Ted Danson as Sam Malone, bartender and former baseball star
Boston, Thanksgiving 1986
Episode: “Thanksgiving Orphans” (Episode 5.09)
Air Date: November 27, 1986
Director: James Burrows
Created by: Glen Charles, Les Charles, and James Burrows
Costume Designer: Robert L. Tanella
WARNING! Spoilers ahead!
Happy Thanksgiving! This iconic episode from Cheers‘ fifth season aired 35 years ago this week on Thanksgiving 1986 and has often been included on lists ranking the greatest TV episodes of all time.
Decades before your friends started hosting Friendsgiving celebrations, Carla Tortelli (Rhea Perlman) hosted the Cheers crew at her home, filling the void left by her many children, most of whom are spending the holiday with their dad, Nick; indeed, the fact that we don’t get any Turkey Day time with Dan Hedaya’s character may be the one downside to this marvelous episode.
Of course, the rest of the gang is all here: barkeep Sam Malone (Ted Danson), his famously on-again/off-again paramour Diane Chambers (Shelley Long), her lonely ex Frasier Crane (Kelsey Grammer), honorary barstools Norm (George Wendt) and Cliff (John Ratzenberger), and novice bartender Woody Boyd (Woody Harrelson), who frequently urges “this is gonna be the best Thanksgiving ever!”
As the gang of Cheers regulars and staff realize they’re all facing spending Thanksgiving alone, it’s Diane that suggests gathering at Carla’s new house to celebrate the holiday together, laying the foundation for the original Friendsgiving.
Diane: Oh come on, what could be more enjoyable than opening your heart with holiday cheer?
Carla: Opening yours with a can opener?
Eventually, Carla acquiesces, agreeing to a pot-luck with Sam, Norm, Woody, and Frasier also in attendance, with even the unpopular Cliff squeezing an invite out of her, prizing the opportunity to enjoy beer, turkey, and football with his friends as “much better than hangin’ around with a bunch of dingbat cousins all day.”
Carla may not have been too pleased to welcome Cliff, but she’s downright furious when Diane unexpectedly shows up, still dressed in her authentic pilgrim garb… because of course she is. “Maybe she’ll choke on a drumstick,” Carla assures herself before allowing Diane to join the rest of the holiday hooligans, and her dreams come closer to reality when the events of the day culminate in an uproarious food-fight by episode’s end.
A lesser show may have ended there, but Cheers tacks on a subtle tribute in memory of the departed Coach (Nicholas Colasanto) and a rewarding final kicker as Norm’s long-suffering, long-unseen Vera finally makes an appearance—played by George Wendt’s real-life wife, Bernadette Birkett—fated to remain forever unseen after she takes Diane’s misplaced pie in the face.
What’d He Wear?
In the spirit of today’s holiday, I must thank my pal Ryan—who many of you know from his @iconicfilmstyle account on Instagram—for suggesting this to me last year as the subject of a Thanksgiving post. I love it as a unique time capsule of a specific sartorial moment in the decade, intersecting Sam’s popular preppy style with the boxy trends of the 1980s… Miami Vice meets Boston working class.
Arguably the most dated part of Sam’s wardrobe would be his colorful plaid sports coat, made from a summer-weight madras cotton (not to be confused with patchwork madras) and oversized in accordance the decade’s fashion extremes. The chaotic check pattern looks like a variation on tartan plaid, with magenta, yellow, white, and black lines of varying widths criss-crossing against an indigo ground.
In addition to the pattern, little of the jacket follows classic tailoring conventions. The low-gorge notch lapels fall to a single row of two buttons positioned below the waist; combination of traditionally single-breasted notch lapels with a double-breasted front is already offbeat, let alone the unorthodox 2×1-button configuration.
The wide padding in the shoulders provide the only real structure in the otherwise loose jacket, which is short enough to just barely cover Danson’s hips. The ends of each sleeve are plain-finished with no buttons or vents, all the easier for Sam to push them up to his elbows, again following typical trends of the ’80s. Though functionally ventless, there are two short breaks in the fabric on each side where the back piece is sewn over the side pieces.
Sam brings the outfit back down to Earth a bit once he removes the jacket, revealing more of his thankfully subtle—but still fashionably full-fitting—long-sleeved shirt made of an icy pale-blue cotton. In keeping with the whole outfit’s fashion-forward nature, the small black-on-white label stitched over the yoke on the left pocket identifies the shirt as Guess, an L.A.-based label founded in 1981 perhaps best known for pioneering “pre-washed” denim as well as its supermodel-studded ads, the latter likely giving the brand considerable appeal for a skirt-chaser like Sam.
The shirt has a semi-spread collar that’s gently rounded at the edges, a plain (French) front with no placket, and button cuffs. Two large patch pockets are positioned over the chest—one on each side—with a single-button closure through the narrow horizontal yoke across the top of each pocket.
Perhaps intended to coordinate with one of the colors in his plaid jacket, Sam wears a yellow knitted silk tie with a flat bottom.
Sam’s khaki cotton slacks are rigged with double reverse pleats, which Alan Flusser described for Dressing the Man in 2002 as “the most fortuitous development in recent trouser fashion… returning dress trousers to the flattering sanctuary of the man’s natural waist.” There’s little else of Sam’s wardrobe that begs flattering comparison to the golden age of menswear, so pleated trousers will have to do! The trousers have slanted side pockets, two back pockets with a flap covering the back-right pocket, and plain-hemmed bottoms. Sam holds them up with a brown leather belt that closes through a polished gold-toned single-prong buckle.
Sam wears russet brown leather apron-toe penny loafers with black socks. His choice of hosiery is disappointingly uninteresting, given the rest of his colorful wardrobe and his penchant for argyle socks in more dressed-down scenarios (as seen here and here.)
At the start of the series’ third season, Sam had started wearing a gold watch with a minimalist round case, round white dial, and tan leather strap.
Temperatures didn’t rise above 50°F in Beantown on Thanksgiving 1986, so Sam wears a black single-breasted raincoat as he arrives on Carla’s doorstep. We see little of the coat, other than the ulster-style collar and the fact that the shoulders are wide enough to comfortably accommodate the sports coat layered under it.
What to Imbibe
A recovering alcoholic, Sam abstains from boozing, but the rest of his pals imbibe with cans of Heineken beer and Kingsbury non-alcoholic malt beverage. I suspect the non-alcoholic Kingsbury was chosen to look like beer when characters had to open and drink cans on camera, while open cans of Carling Black Label, Heineken, Löwenbräu, Meister Brau, and Wiedemann’s could litter the shot without actually getting the actors drunk while filming in front of a live studio audience.
How to Get the Look
Whether you’re gathering for Thanksgiving or Friendsgiving, you’ll always strive to find that sartorial balance between fashion and function, though you could argue Sam Malone takes the former direction a little too seriously as his outfit would be very out of place anywhere outside of the mid-1980s. Perhaps if there’s anything to be thankful for this year, it’s the fact that his outfit would ultimately be ruined by mashed potatoes, gravy, and Jell-O.
- Indigo, magenta, and yellow plaid madras cotton hip-length sports coat with padded shoulders, low-gorge notch lapels, low 2×1-button double-breasted front, rolled-up plain cuffs, and ventless back
- Pale-blue cotton long-sleeved shirt with semi-spread collar, plain front, two button-through patch chest pockets, and button cuffs
- Yellow knitted silk square-ended tie
- Khaki cotton double reverse-pleated trousers with belt loops, slanted side pockets, flapped back-right pocket, jetted back-left pocket, and plain-hemmed bottoms
- Brown leather belt with gold single-prong buckle
- Russet-brown leather apron-toe penny loafers
- Black socks
- Gold round-cased watch with round white dial on tan leather strap
- Black raincoat
Do Yourself a Favor and…
Check out the entire series.
I’m thankful that I have a super car and a cool stereo and that I’m not dressed in a pilgrim’s outfit!