Risky Business: Tom Cruise’s Varsity Prep Style and Porsche

Tom Cruise and Rebecca De Mornay in Risky Business

Tom Cruise and Rebecca De Mornay in Risky Business (1983)


Tom Cruise as Joel Goodson, ambitious high school student

Chicago, Fall 1983

Film: Risky Business
Release Date: August 5, 1983
Director: Paul Brickman
Costume Designer: Robert De Mora

WARNING! Spoilers ahead!


Today is Tom Cruise’s 60th birthday, and the charismatic superstar has proved his staying power with the blockbuster Top Gun: Maverick, currently the highest-grossing movie of 2022 and of Cruise’s prolific career. The original Top Gun had elevated Cruise to stardom, following his breakthrough performance in Paul Brickman’s sharp satire Risky Business.

Though perhaps remembered most—and unfairly dismissed—as a teen sex comedy, Risky Business critically explores the impact of capitalism and consumerism through the lens of our high-achieving high schooler, Joel Goodson, who’s spent these first years of his life knowing nothing other than a relentless drive to succeed. In addition to the professional pressure applied by his parents, Joel also feels both the internal and peer pressure to achieve in the sexual arena, which he satisfies after hiring an escort named Lana (Rebecca De Mornay) after his parents leave him home alone for several weeks.

Joel and Lana’s relationship swiftly evolves from professional to personal… and then a combination of both after his father’s Porsche takes a swim in Lake Michigan while under Joel’s unauthorized care. To bankroll the car’s astronomical repair costs before his parents’ return, Joel tests his own entrepreneurial savvy by joining forces with Lana and turning his family home into a brothel for one night to turn a profit from his rich and horny classmates.

To kick off the first semi-annual #CarWeek series of 2022, let’s take a look at Joel’s all-American varsity style (apropos Cruise’s birthday on the eve of Independence Day) while behind the wheel of that prized Porsche 928.

What’d He Wear?

Risky Business establishes Joel Goodson as the quintessential high school up-and-comer of the Reagan era, raised in a world of suburban privilege whose parents have already plotted his Ivy League path via extracurricular activities like the Future Enterprisers (likely a riff on the real-life Junior Achievement, the organization for whom I worked my first professional job after college.) The movie begins with Joel narrating his recurring dream that begins with his riding his bicycle through suburban Highland Park, clad in a patriotic red, white, and blue via his varsity jacket and blue jeans, subconsciously presenting the image of the all-American teen… and a quintessentially red-blooded one at that, given the dream’s evolution into fantasy as he encounters a young woman in his neighbor’s shower.

Varsity jackets were introduced in 1865 for the Harvard University baseball team and have remained a staple of American athletics in the generations since, worn by high school and college athletes across all sports and often emblazoned with a large personalized chenille letter over the left breast, hence the synonymous “letter jacket” in addition to the “baseball jacket” terminology. The jackets are almost always constructed of boiled wool bodies in one color and attached leather sleeves in a contrasting color, with both colors typically representing those of its wearer’s scholastic institution.

Though the real Highland Park High School colors are blue and white, Joel’s varsity jacket is red and white. The bright scarlet red body in boiled wool—accurately named for the process of agitating wool in hot water to create the dense, felt-like final product—has seven nickel snaps up the front, painted over in white on the right side, with two of these closely spaced over the waistband. The set-in sleeves are made from off-white leather, with the red ribbed-knit cuffs striped in black and white bands that matches the ribbed knitting on the standing collar and around the waist hem. The two slanted hand pockets are welted and lined in white leather to echo the sleeves.

Tom Cruise as Joel Goodson in Risky Business

Through the dream sequence that follows him from the neighbor’s shower to his late arrival to a college entry test, Joel wears a cream-colored oxford cloth button-down (OCBD) shirt in the style that had been so warmly embraced by ’80s prep culture. These shirts had originated around the turn of the 20th century following then-Brooks Brothers president John E. Brooks’ development of the “Polo shirt” with button-down collars inspired by English polo players he’d observed fastening down their collars during play.

Tom Cruise as Joel Goodson in Risky Business

OCBD shirts are a staple of Joel’s wardrobe, worn both on their own and layered under crew-neck sweaters. Perhaps his most famous would be the red-and-white bengal-striped OCBD shirt he wears under a red crew-neck sweater when saying farewell to his parents… before wearing it on its own with his “tighty-whitey” briefs and crew socks during a Scotch-fueled rendition of Bob Seger’s “Old Time Rock and Roll”.

Tom Cruise as Joel Goodson in Risky Business

The good son sees his parents off at the airport… soon to remove all but his shirt, skivvies, and socks when home alone with Seger and Scotch.

The next time we see Joel’s varsity jacket, he pulls it on over a pink OCBD shirt to escape his home the early stages of its transformation into a bordello. Before he dons the jacket, we see more details of his shirt, which a user at The RPF suggests may have been made by Ralph Lauren. Of course, the shirts have a button-down collar with an elegantly shaped roll that presents well when he wears his shirts layered under sweaters. They’re styled with front plackets, breast pockets, and button cuffs fastening the end of each long sleeve. The back has a center box pleat, with a “locker loop” positioned at the top.

Tom Cruise as Joel Goodson in Risky Business

Joel and his pal Barry (Bronson Pinchot) get distracted by the carnal clamor just one floor above them.

Joel rotates between blue Levi’s and dark indigo Lee jeans, though he more frequently wears the former, almost always without a belt. Made from a medium blue stonewashed denim, these appear to be the classic Levi’s 501® Original Fit jeans, styled with a button-fly, straight fit, and the traditional five-pocket design of curved front pockets, inset coin pocket on the right, and back pockets detailed with the signature Levi’s arcuate stitching. The trademark Levi’s “red tab” is sewn along the back right pocket.

Tom Cruise as Joel Goodson in Risky Business

Nearly half a century after their conception, boat shoes were the shoes of the ’80s. As their name implies, boat shoes—also appropriately known as deck shoes—were pioneered to be worn on slippery decks when outdoorsman Paul A. Sperry was inspired by his dog’s paws to create the non-slip siped soles that are now a signature aspect of his company’s Sperry Top-Siders. Following their practical popularity at sea and their steady crawl inland, fueled by trendsetting Ivy Leaguers, boat shoes became a “crucial element” in preppy style, as celebrated by the cover of the tongue-in-cheek 1980 tome The Official Preppy Handbook edited by Lisa Birnbach.

As a relatively popular upper-class student, even a landlubber like Joel would have had a pair of Top-Siders or similar, detailed by the characteristic moc-toe stitching and the 360-degree lacing system with tan rawhide laces that Joel appears to wear irregularly

Of socks with boat shoes, author Josh Sims states in Icons of Men’s Style that “to wear, or not to wear—the argument has yet to be won,” though Joel Goodson keeps a foot (if you’ll forgive the pun) in both camps by typically foregoing socks with his Sperrys… aside from when he wears them with the same white cotton crew socks that he wears to famously slide across his parents’ hallway.

Tom Cruise as Joel Goodson in Risky Business

The shower in Joel’s dreams isn’t quite the sort of wet scenario that Paul A. Sperry had envisioned when he pioneered his famous Top-Siders nearly a half-century earlier.

Although Joel and Lana may share an irregular relationship, there are still semblances of high school courtship as he drapes his varsity jacket around her shoulders to stay warm one fateful night on the shores of Lake Michigan.

Tom Cruise as Joel Goodson in Risky Business

The Car

Porsche. There is no substitute.

Left to his own devices, Joel doesn’t waste much time before liberating his father’s Porsche 928 from hibernation.

Tom Cruise as Joel Goodson in Risky Business

As detailed by IMCDB, at least four Porsche 928 vehicles were sourced for the production of Risky Business:

  • 1981 model with an automatic transmission, used for driving scenes and the chase scene
  • 1979 model with a five-speed manual transmission and gold-colored interior, used for driving scenes
  • 1979 model with a five-speed manual transmission and cream-colored interior, used when rolling toward Lake Michigan
  • 1979 model with an automatic transmission, used exclusively to be dunked in Lake Michigan with its gutted drivetrain

Porsche had introduced the 928 in 1978, originally intended by managing director Ernst Furhmann to replace the iconic 911 as the German automaker’s flagship model. Of course, any auto enthusiast could tell you that Porsche never stopped making the 911, thanks in part to Furhmann’s replacement, Peter Schutz, who correctly determined that the differences between the 911 and 928 could earn each a continued place in Porsche’s lineup. Perhaps with some irony, the 928 ended production in 1995, while the 911 has been continuously produced for almost sixty years.

Compared to the compact 911 with its rear-mounted engine, the 928 grand tourer was intended to incorporate sporty elements with luxury. Fearing a regulation against rear-mounted engines that never materialized, Porsche mounted the 928’s V8 engine—another first for the automaker—in the front, and the 928 remains Porsche’s only coupe to have been built with a front-mounted engine.

Tom Cruise as Joel Goodson in Risky Business

Porsche 928 driven by Tom Cruise in Risky Business (1983)

1979 Porsche 928

Body Style: 2+2 fastback coupe

Layout: front-engine, rear-wheel-drive (RWD)

Engine: 275 cu. in. (4.5 L) Porsche M28 SOHC V8

Power: 219 hp (163 kW; 240 PS) @ 5250 RPM

Torque: 254 lb·ft (344 N·m) @ 3600 RPM

Transmission: 5-speed manual

Wheelbase: 98.4 inches (2500 mm)

Length: 175.1 inches (4447 mm)

Width: 72.3 inches (1836 mm)

Height: 51.7 inches (1313 mm)

One of the screen-used Porsches, specifically the ’79 five-speed featured in many of the driving scenes, was auctioned last year for $1.9 million, a massive increase from its $49,200 sale in 2012. Originally painted green, this was one of the “RB928” cars repainted to match the golden “Platinum Metallic” 1981 model. Perhaps most significantly, this was the Porsche in which Risky Business producer Jon Avnet taught Tom Cruise how to drive a manual transmission.

Read more about the auctioned “RB928” from Auto WeekMotor Trend, and Robb Report.

What to Imbibe

One of my favorite—and perhaps unfortunately relatable—sequences from Risky Business depicts Joel’s first night home alone, attempting to conduct himself like the adult he so strives to be. As he’s no doubt seen his father do many times before, he pours himself a dram of Chivas Regal 12-Year-Old blended Scotch, topped with soda… er, cola, that is.

Tom Cruise as Joel Goodson in Risky Business

Joel may be misinterpreting Scotch & Soda or he just knows adding Coca-Cola to booze can make it more palatable for his inexperienced liver.

Scotch & Coke is hardly a classic highball, but it’s a highball nonetheless. In Keith Richards’ memoir Life, the Rolling Stones guitarist recalls drinking Scotch & Coke with the late Brian Jones, and William Least Heat-Moon’s excellent travelogue Blue Highways also mentions it as the chosen drink for two downtrodden young women at the Crow’s Nest bar in Harbor Beach, Michigan.

But Joel is neither a rock god nor a floozy hoping to dance… he’s just an unsophisticated kid trying to feel like he’s anything but.

Tom Cruise as Joel Goodson in Risky Business

Coke-laced Scotch and a half-thawed TV dinner. If that doesn’t whet your appetite, I don’t know what will!

How to Get the Look

Tom Cruise as Joel Goodson in Risky Business

Tom Cruise as Joel Goodson in Risky Business (1983)

As a privileged suburban student, Joel Goodson embodied the all-American prep style ideal in his varsity jacket, classic OCBD shirts, blue jeans, and boat shoes.

  • Red boiled wool varsity-style baseball jacket with off-white leather set-in sleeves, seven-snap front, slanted welt hand pockets, black-and-white banded red ribbed-knit collar, cuffs, and hem
  • Pink oxford cotton shirt with button-down collar, front placket, breast pocket, button cuffs, and box-pleated back with “locker loop”
  • Blue denim Levi’s 501® Original Fit button-fly jeans
  • Brown leather moc-toe Sperry Top-Sider boat shoes with white siped rubber soles
  • White cotton briefs

Do Yourself a Favor and…

Check out the movie.

The Quote

The dream is always the same.

One comment

  1. uofsc93

    I could be wrong (its a big country), but you wouldn’t be caught dead wearing a varsity jacket in high school without having earned a letter on it & thus having excelled or participated in a sport. Sure you could sport a designer one, back in the day everyone from Guess to Ralph Lauren sold them & that would be cool. The one Cruise is wearing is an authentic jacket that an athlete would have purchased & ordered with the letter & the sport on it (IOW no one would sport that in the real world – you would need to prepare for the beat down). That being said, I own several of them from my college even one from the 50’s. They’re crazy comfortable & I recommend them highly.

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