Boogie Nights: Don Cheadle’s White ’80s Suit
Don Cheadle as Buck Swope, adult film star-turned-stereo entrepreneur
Los Angeles, Winter 1983
Film: Boogie Nights
Release Date: October 10, 1997
Director: Paul Thomas Anderson
Costume Designer: Mark Bridges
WARNING! Spoilers and gore ahead!
Approaching the new year and the prospect of fresh starts, I wanted to revisit the modern masterpiece Boogie Nights and in particular one of its ensemble cast that I have always found most compelling: Don Cheadle’s performance as the well-meaning but oft-hindered Buck Swope, a former porn actor looking to build a new life with his wife and fellow ex-porn star Jessie (Melora Walters).
After his employment history interferes with his prospects to fund his entrepreneurial endeavor to open his own stereo shop, Buck encounters a reversal of fortune just two weeks before Christmas. We don’t know where the Swopes were off to in their station wagon on this pivotal December evening, but fate directs them into the parking lot of Miss Donuts on Sherman Way, not far from the crossroads of tragedy for others in his orbit, blocks away from where a desperate Dirk Diggler (Mark Wahlberg) had just been beaten, and just passed by Jack Horner (Burt Reynolds) and “Rollergirl” (Heather Graham) in the limo where she suffered her own humiliation.
I love the tension hanging over the scene as the sweet-natured Buck picks out pastries for his pregnant wife as she patiently waits outside. After all, we’ve just seen the horrible, rock-bottom nights of his two former co-stars, and tragedy often comes in threes. When Buck slowly turns in response to that gunman storms into the café to the dulcet strains of “O Little Town of Bethlehem”, tragedy seems inevitable for the most pure-hearted of Jack Horner’s coterie.
Indeed, tragedy does strike, but in an astounding manner that leaves Buck the last man standing… and better poised for the prosperity he so deserves. As his bloodied suit and bank history suggest, Buck will always carry the stains of his past, but at least he now has a leg up to position himself and his growing family for the future.
What’d He Wear?
Though down on his luck, Buck continues his pattern of dressing for the life he wants, manifesting success in his head-to-toe white suit and tie. Some argue that white is best reserved for summer, but southern California seems as good a place as any to rotate through one’s “winter whites”… though it’s a tricky fabric for a late-night cruller run where one runs the risk of ruining their bleached vestments at the mercy of a half-eaten jelly donut or the blood spattered by a gunfight between an armed vigilante and a violent thief.
Costume designer Mark Bridges explained to Clothes on Film that “the white suit on Buck was written in the script and was an inspired moment from Paul Thomas Anderson.” Bridges followed that direction to find an ensemble he would describe as “as early ’80s as possible”, making sure there would be multiples for additional takes after the white-suited Cheadle would be covered in arterial spray and brain matter.
The lightweight white suiting presents a slubby texture, suggestive of linen or a linen blend. Though this lightweight natural fabric may be unseasonal for December, it would at least be more comfortable in a city like Los Angeles that reports an average high temperature of 73°F throughout the month. An unsophisticated dresser like Buck would be less concerned with whether or not white clothing was in season, focused more on how the clothes make him feel in that moment.
From collar to hem, Buck’s suit jacket reflects many excesses of ’80s fashion, as though he was trying to blend into a Duran Duran cover shoot. The lapels are uniquely shaped, consisting of a narrow collar around the neck like a shawl or roll collar, which is then sewn to the angular lower half of the lapel, creating the effect as if someone had cut off the top point of a traditional notch lapel. These lapels are folded over nearly the entire front of each side of the jacket, only tapering just a few inches above the short hem.
Buck’s jacket has a double-breasted configuration of four cream-colored plastic sew-through buttons, in two widely spaced columns, presumably designed so that only the lowest row could be fastened. The short hem doesn’t extend far beyond Cheadle’s hips, about as long as the ends of the sleeves, which are each finished with three decorative cuff-buttons.
The ventless jacket has padded shoulders and shallow welted hip pockets but no breast pocket.
Buck wears a white cotton voile shirt with tonal self-stripes made somewhat more prominent against the semi-sheer ground. The shirt has a narrow point collar, front placket, and single-button mitred barrel cuffs. His narrow solid white tie is only somewhat wider than the tail, which hangs freely sans keeper loop or clip.
The suit’s matching white single-reverse pleated trousers have a lower rise, held up around the waistband with a white leather belt that closes through an elongated gold-toned buckle that’s rounded on one side and presents the only non-white aspect of his clothing, albeit subtly. The plain-hemmed bottoms break over his all-white leather cap-toe oxfords. Buck’s socks are presumably also white, as any other color would scream its contrast from his ankles.
From what I’ve observed, Paul Thomas Anderson occasionally balances cynicism with hope, unafraid to bless some of his characters with happy endings… once they’ve earned them. As one of the purest-intended characters in Boogie Nights—if not the entire PTA canon— the sensitive and considerate Buck Swope emerges as a definite candidate to be put through the wringer to earn the elusive potential of a bright future.
Stepping into Miss Donuts, Buck looks almost angelic in his all-white vestments, soon sacrificing their purity (as well as some of his own) in the midst of an overpowering opportunity for Buck to trade some of his hard-maintained honesty for a long-deserved chance at success. The effect of the evening’s mayhem amplified by the contrast of the gore on Buck’s white clothing, PTA has finally if swiftly broken his proverbial cutie—in the parlance of TV Tropes—to allow Buck to earn his happy ending, once and for all.
How to Get the Look
I wish we knew more about the Swope family plans for this fateful December evening that deemed Buck to pull this all-white ensemble from his closet… though we can be sure that he wasn’t going anymore after his then-trendy suit was doused in blood and brains.
- White linen ’80s suit:
- Short double-breasted 4×1-button jacket with collarless lapels, welted hip pockets, 3-button cuffs, and ventless back
- Single reverse-pleated low-rise trousers with belt loops, side pockets, and plain-hemmed bottoms
- White self-striped cotton voile shirt with narrow point collar, front placket, and mitred barrel cuffs
- White skinny tie
- White leather belt with semi-rounded gold buckle
- White leather cap-toe oxford shoes
- White dress socks
Do Yourself a Favor and…
Check out the movie.
Speaking of PTA, I’m also looking forward to watching Licorice Pizza… has anyone seen it yet?
How’s my little kung-fu fighter?