Tom Selleck as Thomas Magnum, private investigator and former Navy SEAL
Hawaii, Spring 1980 to Summer 1981
Series: Magnum, P.I.
– “Don’t Eat the Snow in Hawaii, Part 1″ (Episode 1.01, dir. Roger Young, aired 12/11/1980)
– “The Ugliest Dog in Hawaii” (Episode 1.08, dir. Lawrence Doheny, aired 1/29/1981)
– “Thicker Than Blood” (Episode 1.12, dir. Lawrence Doheny, aired 2/26/1981)
– “Billy Joe Bob” (Episode 2.01, dir. Ray Austin, aired 10/8/1981)
– “The Taking of Dick McWilliams” (Episode 2.10, dir. Winrich Kolbe, aired 12/1/1981
– “The Arrow That Is Not Aimed” (Episode 3.14, dir. James Frawley, aired 1/27/1983)
Creator: Donald P. Bellisario & Glen Larson
Costume Designer: Charles Waldo (credited with first season only)
Costume Supervisor: James Gilmore
WARNING! Spoilers ahead!
Today is the 75th birthday of Tom Selleck, who starred for eight seasons as the titular private eye, er, “investigator” on Magnum, P.I. Even those unlucky few who haven’t seen an episode of the series are undoubtedly familiar with Selleck’s Emmy-winning portrayal of the character, a famously mustached Navy veteran outfitted in Aloha shirts, boat shoes, and often a Detroit Tigers cap (representative of Selleck’s own hometown) as he solved cases from his home base at Robin Masters’ luxurious Hawaiian estate with a sharp red Ferrari at his disposal… assuming he has the approval of the estate’s militant major-domo, Jonathan Quayle Higgins III (John Hillerman), a proven BAMF in his own right.
Selleck deserves much of the credit for molding Thomas Magnum into such an interesting, nuanced character that stood out against a backdrop of relatively one-note action heroes played by the likes of Stallone and Schwarzenegger. Frustrated with the original concept of Magnum as a smooth, James Bond-like detective, Selleck took inspiration from his mentor James Garner’s tongue-in-cheek portrayal of fellow private eye Jim Rockford, added a dash of the Indiana Jones characterization (a role that Selleck had to pass out due to his commitment to Magnum), and developed the character into a tough but sensitive veteran who valued his friendships and took on serious work without taking himself too seriously.
From the beginning, Magnum would call on the respective services of his pals and fellow vets T.C. (Roger E. Mosley) and Rick (Larry Manetti), whose respective charter helicopter and barroom connections were invariably valuable for Magnum’s P.I. work. The very first episode also established Magnum’s fondness for wearing Aloha shirts, appropriate for the Hawaiian setting though his practice of tucking in these famously casual shirts could be considered a faux pas.
- Magnum’s first on-screen Aloha shirt was this green “Star Orchid”-patterned shirt, making its inaugural appearance in the show’s premiere episode, “Don’t Eat the Snow in Hawaii, Part 1” (Episode 1.01), as Magnum picks up the sister of a recently deceased friend from the airport, learns a tip about the friend’s death from a talkative Navy ensign, and eventually finds himself in a car chase with Cook’s two killers, who pursue Magnum’s Ferrari in a rusty green Dodge Challenger that meets a fiery end in a sequence reminiscent of the famous Bullitt car chase, right down to the “dirty horns” on the soundtrack.
- The green Star Orchid shirt hung in the back of Magnum’s closet until rotating back to the top spot in his wardrobe in “The Ugliest Dog in Hawaii” (Episode 1.08), which aired on Selleck’s birthday 39 years ago, January 29, 1981. Magnum wears the shirt for the episode’s climax, calling in favors from Rick—who had been noticeably absent for the rest of the episode—as well as T.C.—despite Magnum’s growing expenses of $1,013.59 “…and that ain’t includin’ tax!” Even Higgins helps, not surprisingly enlisting the assistance of “the lads” given the title of the hour.
- “Thicker Than Blood” (Episode 1.12) marks the final first season appearance of the green Star Orchid shirt, worn over Magnum’s signature olive tank top when he goes undercover among the longshoremen at the Oahu docks to investigate the freighter Evelyn H. of Panama that he suspects was involved in T.C.’s recent legal issues.
- As with the first season, the green Star Orchid also kicks off Magnum’s aloha shirts for the second season in “Billy Joe Bob” (Episode 2.01). We find Magnum arguing helicopter charges over breakfast with T.C. at the King Kamehameha Club when the titular cowboy (James Whitmore, Jr.) blusters in, seeking to retain Magnum’s services in finding his little sister. Billy Joe’s fist-friendly techniques haven’t exactly ingratiated him to the proprietors of many Hawaiian businesses—including Rick—and even Magnum takes a deserved swing at the man.
- The green Star Orchid shirt makes its penultimate appearance in “The Taking of Dick McWilliams” (Episode 2.10) when Magnum’s chaotic tax preparations are interrupted by Mitsu McWilliams (Irene Yah-Ling Sun), who reports that her husband Dick (Guy Stockwell)—a “hellraiser” that Magnum knew in the Navy—has been kidnapped!
- Magnum is last seen wearing the shirt in “The Arrow That is Not Aimed” (Episode 3.14) when Magnum actually takes on a job for Higgins… or rather to keep Higgins quiet about his use of dog repellent against the lads. Tasked with tracking down an ancient Japanese plate on behalf of Robin Masters, Magnum’s first stop is to visit a samurai warrior named Tozan (Mako)… who attacks him then spares his life to prove his innocence! Despite this confrontational start, Magnum comes to enjoy spending time with Tozan, who assures Magnum that he’s even more of a samurai than he realizes and takes him out for an evening of traditional entertainment.
Forty years after Magnum first made his small screen debut, the style most associated with him has come full circle for relevancy in 2020, as illustrated by Jake Woolf’s article that published just yesterday for GQ: “Magnum P.I. is the Style Icon You Never Knew You Needed”.
Well… some of us knew!
What’d He Wear?
Magnum is best remembered for his colorful Aloha shirts, though he typically wore only one or two per episode, frequently cycling through a robust wardrobe that included branded polo shirts, contrast-collared short- and long-sleeved rugby shirts, khaki or drab military-styled bush shirts, and—perhaps the most dated of his collection—the button-up neckband shirts that started appearing midway through the second season. For more casual cases, he also cycled through tank tops, raglan T-shirts, and comfortable sweaters.
Forty years after the first episode aired, the Aloha shirt has been so deeply associated with Magnum, P.I. that one is rarely discussed without the other being mentioned. Selleck’s screen-worn red “jungle bird” shirt, arguably the most iconic and frequently seen of Magnum’s Hawaiian shirts, was even donated to the Smithsonian after the final season. (Don’t worry, that classic shirt will receive its own BAMF Style rundown soon! In the meantime, you can pick up your own authentic jungle bird shirt from the original manufacturer, available in both red and black tropical prints from Aloha FunWear.)
About 50 years after the generally accepted date of the Aloha shirt’s introduction, Magnum, P.I. brought them to a new level of exposure. The show’s costume department picked out a few off-the-rack Aloha shirts from local Hawaiian stores like Liberty House, refreshing the collection between the first and second seasons once the garb’s popularity was realized. Magnum’s most familiar shirts—including the “jungle bird”, “Star Orchid”, and “Cala Lilly” prints—are from the Paradise Found label, owned by Pacific Clothing Company. “Pacific Clothing was not aware that their shirts would be featured when the show debuted,” I was told by my friend Lincoln who runs the excellent Aloha Spotter blog and Instagram account, though the company has wisely embraced its association with the iconic character and his shirts by featuring Selleck—and others wearing and referencing the shirts—on the landing page of their website.
The first of Magnum’s Aloha shirts to appear on screen was a rich dark green shirt with a floral orchid print that Paradise Found marketed as the “Star Orchid” pattern, made from a soft, silky rayon. At the time that the first and second seasons of Magnum, P.I. aired, these shirts were made from 100% rayon only. Over the course of the ’80s, Paradise Found added a 100% cotton poplin option and then only made these shirts in cotton from 1992 until 2007, when it resumed offering only the the traditional rayon Aloha shirts. (Thank you, Lincoln from Aloha Spotter, for the information!)
I’m grateful to Scott Murakami, president of Aloha FunWear, who checked in with Tim from Paradise Found about this shirt and learned that the Star Orchid print had originally been produced in 13 different colorways including beige and dark green (as seen in these classic episodes), though only the black is still produced today.”Initially, the flowers were a little closer together but Paradise Found tweaked the layout to make the flowers a little bit further apart,” Scott explained to me. “Those two versions co-existed in the market for a while, but the more spaced-apart version sold much better so Paradise Found discontinued to the old one and has kept the current one ever since.”
Magnum’s short-sleeved shirt, patterned with the original, denser orchid design, has the classic relaxed camp collar (or “revere collar”) traditionally associated with Aloha shirts. There are six natural wood two-hole buttons down the plain front that Magnum typically wears buttoned to mid-chest. Two side pleats on the back under the horizontal yoke contribute to the generous, free-flowing fit. Unlike the current Star Orchid shirts that Paradise Found offers, Magnum’s shirt has a non-matching breast pocket with the differing pattern positions on the pocket seemingly indicating that a different shirt was worn in the second and third seasons from the first season shirt.
“In the ’80s, Star Orchid was offered in a variety of colorways, but today only black is still in production,” observed Lincoln from Aloha Spotter, and indeed the black Star Orchid print from Paradise Found is still available at Aloha FunWear as well as Amazon. The black Star Orchid shirt was even one of several original Paradise Found prints to be worn by Jay Hernandez on the second season of the Magnum, P.I. reboot that debuted in 2018.
Selleck’s Magnum wore his green Star Orchid shirt with considerably more frequency, though the black Star Orchid shirt was also worn on screen, specifically in “No Need to Know” (Episode 1.05), “All Roads Lead to Floyd” (Episode 1.13), and “J. ‘Digger’ Doyle” (Episode 1.17), though it was unfortunately not worn beyond the first season.
Magnum almost always wears his Aloha shirts tucked in and sans undershirt, though an anomaly was his undercover work at the Oahu docks in “Thicker Than Blood” (Episode 1.12), where he layered his green Star Orchid shirt over one of his olive-colored cotton tank tops, allowing him to slip off the Aloha and blend in with the dockworkers. Even after his “mission” is complete, he wears the shirt untucked and completely unbuttoned over his tank top when he goes to confront T.C.
Also part of Magnum’s dockworker disguise in “Thicker Than Blood” is a violet cotton bandanna patterned with rows of white “X” shapes and a paisley section where T.M. knots it against the back of his head.
Magnum almost exclusively wore khaki webbed belts throughout the duration of the series, a callback to the durable belts he would have worn with his khaki service and working uniforms in the Navy. During the first season, these belts had the standard brass-finished slider buckle that can be found on both government-issued and commercially available versions of these web belts from companies like Rothco.
Unlike Rick who wore more fashion-oriented denim, both Magnum and T.C. relied on classic American jeans like Levi’s. T.C. opted for dark denim, while Magnum preferred lighter washes that carried the classic 501® red tag as well as the orange tag that Levi Strauss & Co. used to denote non-basic items such as bellbottoms and boot-cuts from the 1960s through 1999.
After the richer, medium blue wash denim of the first episode, Magnum would typically balance the high-contrast design of the green Star Orchid shirt with a lighter blue pair of Levi’s, as seen in all subsequent appearances during the first and second seasons.
The second season also marked the debut of Magnum’s signature personalized “Surface Warfare” belt buckle, a gold-toned slider buckle affixed to his khaki web belt with the U.S. Navy Surface Warfare emblem and “MAGNUM” embossed in gold just below it.
Magnum wore exclusively Levi’s jeans up through the sixteenth episode of the first season, when he debuted the dungarees that he would cycle in and out of his wardrobe over the rest of the series. These four-pocket jeans have two patch pockets on the front and two on the back, no doubt inspired by the iconic bell-bottomed denim dungarees that the U.S. Navy had authorized as an enlisted working uniform in 1913.
Magnum’s preference for boat shoes was appropriate for the P.I.’s laidback life by the water, with these iconic deck shoes appearing in shades of off-white and the occasional brown as briefly glimpsed with this shirt in “The Ugliest Dog in Hawaii” (Episode 1.08) and “The Taking of Dick McWilliams” (Episode 2.10), though he seems to be wearing the off-white leather Sperry Top-Siders for every other instance of wearing this shirt.
The first modern boat shoes were introduced in 1935 by American yachtsman and outdoorsman Paul A. Sperry, who took inspiration from the cracks in his dog Prince’s paws that allowed the pup to run through ice without sliding to develop the “non-slip” sole of the now-iconic boat shoe that would be known as the Sperry Top-Sider. Per its “boat shoe” and “deck shoe” monikers, the Top-Sider was originally designed for better traction on the wet decks of seafaring vessels, eventually finding their way inland via New England.
Over the next half-century, boat shoes found their way around the world and became firmly established as the casual shoe of the ’80s, favored by some of the most popular characters of the decade including James Bond, Sam Malone, and Thomas Magnum.
These distinctive boat shoes are instantly recognizable for their moccasin-stitched construction and two- or three-eyelet derby-style open lacing. You can still buy a pair of Magnum-esque deck shoes:
- Sperry Authentic Original 2-Eye Boat Shoe in white leather (Amazon)
- Sperru Authentic Original PLUSHWAVE Washable 2-Eye Boat Shoe in “bone” nubuck (Sperry)
- Sperry Cloud Authentic Original 3-Eye Boat Shoe in white leather (Sperry)
Much ado would be made about Magnum’s adoption of his aviator father’s prized (but ultimately anachronistic) Rolex GMT Master in the fourth season of Magnum, P.I., but in the three seasons preceding that, Magnum wore a stainless steel Chronosport Sea Quartz 30 dive watch that flashbacks reveal to be the same watch he wore during his Navy service in the Vietnam War. (According to a Redditor’s research, this has some historical integrity as some Navy SEAL teams evidently did wear Chronosports during their service in the early ’70s!)
Worn on a black tropic rubber strap, Magnum’s Chronosport Sea Quartz 30 has a slim black tick-marked rotating bezel, a black dial with luminescent markers and numerals for 12, 6, and 9 o’clock with a black day-date window at 3:00. Episodes that show close-ups of the watch reveal it to be a pre-1982 model that just says “Quartz” on the dial before Chronosport added the full “Sea Quartz 30” designation on the dial.
The green Star Orchid shirt only appears across the show’s first three seasons, before Magnum (and Selleck himself) started wearing the POW/MIA bracelet recognizing Kenneth Ray Lancaster.
Also reflective of Magnum’s war service is the distinctive team ring that he, Rick, and T.C. wear, a gold ring with a French Croix de Lorraine (“Cross of Lorraine”) embossed on a large oval face, filled in with black enamel. Also known as a double cross or patriarchal cross, the Cross of Lorraine became a symbol of resistance during wartime France, and the experts at Magnum Mania! have suggested that this as a reasonable connection for why Magnum’s team chose this symbol for their own memento. Replicas abound, such as this relatively well-reviewed piece offered on Amazon.
The symbol has no association with the U.S. Navy or Marine Corps, the branches for which Magnum, Rick, and T.C. served, though it has been the insignia of the U.S. Army Reserve 79th Infantry Division since the division’s defense of France during World War I. Other than the majority of the first season when he wears the ring on his left hand à la wedding ring, Magnum wears his team ring proudly on the third finger of his right hand.
Magnum wears several pairs of sunglasses throughout the series, including the iconic Ray-Ban Aviator, though the only pair that he prominently wears with the green Star Orchid shirt are the tortoise Vuarnet Skilynx Aciers.
The Vuarnet brand was introduced in 1961 to capitalize on French alpine ski racer Jean Vuarnet’s gold medal during the previous year’s Winter Olympics as Roger Pouilloux and Joseph Hatchiguian were seeking to market the Skilynx lens they had invented four years prior. The sporty Acier nylon frame as worn by Selleck was particularly popular during the 1970s and ’80s.
One of the most iconic elements of Thomas Magnum’s appearance is his Detroit Tigers baseball cap, a nod to Tom Selleck’s birthplace that was also written to become Magnum’s birthplace, though he would be raised in Virginia.
The cap logo is consistent with the same look that the Tigers have worn on their home caps since 1924 through the present day, with a white letter “D” in the Middle English blackletter typeface against a navy blue cotton twill ground. As with all MLB teams, the Tigers’ caps are widely available (including from Amazon) though they’re considerably more popular than many other teams due to their association with Magnum, P.I.
After a two-season absence, the green Star Orchid shirt made what I believe to be its final appearance atop of clothing Magnum was seen pulling from his bedroom in “Kiss of the Sabre” (Episode 5.11) when Higgins was temporarily dislocating him so that Robin Masters’ writer friend, Betty Windom (Cassie Yates), could stay in the Robin’s Nest guest house.
It wasn’t until the serious two-partner that opened the third season, “Did You See the Sunrise?”, that Magnum went a full episode—in fact, two!—without wearing a festive Aloha shirt. By the fifth season, Alohas were all but phased out as Magnum, P.I. took on grittier story lines as indicated by the dark ending to its season opener.
By the final seasons, only the red “jungle bird” Aloha shirt remained in semi-regular rotation of Magnum’s classic Alohas, seen sporadically in episodes like “Murder by Night” (Episode 7.14) and “The Love That Lies” (Episode 8.06), until making its final appearance at the end of the Indiana Jones-inspired episode “Legend of the Lost Art” (Episode 8.10). It seemed like Higgins’ influence was rubbing off on Magnum as we saw less and less of our favorite Aloha shirts in favor of not just casual staples like Harrington jackets but also sport jackets, blazers, and suits with increasing frequency.
There’s plenty to say about Magnum’s Ferrari… or, more accurately, the series of Ferraris that Magnum would “borrow” from his benefactor, Robin Masters, over the course of the show. I’ll save the bulk of commentary for when ROBIN 1 receives its due treatment during an upcoming #CarWeek installment, but it would be a grave oversight to not give some attention to the stylish bright red sports car that became as much associated with Magnum as his Tigers cap and mustache.
In the first season of Magnum, P.I., the ROBIN 1 license plates were affixed to a 1979 Ferrari 308GTS, to be supplanted by a 1981 Ferrari 308GTSi for the second through sixth seasons and, finally, a 1984 Ferrari 308GTSi quattrovavole for the final two seasons.
Boasting a sleek body design by Leonardo Fioravanti at Pininfarina, the 308 was introduced by Ferrari in 1975 to replace the mid-engine Dino series that Ferrari had produced since 1967. Initially available only in the close-topped “Berlinetta” GTB model, the targa-topped GTS model was introduced at the 1977 Frankfurt Motor Show.
All Ferrari 308 models were powered by a 2.9 L Tipo V8 engine that varied based on model or generation. You can read more about Magnum’s various Ferraris at this comprehensive page from Magnum Mania! (Expect to read more about the cars themselves beginning with BAMF Style’s #CarWeek post to be published in summer 2020!)
As a Navy veteran, Magnum would be familiar with the classic M1911A1 service pistol that served all branches of the U.S. military from the 1920s through the 1980s. Thus, he often prepares for investigations that prove more dangerous than usual by bringing along a Colt 1911. Magnum’s pistol is ostensibly meant to be his service .45 from the Navy, but the production instead armed Tom Selleck with a Colt MK IV Series 70 Government Model, a commercial version of the venerated 1911.
Not only is Magnum’s Colt not a military-issue sidearm, but it’s also chambered in 9x19mm Parabellum rather than the more powerful .45 ACP caliber. As the .45 ACP round was notably unreliable for blank-firing weapons, 9mm alternatives had long been used as stand-ins by productions like The Wild Bunch (1969), Dillinger (1973), Three Days of the Condor (1975), and The Untouchables (1987), all of which featured the Spanish-made Star Model B in scenes where its 1911-toting characters were depicted firing their weapons.
In a few early episodes, notably “China Doll” (Episode 1.03), Magnum, P.I. makes the same Star Model B substitution but this practice grew far less common as the show continued until Magnum was exclusively using his genuine Colt Government Model… unless he was carrying one of his compact backup pistols like the Detonics Pocket 9 or Walther PPK. (You can read more about the firearms used on Magnum, P.I. at IMFDB. For more expert discussion about Magnum’s 1911, I recommend this forum at Magnum Mania.)
A screen-used Colt from Magnum, P.I. was included as Lot 152 in a June 2007 auction from the Stembridge Armory Collection, where it was described in the catalog as:
Colt MK IV Series 70 Gov’t Model semi-auto pistol, 9mm Luger cal., 5” barrel, #70L33101. The barrel is adapted for firing blanks, approx. 95% blue finish remaining with slight holster wear, checkered brown plastic grips, correct Colt 9mm Luger marked magazine.
Interestingly, the auction also included a Walther PPK that was used both on Magnum, P.I. and carried by Timothy Dalton as James Bond in his second and last 007 film, Licence to Kill (1989).
A firearms enthusiast with military experience from his six-year service with the California Army National Guard, Tom Selleck has been a longtime proponent of the 1911 design, particularly the Smith & Wesson SW1911SC Gunsite Edition that he carried in all eight of the Jesse Stone film series as well as the NBC TV series Las Vegas. You can read more about Selleck’s extensive history with on-screen (and off-screen) firearms at IMFDB.
How to Get the Look
Thomas Magnum may have had a more diverse wardrobe than people recall, but his fondness for Aloha shirts apropos the show’s Hawaiian setting remain a memorable hallmark of Magnum, P.I. as established from the first episode when Tom Selleck appeared on screen with this star orchid-patterned Aloha shirt tucked into his Levi’s and worn with webbed belt and boat shoes.
- Dark green “Star Orchid” floral-patterned rayon Aloha shirt by Paradise Found with camp collar, plain front (with 6 wood buttons), non-matching breast pocket, and short sleeves
- Available in black via AlohaFunWear
- Light blue denim Levi’s vintage “orange tag” jeans
- Alternative Levi’s 501 “red tag” in medium stonewash available via Amazon
- Khaki web belt with gold-tone USN “Surface Warfare” belt buckle
- Available via Amazon
- Off-white leather Sperry Top-Sider boat shoes
- Available via Amazon
- Chronosport Sea Quartz 30 stainless steel dive watch with black rotating bezel, black dial (with luminescent hour markers and 3:00 day-date window), on black tropic leather strap
- Gold Croix de Lorraine team ring
- Replicas available via Amazon
- Detroit Tigers baseball cap in navy cotton twill with white-embroidered logo
- Available via Amazon
- Vuarnet Skilynx Acier tortoise nylon sport sunglasses
Do Yourself a Favor and…
Check out the entire series. And stay tuned… there’s a more in-depth project regarding Magnum’s style in the works.
I also highly suggest the extensively researched Magnum Mania! site for fans of the series. For obvious reasons, I suggest the site’s comprehensive Magnum Gear page that includes brief descriptions and links about the clothing and accessories worn by not just Magnum but also Rick, T.C., and Higgins.
Sometimes I get so lucky even I don’t believe it.