Dissecting the style in one of my favourite TV shows.
Magnum PI, created by Donald P. Bellisario – who would later go on to produce other successful shows such as Airwolf, JAG and NCIS – has long been one of my favourite television programs. I have quite an attachment to it; I own every season on DVD, have watched the whole series a few times through, and even went as far as acquiring a Hawaiian shirt by the same brand who made Selleck’s famous aloha shirts when I decided I wanted a camp collar shirt. The show itself was quite a trailblazer in that it tackled issues relating to the long term effects of the Vietnam War on veterans. The overarching storylines were interesting and well fleshed out, with great character development going on.
But enough about the show itself. What I want to focus on is the clothing! I thought there was some really interesting style – especially casual style – portrayed on the show, both by the main characters and supporting characters. For the purpose of keeping the length of this post shorter than that of a novel today, I’ll focus just on Magnum and Higgins, the two central characters.
Thomas Magnum (Tom Selleck)
Selleck’s casual wardrobe featured some staples that are in vogue among menswear guys right now. Namely, camp collar shirts and high rise – often light wash – jeans. He wore a range of aloha print rayon shirts, some of which have been immortalised in pop culture. Especially the red jungle bird. These were made by a brand called Paradise Found.
You often see other popular casual staples in Magnum’s wardrobe, such as polo shirts by Ralph Lauren and Lacoste. And who can forget the rugby shirt!
Ball caps are also a big part of the Magnum wardrobe, with the majority being navy blue. Most commonly seen are a Detroit Tigers cap and a Vietnam War unit cap.
Another cool piece often worn by Magnum is the collarless (also known as band collar or stand collar shirt. This is fairly uncommon, and a style I actually decided to try for myself due to seeing it in this show. I think Magnum looks pretty good in them:
This isn’t the end of the good stuff, either. We see some other cool pieces worn by Magnum throughout the show, such as classic chunky cable knit sweaters and a brown leather flight jacket, complete with scarf and gloves for that old-time aviator – or hot rodder – look.
Lastly, we see some tasteful tailored looks occasionally worn by Magnum. Though his character isn’t drawn to tailoring, as his style is largely rugged and practical for warmer climates (we see much more of the refined aesthetic from Higgins, his counterpart at the estate), there are some cool bits of suiting in period-set episodes. Also, Magnum is occasionally required to dress the part to attend social events, often when there’s something happening to do with Higgins. One interesting sign of the times the show was shot in occurs during a conversation between Magnum and his never-seen benefactor Robin Masters, who invites Magnum to a social event and stipulates that Magnum wear a suit; “polyester, if you’ve got it”. It’s hard for my under-30 self to imagine a time where polyester was a must-have tailoring cloth among the well-to-do of the world!
Lastly, his outfits are complemented by a couple of cool watches. In the first few seasons, he wore a Chronosport Sea Quartz 30, while in later seasons he wore a Rolex GMT-Master 16750 Pepsi, a very sought after watch to this day.
Higgins (John Hillerman)
Jonathan Quayle Higgins III is the manager of the estate that Magnum lives at, and is the second most featured character in the show. His history is that of a traditional Briton who adheres closely to the old class and family system, and of a distinguished military man who carries himself in a conservative old-fashioned British manner. Often, he’s seen in old – though pristinely maintained – British military fatigues worn in uniform style which serves as his workwear. However, when he’s dressed to leave the estate or receive guests, he’s quite the dapper Englishman and is seen in a variety of tailored clothing. Many of his outfits are something that could still easily be worn today. His staple style is a navy blazer with a regimental stripe or repp stripe tie. It’s very much the image of English public schoolboy.
Sometimes Higgins is seen in different styles, which often have a monochrome colour story and cut a nice shape with traditional forms. He’s seen sporting a turtleneck in scenes featuring a younger version of himself, which looks every bit as wearable today as it did back then.
A three piece suit even makes its way onto him occasionally.
Everyone has a show they take a heap of inspiration from. For many in modern times, it was Mad Men or Suits. Back in the ’80s, it was Miami Vice, and before that, Magnum. And it was Magnum for me. What was it for you?
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