Joe Pesci as Vincent LaGuardia “Vinny” Gambini, fledgling defense attorney
“Beechum County”, Alabama, January into February 1992
Film: My Cousin Vinny
Release Date: March 13, 1992
Director: Jonathan Lynn
Costume Designer: Carol Wood
Happy birthday to Joe Pesci! Though the 76-year-old actor has been mostly retired from acting over the last two decades, he’s occasionally stepped back into the camera lens for a few sporadic screen appearances, most recently a Google Assistant ad that played during Super Bowl LIII and his latest collaboration with Martin Scorsese, The Irishman, scheduled to be released this fall.
Following his notable Oscar win for Goodfellas—and his short, humble acceptance speech that consisted solely of “It’s my privilege, thank you”—Pesci had some fun parodying his excitable screen persona in comedies like Home Alone, the Lethal Weapon series, and My Cousin Vinny.
The latter stars Pesci as Vincent LaGuardia Gambini, an ambitious and animated amateur attorney from Brooklyn who finds himself taking on his first murder case in Alabama. A real pesce-out-of-water story.
As well as a surprisingly accurate and entertaining portrayal of judicial procedure, My Cousin Vinny also includes one of my all-time favorite movie sight gags as Vinny and his equally Brooklynite querida, Mona Lisa Vito (Marisa Tomei, who won an Academy Award for the role), sit down to breakfast at a rural diner. They’re handed a menu and mull over the contents for a while.
“Breakfast?” asks Lisa.
“Ya think?” responds Vinny.
We then see the menu itself and its three rather limited options…
I’d get the breakfast, too.
What’d He Wear?
Judge Haller: What are you wearing?
Judge Haller: What are you wearing?
Vinny: Um… I’m wearin’ clothes. I…I don’t get the question.
Judge Haller: When you come into my court lookin’ like you do, you not only insult me, but you insult the integrity of this court.
Vinny: I apologize, sir, but this is how I dress.
Judge Haller: Next time you come into my courtroom, you will look lawyerly, and I mean you comb your hair and wear a suit and tie—and that suit better be made out of some kind of cloth. You understand me?
The attire that Judge Haller (Fred Gwynne) takes such passionate offense to is Vinny’s signature item, a well-worn black leather jacket cut like a ventless sport jacket with a full-bellied shawl collar.
Despite Judge Haller’s objection to it, this black leather jacket is Vinny’s primary garment for the first half of the movie until he shows up to jury selection, and—eventually—the trial itself in a conservative gray worsted business suit.
The burgeoning online industry of questionable film jacket retailers even includes a few takes on the My Cousin Vinny jacket among its ranks (see here and here), though obviously one on the hunt for a quality leather jacket is always better advised to inquire from a trusted company and, ideally, one where you can try on the garment before purchasing it.
Vinny’s black leather jacket has wide shoulders with roped sleeveheads, a welted breast pocket, and widely jetted hip pockets placed along a horizontal yoke in line with the coat’s sole front button. Each sleeve ends with a short, reinforced vent with two functional buttons.
“A little informal, aren’t we?” Haller first observed upon meeting Vinny as the latter stands before him in his office wearing a black long-sleeve T-shirt tucked into his black slacks. Indeed, Vinny is even more dressed down than usual for his meeting with Haller, though he could be forgiven as the cotton crew-neck long-sleeve T-shirt was probably more comfortable for his and Lisa’s long car ride into Alabama.
The T-shirt allows Vinny to prominently display his gold pendant, no doubt emblazoned with an embossed saint, worn on a gold rope-twist necklace.
Vinny shows up in court for the arraignment at least wearing a collared shirt made from a soft, napped black cloth with a purple windowpane grid check. The shirt has a point collar, front placket, breast pocket, and button cuffs.
At breakfast, Vinny wears the shirt half-open to reveal his black cotton sleeveless undershirt beneath, though he buttons up by the time he has to appear in court.
After Haller’s admonishment during the arraignment, Vinny continues trying to dress up his look by adding a tie, though the novelty black silk tie printed with large alarm clocks on it hardly makes him look like Clarence Darrow. Competing to complete Vinny’s lack of professional attire is his black-on-teal tiger-striped shirt.
Judge Haller: Now didn’t I tell you next time you appear in my courtroom that you’d dress appropriately?
Vinny: You were serious about that?
Vinny has no one to impress when he shows up at the Beechum County lockup, so he wears a plain gray shirt under his leather jacket. The long-sleeve shirt has a casual one-piece collar and the buttons are widely spaced out up the plain front.
Vinny seems to be sticking to this aesthetic for his trials and tribulations outside the courtroom, trading legal histories and cups of coffee in opposing counsel Jim Trotter’s office while wearing a lightweight gray-blue shirt striped in alternating double sets of black and light gray stripes. Like his other button-ups, this shirt has a pronounced point collar, front placket, breast pocket, and button cuffs.
The chat leads to Vinny agreeing to accompany Trotter on a hunting trip, though the suggestion leaves Vinny somewhat befuddled about what to wear. In fact, Vinny seems more concerned with looking appropriate on the hunt than in the courtroom.
“What about these pants I got on, you think they’re okay?” he calls out to Mona Lisa, who’s shut herself into the bathroom. She takes a few moments before reentering the room: “Imagine you’re a deer. You’re prancing along, you get thirsty, you spot a little brook, you put your little deer lips down to the cool clear water… bam! A fuckin’ bullet rips off part of your head! Your brains are layin’ on the ground in little bloody pieces. Now I ax ya, would ya give a fuck the kind of pants the son-of-a-bitch who shot you was wearing?”
Her diatribe aside, Vinny sticks with the same double reverse-pleated chinos that he’s worn throughout the movie—in black, of course. The trousers have straight pockets along each side-seam and jetted back pockets that each close with a single-button.
To be consistent with his cowboy boots, Vinny wears a black leather Western style belt with matched brushed steel hardware consisting of a big curved single-prong square buckle, pointed tip, and two keepers. Decent belts like this can range from $30 to $40 on Amazon while more exotic leathers like lizard and ostrich are available for a few hundred dollars from established bootmakers like Lucchese. Vinny’s belt is so long that he is forced to tie the end around itself, where it hangs down suggestively by his fly.
The plain hems of Vinny’s trousers bottoms are rolled up once for a self-cuff over the shafts of his boots for, as he did in Goodfellas, Joe Pesci enhances his height with a pair of raised-heel cowboy boots. In fact, these boots are the first we see of Vinny when he steps out of his Cadillac upon peeling into Beechum County.
“I fit in better than you!” he responds to Mona Lisa’s criticism. “At least I’m wearin’ cowboy boots!”
“Oh, yeah, you blend,” she responds with decided sarcasm.
Whether or not the boots help Vinny to “blend” is a matter of debate that we’ll leave to his litigation skills, so we’ll stick to the undeniable facts: the boots are black leather with decorative tonal stitching on the shaft where years of wear are evident. The boots have been further customized with pointed silver tips and heel guards.
Underneath the boots, Vinny diverts from his black clothing to sport a pair of plain white crew socks, the very type that Llewelyn Moss had so clearly specified with his own boots in No Country for Old Men.
Although his socks are white, Vinny’s underwear is typically all black, including his loose-fitting sleeveless undershirts and black cotton boxer shorts that he wears when lounging around the motel room.
Vinny loads up his arms with as much gold jewelry as Tony Soprano from a chain-link bracelet on his right wrist and a watch on his left to a ring on each pinky.
The right hand pinky ring appears to have a small diamond while the signet ring on his left has a flat black surface with what appears to be a gold knight’s head emerging from it.
Following a decade where Tom Cruise famously sported Ray-Bans in three of his biggest movies (Wayfarers in Risky Business, Aviators in Top Gun, and Clubmasters in Rain Man), Joe Pesci gives the brand some extra screen time when Vinny emerges from his Cadillac in a pair of black-framed Ray-Ban sunglasses with large, round brown-tinted lenses.
Eyewear expert Preston Fassel gave me a helpful hand by noting the black metal frame that first emerged as a trend in the early ’90s, so his sunglasses were likely relatively new at the time of My Cousin Vinny‘s production. “As a result, Pesci’s frames here are distinct in that they lack a bridge. Aviators are often called ‘double bars’ in the optical world, so it’s noteworthy when metal frames lack them,” Preston informed me.
Preston further deduced that the style itself is likely Ray-Ban’s attempt to mimic the Persol 714 that Steve McQueen had made famous. Both Persol and Ray-Ban were separate entities in the early ’90s but, over the course of the decade, both would be vertically integrated into the Milan-based eyewear behemoth Luxottica Group.
The Vintage Suit
I bought a suit—you seen it—now it’s covered in mud. This town doesn’t have a one hour cleaner so I had to buy a new suit, except the only store you could buy a new suit in has got the flu. You get that? The whole store got the flu. So I had to get this in a second hand store. So it’s either wear the leather jacket, which I know you hate, or this… so, I wore this ridiculous thing for you.
Vinny makes quite an impression on Judge Haller’s courtroom when he shows up at trial wearing a fiery Gilded Age-inspired vintage three-piece suit complete with tailcoat and grosgrain piping. The color of the suit is a rusty red-brown accented with burnt orange grosgrain piping on the coat’s broad peak lapels and down the low V-shaped opening of the matching waistcoat.
The tailcoat has a decorative double-breasted front with three non-functioning buttons on each side before the coat cuts away at the waist on a sharp right angle. The coat has no external pockets and a single decorative button on each cuff.
The backless waistcoat fastens at the back of the neck and has four flat plastic sew-through buttons down the front, though Vinny correctly leaves the lowest button undone at the notched bottom. The flat front trousers have slanted pockets and a tuxedo-style side braid down each leg.
Vinny’s pink cotton shirt has a narrowly pleated bib, front placket, and button cuffs. Though it is likely meant to echo the detachable collars from shirts of yore, the white cutaway spread collar is attached to the shirt. Vinny wears a loosely pre-tied burgundy bow tie with the ensemble.
How to Get the Look
It may not be orthodox for courtroom attire, but Vinny Gambini’s all-black, leather-anchored, cowboy-influenced aesthetic differentiates him as an individualist who takes pride in the fact that he has a defined style if not in the clothes themselves.
- Black leather sport jacket with wide shawl collar, welted breast pocket, widely jetted hip pockets, functional 2-button cuff vents, and ventless back
- Black or gray patterned button-up shirt with point collar, front placket, breast pocket, and button cuffs
- Black chino double reverse-pleated trousers with belt loops, straight/on-seam side pockets, button-through jetted back pockets, and self-cuffed plain-hemmed bottoms
- Black leather Western belt with brushed steel single-prong curved buckle, pointed tip, and two keepers
- Black cowboy boots with decorative shaft stitching
- White crew socks
- Black sleeveless undershirt
- Gold pendant on rope-twist necklace
- Gold chain-link bracelet
- Gold wristwatch with black rectangular dial on flat gold bracelet
- Gold pinky ring with diamond
- Gold pinky ring with knight’s head on black flat surface
- Ray-Ban black metal-framed sunglasses with large brown-tinted lenses
Do Yourself a Favor and…
Check out the movie.
You like to renegotiate as you go along, don’t you? Well, here’s my counter-offer… do I have to kill you? What if I were just to kick the ever-loving shit out of you?