Today in 1933, Prohibition officially ended in the United States with the ratification of the 21st amendment. To celebrate this momentous and wonderful occasion, we look again at Boardwalk Empire.
Michael Pitt as Jimmy Darmody, rising bootlegger looking to be more than “half a gangster”
Chicago and Atlantic City, February through November 1920
Series: Boardwalk Empire
Creator: Terence Winter
Costume Designer: John A. Dunn
Jimmy Darmody, a young protagonist of Boardwalk Empire, is presented as an early protege and eventual foil of Enoch “Nucky” Thompson, the Atlantic City treasurer. Although Thompson is clearly based on Enoch “Nucky” Johnson, the real life boss of Atlantic City during the Prohibition era, Darmody was invented for the show and, due to an excellent performance by Michael Pitt and brilliant storytelling from the show’s writers, helps to bring an interesting era in American history to life through the eyes of a relatable, yet troubled, character.
If you haven’t seen the show, jump on ahead to the next section or maybe get your shit together and start watching. Jimmy was born as the illegitimate son of AC’s previous boss “The Commodore” and a 13-year-old girl provided to him by Nucky. As Nucky replaced The Commodore, Nucky served as a father figure to Jimmy, sending him to Princeton. After an incident (which I really don’t want to discuss here) with his villainous mother, Jimmy ditches his college career and pregnant girlfriend to join the U.S. Army and kick some German ass in the trenches.
Jimmy returned to Jersey in 1920 with a shrapnel-ravaged right leg to a son and an unfulfilling offer from Nucky to serve as an assistant clerk. Jimmy acts on his own advice to Nucky and decides that, if he can’t be half a gangster, he will be 100% gangster. He robs a whiskey hijacking that results in the death of five men, teams up with Al Capone, and moves in with a starry-eyed prostitute in Chicago.
That’s when it starts to get interesting. To avoid any further spoilers, let’s begin as Jimmy buys his first suit in the fourth episode, “Anastasia”.
What’d He Wear?
The Old Jimmy
In the first three episodes of the series, Jimmy is a lackey – a war veteran who has been away from Atlantic City’s glam for three years while serving in the trenches of France. Although most clothing for poor men during this era wasn’t showy anyway, Jimmy’s muted working class style presents a definite contrast to Nucky’s bespoke suits in pastels and loud earth tones. (Jimmy’s early tweed look has a post of its own!)
His first appearance is in a cheviot tweed Norfolk suit, red knit high-fastening cardigan, and an olive green tie that blends into his drab shirt. No coincidence that colors often reserved for military NCOs are Jimmy’s look when transitioning from soldier to gangster. His initial headgear is always a flat tweed newsboy cap. There was a reason that these were known as newsboy and not newsman hats, as a rabbi points out to Capone later in the season.
After determining for himself that “you can’t be half a gangster anymore”, Jimmy decides he will go for the real thing. To look the part, he accompanies a young Al Capone to a Chicago tailor and ditches the tweed for his own bespoke look.
The New Jimmy
Jimmy’s first season uniform is flashy enough to be a “gangster suit” but still very muted compared to Nucky’s attire. For a man used to uniforms, Jimmy keeps his clothes dark and practical. He dresses only to have something useful to wear while further his career. Unlike Nucky, he doesn’t want to stand out with a red carnation and a pastel combination that would offend an Easter egg.
After visiting the tailor shop with Capone, Jimmy strolls out in a three-piece navy blue suit with a small blue and beige tattersall check. The suit’s lining and the rear of the vest is light brown.
Capone’s suit, on the other hand, reminds me of the brown striped three-piece that Seinfeld‘s George Costanza got in Season 5’s “The Pie” with the “swooshing” pants. Thus, I can’t judge Capone’s suit fairly, although it is interesting that both of the short, stocky, balding men chose the same suit.
The suit’s jacket is single-breasted with a tight 3-button stance. The notch lapels roll over the top button, as they do with all of Jimmy’s subsequent suits. The suit is fitted throughout, part of the athletic, close fit that would trend through the decade. It is a half-Norfolk jacket with a faux belt across the back waist to emphasize this fit. A long single vent extends up the back to the self-belt. Each sleeve has 4-button cuffs.
Jimmy’s suit jacket has four exterior pockets: a breast pocket, two hip pockets with flaps that slant gently toward the back, and a flapped ticket pocket on the right side. Jimmy typically keeps his pocket flaps out, save for a few incidents in more casual settings. Although he has a breast pocket and left lapel buttonhole, Jimmy ignores the fashionable (and some may say excessive) touches of a pocket square or red carnation preferred by his ex-mentor Nucky.
Jimmy’s single-breasted vest has 6 buttons and fastens high, as was the custom during the Boardwalk Empire era. It has notch lapels and a jetted pocket on each side. The rear is covered by the same light brown lining as the inside of the jacket and has an adjustable strap for fit.
In keeping with the 1920s slim fit, Jimmy’s suit trousers have a narrow cut and a high rise, with a fishmouth mouth on the rear waistband for his suspenders. There is a small button on each side of this fishmouth notch and a cinch adjuster on the belt line.
The trousers’ back pockets are jetted and close with a button. Jimmy also often places his hands in the straight, on-seam side pockets. The bottoms are hemmed with turn-ups or cuffs.
The aforementioned suspenders are red with an argyle pattern, brass hardware, and brown loops that button to his trousers. Although they don’t match any of his attire (red is Nucky’s color, not Jimmy’s!), a common trend during the 1920s was for young men to wear loud suspenders. Even Jimmy, who cares little for fashion, would likely have a set like these. They are the only suspenders he wears during the first season.
Jimmy wears several shirts with the suit, but the most common one is a mid blue broadcloth with a soft, unfused point collar, a front placket for the dark blue buttons, and French cuffs. It is the most formal of Jimmy’s first season shirts, as the others all have buttoned barrel cuffs, which were just becoming popular during this time.
The cuff links that Jimmy wears with the blue shirt are silver squares with a round pale blue enamel center.
In addition to the blue, Jimmy also wears a dark gray or dark brown tonal striped shirt. All have the typical soft turndown point collars, front button plackets, and buttoned barrel cuffs. Jimmy also wears these three with his gray herringbone suit in the first season. As the first season closes and Jimmy matures to the point where he begins plotting to take over Atlantic City, he begins wearing a more collar pin to keep the shirt collar from flapping out over his vest lapels as it does in earlier episodes, creating a more polished appearance that one would find on a more matured suit wearer.
Jimmy’s choice of wearing the less formal turndown collars, which were just coming onto the field of men’s fashion around this time, provides yet another contrast to Nucky’s “old guard”, the traditional, conservative set that prefers white detachable collars.
Jimmy has several ties in his rotation that he wears with this suit. The most commonly seen tie is silver with contrasting silver pin dots. He also has a gold textured tie, a dark brown diagonal-striped tie, and solid dark brown and dark silver silk neckties.
From what I could see, Jimmy wears eight different shirt and tie combinations in the first season with this suit. The first is the blue shirt with the silver pin dot tie, also worn in 1.06 and 1.10. He wears the blue shirt with the gold grenadine tie in 1.05 and 1.07. Also in 1.07, he wears a dark brown diagonal striped tie with both the dark gray and the blue shirts. He wears the dark gray shirt with the silver dotted tie in 1.07, 1.09, and 1.10. In one scene in 1.10, he wears a dark brown tonal striped shirt with a solid dark brown tie. Finally, he wears a dark gray shirt in the season’s final two episodes, with a solid dark brown tie in 1.11 and a solid dark silver tie in 1.12. Do with this knowledge what you will.
Jimmy’s wristwatch indicates another youthful contrast to Nucky, who prefers his pocket watch. Wristwatches became popular during the 1920s after military airmen in World War I preferred them. Wristwatches received an additional boost in the mid-1920s as some men began abandoning waistcoats in favor of two-piece suits and blazers. Jimmy’s watch is brown leather with a rounded rectangular case and dial.
In keeping with Jimmy’s military-inspired motif, he wears a pair of solid black leather combat boots (with black laces) on his feet. His socks are less military-inspired but offer a patriotic wink; in both occasions that they are clearly seen, Jimmy’s socks are a thin dark blue silk with red, white, and blue stripes. (Hey, those are America’s colors too!)
Most notably, a black leather holster in Jimmy’s left boot holds his brass-gripped 1918 Mk I trench knife with a skullcrusher for “crackin’ walnuts”.
While we’re on the subject of weapons, Jimmy keeps his main sidearm – a Colt Model 1903 Pocket Hammerless in .32 ACP – in a brown leather right-hand-draw shoulder rig with light brown lacing. The .32 Pocket Hammerless was one of Colt’s best-selling products and was known for reliability. I have a Pocket Hammerless manufactured in 1917 that still fires each round smoothly and with dead-on accuracy. It is a good choice for someone practical like Jimmy.
He wears gray overcoats with the suit, with a single-breasted 3-button herringbone wool topcoat in the first season and a more distinctive mid gray 6×3 double-breasted herringbone coat with raglan sleeves and flapped hip and breast pockets in the second season.
Jimmy’s preferred headgear, after ditching the Newsies cap, is a dark olive green felt snap brim fedora with a thick black band. The fedora, growing in fashion at the time, was the informal alternative to Nucky’s more formal, old-school homburgs.
Underneath it all, Jimmy wears standard whites: a ribbed A-style sleeveless undershirt and beige cotton boxer shorts. His red and blue striped garters are the only concession to the whites. Interestingly, although representing youth, Jimmy’s garters are considered to be out of fashion (in the show’s canon) by 1923, when Gyp Rosetti mocks the fact that Nucky still wears them.
Go Big or Go Home
Jimmy’s tastes are simple and, although not as refined as Nucky, he grows in sophistication throughout. As to be expected, he is a whiskey drinker, seen imbibing Bourbon, rye, Scotch, and – naturally – moonshine. He smokes like a chimney, but shows no particular brand loyalty; he offers Richard Harrow a Lucky Strike but also smokes Old Golds.
Like his wardrobe, Jimmy likes his products to be simple or uncomplicated. He drinks whiskey straight – no ice or mixers. He drinks black coffee and smokes unfiltered cigarettes. No nonsense for Jimmy.
Having seen and lived through the horrors of war, and not being a saint himself, Jimmy doesn’t judge others unless they give him cause. He hangs out with half-faced (literally) prostitutes and hitmen, doing his best to offer hope for their bleak futures.
Although he has a son that he loves, Jimmy’s life is not one of affection or happiness. His father is an octogenarian perverted millionaire, his mother is a vampy, over-affectionate showgirl, his wife is – although cool and Bohemian – unable to truly love him on a level that he needs, and nearly everyone he works with has aimed a loaded firearm at him at least once.
It’s no wonder that Jimmy’s nights are spent in solitary, reading, looking at old photographs, injecting or smoking himself into an opium-induced stupor, or just sitting, listening to the sad piano of the Paragon Ragtime Orchestra as it plays “The Whippoorwill Dance”.
But still, Jimmy makes room in his schedule for entertainment. Want to know how a badass like Jimmy has fun? It’s called five finger filet.
What to Imbibe
Jimmy, the young but hardened war veteran, drinks whiskey – neat. When he first brings disfigured but talented marksman Richard Harrow around, he orders Bourbon from The Four Deuces bar in Chicago, but is sure to indicate “the good stuff”, so poor Richard doesn’t end up drinking the colored formaldehyde that Mickey Doyle tricked Jimmy into shooting back in the pilot episode.
How to Get the Look
I mentioned several shirt and tie combinations above, but Jimmy’s standard first season look is outlined below.
Since Jimmy went to a tailor – and this vintage-style stuff is not easy to find – maybe you should do the same. Make sure to ask for:
- Navy blue suit with blue-and-beige tattersall check, consisting of:
- Single-breasted 3-roll-2-button back-belted jacket with notch lapels, welted breast pocket, rear-slanting flapped hip pockets with flapped ticket pocket, 4-button cuffs, and long single vent
- Single-breasted high-fastening 6-button vest with notch lapels, hip pockets, notched bottom, and adjustable back strap
- Flat front high-rise trousers with straight on-seam side pockets, button-through jetted back pockets, fishmouth-notched back waistband with suspender buttons and cinch adjuster, and turn-ups/cuffs
- Blue broadcloth dress shirt with soft turndown point collar, a front button placket with dark blue buttons, and French cuffs
- Silver silk necktie with small silver pin dots
- Silver square cuff links with a round light blue enamel center
- Red argyle suspenders with brass hardware and brown leather button-fasteners
- Brown leather wristwatch with a rounded rectangular case
- Olive green felt wide snap-brimmed fedora with a thick black band
- Gray herringbone wool single-breasted 3-button overcoat
- Black leather combat boots with black laces
- Thin dark blue silk socks with red, white, and blue stripes
- Red & dark blue striped garters
- White ribbed sleeveless undershirt
- Beige cotton boxer shorts
- Black ankle holster for trench knife
- Brown leather shoulder holster for Colt .32 pistol
Skilled with arms, Jimmy carries both a .32-caliber Colt Model 1903 Pocket Hammerless pistol and his Mk I trench knife. We’ll cover the gun in a later post.
The Mk I was indeed carried by American Expeditionary Force officers such as Jimmy. It has a 6.75-inch long double edged blackened blade with a blue finish. The handle is cast bronze and chemically blackened with a cast spike on the bow of each knuckle for hand-to-hand combat.
The Mk I was an improvement over the two previous models (the M1917 and M1918) which had been designed by Henry Disston & Sons of Philadelphia. In turn, the Mk I was first produced with the French company Au Lion, with Disston & Sons and other American companies receiving an order later in the war.
As seen clearly on Jimmy’s knife, the Mk I knives contracted by the U.S. have “U.S. 1918” stamped on the right side of the brass grip.
Although it received some criticism, the Mk I trench knife remained in U.S. Army service until March of 1943, when it was replaced by the bayonet-style M3 fighting knife.
Do Yourself a Favor and…
Buy the whole series! This suit is seen in every first season episode from Jimmy’s fitting for it in “Anastasia” (1.04) through the finale, “Return to Normalcy” (1.12). Most of the screenshots above are from “Family Limitation” (1.06), which shows off the suit the best.
Jimmy has plenty of good one-liners and comebacks – probably the one big thing he learned from Nucky – but his exchange with a trussed-up Lucien D’Alessio is a classic…
Lucien D’Alessio: Oh, fuckin’ tough guy, you gonna shoot me for mouthin’ off?
Jimmy Darmody: I wasn’t going to, but you kinda talked me into it. (BANG)
Much like Nucky, the Gentleman’s Gazette nicely covers Jimmy’s attire.
Also, for anyone who wanted to see a comparison of George’s noisy suit from Seinfeld (Ep. 5.15, “The Pie”) and Capone’s new suit, here ya go: