Robert Shaw as Doyle Lonnegan, ruthless Irish-American mob boss
Chicago, September 1936
Film: The Sting
Release Date: December 25, 1973
Director: George Roy Hill
Costume Designer: Edith Head
One month into spring, we’re finally seeing some consistent spring weather here in the States. Embrace it and inject some spring colors into your business suits à la Doyle Lonnegan in The Sting. Lonnegan is not necessarily a loud dresser, but he does look the part of a fashionable and well-to-do gangster.
In the murky morality of The Sting-era Chicago, ruthless crime boss Doyle Lonnegan provided the perfect contrast to the happy-go-lucky band of con men who set him up as their mark. While everyone in the film is a criminal to some degree, Lonnegan’s criminality is so vicious and blatant that he deserves to be taken for a ride, and we don’t feel bad seeing it happen. In fact, as Johnny Hooker (Robert Redford) tells his mentor Henry Gondorff (Paul Newman), “It’s not enough,” adding with a laugh, “But it’s close!”
What’d He Wear?
As opposed to the three-piece single-breasted suits preferred by the film’s protagonists (Gondorff and Hooker, in case you weren’t sure who to root for), costume designer Edith Head outfitted the film’s antagonist Doyle Lonnegan in three different sharp double-breasted suits, all in various shades of gray with some degree of striping involved.
Double-breasted suits with an emphasis on breadth were en vogue in the late 1930s, especially among wealthy businessmen and mobsters who needed a sartorial outlet to convey to the world that they were both powerful and rich. The fine suits implied the latter while the emphasized shoulders due to padding and wide lapels covered the former.
Doyle Lonnegan, the banker who’s a little more proud of being a mobster than he should be, follows these trends, showing off the spot-on research by the deservedly award-winning Edith Head. The suit in focus today is the third and final one seen in the film, a gray wool two-piece suit with a thin yellow gold pencil stripe.
Naturally, the jacket is double-breasted with the wide and sharp peak lapels that characterized the era.
Interestingly, although it has a 6×2 button front with both lower buttons paired with buttonholes to be fastened, Lonnegan only buttons the lowest button to give the jacket a 6×1 button appearance. This low-fastening stance combined with the wide peak lapels gives an added appearance of luxury as the suit drapes over itself. This is clearly a double-breasted jacket for a refined, urbane man, not the stodgy tightly-wound look often associated with more traditional double-breasted suits. (When the meticulous and paranoid George Metesky, the “Mad Bomber of New York”, was finally arrested in January 1957 after a 16-year spree, he wore a buttoned-up double-breasted suit as correctly predicted by a criminal psychiatrist.)
The jacket has a welted breast pocket and flapped hip pockets. Jetted pockets are more commonly seen nowadays with double-breasted jackets, but flapped pockets are more traditional and less formal, appropriate for 1930s “weekend suit” like Lonnegan’s. The functioning “surgeon’s cuffs” have three gray horn buttons that match the six on the jacket’s front.
The fit exemplifies the ’30s version of the “power suit” that came into popularity fifty years later during the Wall Street era. Lonnegan’s suit, with its wide and heavily padded shoulders, sharp peak lapels, ventless rear, and strongly suppressed waist, gives the impression of an imposing and athletic figure that could beat the shit out of you and then pay someone to cover it up. At 5’11”, Robert Shaw’s already muscular physique is enhanced by the suit’s fit, and he looks every bit a villain not to be tussled with. (Of course, this doesn’t stop Newman and Redford from tussling him out of $500,000.)
Lonnegan keeps his suit jacket buttoned, and thus the trouser details can only be speculated based on his other suits. They likely are high-waisted with a double reverse-pleated front. The belt loops would be ignored in lieu of braces, which attach to the suspender buttons in the front and rear. There are open side pockets and button-through jetted pockets on the rear. The one detail we do see is the wide leg bottoms with turn-ups/cuffs, breaking high over the shoes.
Lonnegan recognizes the obvious limitations of his suit’s stripe, pairing it only with yellow-toned shirts. His other two gray pinstripe suits are more neutral and thus can be paired with his white or blue shirts. Lonnegan wears this – his loudest suit – only when meeting with people he perceives to be disreputable.
When on the train for the executive-level poker game, he sports a dark charcoal suit with a white shirt and dark tie. For a meeting with business associates and his first visits to the betting parlor before he knows what sort of place it is, Lonnegan wears an equally neutral gray striped suit with a white or blue shirt.
Lonnegan lets himself have some fun with this suit, pairing it first with a solid light gold dress shirt that perfectly matches the suit’s pinstripes. This shirt has a spread collar, white buttons down the front placket, and French cuffs. The cuffs are fastened by the same large silver rectangular cuff links he wears throughout the film.
Lonnegan’s tie for the meeting with “Kelly” and “Harmon” is gradient striped golden brown silk, appropriately tied in a half Windsor underneath his spread collar.
Lonnegan revisits this monochromatic shirt-and-tie combination a few days later for the climax in the betting parlor, now wearing a tan dress shirt and a tan woven silk necktie. The details of the shirt are the same, with a spread collar, front placket, and French cuffs.
With both ties, Lonnegan wears a large diamond stickpin about an inch below the knot.
When venturing outdoors, Lonnegan wears an elegant camel hair overcoat with large lapels – like his suit jackets – and a belted sash in lieu of buttons to give a luxurious cleanliness to the coat.
The “buttonless” overcoat was a mid-1930s trend that began in Chicago and was likely developed to save manufacturers money on buttons but was marketed as a stylish alternative. On July 27, 1933, The Milwaukee Journal ran an Associated Press story out of Chicago with the headline BUTTONLESS COAT APPEARS AS BOON TO BACHELOR. The article reads:
Wrinkles are the latest wrinkle in men’s suits. A “boon to bachelors” overcoat, sans buttons and buttonholes, will be taken up enthusiastically by the well-dressed boulevardier this fall.
Wrinkles With a Purpose
Westward goes the course of the style empire. Men aren’t such “sartorial simps” as they used to be. So spake the experts who design clothes for the men of all nations, gathered for the convention of the International Clothing Designers’ Association. George E. Serak, president of the Chicago Club of Clothing Designers, acted as spokesman for the association’s style committee which conferred and discussed present trends and made a few predictions about autumn fashions. The wrinkles in suit coats, he explained, aren’t just ordinary ones – not the kind appearing on clothes that have no alliances with the pressing iron.
Belt Ties Like a Rope
They are vertical and achieved by the easy cut and drape of the coat. They are on the front of the coat, just inside the shoulders, replacing the former “boiler plate” effect. The buttonless overcoat has somewhat the free and easy lines of a bedsheet. It is fastened about the middle with a belt tied like a rope, and any knot will do. The buttonless overcoat originated in Hollywood. In fact, Serak explained, the motion picture capital dictates men’s clothes in America.
The rest of the newspaper, if you’re so interested, has been archived here. The next page describes the showings of such movies as The Mayor of Hell with James Cagney, a film oddly titled Moonlight and Pretzels, and a salacious “educational film” warning girls about “the price of sin”. While I’ve never seen either of these three pictures, I would imagine that they were the 1933 equivalent of Paul Blart: Mall Cop.
Lonnegan’s overcoat also has a long rear single vent and flapped patch pockets on each hip. Edith Head’s masterful research and costuming is in full force here, as the buttonless overcoat was a Chicago-born trend in the mid-1930s destined for fall, and here we have a fashionable gangster wearing it on a fall day in mid-1930s Chicago. An example of a similar camel hair buttonless overcoat can be currently found on eBay for just shy of $50 (as of April 2014). Based on the quality and rarity of the coat, I’d say it’s a heck of a good deal.
Atop his head, Lonnegan wears a pearl gray homburg with a black grosgrain ribbon. The pearl gray homburg was reportedly also the preferred hat of Al Capone, another Chicago gangster who wanted simply to be perceived as a businessman.
Lonnegan completes his outerwear ensemble with a pair of pearl gray suede dress gloves, which he wears consistently with the overcoat no matter which suit, shirt, and tie is worn underneath.
On his feet are a pair of black leather balmorals with gray dress socks that continue the leg line from the trousers into the shoes.
Lonnegan’s status is further exuded through his jewelry and accessories. On the third finger of his left hand – traditionally reserved for wedding bands – Lonnegan wears a silver ring with a very large diamond, matching the diamond in his stickpin.
He wears a gold wristwatch on his left wrist with a round, flat gold face, gold case, and expanding gold bracelet. Both the ring and the watch are best seen when Lonnegan is talking to Hooker in what is evidently the only hotel room in Chicago lavish enough for Lonnegan’s particular tastes.
While we’re on the subject of Lonnegan’s leisure attire, let’s discuss it. He wears an opulent silk dressing gown with a masculinely abstract burgundy floral pattern on a black ground. The long shawl lapels and the matching sleeve edges are solid black silk. The robe even has padded shoulders to match the powerful look of his suit jackets. An ivory-stitched “DL” monogram is embroidered on the left breast.
Lonngan wears a white silk cravat, fastened into place with his usual diamond stickpin, underneath the robe.
Go Big or Go Home
As opposed to the ne’er-do-wells Gondorff and Hooker, Doyle Lonnegan teaches us how not to be a likable 1930s criminal. Indeed, it should not be easy to get hundreds (Gondorff said between 200 and 300) of con men to band together to scam you.
Lonnegan is far from the media-friendly Chicago gangsters of the Roaring Twenties like Al Capone, “Machine Gun” McGurn, or even Depression-era bank robber John Dillinger. By this time, Prohibition is over and the Depression has settled in. No longer are the gangsters just guys looking to profit off of liquor; now, the mob is run by guys who are cold-blooded and driven criminals who make no bones about it. Lonnegan may pose as a banker (and, indeed, he does own banks), but he doesn’t wink at the newsmen while playing off his crimes. If someone gets in his way, even for a measly thousand dollars, he will crush them and anyone who calls him out on it. Al Capone may have been a murderous bastard, but he certainly knew how to handle people. His less PR-oriented contemporaries like Joe Saltis and Frank McErlane have faded into relative obscurity.
Of course, it is Lonnegan’s greed that leads to his downfall. True, he probably isn’t ruined by the loss of $500,000, but the grifters have gotten one over on him, whether he knows it or not. (Don’t use the events of The Sting II to say he figured it out. That movie didn’t exist.)
How to Get the Look
Doyle Lonnegan may want to present himself to the world as a businessman, but his outfits exude a luxury not typically seen in your average banker. If you want to splash up a business meeting with some color – and rumors that you may be “connected” – emulate Lonnegan’s injection of color into a business suit.
- Gray – with thin yellow pinstripes – wool two-piece suit, consisting of:
- Double-breasted jacket with wide peak lapels, 6×2-button front, 3-button cuffs, welted breast pocket, flapped hip pockets, padded shoulders, suppressed waist and ventless rear
- Double reverse-pleated trousers with belt loops and suspender buttons, side pockets, button-through jetted rear pockets, and wide turned-up bottoms/cuffs
- Yellow dress shirt with spread collars, white buttons down front placket, double/French cuffs
- Gold silk necktie in a half Windsor knot
- Diamond stickpin
- Black leather balmorals
- Gray dress socks
- Pearl gray homburg with a black grosgrain ribbon
- Camel hair buttonless overcoat with large lapels, belt sash, flapped patch hip pockets, and long rear vent
- Pearl gray suede dress gloves
- Silver ring with large diamond on 3rd finger of left hand
- All-gold wristwatch with expanding bracelet on left wrist
If you’re simply lounging in your hotel room, get a monogrammed black silk dressing gown with burgundy floral accents and a white silk cravat.
Do Yourself a Favor and…
Buy the movie.
Not only are you a cheat, you’re a gutless cheat as well.