Joaquin Phoenix as Larry “Doc” Sportello, hippie private investigator
Los Angeles County, Fall 1970
Film: Inherent Vice
Release Date: December 12, 2014
Director: Paul Thomas Anderson
Costume Designer: Mark Bridges
One of my favorite “new watches” over the last year was Inherent Vice, adapted from the Thomas Pynchon novel of the same name. Inherent Vice follows “Doc” Sportello, a stoner private eye dwelling in the fictional hippie enclave of Gordita Beach in southern California at the end of the ’60s. Like the best of P.I. pulp fiction, Doc’s case begins with a late visit from a young woman, in this case his ex-girlfriend Shasta Fay Hepworth (Katherine Waterston) seeking his help investigating land developer Mickey Wolfmann. When another client’s request also intersects with Wolfmann, Doc’s “paranoia alert” is triggered as he’s set on a path that intersects him with an aggressive detective, a plum-suited dentist, and a drug counselor who “[tries] to talk kids into sensible drug use.”
With its semi-surreal tone, colorful characters, classic soundtrack, and general haze of pot smoke infusing a plot riffing on Raymond Chandler, Inherent Vice felt like the spiritual prequel to The Big Lebowski that I never knew I needed.
What’d He Wear?
Inherent Vice was the seventh consecutive collaboration between director Paul Thomas Anderson and Academy Award-winning costume designer Mark Bridges, who also received an Oscar nomination for his work dressing the denizens of Gordita Beach. Bridges’ interviews with Fast Company, GQ, T Magazine, and Vanity Fair provided valuable background information while conducting my own private investigation into Doc’s beach hippie garb.
“This was the first time that Paul Thomas Anderson was adapting someone else’s work into a screenplay,” Bridges recalled to Fast Company. “He just looked at me and said, ‘Read the book.’ And so I did and dutifully underlined every description of every character, any grain of information that I could get from Pynchon, and then I decided how to convey these people in that moment of time—Los Angeles, 1970, beach community.”
Pynchon’s world centers around Doc, our hero who—when not pulling from his disguise closet (a detail sadly excised from the final cut)—dresses solely for comfort in a manner that suggests he raided Serpico’s closet, though Bridges has also frequently cited a rock influence on Doc’s clothes. “A lot of the DNA for Doc was Neil Young,” he explained to T Magazine, citing his daily jacket and Native American medallion specifically. “Many times when I needed an idea for Doc, I would look at Neil’s clothes during that era and often find a unique period look that was great then and still looks great today,” he elaborated in MotionPictures.org, which also references the production notes that describe Doc as a “Neil Young iconoclast—scruffy, laidback, a bit frayed and almost accidentally cool.”
Doc anchors his daily look with a worn-in olive drab ripstop field jacket, which appears to be the 4th-pattern jacket from the Tropical Combat Uniform fatigues that the U.S. Army was issuing to troops in Vietnam. Designated MIL-C-43199, these “jungle fatigues” were specifically developed to be light-wearing and quick-drying for the southeast Asia climate and environment… thus also suitable for a southern California beach. (You can read more about the 4th pattern Tropical Combat Jacket at VietnamGear.)
The 3rd pattern “jungle jacket” was introduced in 1966, taking a more minimalist approach that removed many of the flaps and straps of the previous two versions. The cotton cloth was also offered in “Class 2” camouflage for the first time, though Doc obviously wears the “Class 1” version in solid OG-107. This version was followed by the 4th pattern, most notably evolved to now be made from the more durable ripstop cotton, discernible by the grid-like texture as opposed to the smoother poplin finish of previous versions.
Bridges explained to Fast Company that the Army jacket had actually been Anderson’s idea, “kind of a cool twist on say, Humphrey Bogart’s detective trench coat. It’s sort of the hippie version of the trench coat,” drawing a direct line from Doc up to his noir progenitors like Philip Marlowe.
Developed as a cross between a shirt and a jacket, the jungle jacket wears a little lighter than the traditional Army field jacket. The concealed five-button fly had been standard since the first versions of the jacket, though the third pattern was the first to cover the two buttons closing each flap on the four inverted box-pleated bellows pockets. The two flapped chest pockets slant toward the center, while the two larger pockets on the hips only have slanted flaps. The 4th pattern jacket retains the back yoke added for the 3rd pattern, and the gauntleted sleeves are finished with a pointed extended tab that secures to one of two buttons on the cuff.
Doc first wears the jungle jacket over a navy popover long-sleeved shirt with red and green floral Mexican embroidery around the open V-neck and around the cuffs. The shirt also has a patch pocket over the left side of the chest. (In a deviation from her usual wardrobe inspired by Faye Dunaway in The Thomas Crown Affair, Penny Kimball (Reese Witherspoon) pulls this shirt on to cover up after spending the night with Doc.)
This outfit also debuts what Bridges describes as Doc’s favorite trousers, described to GQ as “very slim pencil corduroy pants… probably from ’66” before the advent of flares and bell-bottoms. Made of golden wide-waled corduroy, these flat front trousers have tall, thin belt loops—worn with no belt—a button-through back left pocket, and plain-hemmed bottoms.
The next time Doc wears the jungle jacket, it’s only briefly seen as the top layer over one of his more conventional outfits. He’s visiting drug counselor Hope Harlingen (Jena Malone) and—in one of my favorite moments from the movie—screams in revulsion at a photo of her baby, who had been feeding on heroin through her breastmilk, before quickly regaining his composure as Hope continues her story.
Doc wears a purple, pink, yellow, and white shadow plaid cotton flannel long-sleeved shirt with a perpendicular-oriented patch pocket over the left breast, single-button cuffs, and six black plastic buttons up the plain “French placket” front. He keeps the cuffs and front totally open, revealing yet another garment influenced by the confluence of military workwear and rock ‘n roll.
“There are pictures of Joe [Cocker] in ’69 or ’70 and he’s screaming away in a tie-dyed henley,” Bridges explained to T Magazine. “We’re so co-opted the henley now, but in those days it was still a long-underwear top. The hippies didn’t have a lot of money, so they’d go to an Army surplus, get a shirt for two bucks, and have their girlfriend tie-dye it for them.”
Doc’s peachy pink ribbed cotton henley is long-sleeved with red-contrasted stitching on the edges and along the top placket with its three tan four-hole buttons. He wears both shirts untucked over his dark blue Levi’s jeans, identifiable by that signature orange tab sewn along the inside of the back-right pocket, which Levi’s reserved for its more fashion-oriented cuts during this era. The screen-worn plaid shirt, jeans, and sandals can all be seen in more detail at The Golden Closet.
We next find Doc again wearing his jungle jacket, jeans, and sandals but now with a light blue chambray shirt uniquely detailed with colorful embroidery on the collar, placket, and both breast pockets in varying shades of red, pink, salmon, orange, yellow, green, blue, and purple… really, if there was any color left out of the embroidery, it should be personally offended.
The heritage of the chambray work shirt typically traces back to the U.S. Navy in the early years of the 20th century, adding yet another layer of military inspiration to Doc’s duds, though the colorful detailing indicates that he naturally has no plans for getting any actual work done while wearing his work shirt.
Doc sits down for a mid-day meal and tequila with his lawyer, Sauncho Smilax, Esq. (Benicio Del Toro), reverting to more hippie-associated attire of a puckered multi-stripe neckband shirt and his gold wide-waled corduroys.
The collarless shirt is striped in repeating stripes of various widths that vary between at least three shades of green (forest, mint, and olive), as well as mustard and magenta. The shirt has a breast pocket, plain cuffs, and seven black buttons up the plain front, though he leaves the top few undone. He would again wear this shirt and corduroys for the action-packed climax facing down loan shark Adrian Prussia (Peter McRobbie), as well as during the flashback to happier days on the beach with Shasta.
Doc next makes the rounds of his investigations wearing a soft coral-colored bouclé shirt, long-sleeved with button cuffs that he keeps undone. He buttons up the shirt only as high as would be covered by the dark navy self-striped five- or six-button waistcoat (vest), arguably one of the most formal garments that Doc wears outside of his disguises and likely orphaned from a worsted wool three-piece suit.
The vest has four welted pockets and an adjustable back strap. His beige jeans have the telltale Levi’s red tab sewn along the inside of the back-right pocket and, aside from the color, are similar to a standard pair of blue jeans with the five-pocket layout.
For Doc’s visit to the office of the velvet-suited dentist Dr. Rudy Blatnoyd (Martin Short), he wears another light blue chambray shirt, though this is a more traditional work shirt sans any colorful embroidery. In addition to the large ’70s-style collar, the shirt has two flapped chest pockets with white plastic buttons to match those up the front placket.
Doc again wears corduroy trousers, though corded in a thinner wale (“needlecord”) in a tanner shade of brown. These casual trousers, structured and styled like jeans, also have more flared bottoms in accordance with the era’s fashions (but in opposition to Doc’s preferred style.)
If the jungle jacket was Doc’s hippie-era update of the noir-era trench coat, the wide-brimmed straw hat replaced Philip Marlowe’s fedora. Indeed, the hat, which Bridges described to GQ as his “everyday gumshoe detective fedora”, follows the shape of the old-fashioned hats with its pinched crown, wide brim, and brown puggaree band.
Sunglasses would have been a must in sunny southern California at the dawn of the ’70s, and Doc’s semi-hexagonal, semi-rimmed gold sunglasses pay tribute both to his spiritual genre predecessors as well as the musicians who influenced the rest of his style. “The stop sign vintage glasses …. that’s something we found in the research that was actually provided by props, but I was in on choosing them,” remarked Bridges to Fast Company. “They really were something that some music people from that time had, but they’re also from the ’30s and ’40s… old Hollywood.”
Doc’s vintage sandals have proven to be one of the most popular items from his wardrobe, with Bridges sharing that he has received many letters asking where he sourced them. (The answer? L.A.-based Palace Costume & Prop Co.)
Drifting away from the huaraches described by Pynchon, Bridges considered Doc’s mindset before choosing these sandals, as he explained to GQ, “basically, you’ve got this guy who lives on the beach and prides himself on his freewheeling existence so he doesn’t like to wear shoes unless he’s in disguise.”
The dark brown leather sandals consist of two wide straps, one over the instep and one just behind the toes, which are connected by another double-studded vertical strap with a brass loop-bit on each end. A heel strap wraps around the back, connecting to each end of the instep strap and closing around the outside through a brass single-prong buckle.
“They’re of a moment in time,” Bridges added to T Magazine. “You know a copy by his shoes. You also know a surf detective by his sandals.”
In addition to his disguises—which include a copper-colored double-breasted suit, a dark green velvet jacket, and a black sports coat, bolo tie, and gray slacks—Doc cycles through other shirts and outerwear throughout the events of Inherent Vice, including:
- A blue denim long-sleeved snap-up shirt with flapped, snap-down pockets, which he tends to wear when entertaining Shasta’s late night visits, first with his striped beach pants and later with the cream Levi’s jeans
- Another denim snap-front shirt, though made from a darker indigo-dyed cloth and worn over a navy turtleneck, worn when discussing the case with Detective “Bigfoot” (Josh Brolin)
- A brown, blue, and ecru plaid flannel shirt with faux-wood buttons, also worn with the cream Levi’s jeans during flashbacks to happier times with Shasta that include ouija-boarding and making out in the rain
- A purple-and-pink plaid snap-front shirt, also worn with the cream Levi’s jeans during the brief vignette where he calls Crocker Fenway (Martin Donovan) to arrange the return of the drugs Bigfoot stole from the Golden Fang and planted on him
- A chocolate brown corduroy snap-front jacket, black mock-neck, and Native American medallion worn in lieu of the requested jacket and tie when meeting Crocker Fenway at his club
Some of these lesser-seen outfits may yield future posts that delve into them a little more deeply, as well as some of Doc’s more notable disguises.
What to Imbibe
Doc’s signature brew is Burgermeister, the San Francisco-brewed lager swilled from cans playfully emblazoned “Burgie!” in red letters above the more traditional logo. Before mass distribution, Burgie! was one of two regional beers named Burgermeister, the other being a product of Warsaw Brewing in Illinois.
Doc’s Burgermeister was a product of northern California, specifically the erstwhile San Francisco Brewing Company which had been renamed Burgermeister Brewing in the 1950s as a nod to its most popular offering. The branding was short-lived, as this Burgermeister would pass through Schlitz’s hands through most of the ’60s before it transferred to Falstaff Brewing in 1971, the year after Doc’s depicted enjoying his multitude of Burgies.
Unfortunately, the national expansion of America’s “big three” beers—namely, Budweiser, Coors, and Miller—signaled death to these once-proud regional brews. Falstaff’s San Francisco plant was one of these early casualties, closing operations in 1978 and taking the Burgermeister name with it. (The Falstaff brand was ultimately swept into the domain of Pabst, who ended production of Falstaff in 2005.)
Even though Burgies are long gone, you can still strive to drink like Doc by mixing up the Tiki concoction he and his lawyer Sauncho order from a seaside seafood shack.
“You’re gonna wanna get good and fucked up before this meal,” warns the waitress. “I have some recommendations, maybe the tequila zombie?”
“Make it two,” Sauncho confirms, and they soon welcome a pair of amber-tinted long drinks, topped with a fruit sculpture with a lime wedge, a lime wheel, a strawberry, and an orange slice skewered above the rim of each Collins glass, which appears to have mint mixed in with the rest of the drink.
The original Zombie was a seminal cocktail of the postwar Tiki culture craze in the United States, dating back to 1934 when Donn Beach added it to the menu at his Don the Beachcomber restaurant in Hollywood. According to Martin Cate and Rebecca Cate in Smuggler’s Cove, one enduring theory behind the cocktail’s name was “a traveling businessman who asked for help with his hangover and to get him through a tough meeting. Allegedly, the customer later reported back to Donn that he ‘felt like the living dead—it made a zombie out of me!'” Despite Donn implementing a two-per-customer limit (for the imbiber’s own safety), the zombie became a fast favorite for its fruity taste disguising the potency of its base spirits, which include three (3) different rums, mixed with various juices and syrups and—in some particularly potent recipes—added dashes of Pernod.
Given that there’s no prominent recipe for The Belaying Pin’s vaunted tequila zombie, which was likely a Pynchonian invention, the blogger behind Tom Pynchon’s Liquor Cabinet developed their own recipe, modified from one featured two years earlier by QuirkBooks before the release of the movie. I’ll let you read the recipe for yourself, but it blends tequila, rum, apricot brandy, and vodka with two fruit juices for a bewildering mixture that “tastes like very serious party.”
Despite his profession, Doc elects not to carry a sidearm, though he does show some proficiency with firearms. After waylaying white supremacist Puck Beaverton (Keith Jardine) with a toilet tank lid, he takes Puck’s Smith & Wesson Model 36 and uses it to defend himself against Adrian Prussia.
Smith & Wesson launched the Model 36 in 1950, when it was initially named the “Chiefs Special” following a vote at the International Association of Chiefs of Police (IACP) convention upon its introduction. When S&W began numbering its models later in the decade, this J-framed .38 Special revolver was designated the “Model 36”. With its five-shot cylinder, the snub-nosed Model 36 provided users on both sides of the law with even more of a concealment advantage than earlier six-shot “belly guns” like the Colt Detective Special and 2″-barreled variants of the Smith & Wesson Model 10.
How to Get the Look
Rock ‘n roll sensibilities, military-informed practicality, and laidback beach vibes converge with Doc Sportello’s daily dress, anchored by a worn-in Army jacket, straw hat, and sandals. Of course, dressing exactly like Doc may look more like you’re going for a “stoner Serpico” costume than embracing surfside comfort, so I recommend just following the ethos that Inherent Vice costume designer Mark Bridges mentioned to Elle: “What we’ve lost since the ’70s is the idea of letting it all hang out… embrace anything vaguely bohemian that feels free and easy.”
- Olive green (OG-107) ripstop cotton U.S. Army Tropical Combat Uniform “jungle jacket” with 5-button fly front, slanted flapped bellows chest pockets (with two concealed buttons), flapped bellows hip pockets (with two concealed buttons), and button cuffs
- Blue chambray cotton long-sleeved work shirt with two chest pockets (with button-down flaps)
- Light brown corduroy flat front trousers with belt loops, side pockets, button-through back pockets, and plain-hemmed bottoms
- Straw fedora-style beach hat with brown puggaree band
- Gold semi-rimmed semi-hexagonal vintage sunglasses with brown lenses
- Dark brown leather double-vamp strap vintage sandals with buckled heel strap
The above outfit may be the most accessible way to approach Doc’s style though there’s a variety of ways to visually communicate Doc’s offbeat aura, as illustrated here with the bouclé shirt and orphaned waistcoat.
Do Yourself a Favor and…