Miami Vice: Meeting Sonny Crockett in White Linen
Don Johnson as James “Sonny” Crockett, Miami-Dade vice detective
Miami, Spring 1984
Series: Miami Vice
Episode: “Brother’s Keeper” (Episode 1.01)
Air Date: September 16, 1984
Director: Thomas Carter
Creator: Anthony Yerkovich
Costume Designer: Jodie Lynn Tillen
WARNING! Spoilers ahead!
35 years ago today, the feature-length first episode of Miami Vice premiered, introducing the world to the stylish detective duo of Sonny Crockett and Ricardo Tubbs.
Written by series creator Anthony Yerkovich, “Brother’s Keeper” established Miami Vice‘s stylized formula of exciting action, flashy fashions, and the latest pop music that would make the show one of the biggest hits of the 1980s and would win the episode two Emmy Awards, one for Robert E. Collins’ cinematography and one for editing.
Tubbs, still an NYPD cop bent on revenge at the outset, is introduced first before the setting shifts from the dark, dingy, and dreary New York City streets to the bright, sunny, and colorful world of ’80s Miami. Following the obligatory establishing shots of beaches and blondes, the camera brings us to the central character of James “Sonny” Crockett, bedecked in white linen, pastels, and shades as he takes a drag from his Lucky Strike.
“Hey, shortstop, you wanna crank down the decibels a notch?” Crockett shouts to a nearby break-dancer before turning his attention back to fellow detective Eddie (Jimmy Smits, in his acting debut) as the two vice cops discuss their plan to meet, “close the deal”, and trap Corky, the “little bozo” cartel-connected drug dealer that Crockett spent the previous evening with, trading shots of tequila.
Unfortunately, the “deal” goes bad when Crockett spots a C-4 car bomb strapped under Corky’s Chevy, just a second to late to save his pal from the blast that kills both Eddie and Corky.
What’d He Wear?
Sonny Crockett’s style has been a frequent request from BAMF Style readers—including Mohammad, Jeff, Robin, and Sal, to name a few—dating back to 2013. Given the series’ expansive focus on fashion, an entire blog could be dedicated to Crockett’s style alone! Thus, I figured there was no better place to start when exploring Don Johnson’s signature style as the rugged vice cop than the very beginning.
When we meet Crockett, he is dressed in a white linen suit—not cream, ivory, or off-white, but a stark solid white that looks right at home on the bright sidewalks of Miami… and all the more noticeable when the suit gets dirty after Crockett hits the pavement during the car bombing.
The single-breasted suit jacket has broad notch lapels that roll to a low single button. The wide shoulders are built up with padded shoulders, letting the rest of the unstructured linen jacket with its short side vents hang freely and fully on Johnson’s frame, keeping him cool in the warm climate. The jacket has patch pockets on the hips but no breast pocket. Each cuff is finished with a single, lonely-looking vestigal button, the same cream sew-through plastic as used on the front.
The suit’s double reverse-pleated matching trousers have a medium-low rise that meets the jacket’s buttoning point. In addition to the unused belt loops, the close look we get at Crockett’s trousers reveals a belt prong keeper, the small loop extending from the bottom of his waistband just to the left of his fly which can be folded up to keep the belt in place. The trousers also have slanted side pockets, jetted back pockets, and plain-hemmed bottoms.
White linen suits were hardly novel at the time of Miami Vice‘s debut, but it was Sonny Crockett’s practice of wearing his unstructured suits and sport jackets over T-shirts and henley shirts—often colored in bright pastels—that became a cultural phenomenon.
Crockett’s style would evolve over the course of the series, but this practice was in place from his very first scene as Sonny supplemented his white linen suit with a crew-neck T-shirt in a minty shade of teal green cotton. The shirt has very short sleeves, similar to the classic “muscle shirt” undershirt. While the shortness of these sleeves would keep them from bunching up under the suit jacket like longer T-shirt sleeves, they also expose more of the arm—and thus, sweat and skin oil—to the fabric of the jacket, which could particularly threaten the long-term integrity of the jacket in a warm climate like Miami.
Crockett’s shoulder holster remains a trademark of his style, with the Galco Miami Classic™ shoulder system still an iconic rig decades later due to its association with Don Johnson wearing it on the series. Galco had started making the fully modular holster with its polymer swivel connector, then known as the “Original Jackass Rig” in 1970 when Galco was conducting business as the Famous Jackass Leather Company. Firearms enthusiast Michael Mann fitted James Caan’s expert criminal character with a Galco Original Jackass Rig in Thief, Mann’s 1981 directorial debut, and his production company sought to obtain another for Don Johnson to wear for Miami Vice.
However, Johnson is not yet wearing the Galco that he would make famous in “Brother’s Keeper”, instead wearing a more traditional shoulder rig in walnut brown leather with a vertical holster for his semi-automatic pistol under his left armpit, suspended by an adjustable strap that hooks over his right shoulder without a magazine carrier as his later Galco would have. The “Brother’s Keeper” shoulder holster system was a more commonly seen rig, similar to the Bianchi X15.
Crockett harmonizes the informality of his T-shirt and suit combo by sporting a pair of casual loafers without socks, in this case a pair of white leather slip-ons perforated with 11 rows of holes down the vamp that serve the dual purpose of ventilation and adding character. Stitched over the vamp is a lightly contrasting grid that neatly separates each hole into its own cell. The shoes have beige rubber soles, leather-trimmed around the tops.
According to a Miami Vice online forum, Sonny Crockett’s shoes were made exclusively by footwear brands that included Charles Jourdan, Sperry, and To Boot and were all part of each episode’s $7,000 wardrobe budget. Our first on-screen look at Crockett began with these unique kicks, which are very hard to find alternatives for:
- Anewsex offers a white leather shoe that, aside from its espadrille-inspired jute sole, is the closest alternative I’d been able to find to the “Brother’s Keeper” shoe.
- The evocatively named Men’s Miami Loafer by GBX captures the spirit of the white ventilated loafers, albeit with fabric uppers rather than leather.
In sunny Miami, having a snappy pair of sunglasses is essential…particularly for a clothes horse like Sonny Crockett. Though he would later wear Ray-Bans and Revos over the course of the series, the pilot episode finds Crockett wearing a pair of oversized Carrera 5512 sport aviator sunglasses with a black matte plastic frame, brown tinted lenses, and gray arms modified by the production team to obscure the Carrera branding.
Corky’s last words are bragging to Eddie about his own gold Rolex: “Check it out, Eddie. Twelve grand cash. I was gonna spring eighteen for the Presidential, but it just screams ‘dealer’ if you know what I mean.”
That said, Sonny Crockett appears to be fully embracing his character’s cover as a dealer by wearing an all-gold Rolex Day-Date on the iconic “President” bracelet developed specifically for the Day-Date… though a closer look at the timepiece reveals that it isn’t a genuine Rolex President but instead a replica mocked-up to protect the production team from putting an expensive luxury watch in harm’s way as Crockett was fielding gunfights, car chases, and fistfights every week. Eagle-eyed viewers noted in the same forum cited above that Johnson can often be seen having to re-clasp the watch, an uncharacteristic trait of a true Rolex and perhaps a symptom of this first watch being an imitation.
As the show evolved, Crockett would dress his wrist with a variety of watches, including “a two-tone Rolex Datejust on a Jubilee bracelet, a Zenith El Primero-driven Ebel Sport Classic Chronograph in yellow gold and latterly an Ebel 1911 BTR Chronograph also in yellow gold,” according to Alan Seymour’s comprehensive article for Revolution.
Credited with creating a signature style that influenced menswear for much of the ’80s, Jodie Lynn Tillen was tapped to design costumes for Timothy Dalton’s second and final film as James Bond, Licence to Kill (1989). Dalton, who had prepared for the role by reading and studying Ian Fleming’s original novels, had resisted Tillen’s wish to dress him in the brighter pastels that she had made fashionable via Sonny Crockett, so the result attempted to blend Bond’s traditional tailored aesthetic with the baggy fits contemporary to the late ’80s and is often considered one of the lower points of 007’s on-screen style.
Among the discrepancies with the rest of the show present in “Brother’s Keeper” is Sonny Crockett’s sidearm. The detective would famously carry the short-lived Bren Ten for the first two seasons, but he carried a SIG-Sauer P220 in the pilot episode.
SIG-Sauer introduced the P220 in 1975, primarily to replace the aging SIG P210 as the Swiss Army’s designated service pistol. The P220 has been offered in a variety of calibers, including .45 ACP and 10mm as well as discontinued versions that were chambered for 9x19mm Parabellum, 7.65x21mm Parabellum (.30 Luger), .38 Super, and 9mm Steyr. It would eventually form the basis for an influential line of SIG-Sauer pistols that would include the P225, P226, and P228.
The innovative P220 gained attention around the world, soon also adopted by the Japanese and Danish militaries and imported into the United States as the slightly modified Browning BDA until 1980. While it hasn’t been confirmed, a Miami Vice-focused Wiki page posits that Don Johnson had in fact carried the Browning BDA in “Brother’s Keeper” as opposed to a European-made P220, though IMFDB describes the pistol as a SIG-Sauer product (“the European model with the heel-clip magazine release.”)
In the following episode, “Heart of Darkness” (Episode 1.03), Crockett started carrying the chromed Bren Ten that would become his signature weapon. Once the Bren Ten was discontinued, the production team did not want to arm the fashionable Sonny Crockett with an out-of-production pistol and thus his sidearm became a .45-caliber Smith & Wesson semi-automatic pistol, first the second-generation Model 645 for the third and fourth seasons before he adopted the new third-generation Smith & Wesson 4506 for the series’ fifth and final season.
How to Get the Look
While other aspects of Sonny Crockett’s character would evolve over the course of the series, his style of suits and T-shirts with summer-friendly fabrics and colors was firmly established in Miami Vice‘s pilot episode.
- White linen suit:
- Single-button suit jacket with wide notch lapels, patch hip pockets, vestigal 1-button cuffs, and short double vents
- Double reverse-pleated trousers with belt loops and belt prong keeper, slanted side pockets, jetted back pockets, and plain-hemmed bottoms
- Teal green cotton crew-neck short-sleeve T-shirt
- Walnut brown leather shoulder rig with right-hand-draw vertical holster
- White perforated leather loafers with leather-trimmed beige rubber soles
- Carrera 5512 aviator sport sunglasses with black matte plastic frame, brown tinted lenses, and gray branded arms
- Rolex Day-Date “President” yellow gold wristwatch
If you’re looking for a white linen suit to see if the look is right for you, there’s a relatively affordable (and well-reviewed) 100% linen suit offered on Amazon by U.S. Polo Assn., slightly updated with a more contemporary two-button jacket and flat-front trousers.
Do Yourself a Favor and…
Check out the series.
Five thousand street corners in greater Miami…and Gumby here’s gotta pick ours.
I recognize that Miami Vice has a very dedicated fan community, many of whom have an encyclopedic knowledge of the show and its style. I would highly welcome any Miami Vice fans to reach out with any corrections, confirmations, or additional detail to ensure that any future posts focused on Crockett and Tubbs’ style is accurate and informative!
Sonny’s look in the first two seasons is lit, says I. I don’t like it when his wardrobe gets ridiculed as the right dude (moi?) could still pull it off today. Pastel colours with white? Well, yeah! That’s not “80’s”; that’s “cool”. That said, I’m in the middle of Season 3 and things have gone off the rails. Sonny’s hair is terrible and they’ve gone over the line with his duds. Good article!
Tears in. my eyes. I loved it!
Always loved the show. Great score.
Very well done! Excellent job! I am a huge fan of not only Miami Vice but Don Johnson’s as well. He comes from these parts as us hillbillies say. As does Brad Pitt, Bass Pro and along with John Goodman, Kathleen Turner and Tess Harper attending college here. Payne Stewart was also from here as well as The Ozark Mountain Daredevils.
He also dresses this suit up in badass way for court in s1e4 Calderone’s Return. He absolutely kills it with a Pale blue shirt with a pale cream or pale yellow tie. This, his coral blazer, and his smugglers blues teal blazer are my faves of the series. I hope this means your diving in to more of Crockett’s attire, p.s. all five seasons are free on the NBC app if you don’t mind fullscreen and a few ads.
Thank you!! You’re absolutely right that I will be.. and comments like this that outline which of Crockett’s (and Tubbs’) outfits you’d most like to see make it very very helpful to figure out which to write about next 🙂
Where would be the best places to get an (affordable) unstructured linen suit?
I actually wore an outfit inspired by this today! White linen short-sleeve shirt, Lucky Brand pale blue T-shirt in really soft cotton, white Levis 502 jeans, and beige Allbirds Tree Skippers. Modernizes the look in almost identical colors without the dated 80s fashion.
One of the misconceptions is that Miami Vice started the suit or sport coat with T-shirt look but that is not accurate. That particular style was popular with many MTV video musicians like Duran Duran, Hall and Oates, and Huey Lewis. All of them who sported that look before Miami Vice. Members of Duran Duran can be seen sporting a similar style in their video, Rio, where their colorful suits were designed by British designer, Anthony Price. It’s long been said that MTV played a large influence on the look and sound of Miami Vice since MTV was as popular in the 80’s as social media is today. Miami Vice did popularize, if not invent, the presence of pastels and soft hues in men’s clothing which up until then were considered feminine.
I read somewhere, confirmed by first season costume designer, Jodie Tillen, that contrary to popular belief there was no Armani clothing in the first season because the Armani style was considered too structured and tailored. Many of the first season wardrobe items, especially in Brother’s Keeper, were designed by Gianni Versace which was verified by the late designer in an interview.
Starting in the second season, Bambi Breakstone was brought in as the costume designer and continued much of the same look for Crockett, and introduced a lot of – although not exclusively – Hugo Boss clothing as known by most fans where the end credits say, “Some men’s clothing furnished by Hugo Boss”. We also start to see some Armani sportcoats worn by Sonny Crockett which is distinguished by a more tailored cut, and distinctive notched lapels.
Nor were all of Crockett’s clothing linen. Linen although cool in Miami heat is also notoriously difficult to maintain and keep from getting wrinkled and unkempt. This would be impractical for maintaining continuity between different camera angles. You can see many of Crockett’s clothes were made of, or combinations of, linen blends, cotton, rayon, tropical weight wool and silk.
The hotel they are standing in front of is now a condo – you can buy an apartment in it. And indeed one was recently for rent on AirBnB.