Tom Selleck as Thomas Magnum, private investigator and former Navy SEAL
Hawaii, early 1980s
Series: Magnum, P.I.
– “China Doll” (Episode 1.03, dir. Donald P. Bellisario, aired 12/18/1980)
– “Lest We Forget” (Episode 1.10, dir. Lawrence Doheny, aired 2/12/1981)
– “From Moscow to Maui” (Episode 2.04, dir. Michael Vejar, aired 10/29/1981)
– “Did You See the Sunrise?, Part 2” (Episode 3.02, dir. Ray Austin, aired 9/30/1982)
– “The Arrow That Is Not Aimed” (Episode 3.14, dir. James Frawley, aired 1/27/1983)
– “Paradise Blues” (Episode 4.15, dir. Bernard L. Kowalski, aired 2/9/1984)
– “On Face Value” (Episode 4.19, dir. Harry S. Laidman, aired 3/15/1984)
Creator: Donald P. Bellisario & Glen Larson
Costume Designer: Charles Waldo (credited with first season only)
Costume Supervisor: James Gilmore
WARNING! Spoilers ahead!
So the fall weather’s getting cooler but you still want to find ways to dress like Thomas Magnum? You’re in luck, you esoterically inclined person, you!
In addition to his famed aloha shirts, Hawaii’s most in-demand—and dashingly mustached—private investigator of the ’80s included a variety of short- and long-sleeved rugby shirts in his wardrobe, including one prominently featured at the end of the pivotal two-part “Did You See the Sunrise?” that kicked off Magnum, P.I.‘s third season when it aired 40 years ago tonight.
Much to the possible horror of long-term Magnum, P.I. fans, I was actually unfamiliar with this now-classic episode until an episode of Archer, specifically “Placebo Effect” in which the animated eponymous spy’s rampage upon learning he’s been taking fake cancer medication leads to him shooting down an Irish mobster after asking him “did you see Regis this morning?”, echoing a question he was often asked by an elderly woman who died due to the false medication.
I’m a sucker for Regis Philbin-related humor (there’s dozens of us!), and I could tell by the framing of the scene that this had to be a reference to something… lo and behold, Youtube led me to the finale of “Did You See the Sunrise?” and Magnum’s cold-blooded confrontation with the ruthless KGB agent Ivan, portrayed by Bo Svenson, a go-to badass of ’80s movies and TV.
After “the third sunrise since Mac died,” Magnum finally gets the opportunity to confront Ivan, who had been his sadistic Soviet nemesis in Vietnam, following him from the Russian consulate as the U.S. government’s policy of détente prevents them from proactively pursuing justice for Ivan’s war crimes. Having lured Ivan’s driver away, Magnum leads Ivan at gunpoint into the woods, where the unarmed Russian coolly reveals what he’s been doing, taunting Magnum’s “sense of honor and fair play” with the assumption that he won’t kill him: “I have plane to catch. If you are going to shoot me, do it now… you won’t, you can’t. I know you, Thomas.”
Defying Ivan’s expectations and accepted TV hero logic at the time, Magnum simply asks, “Ivan… did you see the sunrise this morning?” and when Ivan answers in the affirmative—having seen the sunrise that Mac couldn’t—Magnum fires a single fatal round.
What’d He Wear?
Years before Thomas Magnum led Ivan from his limousine out into the woods, he debuted this off-white long-sleeved rugby shirt in the third episode, “China Doll” (Episode 1.03), and would continue to wear it over at least seven episode across the show’s first four seasons.
The body of the shirt is a cream-colored cotton with a slubby texture, finished with tightly ribbed cuffs and hem like a sweatshirt. A member of the Magnum Mania! fan forum has suggested that Magnum’s shirts are consistent with those made by Merona, then a contemporary sportswear brand before it was reconfigured as a Target house brand.
The basic rugby shirt design echoes the pullover polo shirts that need no explanation, but rugby shirts—or “rugger shirts”—are typically differentiated by stiffer collars and stronger fabrics to withstand the rigors of the sport. Magnum’s stiffer collar is beige, providing a gentle contrast against the body of the shirt. Magnum’s shirt has a three-button placket with a fly that covers the buttons when fastened, though Magnum almost always wears his placket completely open. Sport-intended rugby shirts were made with rubber buttons that would easily unfasten when pulled, but more fashion-oriented shirts like Magnum’s rugger often had more traditional buttons like the three mixed brown plastic buttons on Magnum’s placket.
Hand-level pockets are also fixtures of rugby shirts like this, whether the full-width “kangaroo” pockets with an opening on each side like on a hoodie or two separate hand pockets with a subtle set-in entry as seen on Magnum’s cream-colored rugby shirt.
Similarly colored shirts that unfortunately lack the hand pockets:
- Banana Republic Rugby Shirt (Banana Republic, $31.97)
- KULE The Men's Rugby (KULE, $88)
- Proper Cloth Cotton and Silk Rugby (Proper Cloth, $125)
- Wax Beck Rugby Shirt Ecru (Wax London, $115)
Earlier in Magnum, P.I.‘s run, Magnum was often outfitted with a pair of gold-framed aviators with green lenses, a buff-toned reinforced brow bar, and a round “bullet hole” centered amidst it all, similar to the Ray-Ban model now marketed as the Ray-Ban RB3138 Shooter. Legend has it that this center hole had been designed to secure the wearer’s cigarette when both hands were required for shooting, though the eminent Hunter S. Thompson—a fan of this very frame—still favored his cigarette holder over the risky maneuver of wearing a Marlboro on his forehead. (You can purchase Ray-Ban Shooters from Amazon and Ray-Ban.)
Magnum paired his Shooter shades with this shirt when he debuted his now-famous Detroit Tigers baseball cap in “China Doll” (Episode 1.03), made of a dark navy cotton twill and emblazoned with the white embroidered Middle English “D” to represent the Tigers’ logo. As with all MLB teams, the Tigers’ caps are widely available (including from Amazon) though they’re considerably more popular than many other teams due to their association with Magnum, P.I.
Between the introduction of his Tigers hat in these scenes and the debut of his red “jungle bird”-printed aloha shirt at the end of the episode, it’s clear that “China Doll” was instrumental in forming the now-iconic Thomas Magnum style.
For the shirt’s initial appearance in “China Doll”, Magnum wears it with a pair of his usual Levi’s jeans in a light blue wash, held up by his khaki webbed cotton belt that closes through a gold-finished box-frame friction buckle. (For now, the buckle is left plain, though it would be personalized with his last name and a naval emblem from the second season onward.)
Consistent with his more laidback style, Magnum regularly rotates between sneakers and boat shoes, here wearing a pair of the latter with tan canvas uppers and thick white outsoles, heavier than the original siped soles that Paul A. Sperry had pioneered for his nautical-inclined Top-Siders back in the 1930s. Magnum’s tan boat shoes are rigged with the signature 360° lace system and two sets of silver-finished eyelets for the derby-laced fronts.
Magnum looks a little more beach ready when he steps out onto the sand in “Lest We Forget” (Episode 1.10), wearing short camo shorts and brown leather boat shoes with his cream-colored rugger. His untucked shirt hem covers the top of his flat-front shorts, which are likely styled with belt loops and held up by his usual khaki web belt, but we do see the slanted front pockets, flapped back pockets, and cuffed bottom hems that further shorten an already skimpy inseam.
The shorts are patterned in the green-dominant “lowland” variation of the ERDL camouflage pattern, developed for the U.S. Army in 1948 but not put into practice until twenty years later when it was adopted by the Marine Corps during the Vietnam War, followed shortly by the Army and—in a more limited capacity—the Navy. As a SEAL, Magnum would have been more familiar with the distinctive “tiger stripe” camo that he still wears on occasions requiring more tactical attire.
Magnum returned to wearing lighter-wash Levi’s jeans for the shirt’s following three appearances, first during this third-degree questioning of the KGB agent Tarisoff in “From Moscow to Maui” (Episode 2.04) and then again when delivering some .45-caliber justice to the KGB when confronting the sadistic Ivan in “Did You See the Sunrise?, Part 2” (Episode 3.02).
A dozen episodes later, Magnum is considerably more laidback—in every sense of the word—when he reappears wearing the shirt at the start of “The Arrow That Is Not Aimed” (Episode 3.14), again wearing blue Levi’s jeans but now with a camo baseball cap and his blue-trimmed white leather Puma Easy Rider sneakers. Puma had invented the Easy Rider running shoe in 1977, with stable uppers and shock-absorbing soles intended for distance running.
Beginning midway through the second season, Magnum had added another baseball cap to his collection, this one in the mesh-backed “trucker hat” style with a lowland ERDL camouflage front and brim. Stitched front and center across the two panels of the crown, Magnum wears an olive-drab patch with the black-embroidered Navy SEAL emblem of an eagle clutching a rifle and trident against an anchor. The mesh netback signifies that the cap is a civilian item rather than military gear. The only time this hat appears with the cream rugby shirt is the opening vignette of “The Arrow That Is Not Aimed”.
The shirt makes two final appearances in the fourth season, each time worn with shorts and Magnum’s red Tigers hat… no, not those Tigers. This trucker hat is unquestioningly of civilian origin, detailed with a white mesh back and a red cotton front and brim.
A red-and-white circular patch across the front celebrates the “TIGERS”, though not the Detroit baseball team but rather the services of “Al’s Automotive and Muffler King”. According to the forums at Magnum Mania, Selleck had first worn this hat in the 1979 made-for-TV movie The Chinese Typewriter, in which he and James Whitmore Jr. starred as a pair of private detectives in Hawaii.
In “Paradise Blues” (Episode 4.15), both Higgins (John Hilerman) and T.C. (Roger E. Mosley) ask Magnum to account for the resources he’s “borrowed” over the course of his P.I. career. He wears a pair of short gray polyester shorts with a sage cast, detailed like his SEAL-issued UDT shorts with a self-belted waist, covered button fly, and a sole patch-style pocket on the back right.
Magnum again wears Puma sneakers, though with all-white uppers save for a black leather logo patch sewn over the top of each heel. These shoes have white laces and heavy white rubber soles with a gray wave effect that curves over the front of each shoe.
The shirt’s final appearance comes after working in the tide pool with the injured Emily Jackson (Talia Balsam) in “On Face Value” (Episode 4.19), pulled on as a cover-up after they’re summoned to lunch with Higgins. Even in the water, he wears his red Tigers trucker hat as well as his now-favorite tortoise-framed aviators on a black cord around his neck.
His short sea-to-shore shorts are the khaki polyester trunks once issued by the Navy to Underwater Demolition Teams (UDT), which had been established during World War II prior to their evolution into the Navy SEALs, though the UDT name lives on through these shorts, which remain available from military surplus outfitters and even Amazon. Minimally designed to avoid interfering with these frogmen’s operations, the shorts are sparsely detailed only with a self-belted waist, a covered button fly, and a back-right patch pocket. These were evidently Magnum’s USN-issued shorts, as “MAGNUM. T.” is stenciled in black over the left thigh.
Especially with this outfit, Magnum favors his sporty Vuarnet Skilynx Acier aviator sunglasses, crafted with dark tortoise frames and silver temple detailing and often worn on a thin cord around his neck.
Through the first three seasons of Magnum, P.I., including in flashbacks to Vietnam, Magnum wears a stainless steel Chronosport Sea Quartz 30 dive watch, likely chosen to reflect the actual Chronosports worn by select Navy SEALs during the early ’70s. Worn on a black tropic rubber strap, Magnum’s Chronosport Sea Quartz 30 has a slim black tick-marked rotating bezel, a black dial with luminescent markers and numerals for 12, 6, and 9 o’clock with a black day-date window at 3:00. Episodes that show close-ups of the watch reveal it to be a pre-1982 model that just says “Quartz” on the dial before Chronosport added the full “Sea Quartz 30” designation on the dial.
Beginning with the excellent fourth season premiere episode “Home from the Sea”, Magnum’s watch is retconned to be a Rolex GMT Master that is established as having belonged to his aviator father, bequeathed to young Thomas following his father’s death during the Korean War. Thus, the watch’s origins are somewhat anachronistic as the GMT Master wasn’t launched until 1954, the year after the Korean Armistice Agreement ended the war.
Magnum, P.I. featured a GMT Master with the blue-and-red “Pepsi” bidirectional bezel, a black Matte dial with painted non-numeric hour markers and a 3:00 date window, and a steel “Oyster”-style three-piece link bracelet. Some debate has endured as to whether or not the screen-worn watch was a ref. 1675 or the ref. 16750, with Danny Milton providing evidence for the latter in the March 2021 Hodinkee article, “Why The Rolex GMT-Master Pepsi Is The Perfect Watch For Magnum P.I.“ Milton points out that the ref. 16750’s production timeline of 1980 to 1988 neatly aligns with the series run and would have been readily available to be sourced for the production.
Magnum began wearing his silver POW/MIA bracelet around the same time as the Rolex GMT Master, though he actually started wearing it in the eighteenth episode of the third season. The POW/MIA bracelet program was launched on Veterans Day 1970, beginning a nationwide practice of wearing bracelets to increase awareness of and remember service members who were prisoners of war or missing in action. The simple silver bracelets are engraved with the service member’s name, rank, and the date they were taken prisoner or listed as missing. Magnum’s bracelet honors Kenneth Ray Lancaster, a U.S. Army Staff Sergeant from Maryland who was listed as missing on January 3, 1969.
Magnum wears a large gold “team ring” to match those worn by his pals T.C. and Rick, signifying their shared service in Vietnam. The black enamel-filled surface with a gold patriarchal cross recalls the Croix de Lorraine that had emerged as a symbol of resistance in wartime France. In the pilot episode and throughout the series from the second season onward, Magnum wears the ring on the third finger of his right hand.
Given his high-caliber surname, it shouldn’t be surprising that Thomas Magnum is familiar with firearms, regularly packing a 1911-style pistol presumably retained from his service as a Navy SEAL. The series hit a few stumbling blocks before appropriately arming Magnum (more on that later), but the production eventually landed on a Colt MK IV Series 70 Government Model, a full-sized commercial variant of the venerated single-action M1911 that was the U.S. military’s designated service pistol dating back to around World War I.
Frequent mention is made of Magnum’s “.45”, which makes sense given the standard .45 ACP chambering of the military M1911 and M1911A1, though this style of pistol had been notorious among Hollywood armorers of the era for its difficulty cycling .45-caliber blanks. In addition, IMFDB cites a former film armorer who worked on Magnum, P.I. that mentioned the hassle of getting .45-caliber blanks on location.
To accommodate this, the screen-used Colt was actually chambered in the smaller 9×19 mm Parabellum ammunition as proven by a June 2007 auction listing from the Stembridge Armory Collection, where it was described in the catalog as: “Colt MK IV Series 70 Gov’t Model semi-auto pistol, 9mm Luger cal., 5” barrel, #70L33101. The barrel is adapted for firing blanks, approx. 95% blue finish remaining with slight holster wear, checkered brown plastic grips, correct Colt 9mm Luger marked magazine.”
Full-size .45-caliber Colt 1911 pistols had been featured on screen as early as the first episode, though their aforementioned difficulty in firing blanks resulted in the armorers seeking alternative solutions during the show’s early days. In a practice dating back to the ’60s and ’70s with movies like The Wild Bunch, Dillinger, and Three Days of the Condor, when the 1911 was required to be fired on screen, it was often swapped out for a Star Model B, a Spanish-made 1911 clone introduced in the late 1920s and chambered in 9×19 mm Parabellum. The smaller ammunition allowed for a greater capacity, as the Model B fed from nine-round magazines as opposed to the standard .45-caliber 1911’s seven-round mags.
The Model B could be visually differentiated by the lack of a grip safety and, most tellingly, a brass-colored external extractor along the right side of the slide’s rear grooves. It would be continually swapped out for the 1911 through the ’80s, most prominently in The Untouchables.
In yet another weapons-related snafu in “China Doll” (Episode 1.03), a continuity error substituted the Star Model B in Magnum’s hand with the down-scaled Star Model BM, presumably to prevent potential damage to the Model B when Magnum takes a ninja star—coincidentally enough—to his hand, sending his pistol sprawling to the ground.
The Model BM was introduced in 1972 as a down-scaled variation of the older Model B, similar to Colt’s introduction of the shorter-barreled Commander. The barrel measures 3.9 inches, more than an inch shorter than the 5″-barreled 1911 and Model B. The Model BM was chambered in 9×19 mm Parabellum, fed from eight-round magazines. More than 200,000 were produced before Star ended production in 1992.
What to Imbibe
Rather than running afoul of corporate lawyers by prominently featuring any real-life brands, Magnum, P.I. joined legions of other TV shows by serving its characters fictional beers. For instance, Magnum’s go-to beer: Coops, with its name and golden-tinted label reminiscent of Coors Banquet.
Hawaii is arguably west of the Mississippi River, but was Coors exported there at this time? … or were we robbed of yet another Smokey and the Bandit sequel opportunity, this time featuring Burt Reynolds and Jerry Reed speeding a shipload of Coors across the Pacific with Jackie Gleason in hot pursuit?
(For those genuinely curious, Coors was not exported to Hawaii until the brewery expanded to national distribution in 1986, ending its era of hyper-regionalization that led to Big and Little Enos making their high-octane challenge to the Bandit.
How to Get the Look
Especially compared to his famous aloha shirts, rugby shirts like this cream-colored long-sleeved pullover with its twin pockets offer a subdued—and warmer—alternative for fans of Thomas Magnum’s style.
- Cream slubbed cotton long-sleeved rugby shirt with tan collar, three-button covered-fly placket, set-in side pockets, and ribbed cuffs and hem
- Medium-blue denim Levi’s jeans
- Khaki web belt with gold-tone USN “Surface Warfare” belt buckle
- Available via Amazon
- White sneakers or boat shoes
- Gold Croix de Lorraine team ring
- Replicas available via Amazon
- Chronosport Sea Quartz 30 stainless dive watch with black dial and black tropic rubber strap or Rolex GMT Master stainless steel watch with “Pepsi” blue-and-red bezel, black dial (with 3:00 day-date window), and stainless “Oyster”-style bracelet
- Silver POW/MIA bracelet
- Vuarnet Skilynx Acier tortoise nylon sport sunglasses
Do Yourself a Favor and…
I didn’t exactly panic… but I was glad I hadn’t had lunch.