Al Swearengen on Deadwood

Ian McShane as Al Swearengen on Deadwood.

For something a little different, here’s a throwback in honor of vintage badass Al Swearengen from HBO’s prematurely cancelled series Deadwood. If you’re not familiar with Deadwood, you’d be doing yourself a favor to familiarize yourself.

Al’s suit may not translate literally to what looks good these days, but the attitude is there.


Ian McShane as Al Swearengen, frontier saloon owner and pimp

Deadwood, Summer 1876

Series: Deadwood
Air Dates: March 21, 2004 – August 27, 2006
Creator: David Milch
Costume Designer: Janie Bryant


Deadwood, one of the most underrated and criminally discontinued shows of all time, was a brilliant ensemble show that reflected larger American themes through the founding of a frontier camp. It featured well-known real life characters such as “Wild Bill” Hickok, “Calamity Jane”, and Wyatt Earp interacting with lesser-known historical figures Seth Bullock, Sol Star, and Al Swearengen. It was the latter that proved to be the breakout hit of the show, thanks to Ian McShane’s masterful performance.

What’d He Wear?

Swearengen, the crass, powerful, and ruthless camp boss, wears his costume as his uniform throughout – adaptable when it needs to be, but never varied.

The constant staple of Swearengen’s wardrobe is his union suit. Fraying, distressed, and browning from consistent wear, the tan 9-button union suit is worn in lieu of an actual shirt.

Swearengen’s suit, worn over the union suit, is three-piece. The color is primarily black with gray stripes alternating from one thick to two thin. The jacket is single-breasted a 1-button front with somewhat wide notch lapels straight hip pockets with wide rectangular flaps. There are no buttons on the cuffs. The inside lining is burgundy in color.

Swearengen’s shawl-collared vest has seven buttons, with the middle button being substituted for a small gold nugget – the 1870s equivalent of “bling” that would befit such a notorious pimp, especially in a gold-mining town. There are two welt pockets. The back is a red brocade, with 4 eyelets to fasten (rather than the more modern clasp).

Swearengen’s “gold nugget” vest button.

The suit trousers naturally have a button-fly as well as plain-hemmed bottoms. They are held up by thick (and I mean thick) black suspenders. On his feet and underneath the legs of his pants, Swearengen wears tall black boots. They are presumably a thin enough leather to be worn inside the pants.

Swearengen’s silver pocketwatch, kept faithfully in his left vest pocket, is connected to a gold chain with silver links that goes through his second vest button.

Rarely seeing the need to dress up, Al has no alternative clothing when the occasion calls for something more formal. On the two times seen on Deadwood that Al did spruce up his outfit, he added a plain white shirt with a short standing collar and a black bow-style cravat that seemed to increase between seasons. Perhaps the costumers realized how humorous a giant bow tie would look on the typically boorish Al.

Neckties like these would dictate every day being Casual Friday in Deadwood.

Deadwood‘s costume designer, Janie Bryant, would soon graduate to another well-acclaimed period drama as the award-winning costume designer of AMC’s Mad Men.

Go Big or Go Home

To really emulate Al, you would need to run a cheap saloon/brothel filled with abused whores ranging from emaciated to pleasantly overfed. Every second sentence would need to refer to “fucking cocksuckers”. You would down probably four entire bottles of Old Weller Antique Original 107 Proof Bourbon (107 proof means 53.5% alcohol, of course) between waking up in the morning until going to bed at night – with a .45-caliber Smith & Wesson revolver on your nightstand, of course.

Your friends wouldn’t know what was scarier about you: your prowess with a knife, your skillful manipulation of others, or the fact that you threaten to toss people off of balconies into horse shit if they fart in your office.

Al’s life, when it didn’t include murder, could often be pleasant.

How to Get the Look

By the time this photo was taken, Al had already finished off two bottles of Bourbon.

Al’s suit was custom-made for the show so, unless you find a replica, you’ll have a tough time finding one quite as 1870s-y as his.

  • Black pinstripe 3-piece wool suit, consisting of:
    • Single-breasted 1-button suit coat with notch lapels and straight  flapped hip pockets
    • Single-breasted 7-button vest (with a “gold nugget” replacing the middle button) with shawl lapels, a red satin brocade back, and two welted hip pockets
    • Flat front high-rise trousers with button fly and plain-hemmed bottoms
  • Tan flannel 9-button union suit
  • Black leather calf-high boots
  • Wide black suspenders
  • Rimless eyeglasses
  • Silver pocketwatch on a gold chain with silver links

Dressing up? Attach a standing collar to a white shirt and tie a big black cravat into a bow. You’ll look better than “Christ crucified.”

The Gun

Although only seen once, during the pilot episode, Al keeps a Smith & Wesson New Model No. 3 revolver in his bedside table. He certainly prefers a knife, telling George Hearst in the third season that he’s a “fuckin’ terrible shot”, but, especially in the camp’s early days when trust was still being established (only to later be broken anyway), Al would be smart to keep this powerful frontier revolver near him.

Introduced in 1869, the Smith & Wesson Model 3 was a massive success. Ordered by the Russian military and U.S. Cavalry within a few years of its creation, it was a single action .44-caliber revolver that had an innovative “break-top” design. This design allowed for a user to load the revolver by breaking the forward part of the revolver – the barrel and cylinder – for easy access and quick loading and unloading.

To compete with the .45-caliber Colt Single Action Army, introduced in 1873, the design was updated with the Smith & Wesson Schofield in 1875 to fire .45 Schofield ammunition. The military adopted the shorter .45 Schofield as standard ammunition (as both .45 Schofield and .45 Colt worked in the Colt, but the .45 Colt did not work in the S&W), but the Colt eclipsed the Smith & Wesson design in popularity and grew to fame as “The Peacemaker”.

An 1871 example of the Smith & Wesson New Model No. 3, as Al kept in his nightstand.

Do Yourself a Favor and…

Buy Deadwood: The Complete Series. You won’t regret it.

Also, watch this video I found on YouTube… 5 minutes of Ian McShane kicking ass as Al Swearengen.

The Quote

Pain or damage don’t end the world. Or despair, or fucking beatings. The world ends when you’re dead. Until then, you got more punishment in store. Stand it like a man… and give some back.


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