Ted Danson as Sam Malone, bartender and former baseball star
Boston, Spring 1983
– “Showdown, Part 2” (Episode 1.22, dir. James Burrows, aired 3/31/1983)
– “Power Play” (Episode 2.01, dir. James Burrows, aired 9/29/1983)
Created by: Glen Charles, Les Charles, and James Burrows
Costume Designer: Robert L. Tanella
WARNING! Spoilers ahead!
One of the most pivotal moments in the early seasons of Cheers was Sam and Diane setting “will they or won’t they?” by getting together in the final seconds of the first season finale… then picking up abruptly in the second season premiere with their attempts at coupling that prove the fledgling relationship may already be doomed.
“Showdown, Part 2” had begun with a bitter Sam returning from a date with a blonde, no doubt an entry from his infamous black book, leaving the young woman at Cheers’ threshold before retreating into his office to brood over Diane (Shelley Long) dating his never-seen and never-again-mentioned “perfect” brother Derek. Despite it being her day off, Diane also comes into Cheers, finally confessing her own thinly veiled attraction to Sam as she seeks life advice from Coach (Nicholas Colasanto), despite the good-natured bartender’s own admission that she’s “asking a guy who’s taken a lot of fastballs in the head.”
Encouraged by Coach and Cheers’ perennial barfly Norm (George Wendt), Diane refuses to let Sam hide his feelings behind his “tough jock façade,” and the episode’s final ten minutes are a brilliantly honest, human, and often hilarious argument between Sam and Diane that leads to their first kiss.
Diane: You disgust me. I hate you.
Sam: Are you as turned on as I am?
Sam: Bet me.
While that concludes the first season, it’s only the beginning of a whole new chapter for the series as the “bred and educated to walk with kings” Diane and self-described “babehound” Sam have to learn—quickly—how to adapt to the other. She gasps at his Wilt Chamberlain-like claim of bedding at least 400 women (soon redacted to “four honeys”), while he has to learn to share space with Diane’s army of stuffed animals—including, but hardly limited to, Mr. Jammers, Freddie Frogbottom, Gary Gorilla, and Mr. Buzzer—without throwing them out the window of her apartment… which, when seen in “Power Play” (Episode 2.01), becomes the first time that Cheers was set anywhere beside the bar’s interior, which had been the exclusive setting for all on-screen action during the show’s first season.
“Power Play”, which aired 26 years ago this weekend, sets the foundation for the show’s groundbreaking portrayal of a relationship that may not be meant to be. The episode was so named as each of the newly paired couple seeks advice from the patrons at Cheers to gain the upper hand in their relationship. This culminates with Carla (Rhea Perlman) suggesting that Sam show power, resulting in the boldly ill-advised action of Sam breaking down Diane’s door… which, in turn, prompts her to pretend to call the police on him. It’s going to be a long road for these two crazy kids.
What’d He Wear?
Through the early seasons of Cheers, Sam Malone has a few go-to outfit templates. At his most dressed up, whether it’s for a date or a photo shoot as one of Boston’s most eligible bachelors, Sam sports a corduroy jacket with an OCBD and tie paired with boat shoes and either jeans or slacks. Most days behind the bar, however, he dresses for comfort with just enough style sense to quickly make a date, if needed, pulling from his selection of plaid button-up shirts, loud sweaters (for Beantown’s chillier days), and comfortable-looking rugby shirts, almost always accompanied by the prep style staples of surcingle belt and boat shoes.
For its emblematic representation of Sam’s casual style as well as its role in one of the early series’ most pivotal sequences, let’s explore the light blue rugby shirt and coordinating corduroys that Ted Danson wears from “Showdown, Part 2” into “Power Play”. Rugby shirts appropriately originated in the sport of the same name, where players require durable shirts that can withstand the contact nature of the sport while also allowing for easy movement and breathability during the game. You can learn more about the history of rugby shirts—as well as what differentiates them from cosmetically similar polo shirts—in Albert Muzquiz’s informative Heddels article.
Sam’s rugby shirt in these episodes is a cool shade of sky blue cotton with the contrasting white collar and placket that is characteristic of many rugby shirts. The placket is detailed with three sew-through hard rubber buttons that would fasten through a covered fly, though Danson typically wears his rugby shirts completely unbuttoned at the neck. The rubber buttons were implemented as a safer and stronger alternative to plastic should a rugby player’s shirt be pulled at the collar during gameplay.
Sam often wears white cotton V-neck undershirts. Even though he usually wears the short plackets of his rugby shirts completely unbuttoned, the undershirt is hardly discernible as it barely contrasts with the white collar and placket that follows the same V-shaped neckline.
Perhaps the most unique detail of Sam’s shirt is the kangaroo-inspired pouch pocket, a large double-entry pocket across his abdomen with a curved opening on each side that resembles the pocket most commonly found on hooded sweatshirts. In my opinion, this is a great shirt for a bartender: comfortable for long hours behind the bar, durable and washable for frequent spills, and detailed with an easily accessed pocket for stuffing tips… or, in Sam Malone’s case, phone numbers of potential dates.
While this sky blue shirt had also made a prior appearance in another notable early episode, “The Boys in the Bar” (Episode 1.16), Sam wears several of these pouch-pocket rugby shirts across the show’s premiere season, in different colors like green and navy (both branded Nike), bright red and bold blue (with no branding, like this shirt), or a salmon-colored shirt with a white embroidered anchor on the breast that shows up for several episodes in a row.
Rugby shirts offer its wearer an undeniable vintage vibe, illustrated by J. Crew naming its line of rugby shirts for 2019 the “Always 1984” series. The addition of the kangaroo-inspired “pouch pocket” makes it additionally hard to find shirts like Sam’s, though End Clothing occasionally has an Aime Leon Dore navy rugby shirt with a pouch pocket among its stock, and Bonobos has adapted the double-entry patch pocket on a comfortable-looking pique French terry rugby shirt.
Before his retro Red Sox jacket became his signature outerwear, Sam Malone cycled through a series of casual jackets in the show’s early seasons that included at least two reversible nylon jackets that appear to have taken some stylistic inspiration from the classic MA-1 bomber jacket. With this outfit, he echoes the colors of his shirt as his jacket has an ivory-colored nylon shell with cornflower blue accents and piping. The ribbed-knit collar, cuffs, and hem are all this secondary shade of blue, detailed with a double ivory stripe.
Sam would again wear this jacket and rugby shirt in “Sam Turns the Other Cheek” (Episode 3.05), sported with jeans while recovering from accidentally shooting himself in the rear after disarming a jealous husband.
The jacket can be reversed to reveal a cornflower blue shell with ivory accents, as seen for the jacket’s first appearance when consoling Carla in “The Tortelli Tort” (Episode 1.03), though the ivory shell is likely meant to be the true “outside” of the jacket as it has the double sets of pockets while the blue side only has single hand pockets, contrasted with ivory jetting.
The jacket’s double sets of pockets seen on the ivory side are hand pockets that run parallel to each other, with blue-piped button-down flaps on the front pockets followed by blue-jetted pockets just behind them.
Diane: How could you take your pants off when we’re having a fight?
Sam: It’s not gonna last all night, I don’t wanna be overdressed when it ends!
The pants in question are blue corduroy trousers, a slightly dressier alternative to jeans that can often be just as comfortable, if not moreso. These flat front trousers have belt loops, slightly slanted side pockets, and two back pockets with a single-button flap closing over the back left pocket.
Sam stays true to his prep staples of surcingle belts and boat shoes, in this instance wearing a dark navy surcingle belt with light brown leather fittings and a gold-toned square single-prong buckle.
The term “surcingle” has equestrian origins, referring to the leather or synthetic-made strap that fastens around a horse’s girth. This association likely led to its nomenclature describing these prep-favored belts with web bodies and leather ends.
Whether he’s wearing a rugby shirt and jeans or a sport jacket and tie, Sam Malone almost never deviates from boat shoes, his preferred footwear of choice. Developed a half-century earlier by Paul A. Sperry, who introduced his iconic Sperry Top-Sider in 1935 for the purpose of maintaining traction on a slippery deck, boat shoes caught on outside the maritime world as a coastal casual favorite and, by the 1980s, they were a casual footwear of choice for men and women.
With this outfit, Sam’s boat shoes are the archetypal color combination of “sahara” brown nubuck uppers and white rubber outsoles, with two brass eyelets over the vamp for the light brown rawhide laces as well as two sets of laces along each side. The siped soles, 360-degree lacing, and moc-toe construction are all signatures of the classic Sperry Top-Sider, though the popularity of this style by the early 1980s doesn’t limit the possibilities of who made Sam’s shoes.
Boat shoes can be worn either with or without socks, though Sam usually sports his with hose. In this case, it’s a pair of black argyle socks with green and red diamonds and a white overcheck.
For all of his bed-hopping, it makes sense that we would get a few glimpses of Sam’s undergarments. Under his corduroys, Sam wears a pair of navy blue nylon running shorts with white piping and a very short inseam, which reappear late in the eighth season when Rebecca Howe (Kirstie Alley) leaves him tied up to an elevator rail with his pants around his ankles.
The choice to outfit Sam in a pair of athletic shorts, albeit very short ones, was likely made to satisfy network sensors who weren’t ready for a sitcom’s main character to be parading onscreen in traditional underpants. However, it’s also appropriate that the ex-jock Sam, who treats sex like a sport, would rock underwear that looks like he’s ready to run the hundred-meter dash every time he takes his pants off.
One of the more subtly changing pieces in Sam Malone’s wardrobe is his wristwatch, as the character wears an evolving series of timepieces over the course of the show. By the end of the first season, he’s sporting a steel military-style watch with a black dial, worn on a khaki vinyl strap with a single-prong buckle and a wide leather keeper. The watch is very clearly seen in “Let Me Count the Ways” (Episode 1.14), though it’s prominently and humorously featured in “Showdown, Part 2” (Episode 1.22) when Sam challenges Diane to stop talking for ten seconds and offers to time her.
While Sam and Diane’s wardrobe has remained the same when the scene resumes in “Power Play” (Episode 2.01), there are subtle differences in each cast member’s hair styles as well as Sam’s watch, having evidently swapped the strap out for a brown leather band in mid-kiss.
For a decently priced field watch like Sam’s, the Timex Expedition Scout 40 on a tan nylon band is a steal on Amazon for $36.50, though the area of military-inspired watches is a segment where Hamilton has distinguished itself as a particular expert with models like the Khaki Field, including the brown-dialed H70605993 on canvas band, the black-dialed H69439933 on canvas band, the H70595593 on nubuck strap, and the H69429901 on a NATO strap, with prices ranging from $320 up to $660, as of September 2019. More intermediately priced options include the gunmetal 5.11 field watch on a brown NATO strap ($169.99) and the Citizen Eco-Drive on a textured brown leather strap ($145.61).
What to Imbibe
After partying too hard during his Red Sox days, Sam Malone came to terms with his alcoholism and spends the bulk of the series a practicing teetolaler… making his occupation as a bartender all the more interesting. Yet the episode features one of the most entertaining non sequiturs as Carla Tortelli (Rhea Perlman) goes to take a drink from two older patrons (Lois de Banzie and Helen Page Camp) who gradually increase their orders from the genteel tea to sherry to “two boilermakers: Wild Turkey and Bud.”
However, if you’re looking to drink like Norm, Cliff, and the rest of the Cheers regulars, we get a hint at what fuels the bar taps when Carla requests “a couple of ‘Gansetts” in “Truce or Consequences” (Episode 1.08) and “two ‘Gansetts” in “Lil’ Sister Don’t Cha” (Episode 2.02). Both times, Sam pours out two mugs straight from the tap, suggesting that ordering a draft beer at Cheers yields the New England favorite Narragansett. This theory gets some extra credibility given Narragansett’s extensive history as the Red Sox’s sponsor up through the late ’60s, just before hotshot relief pitcher Mayday Malone would have stepped up to the mound.
How to Get the Look
As a relatively laid-back guy who still cared about his appearance, Sam Malone capitalized on the most comfortable aspects of ’80s casual attire, dressing down in a preppy wardrobe of rugby shirts, corduroy trousers, surcingle belts, boat shoes, and argyle socks as exemplified by his outfit that carried him from the finale of Cheers‘ first season and the start of its second.
- Sky blue cotton long-sleeve rugby shirt with white collar, white 3-button placket, and “kangaroo”-style pouch pocket
- Ivory (with cornflower blue accents) nylon zip-up blouson jacket with striped ribbed-knit collar, cuffs, and hem, slanted flapped side pockets, and hand pockets
- Dark blue corduroy cotton flat front trousers with belt loops, slanted side pockets, jetted back right pocket, back left pocket (with single-button flap), and plain-hemmed bottoms
- Dark navy surcingle belt with light brown leather ends
- Camel brown nubuck two-eyelet boat shoes with white outsoles
- Black argyle socks
- Navy blue, white-piped nylon short-inseam jogging shorts, worn as underwear
- Steel military watch with black dial on khaki vinyl strap with single-prong buckle and leather keeper
Do Yourself a Favor and…
Check out the entire series, currently streaming on Amazon Prime, Hulu, and Netflix while also available on DVD.
How do you think it feels to be attracted to someone that makes you sick?!