A Magnum, P.I. Christmas: The Burgundy Rugby Shirt
Tom Selleck as Thomas Magnum, private investigator and former Navy SEAL
Hawaii, Christmas 1980 to Summer 1981
Series: Magnum, P.I.
– “Thank Heaven for Little Girls and Big Ones Too” (Episode 1.04, dir. Bruce Seth Green, aired 12/25/1980)
– “Lest We Forget” (Episode 1.10, dir. Lawrence Doheny, aired 2/12/1981)
– “Beauty Knows No Pain” (Episode 1.18, dir. Ray Austin, aired 4/16/1981)
– “Dead Man’s Channel” (Episode 2.02, dir. Ray Austin, aired 10/15/1981)
Creator: Donald P. Bellisario & Glen Larson
Costume Designer: Charles Waldo (credited with first season only)
Costume Supervisor: James Gilmore
WARNING! Spoilers ahead!
In perhaps an early Christmas gift to the TV-watching world, Magnum, P.I. debuted on CBS forty years ago tonight on December 11, 1980, when the two-parter “Don’t Eat the Snow in Hawaii” introduced us to a charming, bewhiskered private investigator living the dream life on a Hawaiian estate with a sleek red Ferrari and a full closet of Aloha shirts at his disposal.
Four episodes in, Magnum, P.I. aired its first holiday-set episode when “Thank Heaven for Little Girls and Big Ones Too” aired on Christmas night, 1980. The series would revisit the holidays once more during the fourth season’s more festively titled “Operation: Silent Night”, though Magnum spends most of the episode clad in his drab tank top and bush shirt rather than the more colorful, creative outfit he wears while spending the holidays foiled by schoolteacher Linda Booton (Katherine Cannon) and her larcenous young wards.
With just two weeks to go to Christmas on this #AlohaFriday, I wanted to wish BAMF Style readers a happy holiday season by delving into a yuletide-themed episode from one of my favorite series!
What’d He Wear?
The Thomas Magnum image typically brings to mind Tom Selleck standing tall in a well-cultivated mustache in a colorful Aloha shirt and perhaps that well-loved Detroit Tigers baseball cap. Fans of the show know that, while the mustache was a welcome mainstay, Selleck wore a considerably more diverse wardrobe ranging from polos and rugby shirts to collarband button-ups and safari-inspired work shirts.
Rugby shirts enjoyed a spree of popularity during the preppy trend of the ’80s, and it seemed like every dashing TV lead kept a few in his closet from Sam Malone to Thomas Magnum. Magnum sported both long- and short-sleeved rugby shirts. Among the latter, he wore shirts in nearly every color, beginning with a navy rugby shirt in the third episode “China Doll” and ranging from bright pastels to earthy tans and this rich burgundy shirt, a particularly festive shade to debut in Magnum, P.I.‘s first Christmas-set episode.
The shirt’s body is made from a burgundy cotton, more form-fitting than the traditional rugby jersey and thus flattering for Selleck’s athletic physique. The stiffer white point collar is characteristic of a classic rugby shirt, with the white continuing down the long inner placket where the shirt can be closed through three white rubber buttons, though Selleck leaves all three buttons undone to create a deep V-neck effect.
The experts at Magnum Mania! have invested plenty of exhaustive research and investigative discussion into all things Magnum, including his wardrobe… and including his rugby shirts (as well as those unique “kangaroo pocket” shirts.) I don’t want to steal the thunder from any of these super-fans and their knowledge, so check out their discussion!
“Thank Heaven for Little Girls and Big Ones Too” (Episode 1.04) begins with Rick Wright (Larry Manetti) calling Magnum away from a staid Christmas observation with Higgins (John Hillerman) to meet a mysterious woman at the capitol building. Magnum is bemused to discover that his latest client is actually a quintet of Vermont schoolgirls who have presumably lost their teacher, Linda Booton. After Magnum allows the girls to talk him into taking on their “case”, he then recruits them to try to convince a recalcitrant Higgins to host them while he searches for Miss Booton.
Magnum: Come on, Higgins, it’s the holidays… it’s a time for giving and sharing, right, kids? You can’t just turn five helplessly stranded little girls out into the night.
Higgins: Bah, humbug.
Magnum has more success enlisting his war buddy T.C. (Roger E. Mosley) to help him find Miss Booton, pulling on a unique sky-blue chambray bush-style fishing shirt as a lightweight top layer against the chillier December night air.
This sky-blue shirt makes its sole appearance in “Thank Heaven for Little Girls and Big Ones Too” (Episode 1.04) as it swiftly gets torn apart during a brawl at Saigon Susie’s gym. Though the shirting appears to be a lightweight chambray cotton or cotton/linen blend, this appears to be more equivalent to a shirt-jacket—or “shacket”, as the marketing gods have colloquialized—meant to be worn untucked and over another layer.
While more likely a fishing shirt than traditional safari gear, Magnum’s overshirt features many safari-inspired details like the shoulder straps (epaulettes) and four semi-bellows pockets on the front; each side has two pockets stacked, with a pointed flap to close through a single white plastic button matching the seven that Magnum leaves unbuttoned up the front placket. There is also a narrow bellows-style flapped pocket on the upper left sleeve, which closes through a single-button flap like those on the front and brings the total number of outer pockets to five. He wears the cuffs unbuttoned and rolls the sleeves up to his elbows.
The straight-hemmed shirt has a slit along each side of the back that closes through a single button, likely creating a straight-through vent effect as it would be ungainly for a shirt this light to have a hunting-style poacher pocket in the back. The shirt also has a narrow point collar and a short horizontal tab on the left side of the chest, sewn to the shirt on its left side and buttoned to the shirt on the right.
Details like these side vents and accessory loop are common features of fishing shirts (the chest tab to secure one’s rod while attaching bait), though most modern fly-fishing shirts from outdoor outfitters like Columbia and L.L. Bean are made from water-resistant manmade fabrics and opt for Velcro fastenings rather than buttons.
It wasn’t until the end of the first season that Magnum started wearing his four-pocket naval dungarees, thus Magnum wears this shirt tucked into Levi’s jeans for its trio of first-season appearances. The jeans are a medium-wash in “Thank Heaven for Little Girls and Big Ones Too” and then a lighter wash in “Lest We Forget” and “Beauty Knows No Pain”, both times with the orange tab (rather than the classic red) that Levi’s introduced in the 1960s to differentiate its “fashion” denim.
Former Navy man Magnum continues wearing his mil-spec web belt, made of khaki cotton webbing and fastening through a gold-toned slider buckle. Beginning in the second season, this would be a wider buckle with his own last name and the U.S. Navy “Surface Warfare” badge, but he was still wearing the plain-buckled belt in the first season, similar to those still available from military contractors like Rothco (via Amazon).
Magnum was also a connoisseur of the classic boat shoe, the nautical footwear pioneered in 1935 by Paul A. Sperry, who had been inspired by his cocker spaniel’s grooved paws to develop a siped sole that would give fellow sailors more traction while walking the slippery decks at sea. Nearly a half-century later, the Sperry Top-Sider boat shoe was a casual favorite among everyone from sea dogs to preppy landlubbers. Decidedly in the former category, Magnum sported boat shoes in several colors, though this outfit always calls for Top-Siders with brown oiled leather uppers, detailed with two-toned rawhide laces through the side lacing and twin sets of eyelets.
In “Lest We Forget” (Episode 1.10), Magnum joins Supreme Court Justice Robert Caine (José Ferrer) at the USS Arizona memorial. Apropos the episode’s themes of American military history, Vietnam veteran Magnum wears his oft-seen navy baseball cap recognizing his friends’ Marine Observation Squadron 2 (VMO-2) service with the yellow-embroidered “VMO2” and “DA NANG” above and below a right-facing eagle with its wings spread.
Reproductions of the hat are available from outfitters like Hawkins Military Merchants and U.S. Wings, though its wear should be limited to Magnum costumes to avoid one being accused of stealing valor.
“Lest We Forget” also breaks from Magnum’s established footwear with this outfit as he swaps out his brown leather boat shoes for another favorite set of kicks, his frequently seen PUMA Easy Rider sneakers in white nylon, detailed with blue-striped leather side trim and rubber-studded outsoles. Introduced only within a year before Magnum, P.I. premiered, the Easy Rider was revolutionary at the time as PUMA’s first jogging shoe, designed to capitalize on the new global trend.
All’s well that ends well when Magnum wears this shirt for a fourth and final time in the “Dead Man’s Channel” (Episode 2.02) epilogue, wearing it with a pair of navy blue elastic-waisted shorts with side pockets and a short inseam that I’d suspect was no longer than 3 inches. His shoes are white casual lace-ups that appear to blend boat shoe aesthetics with an athletic sneaker’s functional sensibilities.
Behind the wheel of his—er, Robin Masters’ Ferrari in “Beauty Knows No Pain” (Episode 1.18), Magnum wears the sporty tortoise-framed Vuarnet Skilynx Acier sunglasses, identified by Magnum Mania. Roger Pouilloux and Joseph Hatchiguian introduced the Vuarnet brand in 1961 to market their innovative Skilynx lens and capitalize on French alpine ski racer Jean Vuarnet’s gold medal during the previous year’s Winter Olympics.
Nearly forty years after Selleck first spun his tires speeding away from Robin’s Nest, Vuarnet introduced a variation of these frames as the Vuarnet Tom 1623, named in tribute to the show’s stylish star.
Until it was replaced with a “Pepsi bezel” Rolex GMT Master reportedly belonging to his father, Magnum wore a Chronosport Sea Quartz 30 dive watch that flashbacks reveal to have been his war-worn watch as well. (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!) This steel 42mm-cased watch with a slim black tick-marked rotating bezel has a black dial with a day-date window at 3:00 and is worn on a black tropical rubber strap.
Also reflective of his war service is the identical gold team ring that Magnum, Rick, and T.C. wear. The large oval surface is filled in black enamel with a raised Croix de Lorraine. Alternately 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. Though he would wear it on his right hand in the pilot and all episodes from the second season on, Selleck wears the team ring on the third finger of his left hand for most of the series’ first season.
How to Get the Look
When not in his signature Hawaiian shirts, Thomas Magnum dressed for casual comfort in ’80s prep staples like rugby shirts and boat shoes with his usual Levi’s jeans and khaki web belt. It may just be a festive coincidence that he wears a burgundy-bodied rugby shirt in the series’ first Christmas episode, but it’s always nice to see some seasonal color during the holidays!
- Burgundy cotton jersey short-sleeve rugby shirt with white collar and long 3-button placket
- Sky blue chambray fishing shirt with point collar, shoulder straps (epaulets), four semi-bellows pockets, sleeve pocket, button-tab chest loop, button cuffs, and button-through side vents
- Blue denim Levi’s vintage “orange tag” jeans
- Khaki web belt with gold-tone sliding belt buckle
- Brown leather Sperry Top-Sider boat shoes
- 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 perforated black strap
- Gold Croix de Lorraine team ring
- Navy cotton twill baseball cap in navy cotton twill with yellow-embroidered “VMO2 / DA NANG” text and eagle logo
- Vuarnet Skilynx Acier tortoise nylon sport sunglasses
Do Yourself a Favor and…
Check out the entire series.
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.
Well, some people don’t like to be taken for a ride.
In heraldic terms, a bird, especially an eagle, facing the viewer, with its wings spread and its head pointed to its own right is called “displayed.”
Perhaps worth noting, a Croix de Lorraine ring appears in Casablanca, which was probably Rick’s favorite film.
I love all the Magnum posts, but how come no Thomas Magnum Military shirt, the other iconic Magnum look ? I have been trying to identify the olive military shirt with epaulettes but can never seem to identify the right one. A great look, the Detroit Tigers hat, the ring, Rolex Pepsi, jeans, but no ID on that shirt. What do you think my friend ?