One major component of Boardwalk's stunning visual flair are the costumes, meticulously designed by the immensely talented John Dunn. Dunn's first cinematic foray into costume design was Martin Scorsese's New York Stories. He went on to design the incredible 70's and 80's style suits and dresses in the 1995 Scorsese Vegas epic Casino. More recently, he was nominated for an Emmy for his work on the pilot episode of the equally sartorially inclined series Mad Men (The Tudors ended up winning). While it seems the criteria employed by awards shows to pick their winners is never a representation of artistic merit (Mad Men got robbed), Dunn and his team are clearly a shoe-in for next year's awards race as the feat of dressing over 6000 actors and extras in 1920's period garb so flawlessly is just impossible to ignore.
The suits and skirts of AMC's Mad Men
According to the Greenwood Encyclopedia of Clothing Through American History by Amy T Peterson et al, suits in the 1920's were slim fitting, more commonly three button and single breasted. They featured short wide lapels that closed high in the chest and featured either waist seams or darts to provide soft shaping and center back vents. Vests or waistcoats were single breasted, very fitted, closing high on the chest above the suit jacket closure, with five buttons. Vests or waistcoats for business suits rarely sported lapels. Trousers were slim fitting, with straight legs and cuffs. Nucky and Arnold Rothstein are often seen sporting detacheable collars, remnants from the previous decade. With improved manufacturing of shirts as well as the increasing use of home washing machines, they became obsolete by the end of the 1920's. Many of the characters also sport collar bars which help secure the collar and also elevate the knot of the tie giving a pleasing arc.
|1920's Ad for Arrow Collars and Shirts|
The clothing featured on Boardwalk is a combination of authentic American vintage and new custom tailored clothing, the latter of which are the bespoke suits worn by the male leads. These suits were constructed by Brooklyn master tailor and factory owner Martin Greenfield. While Greenfield does not make garments under his own label for those without special connections, his services are available via Brooks Brothers' made-to-measure program. He also produces garments for Neiman Marcus as well as NYC's rag & bone and Band of Outsiders.
Did you know: the tailor Ben and Cam had manufacture their sample denim in
How to Make it in America was a homage to Martin Greenfield.
How to Make it in America was a homage to Martin Greenfield.
As discussed previously in this blog, the bespoke suit has been a fixture of gangster cinema since its inception during the 1930's Warner Brothers era. So much so that it has almost become a pre-requisite cliche. The fourth episode of Boardwalk features a scene in which Al Capone and Jimmy Darmody get fitted for their first custom tailored suits with newly earned money as they begin to ascend the organized crime ladder. This scene is a nod to the infamous fitting scene in The Public Enemy (1931) featuring James Cagney and Edward Woods (no, not that Ed Woods). Upon The Public Enemy's re-release in 1941, the iconic scene was cut due to the effeminate nature of the tailor being in direct violation of the newly established Hays Code.
"We're businessmen, right? Gotta look the part."
The Public Enemy
You are what you wear in the boardwalk empire. Lucky Luciano and Jimmy are both enforcers who have yet to make their mark in organized crime. They do much of the dirty work and this is accentuated in their dress. In contrast to their superiors Nucky, Rothstein and Torio, the two henchmen retain "blue collar" workwear elements in their dress -- the materials of their suits are made of less refined woolens and both characters sport belted jackets. Belted jackets became popular in the 1920's and were inspired by the classic Norfolk hunting jacket. Belted backs were also the trademark of casual wear, something a younger, less refined individual would wear. The evolving design of Jimmy's clothing has mirrored the development of his character thus far. His first suit was a woolen flannel workwear number with a belted jacket. His second suit, a bespoke blue check three piece, retained the half-belted back. His third suit, presumably also bespoke, is even more refined featuring gunmetal grey wool, three buttons with rolled lapels and a ticket pocket no less. However, the half-belted back remains. I would be willing to wager that in upcoming episodes (or seasons) of Boardwalk we will see the workwear aspects of Jimmy and Lucky's wardrobe disappear entirely. In a real life quote Lucky Luciano said of his mentor Arnold Rothstein:
Jimmy first flannel suit featured a belted suit jacket.
Jimmy's second suit.
Jimmy the third returns home, doule intact.
"My God! You look like a gangster!" Angela Darmody does her best impression of Henry Hill's mom.
Lucky's half-belted back.
Over the last few years, classic 1920's American heritage workwear has become a major driving force in men's fashion. A prime example is the clothing of New York based Japanese designer Daiki Suzuki and his award winning Engineered Garments label, which he founded in 2005. He also co-founded and served as creative director for Woolrich Woolen Mills, a more fashion oriented sublabel of the classic Woolrich brand (est 1830). He has since left Woolen Mills and appointed Mark McNairy as creative director beginning Fall Winter 2011. These revived looks have even trickled down to more mainstream brands (read: affordable) such as LL Bean with their new Signature collection, which offers somewhat "safer" interpretations.
The revival of American heritage clothing as evidenced in
the 2010 Fall Winter collection of Woolrich Woolen Mills.
The silhouette, half-belted back and elbow patches are a throwback
to the workwear of the roaring twenties.
Eli Thompson in his distinguished Sherrif's Uniform.
Ashfield Jacket from Engineered Garments' 2010 Fall Winter collection.
In an interview with Esquire, John Dunn described his approach in designing suits for characters hailing from the three different cities featured in Boardwalk:
The Atlantic City people are a fashion-forward people, because they want to present themselves in a flashy way to say "I'm the top dog" with their clothing. But it's also a seaside setting. So despite the fact that most of the people there were working class, there was also this element of great wealth in a summer situation. I would say I probably did a lighter palette in Atlantic City and more colorful.
New York was much more serious and elegant. We did really cutting-edge tailoring for Arnold Rothstein. Lucky Luciano, I would say, is trying to be elegant but he's not there yet. Part of the story is that Arnold Rothstein takes the rough edges off of Lucky and he becomes quite a well-dressed man, but at this point he still makes a few mistakes. So his wardrobe is a little more crass and will become more elegant as the series progresses.
For Chicago, I wanted to have a real old-world connection of darker colors — just a more Italian, European feeling of the old country. These people were tied a little more closely to the people coming in from Europe, and Italy probably most specifically.
|New York Style.|
|Chicago Old World Elegance.|
|Atlantic City Swagger.|