Chalky White’s Cream Plaid Suit on Boardwalk Empire
Michael Kenneth Williams as Albert “Chalky” White, notorious bootlegger
Atlantic City, Spring 1923
Series: Boardwalk Empire
– “The Milkmaid’s Lot” (Episode 3.09, aired November 11, 2012, dir. Ed Bianchi)
– “Two Imposters” (Episode 3.11, aired November 25, 2012, dir. Allen Coulter)
– “Margate Sands” (Episode 3.12, aired December 2, 2012, dir. Tim Van Patten)
Creator: Terence Winter
Costume Designer: John A. Dunn
Tailor: Martin Greenfield
Most people – myself included – don’t approach summer with the attitude of, “Oh, good, it’s three-piece suit season!” However, most people are not badass
gangsters community leaders like “Chalky” White on Boardwalk Empire.
Chalky has been a fan favorite since the early episodes of the show, and Michael K. Williams’ brilliant portrayal as the tough but conflicted bootlegger finally earned him an elevated role in the show’s fourth season last year. Williams has been acting on screen for nearly 20 years now, but it was his turn as Omar Little on HBO’s The Wire that brought him into the mainstream eye. Williams’ performance as Omar was so good that even Barack Obama had to praise the character:
He’s not my favorite person, but he’s a fascinating character… he’s the toughest, baddest guy on the show.
Two years after The Wire‘s finale, Williams was back on HBO as Albert “Chalky” White, a powerful gangster and de facto leader of Atlantic City’s black community. Although once again playing a character who was arguably “the toughest, baddest guy on the show”, Williams was able to draw a clear distinction between the violently moral street hustler Omar and the troubled family man Chalky.
After nearly three seasons as a strong but decidedly supporting character, Chalky was called upon by the show’s central character – Nucky Thompson – to step up in the penultimate episode of the third season.
What’d He Wear?
When Nucky Thompson shows up at Chalky White’s door in “Two Imposters”, Chalky is wearing a light three-piece linen summer suit that had only been seen once earlier during a brief scene in Nucky’s office in “The Milkmaid’s Lot” (Episode 3.09). The suit is cream-colored linen with a brown glen plaid check and an alternating green and red muted overcheck.
The suit has a large fit, accentuated by the overly wrinkly nature of linen. It follows the analysis offered by The Gentleman’s Gazette after the first season:
With regards to fit, his suits do not seem to be superb. You can often see gaping collars and other imperfections. Considering the colorful fabrics and outward appearance of Chalky White, I doubt this was done so intentionally by the costume designers, though I do not know that for sure. They definitely choose to tailor him long coats and vests and made him into something like the forefather of the zoot suits – though in moderation… Sartorially speaking, Chalky is definitely a highlight especially when lookingat the mass of rather uniform modern day navy and charcoal business suits.
While the fit may leave something to be desired, there’s no denying that this is a sharp, eye-catching suit. The jacket has a very vintage style with its high-fastening front and long straight bottom in the front. This is especially noticeable when Chalky fastens the 4×2 button double-breasted front.
The jacket has wide and sharp peak lapels with a slanted gorge that roll just above the mid-torso button stance. There is a welted breast pocket high on the left side that slants slightly toward the center of the coat. There are also two flapped straight hip pockets and 4-button cuffs.
The large-fitting jacket has natural shoulders with roped sleeveheads. The front is darted and there is a single rear vent.
Chalky spends plenty of time in these episodes with his jacket removed. Underneath, he wears a single-breasted matching vest with a high-fastening 6-button front. All buttons are fastened, including the lowest button just above the notched bottom. Like the jacket, it has peak lapels and a high-fastening front. There are four welted pockets that gently slope toward the center of the vest.
The rear is lined in dark red silk with a strap that adjusts with a brass clasp.
Chalky’s suit trousers are also very period-correct. Appropriately worn with suspenders, they have a fishmouth rear and an adjustable strap with a silver-toned clasp. Since there are no belt loops or side buttons on his trousers, Chalky fastens his shoulder holsters to the trousers’ adjustable rear strap. While this likely isn’t the most convenient or practical method, the weight of two 1911 pistols are enough to keep in place.
Chalky’s suspenders are dark blue with red trim and a cream check. They have gold adjusters that are adorned with a cube-like checked surface.
The trousers have double reverse pleats. The waistband remains unseen as Chalky’s vest appropriately keeps it well covered at all times. There are on-seam side pockets and button-through jetted rear pockets on both the right and left side. Like the rest of the suit, the trousers have a generous fit throughout the leg down to the cuffed bottoms, which have a full break over his shoes. It is especially important to have a larger fit with linen trousers, as linen can cling to sweat and make a tight fit very uncomfortable.
An Entertainment Weekly article that ran just before the fourth season started shed some light on both Williams and Chalky:
The show’s other leading players are equally motivated by the 1920′s fashion, particularly Michael K. Williams, who plays Chalky White. “He’s so cute. He [recently] said, ‘I think Chalky White has a shoe fetish,’ so he wanted special shoe inserts to keep his shoes pristine,” said [costume designer Lisa] Padovani, who happily granted the actor’s wish. “John [Dunn] and I are very detail oriented. [When they’re filming, the cast] can’t wear their sneakers, even though we usually don’t see their feet. Once you’re on set, you really should wear the costume. It helps the actor.”
For “Two Imposters” and “Margate Sands”, Chalky’s shoe fetish extends to his light brown leather 4-eylet medallion cap toe bluchers, wisely worn with cream dress socks to continue the leg line from trouser into shoe.
The earth tones continue through the rest of Chalky’s wardrobe. His shirt is yellow cream with a brown stripe. It has a front placket and matching double/French cuffs with buttoned gauntlets. Chalky wears one of his usual white detachable club collars.
Chalky’s round cuff links are pearl with silver trim.
Chalky and Arnold Rothstein are the show’s two most prominent bow tie wearers. Throughout the final two episodes of the third season, Chalky wears an orange herringbone silk bow tie with brown vertical stripes. The bow has straight ends.
Two episodes earlier, in “The Milkmaid’s Lot”, Chalky wore the same suit with a difference shirt and tie combination. In that episode, his shirt is pale green with a green and brown shadow check. He wears an orange bow tie, but it is solid rather than striped and has pointed ends.
Throughout both episodes, Chalky wears a tan felt homburg with a light brown ribbon. The hat’s pinched crown indicates a slightly less formal hat than the traditional homburg, evocative of the burgeoning fedora. Chalky wears his hat throughout almost every scene. Chalky isn’t the type of person who submits easily; when he takes off his hat, it’s either out of respect or necessity. The social convention of not wearing a hat inside doesn’t extend to a guy who makes his own rules.
Update! The very astute blog commentor Roman noted that this particular type of homburg style is called a “Lord’s hat”. Thanks, Roman!
We also get a few glimpses of Chalky’s wristwatch, worn on his left wrist. It appears to be silver with a round white dial, although any additional details are hard to determine.
Chalky keeps his shoulder rig that he wears throughout the show. It is brown well-worn leather with holsters under each arm to fit a full-size 1911 pistol. It connects across his shoulders with a single beige canvas strap. As mentioned earlier, Chalky fastens his rig into place via the rear strap of his trousers.
Go Big or Go Home
Chalky is cool, loyal, and shrewd. Although he can be insecure about his modest roots, he is also very proud and as much of a dedicated family man as a hardened criminal can be. While Nucky might have a soft spot for children, Chalky would murder anyone for insulting one of his kids.
When Nucky calls upon Chalky for a favor in “Two Imposters”, Chalky doesn’t turn him down… but his loyalty has reached a point. After years of being used by Nucky with only his own relative community power given in return, Chalky knows he finally has the leverage to get himself into a higher position. Through some sharp bargaining, Chalky manages to get himself a nightclub on the Atlantic City boardwalk before coolly going out to give Gyp Rosetti a flourishing “fuck off” message from Nucky.
How to Get the Look
There’s no reason to let warm weather stop you from looking BAMF in a three-piece suit. Keep the tweed and wool in your closet and opt for linen, which will both turn heads and keep you feeling cool. (Although you might start sweating bullets anyway with a combined five pounds of weaponry hanging from your shoulder holsters…)
- Cream linen suit with a brown Glen Plaid check and alternating green and red overcheck, consisting of:
- Double-breasted high-fastening jacket with peak lapels, 4×2 button front, welted breast pocket, flapped straight hip pockets, 4-button cuffs, and single rear vent
- Single-breasted vest with peak lapels, 6-button front, four welted pockets, notched bottom, adjustable rear strap, and dark red silk lining
- Double reverse-pleated trousers with on-seam side pockets, button-through jetted rear pockets, and cuffed bottoms (turn ups)
- Yellow cream striped shirt with front placket, double/French cuffs, and white detachable club collar
- Orange striped herringbone silk straight-ended bow tie
- Round pearl cuff links with silver trim
- Light brown leather 4-eyelet medallion cap toe bluchers
- Cream dress socks
- Dark blue suspenders with red trim, cream check, and gold square-patterned adjusters
- Silver wristwatch with a round white dial
- Tan felt “Lord’s hat” homburg with light brown grosgrain ribbon and pinched crown
- Brown leather double shoulder holster rig with tan rear canvas strap
Do Yourself a Favor and…
Check out the third season. This suit shows up primarily in “Two Imposters” (Ep. 3.11) and “Margate Sands” (Ep. 3.12), but it was also worn earlier in “The Milkmaid’s Lot” (Ep. 3.09).
All due respect, General Custer, this ain’t no spot for a last stand.
On the hat – this type of hat is called ‘Lord’s hat’. It’s a relative of homburg, but with pinched crown and without brim binding.