Donnie Brasco: Pacino’s Red Christmas Tracksuit

Al Pacino as Benjamin "Lefty" Ruggiero in Donnie Brasco (1997)

Al Pacino as Benjamin “Lefty” Ruggiero in Donnie Brasco (1997)


Al Pacino as Benjamin “Lefty” Ruggiero, washed-up Mafia soldier

New York City, Christmas 1978

Film: Donnie Brasco
Release Date: February 28, 1997
Director: Mike Newell
Costume Designer: Aude Bronson-Howard & David C. Robinson


Like The Godfather and GoodfellasDonnie Brasco follows the tradition of great Mafia movies by featuring some Cosa Nostra Christmas celebrations. The frequency with which the holidays appear in mob cinema is no coincidence, as Catholic traditions are very important to we Italian-Americans.

Donnie Brasco features a casual Christmas on Mulberry Street, perhaps more reflective than the Phil Spector-scored Goodfellas party of how many yuletide observances will look in 2020. The movie was loosely based on the true story of FBI agent Joe Pistone, whose five-year undercover work resulted in more than 100 mob convictions after he successfully infiltrated the Bonanno crime family under the guise of a jewelry fence named Donnie Brasco.

Joe (Johnny Depp) drops in on Christmas Eve to show face with his de facto mob “mentor” Benjamin “Lefty” Ruggiero (Al Pacino), who’s spending his holiday in front of the tube watching animals. Joe plans it to be an in and out visit, exchanging Christmas cards—each enclosed with $500—but the lonely Lefty, abandoned by his own deadbeat son, insists that his new protégé stick around:

No man of mine is gonna be alone on Christmas!

At the expense of his own wife and children’s quality time, Joe is roped into the kitchen where Lefty shows off his culinary skills rather than defaulting to the manigott’ preferred by “them goombahs in Brooklyn.” Lefty also has a helping hand in his inamorata Annette (Ronnie Farer), though her inability to “cook special like Benny” relegates her role to putting out kitchen fires as Lefty prepares his melt-in-your-mouth coq au vin.

What’d He Wear?

Yes, this has been a heavy year for tracksuit content on BAMF Style, but what can I say? It’s 2020. Working from home for nine months has meant my collection of suits and sport jackets have endured three seasons patiently hanging, awaiting my return for the office while watching a rotation of garments—increasing in their comfort and decreasing in their formality—take center stage.

Johnny Depp and Al Pacino in Donnie Brasco

If Donnie’s three-piece suit and combed coiffure reflect how I appeared for work at the start of the year, Lefty’s red tracksuit and less refined tresses depict where I’ve landed nine months later.

Donnie evidently missed the dress code memo when he arrives at Lefty’s apartment in his matching windowpane suit jacket and waistcoat with odd trousers and open-neck, disco-collar shirt. In other contexts, Donnie may be too dressed down for a holiday celebration, but he’s got the formality edge on Lefty, who’s sprawled on his plush La-Z-Boy in a red soft-shell tracksuit with gray-and-black stripe accents.

The track jacket has a white-taped zipper up the front and matching rear-slanted zip-openings on the two pockets placed over the hips. The shoulders are detailed with black and gray jersey-knit cotton rings around the armholes, with a gray strip over top of each shoulder running from the neck to the inner-placed gray armhole ring. The pants have white trim around the elasticized waistband and black-and-gray striping down the side of each leg to mimic the shoulder detailing.

Al Pacino in Donnie Brasco

His own unique brand of Santa Claus, Lefty ambles over in his all-red tracksuit to pull Donnie’s present from under the Christmas tree.

Lefty continues his parade of seasonally festive colors with burgundy slippers and dark socks that appear to also be a shade in the burgundy spectrum.

Johnny Depp and Al Pacino in Donnie Brasco

Annette, “a good woman” by Lefty’s standards, dresses somewhat fancier for the holiday in a shiny cheetah-print jumpsuit… which would certainly appear to her animal-obsessed paramour.

Lefty doubles down on the decadence by fully unzipping his track jacket to let the coq au vin settle, showing more of the track pants pulled up over his tucked-in white ribbed cotton sleeveless undershirt. Jockey marketed these as “athletic shirts” (or “A-shirts”) upon their development in the mid-1930s, though they would be denigrated with the sticky “wife-beater” moniker after prominently featuring in a criminal’s publicized mugshot a decade later. These sleeveless undershirts have become a staple of wiseguy style as seen in The GodfatherGoodfellasThe Sopranos, and countless other works of Cosa Nostra cinema.

Al Pacino in Donnie Brasco

Lefty proudly shares that having “cancer of the prick” has placed him in the medical books. At least he’s easing the pain in his affected area by wearing non-smothering pants…

Lefty wears a gold necklace with an ovular religious pendant which drops atop his white undershirt. I’m not sure we ever see the necklace clearly enough to discern which saint is represented on the medallion, but it clearly has more than symbolic significance for Lefty, who gently kisses it after taking it off his neck in his final scene on screen.

Like so many wiseguys in movies (and real life!), Lefty also wears a pinky ring, in this case a gold shiner with a black onyx-filled surface studded by a single diamond in the center.

Donnie Brasco

I hope Lefty gave his pinky ring a thorough cleaning after handling raw chicken!

Lefty wears a gold watch with an octagonal case that encloses a white octagonal dial, strapped to his left wrist on a gold expanding bracelet. The shape alone isn’t enough for me to discern the exact model of Lefty’s wristwatch as watchmakers from Timex to Longines made timepieces with this profile during the era… however, I know there are some eagle-eyed horologists among my readers who may have some insightful thoughts about Lefty’s watch!

Johnny Depp and Al Pacino in Donnie Brasco

Lefty and Donnie thank each other for their mutual—if redundant—gifts of $500 apiece.

When Lefty shifts the day’s activities into the kitchen, he puts on a plain white apron and rests a pair of tortoise-framed rectangular reading glasses on his nose.

Al Pacino in Donnie Brasco

“Sometimes you don’t make no fuckin’ sense, Donnie.”

What to Imbibe

“Can of collagen, can of tomatoes… and a punch of salt,” Lefty describes his process for making coq au vin, tossing the controversial punch over his left shoulder before adding it all to the pan. He then pours in copious E&J brandy which eventually lights the dish aflame… calling for Annette’s unique talents to fight the fire with her own apron and a pot lid.

Johnny Depp and Al Pacino in Donnie Brasco

If you like cooking with a pinch of salt, wait until you get your palms full of a punch of salt!

The E&J was just for cooking, however. As described in Pistone’s memoir and depicted on screen in Donnie Brasco, Lefty’s favorite drink was a white wine spritzer, often downed in a trio to calm down after running into his ex-wife who lives in the same building.

A simple and often refreshing drink, the spritzer is made by pouring chilled white wine into a glass—either a wineglass or a highball glass, depending on preference and amount—and topping it off with club soda or any other light, carbonated beverage with some recipes calling for ginger ale or even lemon-lime soda like Sprite. It’s likely a pair of spritzers that “Donnie” and Lefty toast with after their holiday dinner.

Johnny Depp and Al Pacino in Donnie Brasco

“I die with you, Donnie.” Perhaps feeling the warmth of a filling Christmas coq au vin and a trio of spritzers, Lefty’s pledges his loyalty to the young protégé he’s known for approximately a month.

How to Get the Look

Al Pacino as Benjamin "Lefty" Ruggiero in Donnie Brasco (1997)

Al Pacino as Benjamin “Lefty” Ruggiero in Donnie Brasco (1997)

Far from elegant but undeniably comfortable, Lefty Ruggiero’s bright red tracksuit subconsciously channels Santa Claus for the aging mobster’s intimate Christmas spent with no one but his nearest and dearest.

  • Red soft-shell tracksuit with gray-and-black accents
    • Zip-up track jacket with white-taped zipper, gray-and-black shoulder rings, and white-zipped hip pockets
    • Elastic-waisted track pants with black-and-gray side stripes
  • White ribbed cotton sleeveless undershirt
  • Burgundy slippers
  • Dark burgundy socks
  • Gold necklace with religious pendant/medallion
  • Gold pinky ring with black onyx-filled surface and diamond center
  • Gold octagonal-cased wristwatch with white dial on gold expanding band

Do Yourself a Favor And…

Check out the movie and also the real Pistone’s written account of his undercover life.

The Quote

I got cancer of the prick.

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