Nucky Thompson’s Eveningwear

Steve Buscemi in non-traditional white tie as Nucky Thompson in the second episode of Boardwalk Empire.

For your Election Day celebration (depending on who you voted for), take a sartorial cue from BAMF Style‘s favorite politician…

Vitals

Steve Buscemi as Enoch “Nucky” Thompson, corrupt Atlantic City treasurer and “half a gangster”

Atlantic City, January 1920

Series: Boardwalk Empire
Episode: “Boardwalk Empire” (Episode 1.01); “The Ivory Tower” (Episode 1.02)
Air Date: September 19, 2010; September 26, 2010
Director: Martin Scorsese; Tim Van Patten
Costume Designer: John A. Dunn

Background

The real “Nucky” Thompson – actually named Enoch L. Johnson – was born in 1883 and, like his semi-fictional TV counterpart, was raised in Atlantic City with both he and his father serving as sheriff. By 1920, he was the county treasurer and made much money from illegal bootlegging during Prohibition.

The show, which uses Johnson only as a basis for the character of Thompson, uses a few details from Nucky’s real life, such as his ever-present red lapel carnation, his chauffeur-driven blue Rolls-Royce, his political maneuvering, the death of his first wife Mabel in 1912, his eighth-floor headquarters at the Ritz-Carlton, and the enormity of his graft.

The first two episodes, set during the first days of Prohibition in January 1920, show the audience the position Nucky is in: He has to decide between being a shady politician or a respectable gangster. His choice is reflected in the words of Jimmy Darmody, his young protege:

You can’t be half a gangster, Nucky. Not anymore.

What’d He Wear?

Nucky likes to show off, as proved by his light blue Rolls-Royce, his lavish parties and gifts, and his colorful wardrobe.

By 1920, especially in the United States, white tie was rapidly becoming more and more passé. Men were seen everywhere in tuxedos, which typically consisted of a black dinner jacket and trousers with a white shirt and black bowtie. The white bowtie and long tails belonged to another world.

Nucky bridges the gap between old school white tie and the more modern black tie with his choice of eveningwear. Although not fussing with the general black-and-white look of formalwear, Nucky does stand out from the crowd with his choice. Nucky’s “white tie” is technically “black tie” with a white bowtie, as the coat and waistcoat are especially informal compared to white tie occasions. This outfit is Nucky’s standard eveningwear; he isn’t seen in traditional black tie until the start of Season 3, which takes place on New Year’s Eve 1922.

Don’t forget the red carnation in your lapel!

Nucky’s coat is the most unusual part of his attire. It is cut like most dinner jackets of the era, a sack coat as opposed to a tailcoat. However, this coat has a long single vent in the center, rather than the ventless look usually seen. The satin-faced lapels are notch, most typically seen on suit coats of the day but almost never seen on formalwear, typically the domain of shawl or peak lapels.

In addition, there are two angled pockets with satin-faced flaps. The front of the coat, even more unusual for a notch lapel garment, is double-breasted with 6 satin-covered buttons (2 to button), worn open by Nucky. The cuffs have 4 satin-covered buttons and a short satin gauntlet on each cuff.

Buscemi has come a long way from his “Mr. Pink” days.

In conclusion, Nucky’s coat is very old-fashioned and, though it retains some Edwardian detailing such as the satin gauntlets and the curvature of the front opening, I’m not sure it is a very time-accurate item.

Underneath, Nucky’s ivory waistcoat is a horizontally-textured repp silk, with 4 buttons, shawl lapels, and two jetted hip pockets for his gold pocketwatch and chain. Unlike many ceremonial formalwear waistcoats, popular today, it has a full back and functions as an actual vest.

As dictated by fashions at the time, the waistcoat and bow tie are both the same material, ivory silk. The bowtie is adjustable and slips up and down the ample collar of his shirt.

Have a nice long smoke before heading out to cast your vote.

The shirt itself is white with a pleated front and detachable wingtip collar. The studs are black with gold trim to match the round gold cuff links worn through the shirt’s rounded double cuffs.

John Goodman should try telling this Donny to “shut the fuck up”.

The accompanying pants are black with the standard thick satin stripe on each sides. They have turn-ups, or cuffs, at the bottom, as well as slash side pockets and jetted rear pockets, each with a 1-button closure.

On his feet, Nucky wears black silk socks and leather laced shoes.

When out in the cold Atlantic air, Nucky wears a topcoat and homburg. The charcoal herringbone topcoat is short, only extending to the knees, with three buttons on a single-breasted front. There are two wide hip pockets. The rear is fitted with a fake belt as seen on half-Norfolk jackets. The peaked lapels are covered in dark astrakhan fur. The homburg is black felt with a black band.

Nucky struts down the boardwalk on his way from a temperance meeting to a champagne and whiskey-soaked dinner with fellow politicians.

Underneath, Nucky wears white underwear: a ribbed A-shirt and a pair of boxers.

And, of course, don’t forget a large red carnation in the left lapel. Both the real Nucky and Buscemi’s character never left home without it.

Go Big or Go Home

Nucky has a very distinctive lifestyle: a chauffeur-driven powder blue Rolls-Royce limousine, an array of showgirls vying for the attention of a not-necessarily-attractive man, huge bankrolls of cash, adoring citizens… Needless to say, this doesn’t come cheap…

…except for her. She actually does come cheap.

However, there are little things you can do for a more attainable Nucky Thompson lifestyle. For a nice night out, hire a limousine or a chauffeured car. Even if you don’t have a date (at least at the start of the night), it is a nice way to travel without the stress of driving. Throw a big party, maybe a little bigger than you can afford, with good whiskey, expensive champagne, and loud brass playing Dixieland jazz. For additional authenticity, make the whiskey in your basement or buy it from someone else who did. Fill your gold cigarette case with Lucky Strikes. We also see Nucky smoking Old Golds, which were actually not around then and are not around anymore.

Lucky for us, the makers of Boardwalk Empire released an extensive soundtrack album with tracks of authentic music from the era recorded by Vince Giordano & the Nighthawks, a terrific band that does startlingly good recreations of original arrangements from any era. Giordano’s band was also featured in The Aviator, spotlessly recreating music from the 1920s, 1930s, and the 1940s.

In the first episode, we see Nucky entering Babbette’s Supper Club on the Boardwalk as “Livery Stable Blues” plays. “Livery Stable Blues” is considered to be the first commercial jazz song ever recorded. Cut by the Original Dixieland Jass Band for Victor on February 26, 1917 and released two weeks later, “Livery Stable Blues” was a major hit – becoming the first popular recording to sell over a million copies – and began a wave of hot jazz that lasted well into the Depression before swing began to take hold.

Appropriately, the show kicks off Prohibition (“the Jazz Age”, as coined by F. Scott Fitzgerald) with the song that kicked off the jazz era in the United States.

What to Imbibe

If characters like Van Alden had has way, this section would be all about milk and hot cider. However, Prohibition – as we all know – was a massive failure due to its encouragement of bootleggers to produce booze.

Prior to Prohibition, whiskey was a very regionally-enjoyed drink. The Irish enjoyed Irish whiskey, the rest of the UK drank Scotch, and Americans kept to their Bourbon. The Volstead Act muddied the waters. With any whiskey on demand in the U.S., bootleggers began taking what they could get (or making it) and Americans, if they were lucky, developed a taste for Scotch or Canadian whisky, both of which rapidly gained popularity during the Prohibition era. Unlucky Americans were forced to deal with bathtub gin or near-poisonous grain whiskey and, thus, the cocktail also gained popularity as people added any mixer they could get their hands on to mask the taste of formaldehyde in their Scotch.

He doesn’t look too concerned about where the stuff in his glass came from, as long as it’s there.

Nucky wouldn’t need to worry about any of these issues. Get a few bottles of Canadian Club or – since this is a celebration – some vintage bottles of Veuve Clicquot.

How to Get the Look

A bowtie that you actually had to tie always looks better than the clip-on you wore for prom.

Nucky, ever the individualist, carved his own preferred eveningwear from a mix of styles. To emulate, get your hands on:

  • Black double-breasted dinner jacket with satin-faced notch lapels, 6 satin-covered buttons, satin gauntlet cuffs with 4 satin-covered buttons on each, a long single center vent, and slanted flapped hip pockets
  • White formal pleated shirt with a large detachable wingtip collar and rounded double/French cuffs
  • Ivory silk bowtie, adjustable
  • Ivory repp silk 4-button single-breasted waistcoat with shawl lapels and 2 jetted hip pockets
  • Gold pocketwatch and chain
  • Black formal trousers with a thick satin stripe down each leg and turn-ups/cuffs
  • Black leather laced dress shoes
  • Black silk socks
  • Charcoal herringbone 3-button single-breasted knee-length topcoat with black astrakhan fur peak lapels, open hip pockets, half-Norfolk belted back
  • Black felt homburg with black ribbon
  • White ribbed cotton sleeveless undershirt
  • White cotton boxer shorts

And, of course, Nucky always has his stainless flask of whiskey.

Do Yourself a Favor and…

Buy the first season.

Nucky wears his particular tuxedo throughout the first two seasons. Most of the details and screenshots in this article are from the first two episodes, “Boardwalk Empire” and “The Ivory Tower”.

The Quote

Rest assured that dry though the country may be, I am in the midst of concluding arrangements that will keep Atlantic City wet as a mermaid’s twat.

Footnotes

Nucky’s attire in the first season is nicely approached several other places online, notably:

Also, here is an excellent link for Buscemi fans.

10 comments

  1. Peter Mintun

    Pardon me for being critical, but…It’s a shame Nucky can’t afford a real white piqué or silk bow tie that doesn’t have the distracting adjustable hardware protruding from the collar. White, black and even midnight blue collars are readily available “off the peg” in half-sizes from every shirt maker in London. Adjustable formal ties are acceptable for rented formal wear, but the adjustable hardware stands out like a sore thumb on a wing collar. Nucky’s folded collars also should be properly starched so that they are “stiff as a board.” His folded collars are always creased. Another Nucky gaucherie is the way he wears his boutonnieres. It’s clunky to have the stem of a flower exposed on a lapel. That’s what the buttonhole is for on a lapel. A good tailor sews a little fabric loop on the reverse side of the lapel below the buttonhole, just to secure the stem of a flower.

    Like

    • luckystrike721

      Peter,
      Thanks for commenting; great to hear from you and I loved your work on the show. You make some very excellent points. For someone as appearance-oriented as Nucky, a better option would have been one of the real bow ties. Also, the entire flower on the lapel reminds me of high schoolers going to their first formal dance. What do you think of the rest of his attire? In your opinion, what were the costumers going for by placing Nucky in this look?
      I haven’t been able to analyze it yet, but it looks like Nucky’s switch to more traditional black tie in “Resolutions” (season 3 premiere) apologizes by using a non-adjustable black bow tie.

      Like

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