a rounded breast pocket.
Later, Kemp dons a similarly styled white short-sleeve polo shirt that shares the voluminous fit, three-button placket, breast pocket, and short set-in sleeves of the previous shirt.
Kemp wears beige cotton gabardine chino trousers with a waistband tab that extends over the straight fly, slanted side pockets, and jetted back pockets with no buttons. The flat front chinos have short belt loops, through which Kemp wears a slim light brown center-stitched leather belt with its squared brass single-prong buckle off on the left side rather than over the center. The trouser bottoms are finished with short cuffs (turn-ups).
Kemp’s casual footwear of choice in Puerto Rico is a pair of tan suede chukka boots. He wears the chukkas with cream socks that nicely continue the leg line into his favorite pairs of beige chinos.
Kemp adds a vintage touch to his otherwise timeless outfit by donning a pair of Sol Amor wraparound sunglasses with a curved gold semi-frame across the front and brown-tinted bubble lenses.
The plain military-style wristwatch that Kemp wears on his left wrist suits his character, modeled after Hunter S. Thompson who had just come off of a two-year stint in the U.S. Air Force before he took his job in San Juan. The plain steel case, black dial, and tan strap is indicative of watches like the Hamilton Khaki that were provided to the American military during the era.
How to Get the Look
Paul Kemp sticks to classic menswear staples in light colors and lightweight fabrics when comfortably layering for casual adventures around San Juan.
- Stone-colored cotton gabardine zip-up windbreaker with flat collar (with wide single-button throat latch tab), large patch pockets (with slanted openings), and set-in sleeves (with adjustable button cuffs)
- White or pale blue lightweight cotton short-sleeve polo shirt with 3-button placket and breast pocket
- Beige cotton gabardine flat front chino trousers with belt loops, extended waistband tab, slanted side pockets, jetted back pockets, and turn-ups/cuffs
- Light brown center-stitched leather belt with a squared brass single-prong buckle
- Tan suede two-eyelet chukka boots
- Cream socks
- Sol Amor gold-framed wraparound sunglasses with brown bubble lenses
- Hamilton Khaki automatic wristwatch with steel case, round black dial, and tan strap
Do Yourself a Favor and…
Check out the movie.
You might be wise to read the book first to really get into the Hunter S. Thompson state of mind.