Sharply tailored, violent, sexy and all-round immaculate HBO drama Boardwalk Empire hits British screens for the first time on 1st February (Sky Atlantic). For those who have not already seen the show, what will undoubtedly strike first is, thanks to costume designer John Dunn and tailor Martin Greenfield, just how beautifully turned out all the gentlemen in 1920’s set Atlantic City were. This is a time when being a real man meant wearing a deep red carnation on one’s jacket lapel and stiff collars to rival a neck brace.
Ruler of Boardwalk Empire is Atlantic County treasurer Nucky Thompson (Steve Buscemi), a former policeman turned corrupt politician running an alcohol bootlegging racket during prohibition. What Nucky decides to wear is just as important as anything else he does on a day. Decked in burnt orange plaid single breasted suit, saffron silk shirt with detachable white collar, paisley tie and collar pin, plus two-tone brogues, fur felt Homburg hat, camel polo coat and that all important red carnation, Nucky displays his clothes like a badge: Look at how much better I am than you. He is a peacock strutting along the boardwalk, eyeing his wares; literally the centre of attention.
Yet Nucky is no soft puff. He is a gangster. This is not a man sneered at for wearing pink, powder blue, lilac and yellow (occasionally together). This is a man who wallops the head of a wife beating drunk on a roulette table. This is a man who has his pick of any half-naked showgirl tottering past his eye line. In short, this is a man who gets everything he wants.
Nucky favours bright colours that jar though rarely clash. He varies the width of his stripes to ensure they do not blend and generally avoids overly sober tones that wash out his pale skin. His jackets are high buttoning and possess little shoulder roll. They are often worn loose but generally with a matching, similarly high buttoning waistcoat. If you do not notice Nucky then he has failed. Nucky does not fail often.
It seems that throughout men’s fashion history there comes a time when it is considered ‘sissy’ or conceited to care about how one looks. During the 1970s men were berated for adopting so-called feminine styles of tight crotch pants and Cuban heels, only to be celebrated a decade later for copying the Wall Street vibe of lairy red braces and wide shoulder pad double breasted suits. Grooming that slickly gelled hair on a morning was seen as vital for posing in front of the office secretaries.
Now, things are different. No-one has any money to spend, so apparently dressing down is the only way to go. This is wrong. Men need Boardwalk Empire to embrace the return of the dandy man. Okay, so tangerine on grey pinstripes might be a bit much for an afternoon shopping on the high street, but it is more the ethos that must be grasped. Like sixties-set cocktails and adultery fest Mad Men before it, Boardwalk Empire is sure to inspire all manner of fashion rivals, most likely pastels, busy plaid suits and contrast collar shirts, so the look can be embraced without fear of playground taunt reprisals. Even go so far as trying the homburg hat. Don’t worry; no-one will knock it off your head because you look too hard.
© 2011 – 2013, Chris Laverty.