Style Icon: Sonny Crockett

Crockett has what it takes and he doesn’t give a damn. He gets out of bed, opens the closet door and, while he makes a phone call, throws on a mint-green T-shirt he’s found lying in the corner of the closet and a peach jacket that was next to it. As he’s talking on the phone, he casually looks in the mirror and smiles. The colors work perfectly.
-Don Johnson

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Sonny Crockett changed my life.

That might sound glib, or outrageous, or just plain dumb, but it’s true. Before Sonny Crockett, there were entire swaths of the colour spectrum I avoided like the plague. Teal, peach, mint, baby pink, and mauve: I was sure they were only for Sears-brand towels and bathroom sets with fuzzy seat cozies. I thought anything pastel was a watered-down waste of time, a pale perversion of a proper colour. Until Sonny Crockett.

Miami Vice has often been accused of being “shallow,” supposedly because it privileges “style over substance.” That phrase—“style over substance”—is one of my especial pet peeves. It’s ridiculous to suggest that style and substance are somehow opposite, forcing you to choose between them. While it’s certainly valid to criticize Vice’s style for its glorification of violence, sexism, drugs, and consumer culture, the fact that style is capable of glorifying anything proves that it does have substance. The substance of style isn’t always uplifting or positive, but it isn’t always bad, either; as a register of meaning in its own right, style can be exploited for good or evil.

On the evil side of things, there’s loads of nasty privilege in the dismissive, unconscious way Crockett wears a white Versace blazer to play tackle football on the beach, using the lapels to wipe the sand and sweat from the green lenses of his Ray-Ban Wayfarers. The fact that Crockett is always “undercover,” and gets his Versace (and presumably his Ray-Bans) for free from a police impound locker, lets him embrace consumer culture while pretending to condemn it. Here’s how it works: Crockett treats his borrowed, high-fashion wardrobe like crap to demonstrate his disrespect for the consumer culture it represents, constantly reminding anyone who will listen that he’s just a $400 a week everyman who hates fashion, greed, and luxury (like every good heterosexual, white, working-class American male supposedly should). Yet Crockett’s ability to reject luxury is always a function of his ability to possess it; you can’t treat a Versace blazer like crap unless you have a Versace blazer that you can afford to treat like crap. Crockett overcomes consumer culture by having more consumer goods than he needs; in effect, he overcomes consumer culture by being the ideal consumer.

Which gets me back to pastels. Like Crockett’s consumerism, pastels can be a compromise gesture. “Lacking strong chromatic content,” pastels are a way to wear colour and reject it at the same time. Sometimes, their only real “statement” seems to be their lack of statement; pastels avoid conflict, refusing to make a decision or take a stand.

But where Crockett is concerned, I don’t think that’s the whole story. Let’s flesh out some particulars. Crockett’s typical look from the first two seasons of Vice includes: white loafers (always worn without socks); wide-legged, high-waisted pants; boxy, deconstructed blazers or jackets; and incredibly soft-looking tight or low-cut shirts, tees, and tanks. Everything is accessorized with a pale gold Rolex, Carerra Champions or tortoise shell Wayfarers, Lucky Strikes, and a perpetual five o’clock shadow. All of Crockett’s pants, blazers, and shirts typically mix-and-match the pastel colour spectrum, minus the occasional black tee or pale grey blazer. His shirts are always tucked into his pants, and his jackets are always worn open, often with the roomy sleeves rolled up or scrunched to the elbow.

Crockett’s style isn’t just about compromise; it’s also about contradiction. When and where Crockett’s style makes a statement, it does so by foregrounding its contradictions, which is to say, its deliberate constructed-ness. There’s a feminine or at least androgynous quality to the way the thin, pale fabric of Crockett’s pastel tanks and tees stretch taut over his smooth, flat body; flush with his nipples, even his leather shoulder holster with its hefty Bren Ten takes on an ironic quality, accentuating the play of aggression and passivity, violence and leisure. His wide pants make his body larger, but they also swallow his sock-less feet; his shoes become tiny or even invisible, like glass slippers floating on air. His jackets are both shawls and capes, their bold cuts and soft colours offering both demure refuge and heroic impact; his straight, draped lapels are like curtains framing the display of his pinched, narrow waist. And then there’s the way he moves, lounges, leans: Crockett doesn’t so much exist in spaces as inhabit them, deliberately building himself into the (mise en) scene, a living, breathing landscape of sherbet colour swatches poured over candy-coloured plastic chairs and cool steel desks, mirrored in the dewy blur of glass bricks, or pinned against matching pastel walls and tropical sunsets.

Crockett doesn’t just glorify the trope of the masculine-individualist-cop-hero—he luxuriates in it. Crockett is the cop as rock star, as fashion model, as Gatsby (pink suit included). A beautiful, impossible dream and lie, Crockett is both the ultimate consumer and the ultimate commodity. Yet it is precisely by pushing the fantasy of the cop-hero to its ludicrous (or logical) extreme that Crockett’s style can also destabilize it. While it’s always unusual for male heroes to be blatantly objectified, Crockett’s obvious manipulation of his own image also reveals his deep knowledge of the terms and language of style, and thus his willing participation in his own objectification. Crockett might be bashful, but his clothing is not; no matter how often Crockett (or Don Johnson) vocally rejects fashion, the visual evidence denies his denial. Crockett is too skilled an actor, too good an image, too appealing a dream, not to suggest that all masculine-individualist-cop-heroes are really just guests (or prisoners) at a never-ending masquerade. Like Cinderella, they often need magic to catch our eye, their goodness proven less by actions than “because the shoe fits.”

When its contradictions exceed its compromises, Crockett’s style can be political. Subjectively, Crockett’s style can be mobilized to disrupt Vice’s glorification of consumer culture, fantasy violence, or traditional masculinity. If an ideal cop-hero can like style, if he can creatively and sexually enjoy manipulating his own objectification and the visual language of his embodied self, then nothing is certain, and (nearly) everything is possible.

Before Crockett, I thought you could only really speak with vibrant hues, with black or red or electric blue. But Crockett taught me that even quiet palettes can be loud—depending on how you use them.

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Because style is a moveable force… For a good example of Crockett (and Tubbs!) in action, check out Glenn Frey’s “You Belong to the City” music video. It’s an extended edit of a montage featured in the episode “Prodigal Son,” in which Miami’s Best take a roadtrip to NYC. In this video, I particularly love the ways Crockett is contrasted and compared to female models and mannequins. I also love Crockett’s elaborate cigarette preparations, shown in numerous close-ups, in which he methodically wets and rolls the filter back and forth over his dangling lower lip (an appeal which should be obvious to anyone with eyes ;)).

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