Bugsy Siegel’s Gray Chalkstripe Suit
Warren Beatty as Benjamin “Bugsy” Siegel, violent and visionary “celebrity” gangster
Los Angeles, January 1945
Release Date: December 13, 1991
Director: Barry Levinson
Costume Designer: Albert Wolsky
Benjamin “Bugsy” Siegel is one of the most fascinating mobsters. He was certainly innovative, developing the idea of Las Vegas as a money-grabbing desert mecca. However, he had an insanely volatile personality, which made him both good and hated as a gangster.
By the film’s chronology, Bugsy is sent out to the west coast by his New York pals Luciano and Lansky in January 1945. In real life, he had made the trek out about ten years earlier, but who’s counting? On the first day, he butts heads with local boss Jack Dragna and manipulates control of Dragna’s wire system immediately. Not only that, he buys a mansion from a famous opera singer, buys a beautiful Cadillac convertible, and meets the fiery woman for whom he would throw his life away.
What’d He Wear?
When he arrives in Los Angeles, Bugsy is decked out in a very fashionable gray chalkstripe flannel suit. Costume designer Albert Wolsky and his team appropriately won the Oscar for Best Costume Design for the film, and Bugsy’s matinee-idol look is a testament to that.
The suit gets plenty of wear during the gangster’s first day in L.A., but it is too warm (and not flashy enough) for 1940s Hollywood, and it quickly finds a place in the back of Bugsy’s closet as loudly-checked sport coats and lightweight glen check suits become the norm.
The suit jacket is double-breasted with the wide, padded shoulders that fashionable ’40s men’s suits were known for and sharp peak lapels. The ventless back pulls in his torso, further accentuating the shoulders. Indeed, Bugsy looks imposing in the suit, most notably when he struts up to Jack Dragna’s house.
It has flapped hip pockets and a welted breast pocket, which Bugsy adorns with a white silk handkerchief, folded to display a couple puffy points. The front has a 6×2 button stance; Bugsy only keeps the top of the two buttons fastened and never unbuttons it. The 3-button cuffs are in the same gray horn as the buttons on the front.
The suit trousers are also common for the era, with flat fronts and cuffed bottoms that break high over the shoes. Since he never removes his jacket in the scene, we can only see the side pockets when he places his hands in them. We also don’t know if the suit is worn with a belt or braces, but none of his other suits have suspenders, so we can assume these trousers are either fitted or worn with a belt.
Bugsy’s shoes are black leather laced dress shoes with raised heels, worn with black dress socks.
His shirt is white with a large collar (not ’70s big, but only ’40s big) with a moderate spread. He fastens his French cuffs with a pair of gold square cufflinks with rounded edges.
Bugsy wears a very fashionable silk striped tie that, as production photos reveal, is very short and wide. However, he never unbuttons this jacket, so we don’t see it in the film. The tie has solid black and charcoal blue stripes running diagonally (in the American R-down-to-L style), intersected by thin silver stripes in the opposite direction (L-down-to-R) to create a check effect.
Bugsy wears a pair of cool tortoise browline sunglasses with gold lens rims, very similar to the Ray-Ban Clubmaster style (which Tim Roth wore in Reservoir Dogs). These glasses were especially popular in the 1950s, enjoyed a retro re-popularity in the 1980s, and are again fashionable today in the 2010s. If you don’t get a pair of these now, you’ll have to wait until the 2040s to look cool again wearing them!
Your closest bet would just be to buy a pair of the Ray-Ban RB3016 Clubmaster Classic shades with color code 49/21, signifying tortoise-colored acetate frames and temples with a crystal green solid lens. These specs run only $145 for a retro cool accessory offering both quality and class.
Bugsy’s accessories don’t end there. Being a gangster, he always wears his standard issue gold pinky ring on his left hand. Although he had flamboyant taste, his wristwatch is very tasteful and modest with a gold rectangular case, black leather strap, and white squared face with a black center. Does anyone know anything about this watch?
The real “Bugsy” Siegel was as much as fashion plate as Beatty’s character. I don’t know if his vanity included looking at the closest mirror at every opportunity, but it’s not a stretch to believe that the film quirk was based on something like that.
Siegel was known to wear both single-breasted and double-breasted suits. He did indeed have a suit like the one in the film, although the only evidence I can find of it is from a few grayscale photos of varying quality, so bear with me in terms of resolution.
Although the trope of “the man in the gray flannel suit” often evokes images of a dull, or at least commonplace, businessman, Bugsy used the look to stand out in a town where a sharp-dressed man could be a gangster, a movie star, or just a wannabe.
Go Big or Go Home
By this time in his life, Bugsy had become much better versed in how to treat women (which isn’t saying much since one of his first arrests was for rape…) After spending some time in Hollywood, he became just as smooth as his movie star friends, including boyhood pal George Raft, played in the film by Joe Mantegna. Of course, some of Bugsy’s easy charm in the film is more Beatty than Bugsy, although the two men undeniably shared the habit of bedding actresses without difficulty.
While it wouldn’t be in any man’s best interest to act like Bugsy Siegel, whether around women or gangsters, a man could learn a lot about class by conducting himself like a ’40s icon. Beatty plays Bugsy with a quick wit, remarkably infused with both confidence and self-deprecation, since no woman likes a braggart, but no woman likes a self-loathing wuss, either.
He keeps his Zippo – gold, of course – within reach to draw it in nanoseconds if a damsel-in-distress needs a light. Although, sometimes he knows the best thing to do is ask for one…
Bugsy: Got a light?
Virginia: The way you were looking at me, I thought you were going to ask for something more interesting.
Bugsy: Like what?
Virginia: Use your imagination.
Bugsy: I’m using it.
Virginia: …Let me know when you’re finished.
Of course, it doesn’t always work as planned…
Virginia: Well, my oh my, you’re pretty ferocious for a mom’s concern, aren’t ya? The rest of the time you’re just some good-looking, sweet-talking, charm-oozing, fuck-happy fellow with nothing to offer but some dialogue. Dialogue is cheap in Hollywood, Ben. Why don’t you run outside and jerk yourself a soda.
Do your best to not receive this admonishment from anyone.
How to Get the Look
Bugsy was a sharp-dressed man both in fiction and reality. Just because he was a man in a gray flannel suit didn’t mean he had to dress like one.
- Gray chalkstripe flannel suit, consisting of:
- Double-breasted suit jacket with sharp peak lapels, 6×2 button stance, welted breast pocket, flapped hip pockets, wide padded shoulders, 3-button cuffs, and a ventless back
- Flat front trousers with turn-ups/cuffed bottoms
- White dress shirt with large moderate-spread collar and double/French cuffs
- Black & charcoal blue striped silk necktie with silver contrast stripe
- Gold square cufflinks with rounded edges
- Black leather cap-toe oxfords
- Black dress socks
- Tortoise half-framed browline sunglasses with brown lenses
- Gold pinky ring, worn on left hand
- Gold rectangular wristwatch with whit/black dial and black leather strap
- White silk pocket handkerchief, folded into points in the jacket’s breast pocket
Do Yourself a Favor and…
Check out the movie.
The watch looks like a Bulova “bruce”. Or possibly a Bulova “lone eagle”. Hope that helps.