The Rum Diary: Kemp’s Off-White Corduroy Trucker Jacket
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
The end of this week means the start of summer, arguably the strangest summer I’ll have experienced in my thirty years. The global coronavirus pandemic has seen the cancellation of sunny getaways, a halt in peanut or crackerjack sales at old ballgames, and consumers foregoing bathing suit deals in favor of fashionable face masks (like these Magnum, P.I.-inspired masks made by my friends at Aloha Funwear!)
In the spirit of what promises to be a surreal summer, I’m exploring a functional look extracted from the chaos of The Rum Diary, adapted from Hunter S. Thompson’s semi-roman à clef inspired by his brief career with the Puerto Rican sporting magazine El Sportivo. More than a decade after he portrayed HST surrogate Raoul Duke in Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, Johnny Depp returned to star in this somewhat less successful adaptation of a chapter from his late friend’s life.
Depp, who celebrated his 57th birthday last Tuesday, plays Paul Kemp who—like Thompson himself—arrives in San Juan at the dawn of the 1960s to take on a doomed job at a doomed newspaper, staffed by a gaggle of misfits ranging from disgruntled photographed Bob Sala (Michael Rispoli) to the psychopathic reporter Moburg (Giovanni Ribisi).
Among the misadventures in The Rum Diary is the episode featured in this post where Kemp accompanies Sala on an errand to recover the photographer’s abandoned Fiat, which has been looted and stripped for parts. Despite the damage, the Fiat retains an operable engine which allows Kemp and Sala to return to town in it… though their awkward drive is made all the more awkward when they find themselves astride the policemen they had offended—er, lit on fire—the previous evening, forcing them to push the abused Fiat’s 499cc engine to its 17 horsepower limit as they make their getaway.
What’d He Wear?
This is an intentionally poor execution of what could be an inspired summer look, and I found it more worthy of BAMF Style inclusion for its concept than its somewhat more ragged and baggy screen execution. Far from indicating any issues with her work, I think this speaks volumes to the talent of costume designer Colleen Atwood, expertly using Paul Kemp’s clothing to communicate how much the character is growing increasingly out of his depth (Depp-th?) as the surrounding chaos consumes him.
Kemp is at his most dressed-down for the trip to retrieve Sala’s Fiat, clad in wrinkled off-white trucker jacket, striped long-sleeve T-shirt, and rumpled dark blue linen suit trousers that—with his messy hair and bruises—makes Kemp look considerably unkempt.
The off-white corduroy trucker jacket has a white brand tag on the left pocket flap that Levi’s reserved for its corded jackets and jeans at the time, per this comprehensive Beyond Retro guide. The cut and style of Kemp’s trucker jacket is consistent with the Levi’s 557XX or “Type III” introduced in 1967, several years after the setting of The Rum Diary, and I believe that non-denim fabrics like white denim were introduced even later in the decade. (Vintage examples like this 1970s-era jacket are still available via sites like Etsy.)
For advanced reading, I suggest Mads Jakobsen’s comprehensive guide for Heddels, which details the difference between the 557 jacket that Levi’s introduced in 1962 (to replace the earlier “Type II” jacket) and the more familiar 557XX that evolved five years later as the companion piece to the Levi’s 505 jeans.
Characteristics of the Type III Levi’s trucker jacket also present on Kemp’s jacket are the six copper rivet buttons, single-button cuffs (which he leaves undone), waistband button-tabs to adjust the fit, and tapered V-shaped seams running from the horizontal yoke under the pocket flaps to the waist hem. The two chest pockets align with the horizontal yoke and each close with a single rivet button through a pointed flap, and the lack of lower hand pockets suggests that this was produced prior to the 1980s.
Under the jacket, Kemp wears a white cotton long-sleeved T-shirt with balanced gray horizontal stripes and a white crew neck.
Kemp’s dark navy linen-blend flat front trousers are likely the orphaned trousers from his suit of the same color and material, detailed with belt loops, gently slanted side pockets, and plain-hemmed bottoms. Already generously cut, Kemp likely wears them low on his waist that creates a baggy, unflattering appearance.
Further dressing down this already casual outfit is Kemp’s choice of footwear, a pair of classic Jack Purcell sneakers that can be quickly identified by the signature black “smile” across the toe cap as well as the signature soles with the orange branded rectangle within the asymmetrical navy cutout shape, best seen in this behind-the-scenes shot of Depp on set. Canadian-born Jack Purcell was a world champion badminton player when he introduced his famous sneakers for P.F. Flyers in 1935, designed with flat soles and steel shanks embedded in the heels for optimal support on the court. After Converse’s parent company purchased the P.F. Flyers brand from B.F. Goodrich in 1972, Converse maintained the Jack Purcell brand and continues to make these sneakers today (available via Converse and Amazon.)
Depp’s screen-worn Jack Purcells have low white-bleached canvas uppers and white rubber outsoles with the white toe cap dented on the front for the curved “smile”. The sneakers have white laces through eight sets of eyelets and a pair of metal grommets on the inside of each upper for ventilation. He wears them with unfashionable white socks that remain thankfully covered by the full, baggy break of his trouser bottoms.
Among the most celebrated pieces of Paul Kemp’s style in The Rum Diary are his “jet age”-styled vintage wraparound sunglasses with a curved gold semi-frame across the front and brown-tinted bubble lenses. Known as the “Spectacular” sunglasses, these sunglasses were made first by Sol Amor in the 1950s before Renauld began manufacturing them in the ’60s.
Kemp’s military-style field watch suggests the A-11 watch issued to American servicemen during World War II or its all-lumen successor, the A-17, both of which would be supported by the fact that Kemp was modeled after Hunter S. Thompson, who had just been discharged from two years of U.S. Air Force service before taking his job in San Juan. This history of the A-11 is a great read, detailing the Elgin, Bulova, and Waltham watches made for the military as well as the similar but non-officially designated watches made by Hamilton.
Kemp’s silver-toned watch with its black dial is secured to his left wrist via tan canvas strap.
The jacket makes a brief final appearance later in the film, again in a shady situation as Kemp and Sala trade $50 to Moberg in exchange for a bike and wild drugs that they need to drop into their eyes. (The $50 comes with the added request that Kemp provide visual determination that Moberg has the clap, which Kemp confirms is indeed “a standing ovation.”)
Kemp wears a white shirt of such lightweight cotton that his skin and the outline of his white sleeveless undershirt can be clearly seen through it after getting wet in the rain. The shirt has a front placket, breast pocket, and button-down collar which Kemp neglects to fasten for a characteristically scrappy appearance.
While a white button-down shirt could nicely dress up this otherwise casual outfit, Kemp misses the mark when dressing to go out in his drug-hazed desperation, buttoning a few of the jacket rivets over the shirt but letting the shirt’s long hem flow freely in the front and back for an appearance as unbalanced as the character himself was feeling at this point.
How to Get the Look
There’s nothing wrong with Paul Kemp’s choice of clothes, though steps could certainly be taken to improve his overall appearance, specifically sizing down the T-shirt and trousers, a need illustrated by this behind-the-scenes shot.
- Off-white corduroy cotton Levi’s “Type III” trucker jacket with six copper rivet buttons, two chest pockets (with single-button flap), single-button cuffs, and button-tab waist hem adjusters
- White-and-gray horizontal-striped cotton crew-neck long-sleeve T-shirt
- Dark navy linen flat front suit trousers with belt loops, slanted side pockets, and plain-hemmed bottoms
- White canvas-and-rubber Jack Purcell sneakers
- White socks
- Renauld “Spectacular” gold-framed wraparound sport sunglasses with brown bubble lenses
- Military-style field watch with silver-toned case, round black dial, and tan canvas strap
Your humble author was inspired by the elements of this look, and I purchased a muslin trucker jacket from J. Crew last summer, sporting it with striped tees and jeans for a summer road trip last year and a jaunt to Florida. While I’m hardly a style icon, I’d like to offer the below linked photos as photographic evidence of how I believe the look can be improved with better fits, even on a budget:
- Photo 1 and Photo 2 (August 2019) with blue-and-white striped J. Crew T-shirt, Old Navy boat shoes, Invicta Speedway watch, and Ray-Ban aviators
- Photo 3 (March 2020) with white-and-navy striped Banana Republic T-shirt
Do Yourself a Favor and…
Check out the movie. I also suggest reading Hunter S. Thompson’s original book, which took three decades to get published.
Jesus! Your tongue is like an accusatory giblet!
Great article as always. You should do Raoul Duke’s patchwork jacket + bucket hat + wild patterned shirt combo next
My feelings exactly. Have been waiting for that review for about 10 years now.
Yes!! I was worried that the Raoul Duke post currently underway was just going to be a labor of love on my part… glad to know there will be at least two readers enthusiastic to see it drop next month!