Robert De Niro as Al Capone, legendary Chicago mob boss
Chicago, October 1931
Film: The Untouchables
Release Date: June 3, 1987
Director: Brian De Palma
Costume Designer: Marilyn Vance
Wardrobe Consultant: Richard Bruno
Tailor: Henry Stewart
Before Stephen Graham blazed into Capone’s shoes on Boardwalk Empire, Robert De Niro’s extremely method performance of Al Capone in The Untouchables was considered to be the epitome. De Niro infused his performance with the menacing charm that allowed a violent psychopath like Capone to rapidly climb his way up the ladder of the underworld. The extent of Capone’s criminal empire, culminating with the notorious St. Valentine’s Day Massacre in 1929, has lived on to define the Roaring Twenties… or more specifically, Prohibition era Chicago.
Obviously, The Untouchables‘ director Brian De Palma had always been interested in bringing Capone’s story to the big screen. The original Scarface from 1932 was a loose retelling of the real Capone’s story. De Palma initially envisioned keeping the original setting when he remade it, although it obviously became the ’80s cocaine epic we all know and love today. Four years after De Palma’s Scarface hit theaters, The Untouchables made the story of Capone’s undoing accessible to audiences with a clear-cut hero in the form of crusading Treasury Department agent Elliot Ness. Of course, Ness’ actual role in Capone’s downfall has been all but discredited, and the true credit belongs largely to U.S. Attorney George E.Q. Johnson and IRS agent Frank Wilson.
On October 17, 1931, Al Capone was finally convicted of income tax evasion after a colorful decade at the top of the organized crime racket in Chicago. 84 years later, BAMF Style is taking a look at one of the most famous portrayals of the brash, headstrong young gangster.
What’d He Wear?
For the dramatic confrontations between Ness and Capone (which were fictionalized by the filmmakers, but that’s neither here nor there), Robert De Niro wears light gray three-piece suits cut from designs by the real Al Capone’s original tailors.
Noted for his method acting, De Niro personally tracked down Capone’s tailors so he would have identical clothing for The Untouchables, all then made by New York tailor Henry Stewart. Stewart told South Florida’s Sun-Sentinel around the time of the film’s release that he was dismayed by all the publicity that Giorgio Armani was receiving for his role in the production as Armani had nothing to do with De Niro’s wardrobe:
I was sitting in the theater during the premiere of the film. De Niro had even given me the tickets. And everyone started applauding when Armani’s name came on the credits… I felt like a real dummy.
Although he passed away in 1993, BAMF Style wants to ensure that Henry Stewart continues to receive due credit for his work in bringing Capone to life on screen through De Niro’s costumes.
After a major death in the film, Ness confronts Capone on the lobby stairs of the Lexington Hotel which the gangster had made into his headquarters. Capone, his son, and his bodyguards are heading to a baseball game – as they often did – although Capone hardly looks like a man dressed for baseball in his gray silk three-piece suit.
A year later in court, Capone again wears a gray silk suit, although this is a lighter-colored and hardly one that an average man would wear for such a serious occasion.
Both suits have single-breasted jackets with wide, pointed peak lapels that sweep down to a single-button closure at the waist. The jackets have broad, padded shoulders with roped sleeveheads. The hip pockets sit straight on the waist with slim flaps, and a white linen pocket square pokes out of the welted breast pocket.
Best seen during the courtroom scenes, Capone’s suit jacket also has “turnback”-style 3-button cuffs, a natty throwback to a more Edwardian custom. Turnback cuffs were also a staple on many of Nucky Thompson’s early suit jackets on Boardwalk Empire and were also found on James Bond’s first dinner jacket in Dr. No.
Underneath both suit jackets, De Niro wears a white dress shirt with a large spread collar, front placket, and French cuffs fastened with silver links. He wears a black silk tie on the Lexington stairs and a dark navy silk tie in court. The subtle tonal pattern in the latter tie is very reminiscent of the tie worn in this photo, which Gentleman’s Gazette mentions actually features a lime green suit.
The vest – or waistcoat – of each suit has six buttons down the single-breasted front to the notched bottom. He wears a gold pocket watch in one of the two lower welt pockets with a gold chain across his belly.
Capone’s high-waisted flat front suit trousers have straight side pockets, cuffed bottoms, and belt loops. He even wears the trousers with a belt, even though many men prefer suspenders or side-adjusted trousers when wearing a vest. His belt, best seen in the opening shave scene, is black leather with a large silver buckle.
De Niro’s Capone also wears a pair of black calf leather cap-toe balmorals with black silk socks. In fact, the socks were another item specifically mentioned in the Sun-Sentinel article by De Niro’s wardrobe consultant Richard Bruno, who reported that they “sent his silk cotton lisle socks to [Sulka] in Paris to have the special clocks sewn on them.”
In addition to the socks, De Niro had his dressing gowns and robes monogrammed following Capone’s same pattern found in the Sulka archives. De Niro’s insistence on wearing the same style of silk underwear as Capone is now well-cited as a trait of his method acting. However, costume designer Marilyn Vance testifies that this decision wasn’t as eccentric as it might seem: “De Niro knew it was there… he needed to feel the richness, the essence of the character.”
For the confrontation on the stairs of the Lexington Hotel, De Niro wears a luxurious knee-length camel hair overcoat with a brown velvet collar. The coat is double-breasted with six tan horn buttons and peak lapels, each with a stitched buttonhole. It has a welted breast pocket, flapped hip pockets, and buttons on the end of each sleeve.
Headed out for the day, Capone also dons a white felt fedora with a wide black grosgrain ribbon. Bruno recalled a story to the Sun-Sentinel that found him driving the streets of Chicago with Capone’s former bodyguard, and the two ended up in the basement of one of Capone’s old hat shops where they discovered two white Borsalino hat bodies that bore the initials of a Capone alias. Bruno used these hat bodies to create the hats worn by De Niro in The Untouchables.
Capone’s final outerwear accessory is a pair of large tortoise-framed sunglasses with brown tinted lenses.
Although they may be vintage-inspired, the style of the sunglasses is more 1980s than ’30s as most sunglasses that I’ve seen from the era have had thin wire frames. Luxury eyewear firm Maison Bonnet has introduced a pair of “Al Capone” acetate-framed sunglasses that were evidently inspired by a real pair worn by the gangster in 1941 after his release from Alcatraz.
Like every flashy gangster should, Capone wears a large gold pinky ring on his left hand. The setting is a dark rectangular stone.
How to Get the Look
It’s okay to call a vicious criminal like Al Capone a BAMF when he’s played by a true BAMF like Robert De Niro. In these scenes, De Niro’s tailored attire gives him an authentic degree of coolness that, ironically enough, the real gangster likely never attained.
- Gray silk tailored suit, consisting of
- Single-breasted 1-button jacket with wide peak lapels, welted breast pocket, straight flapped hip pockets
- Single-breasted 6-button vest with two lower welt pockets and notched bottom
- Flat front high-rise trousers with belt loops, straight side pockets, and turn-ups/cuffed bottoms
- White dress shirt with large spread collar, front placket, and double/French cuffs
- Dark silk necktie
- Silver cuff links
- Black leather belt with large silver buckle
- Black calf leather cap-toe balmorals
- Black silk Sulka dress socks
- Silk monogrammed underwear
- White felt Borsalino fedora with black grosgrain ribbon
- Tan camelhair double-breast overcoat with wide peak lapels, dark brown velvet collar, 6×2 button front, welted breast pocket, and flapped hip pockets
- Tortoiseshell-framed sunglasses with brown tinted lenses
- Gold pocket watch on gold chain
- Gold pinky ring with dark rectangular setting
Do Yourself a Favor and…
Buy the movie.
You can get further with a kind word and a gun than you can with just a kind word.
When we first meet Capone, he is getting a shave from his personal barber at the Lexington Hotel, surrounded by reporters eager to hear every word leaving his mouth. According to IMDB, the barbershop set was filled with a number of actual products like cologne bottles and shaving brushes that had been owned by the real Al Capone.
For a great breakdown of the real Capone’s style, check out Gentleman’s Gazette. The Gentleman himself, Sven Raphael Schneider, nicely summarizes the unfortunate fact that Capone knew how to put himself together as a fashionplate of the era:
At the same time he is a good example that it takes more to be a gentleman than just nice clothes. No matter how nice a criminal dresses and how elegant he portrays himself, he will remain a criminal.
According to Schenider’s extensive research, the Capone we see in The Untouchables is outfitted very accurately to his real life counterpart.