Steve Buscemi as Enoch “Nucky” Thompson, political boss and bootlegger
Atlantic City, April 1923
Series: Boardwalk Empire
Episodes: “Sunday Best” (Episode 3.07); “The Milkmaid’s Lot” (Episode 3.09)
Air Dates: October 28, 2012; November 11, 2012
Directors: Allen Coulter; Ed Bianchi
Costume Designer: John A. Dunn
Many modern men view Easter as a lesser version of Thanksgiving (not as much food) or Christmas (no presents) that requires a colorful button-down and slacks for a few begrudging hours with family. Since 65% of the world celebrates Easter, it’s safe to assume that many of you will be trudging between in-laws houses and watching the kids hunt for eggs or shovel chocolate into their mouths… you’ll probably be eating your share of chocolate also.
While he looks forward to the holiday with as little enthusiasm as most non-religious adult males do, Boardwalk Empire‘s sharply-dressed lead uses the day to inject some spring color into his wardrobe. If you thought Steve McQueen’s use of gray and pink was extreme, you ain’t seen nothin’ yet.
What’d He Wear?
Nucky, Margaret, and the kids show up at brother Eli’s doorstep on Sunday, April 1, 1923, bearing Easter gifts and bitterly suppressed anger.
For the occasion, Nucky wears a light brown Glen Plaid suit that we only see in two episodes of the season; it is best exhibited in this episode, the aptly-titled “Sunday Best”.
The suit is light brown wool with a Glen Plaid overcheck in tan, brown, and baby blue. Nucky pays attention to all of the colors in his suit when choosing his accompanying garments for the day.
In the early 1920s, men’s clothing was often cut to emphasize the length of the legs, continuing the athletic trend from the previous decade before excessively roomy clothing – reaching a climax with “Oxford bags” around 1925 – became fashionable. Thus, Nucky’s jacket is long with many features like pockets and buttons relegated as much as possible to center chest to keep the bottom clean and lean-looking.
The three black horn buttons to close the jacket in the front have a high and close stance. Nucky leaves the buttons unfastened, as he typically does with his single-breasted suits. The 4-button cuffs match the buttons on the front.
The welted breast pocket is in the same place as usual, but the flapped hip pockets – already angled on a slant down toward the rear – are raised to meet Nucky’s elbows and are considerably higher than most conventional suit pockets.
The padded shoulders, darted front, and slightly suppressed waist also contribute to the desired look for fashionable and successful men in the early part of the decade.
Nucky’s matching vest is single-breasted with a high-fastening 6-button front. The buttons are the same black horn as on the jacket. There are small notch lapels at the top and a notched bottom at the waist line. An adjustable strap stretches across the tan silk rear, which matches the tan silk lining the inside of the jacket.
Nucky keeps his gold pocket watch in his right vest pocket with the chain looping through the third button of his vest and attached to the fob in his left pocket. There are a total of four welted pockets on the vest – two on each side.
The flat front suit trousers naturally match the rest of the suit. Although Nucky never removes his vest in these scenes, we can surmise that they rise high on his waist like his other trousers and are kept in places by suspenders or braces. Glimpses of Nucky in motion imply that his suspenders are a shade of blue, which would be fitting given the cool tones in the suit, shirt, and tie.
The trousers also appear to have belt loops, although Nucky never wears a belt and certainly wouldn’t with a three-piece suit.
Nucky often keeps his hands in the side pockets of his trousers, and he leaves the jetted rear pockets unbuttoned. The bottoms of the trousers are cuffed with “turn-ups” (or, you know, cuffs) with a medium break over his shoes.
Nucky pairs brown footwear with his suit, opting for a pair of brown leather 4-eyelet perforated cap toe balmorals. His socks are tan with a brown rib top, meant to be concealed under the trouser cuffs. This is the best option to continue the leg line from his trousers into his shoes, since Glen Plaid socks would just be garish and too loud, even for Nucky standards.
Nucky’s hat is also brown. He wears a light brown felt homburg with a dark brown grosgrain band. The homburg remains the traditional headgear for gentlemen and was especially popular with politicians and mob bosses (some would say there is little difference) during the earlier half of the 20th century.
For the Easter celebration, Nucky wears a dress shirt with light lavender and white awning stripes. Since the lavender is pale, the usual harsh contrast of an awning stripe isn’t as noticeable here, and light blue thin stripes separating the lavender and white also soften the aesthetic blow. The shirt buttons down the front and has gauntlet buttons on each cuff, but it has the usual detachable white collar and white French cuffs accompanying all of Nucky’s dress shirts.
The white tab collar is the distinctive collar worn only by Nucky on the show. John Dunn, Boardwalk Empire costume designer, described the look in an interview with Esquire in September 2010 just before the show premiered:
Nucky wears a collar bar. The collars actually needed controlling back then, so the collar bar was very popular. We did have a particular collar specifically designed for Nucky, though: a period collar that has a little keyhole cutout in the center — when you close the collar with the collar bar, there was then a little hole that the necktie would come out of. No one else was allowed to wear that.
The “keyhole cutout” indeed separates Nucky’s shirt from traditional club, tab, or double round collars of the era, incorporating elements of all three. The closest similar collar seen in history would be the “Tyfold” collar developed for the American market in 1903 by Cluett Peabody, & Co., the company that also developed the Arrow shirt when it branched out into attached-collar shirts in the late 1920s.
Nucky pairs this shirt with a elegant blue silk tie with an abstract pattern of silver and black swirls. As Dunn described – and as the collar demands – Nucky wears a gold collar pin under the tie knot to secure his cravat in place.
A few days – and two episodes – later, Nucky again wears the suit for a few early scenes in “The Milkmaid’s Lot,” this time paired with a different shirt and tie. This shirt has a lavender ground, using a much more vivid tone than on the Easter shirt, with thin stripes in various shades of green.
Nucky’s tie in this scene is a more deco-inspired tie with a very dark blue ground and an ornate paisley pattern in various shades of brown, green, and blue. Since he has a concussion, his look is not as immaculate as usual, and his unfastened collar looks very sloppy.
It’s a much louder look with more potential for clash, very indicative of Nucky’s disorientation at the time due to the Babbette’s bombing the night prior.
With both shirts and ties, Nucky uses a gold button to fasten the collar into place, although the button is unfastened with the second combination. He also wears a set of brass cuff links with white and blue painted enamel faces.
Naturally, Nucky pins his trademark red carnation boutonnière to the jacket’s left notch lapel as a finishing touch.
Nucky also wears his ring throughout the season. Since marrying Margaret in the second season finale, Nucky wears a gold wedding band on the third finger of his left hand, not even removing it when indulging in his extramarital affairs.
Both Nucky and his brother Eli wear brown suits for the day, but each man’s look is radically different. Nucky’s plaid suit, contrast collar shirt, gold watch chain, and bright colors mark him as the successful – if somewhat flamboyant – gangster that he is. Eli, on the other hand, sports a plain dark brown three-piece suit that is probably a little warm for the day. The vest buttons very high, covering up any potential color in his red tie.
Prior to this season, Eli was typically sporting his brown sheriff’s uniform, so his “civilian suits” don’t stray far from this uniform. His look is practical, right down to his wristwatch, an accessory that was rapidly gaining popularity after World War I. He knows he doesn’t have the power or aptitude to face off against Nucky as an Atlantic City gangster, so he looks more subdued and allows himself to blend in with the others while Nucky rises through the underworld.
The full version of the photo used for the main picture above also shows a fine contrast between Nucky’s suit and Eli’s suit in this episode. The photo can be found here, but I can also upload it to the site if any of you wish to see it here. (I just didn’t want to bombard anyone with the same photo three times, especially since I grabbed a shot of Nucky’s shoes from it already.)
Go Big or Go Home
While the traditional Easter elements of the egg hunt and family dinner are present, Nucky spends most of the day cautiously shooting the breeze with his brother Eli, who has been gently working his way back into Nucky’s good graces.
The afternoon for the brothers consists primarily of smoking cigarettes on the porch or drinking rye in the garage; the label on the whiskey reads Columbia, which appears to be fictional as far as my research has yielded. There is also the natural possibility of gunplay as Eli digs out a Colt .38 revolver and dramatically hands it to Nucky for suicide-by-brother, but Nucky doesn’t take the bait.
The celebration concludes with a family talent show, where Nucky/Steve Buscemi shows off a previously unknown penchant for juggling and Margaret reveals her own set of pipes as she serenades the extended Thompson clan with “The Belle of Belfast City.”
Through all of it, you can choose to drink your rye neat, as Nucky would, or you might be in the mood for an Easter cocktail. While the traditional options for rye cocktails are a Manhattan or an Old Fashioned, Joy Richard of Boston’s The Franklin Café developed the Cocoa Old Fashioned for whiskey lovers that want a taste of chocolate in their Easter without degrading themselves to some Choco-tini bastardization.
Furthermore, the recipe stipulates the use of Old Overholt rye whiskey, which becomes notable in Boardwalk Empire‘s third season as Nucky negotiates control of the distillery from its actual owner, Treasury Secretary Andrew Mellon. After three days of infusing Taza Cacao Nibs into a batch of Old Overholt, the simple drink should only take about four minutes to create.
First, get an old fashioned glass and muddle together a half wheel of an orange, a brandied cherry, half an ounce of simple syrup, and 3 dashes of The Bitter Truth’s Xocolatl Mole bitters; the latter supposedly adds a “sweet and spicy touch”. Fill the glass with ice and pour in as much of the cocoa nib-infused Old Overholt as you can muster! After lightly stirring and enjoying, the drink is supposed to “transform your thoughts of what chocolate can do in cocktails.”
I personally haven’t had one yet, as I have no idea how to infuse whiskey with chocolate, nor have I ever necessarily had the desire. I understand the process merely requires keeping a jar with a ratio of 4:1 whiskey to cocoa nibs, letting it go for anywhere between 3 days and 3 weeks before consumption.
Hopefully, your wife is a little more gracious about when you can drink than Eli’s…
Nucky: Eli, can I get a drink?
Eli: Right this second?
Nucky: Do I need an appointment?
Eli: I promised June — not before sundown. Not in the house. I gotta tell ya — keeps your head clear.
Nucky: Preaching temperance now?
How to Get the Look
Nucky’s Easter suit is colorful and attention-getting, very appropriate given the guise he and Margaret are presenting for the rest of the family.
- Light brown wool suit with a tan/brown/baby blue Glen Plaid overcheck, consisting of:
- Single-breasted long jacket with notch lapels, high stance 3-button front, welted breast pocket, raised and slanted hip pockets with flaps, 4-button cuffs, ventless rear, and tan silk lining
- Single-breasted vest with small notch lapels, 6-button front, four welted pockets, notched bottom, adjustable rear strap, and tan silk lining
- Flat front high-rise trousers with slash side pockets, button-through jetted rear pockets, and cuffed bottoms
- Lavender striped shirt with a white detachable keyhole-tab collar and French cuffs
- Blue silk necktie with an abstract pattern of silver and black swirls
- Gold collar bar
- White and blue painted enamel-faced brass cuff links
- Brown leather 4-eyelet perforated cap toe balmorals
- Light brown socks with brown ribbed top
- Gold pocket watch, worn through the vest’s 3rd buttonhole and kept in the lower right pocket
- Gold wedding band, worn on the 3rd finger of the left hand
- Light brown felt homburg with dark brown grosgrain hatband
Do Yourself a Favor and…
Buy the third season. This suit is featured in both Episode 3.07 (“Sunday Best”) and Episode 3.09 (“The Milkmaid’s Lot”), but you’ll want to watch them all just because of how damn great the show is. Both episodes are supremely good, though.
Eli: Go to church this morning?
Nucky: I had to. I’m a knight now.
Eli: How’d you manage that?
Nucky: It helps to lose an awful lot of money.
I hope you were all expecting to see this link, which I naturally include with any Steve Buscemi post.