Johnny Depp as John Dillinger, Depression-era bank robber
Tucson, January 1934
Film: Public Enemies
Release Date: July 1, 2009
Director: Michael Mann
Costume Designer: Colleen Atwood
Seventy nine years ago today, on January 25, 1934, noted Midwest bank robber John Dillinger was arrested by a group of small-town cops in Tucson, Arizona. The arrest was notable as the Chicago police had been leading police efforts against the bandit for several months, to the point of assigning an elite team of detectives – dubbed the “Dillinger Squad” – the single task of finding Dillinger.
Public Enemies used photos of Dillinger during his arrest and subsequent interviews to recreate the dark three-piece suit he wore throughout the ordeal. Unfortunately, he ditches his coat and tie early on in the scenes, leaving only a few glimpses in the film and behind-the-scenes photos to get an idea of the full picture of the suit.
What’d He Wear?
Dillinger arrives in Tucson with his girlfriend Billie, intending to check into a hotel and cool down. In the pre-global warming days, a dark brown three-piece suit must have been the most comfortable option for an Arizona winter.
And, although the scene takes place in January, it’s still Arizona, so the first item removed is Dillinger’s double-breasted jacket. The suit coat is very typical of 1930s styling: ventless with wide peak lapels and a large, comfortable fit. It also has 2-button cuffs. We hardly get any looks at the jacket before he takes it off, but it is styled like his other double-breasted coats with a welted breast pocket and straight jetted hip pockets. The jacket also closes in the front with a 4-on-2 button layout, as confirmed by the suit’s auction page.
In real life, Dillinger had worn a single-breasted jacket over his suit, but the rest of the representation is very accurate.
After he is gun-butted and corralled by the Arizona cops, Dillinger shaves off his mustache and is shanghaied to the Lake County Jail in Crown Point, Indiana, where he is to await trial. Here, he stood in front of reporters and policemen for a few minutes, answering questions and casually smirking, likely knowing he wouldn’t be there long.
Having removed his jacket, Dillinger stood in just his shirt, vest, and trousers. The shirt – lightweight for the Arizona weather – has soft point collars and French cuffs. The white buttons are on a placketless front. His vest has six buttons and four pockets. It is fitted and thus foregoes the adjustable strap across the rear.
Dillinger’s trousers, which feature a period-appropriate high rise, are worn with both a belt and suspenders. The front button-fly is covered up to the top button, which is exposed. There are four pockets, two straight pockets on the sides and two button-fastened jetted rear pockets. The pants are flat front with cuffed bottoms.
The first item to go after his arrest is the dark brown paisley-patterned silk necktie, which is held in place with an ornate gold oval-shaped tie pin. This is seen most clearly in some of the film’s promotional material.
Dillinger also wears a pair of sunglasses for his arrival in Arizona. He wears a pair of vintage round plastic-rimmed sunglasses with an acetate tortoiseshell frame and amber-tinted lenses. Evidently, he purchases another pair after his escape from prison as he also wears these during later scenes.
Perhaps also contributing to the well-known but mistaken Dillinger legend, Dillinger wears both a suspender and a belt with this suit. The belt is very correct in its period styling, thin brown with a small silver-colored buckle that is squared with rounded edges. After he was brought to his cell in Indiana, he isn’t seen wearing it anymore. It’s never explicitly said, but it was probably taken away from him to prevent any potential suicide attempts. If you plan on being arrested anytime soon and your pants are considerably sized, wear both a belt and suspenders so you’ll be okay too when the police take your belt.
The suspenders go well with the suit, in various shades of earth tone stripes.
In keeping with the BROWN theme, Dillinger’s feet are endowed with dark brown leather laced dress shoes worn over a pair of block-striped socks in varying shades of brown.
Not sure how I missed this, but the actual suit was up for auction in June 2010, going for somewhere in the neighborhood of $2,000. The link is here and the description reads:
1161. “John Dillinger” brown suit and tie from Public Enemies. (Universal, 2009) Double-breasted, rust brown three-piece suit and patterned silk tie from Public Enemies. Inside pocket of the jacket is handwritten“Stunt JD” and the inside waistband of the pants handwritten “Double Dillinger”. With original costumers tags handwritten “Dillinger change 5 Scs A-62-C62” and other production notations. A wonderful piece of instantly recognizable wardrobe from the film.
Looking at the suit, we see the details much clearer than in the film. The jacket is sharply fashionable for the mid 1930s with its pulled-in waist, front darts, and padded shoulders to emphasize Dillinger’s athletic physique. It has a welted breast pocket and jetted hip pockets, closing on the double-breasted front with a 4×2 button layout.
The color is described as “rust brown” and the photo provided indeed makes the suit look lighter in color than it does on screen. The tie has also been included, with a dark brown ground and light-colored spots.
A few sources differ on the actual color of the suit the real Dillinger wore during this arrest; some say blue while others say brown. In Public Enemies, Bryan Burroughs states that Dillinger wore a brown suit; in Dillinger: The Untold Story, G. Russell Girardin and Bill Helmer tell us that the suit was blue and the shirt was brown.
Go Big or Go Home
Naturally, the best way to emulate Dillinger would be to grab a bunch of your buddies and head out on a yearlong spree robbing banks across the Midwest.
Probably shouldn’t do that, though. History tells us that it ended up not being the best decision for Dillinger.
So, instead, we’ve got his style. The guy definitely had it, wearing expensive suits for all of his jobs, charming women even as he robbed them, and holding a press conference in the very jail where he was being held for murder. He was definitely a folk hero of his day for a few reasons:
- He was simple. Sure, he might have been smart, but he wasn’t too flashy. His favorite car was an Essex, which would translate to something like a Buick or an Acura today. Moderately-priced but powerful. He asks for just some “beer and sandwiches” while checking into his hotel in Arizona and would’ve been more than satisfied with it (if he hadn’t been arrested instead). Appropriately, the real life Dillinger was supposedly a Schlitz drinker.
- He was a sarcastic bastard. From Don Rickles to Rob Delaney, we all love the funny guy who’s a bit of an asshole but you know he’s got a heart. Dillinger cemented his place in this category by putting his arm around the prosecutor who would be trying to put him in the electric chair. This catapulted Dillinger to stardom and ruined the guy’s career.
Dillinger, although he may have been pissed inside about being chased around the country by trigger-hungry cops, never let it show. He lived it up. In the summer of 1933, Dillinger and his then-girlfriend Mary were at the Chicago World’s Fair when they saw a gaggle of policemen standing around. By this time, Dillinger had been robbing banks for months to raise money for a massive prison break. Rather than freaking out, causing a scene, and shooting the place up (see: Clyde Barrow), Dillinger calmly – and most likely with a smirk – approached the police with a camera and asked if his girlfriend could snap a photo of him with them. They obliged.
How to Get the Look
Your best bet would be to call up costume designer Colleen Atwood, who did fantastic work on Public Enemies. If that’s not an option to you – since I’m guessing you’re not Johnny Depp – see what you can do about replicating the following:
- Dark brown wool suit, consisting of:
- Double-breasted 4-on-2-button suit jacket with wide peak lapels, welted breast pocket, jetted hip pockets, padded shoulders, and 2-button cuffs
- Single-breasted 6-button non-adjustable vest with two welt pockets and notched bottom
- Flat front long-rise trousers with belt loops, straight side pockets, button-through jetted back pockets, and turn-ups/cuffs
- White lightweight dress shirt with turndown point collar, plain front, and double/French cuffs
- Gold rectangular cuff links with amber-colored stone
- Dark brown paisley-patterned necktie
- Ornate gold oval-shaped tie pin
- Brown/black striped suspenders
- Brown belt with small square brass buckle
- Dark brown duo-tone leather shoes
- Brown block-striped socks
- White sleeveless ribbed undershirt
- Amber-tinted sunglasses with round plastic-rimmed acetate tortoiseshell frame
Not prominently featured in this sequence, so you’ll have to wait before seeing a full thing about either of them, but Dillinger unpacks a Thompson M1921AC from his suitcase and takes a Colt Model 1903 Pocket Hammerless out of his pocket, both guns associated in real life with Dillinger.
The Thompson is, of course, the legendary .45-caliber submachine gun that grew to infamy during the Depression era as bank robbers and desperados tore up the countryside with their “Chicago typewriters”. The Colt Model 1903 was often used as a backup pistol for Dillinger, carried in his pants pocket – as it is in Public Enemies – when he wasn’t expecting too much trouble. In real life, a .41-caliber over/under Remington Model 1866 derringer was retrieved from his sock during the Tucson arrest, but he certainly carried the Model 1903 during the later part of his life and was rumored to have had a .380-caliber model on him when he was killed. (SPOILER ALERT: Dillinger dies.)
Dillinger’s main sidearms, two blue steel Colt M1911A1 pistols, will be focused on in a later entry. Like from a scene where he actually uses them.
Do Yourself a Favor and…
Buy the movie.
a reporter: How long does it take you to run through a bank?
Dillinger: About 1 minute… 40 seconds… Flat
Public Enemies may have nailed the costumes and small details better, such as people, places, and events, but the 1973 version of Dillinger had plenty of grit, starring Warren Oates as the titular outlaw. I’ll be featuring several Dillinger posts here on BAMF Style as well, so keep your eyes open for comparisons. If you want.