Al Pacino as Carlito “Charlie” Brigante, paroled nightclub owner and former heroin dealer
New York City, September 1975
Film: Carlito’s Way
Release Date: November 3, 1993
Director: Brian De Palma
Costume Designer: Aude Bronson-Howard
WARNING! Spoilers ahead!
Ten years after the wild success of Scarface, Al Pacino strapped on a gat and stepped in front of Brian De Palma’s camera as Carlito Brigante, the character developed in Judge Edwin Torres’ 1970s crime novels Carlito’s Way and After Hours. Despite its title, Carlito’s Way is primarily based on the latter novel, depicting Carlito’s desperate attempts to “go straight” after yet another release from prison.
Unfortunately, Carlito’s life is filled with colorful characters like his impulsive cousin Guajiro (John Ortiz), opportunistic friend Pachanga (Luis Guzmán), and the swaggeringly ambitious “Benny Blanco from the Bronx” (John Leguizamo)… not to mention the ultimate in sleazy lawyers, David Kleinfeld (Sean Penn), who even appears to have inspired the character of Ken Rosenberg in Grand Theft Auto: Vice City and was likely inspired by real life attorneys such as-
-never mind, don’t want to get sued.
The only good thing in Carlito’s post-prison life appears to be his budding relationship with his former girlfriend, Gail (Penelope Ann Miller), who has channeled her aspiring dance career into one of the more naked professions. Learning that there could be a baby Carlito on the way, our tragic hero ties off his loose ends and prepares to raise his family in paradise.
What’d He Wear?
Although he’s no longer dealing, Carlito seals his badass cred in Spanish Harlem by strutting around in a the epitome of a Badass Longcoat. Carlito wears a long black leather coat that extends down past his knees without ever looking too big on Pacino’s 5’7″ frame. On the last day of the movie, Carlito dresses up his black leather coat with a vest, tie, and trousers.
This classic ’70s coat is single-breasted with four buttons down the front, which Carlito always leaves open. The large lapels are embellished by detailed stitching about 3/4″ inward from the edges, which extends down the front of the jacket. The flapped hand pockets slant down toward the back. (The jacket has evidently been repaired since Carlito was shot in the shoulder while wearing it when Guajiro takes him to the crooked drug deal.)
A very distinctive aspect of the coat is the ridging that appears on the front, back, and sleeves. Eleven ridges stitched diagonally on each chest panel create what looks like ten “tubes” between the jacket’s center and side stitching. The cuffs are plain with no buttons or straps, but there are six ribbed “tubes” that extend around the front half of the sleeves. Some of the coat’s replica sites describe this more simply as “a stripe design on the sleeves and across the chest” or “unique stitching detail pattern at front and back”.
The back of the coat is split beneath an inverted V-shaped yoke at the top. Each side is then split into two more panels, with seven more ribbed “tubes” stitched diagonally down to each outer side of the jacket. Stitching across the waist separates the top of the jacket from the bottom, with a single rear vent splitting the bottom back. (I might be doing a very bad job explaining these ridges and tubes. Luckily, there are screenshots to help explain!)
According to a 1994 article from Entertainment Weekly, the coat immediately sparked vintage leather jacket revival for both men and women:
The uberlapeled three-quarter-length leather coat recently worn by Al Pacino in Carlito’s Way has sent fans—including actresses Rosie Perez, Annabella Sciorra, and Rebecca De Mornay, and singer Terence Trent D’Arby—scurrying into thrift shops for used originals (which can be found for $60) and into high-end boutiques for pricey, more stylish ’90s versions of the jacket (a Donna Karan design goes for $1,350). While the coat screams Superfly, Shaft, and maybe even Starsky and Hutch, it defies simple description. ”It’s kind of like the jacket in Shaft, but modified,” says Aude Bronson-Howard, costume designer for the ’70s-set Carlito’s Way, who scoured New York City thrift shops until she unearthed the perfect two-decade-old specimen.
Carlito’s coat remains very popular with fans of the film, and plenty of replica sites – including South Beach Leather, Leathers Club, and Leather Madness – offer their own versions for typically under $200. The popularity of the coat even led to a replica showing up on Jay Hernandez when he played a younger Carlito in the 2005 prequel, Carlito’s Way: Rise to Power, a straight-to-video film that certainly exists.
Carlito’s metallic gray silk shirt is rare for 1975 in that its large spread collar has long points that would make it fashionable then without being too long to be fashionable today. It buttons down a front placket and has squared French cuffs that Carlito fastens with silver oval links.
Carlito’s dark silver tie is a shade darker than his shirt, worn in a loose four-in-hand knot with his unbuttoned shirt collar. The pattern on the tie is a series of ornate gray and olive diamonds and broken squares.
Although the coat is large enough to be worn over a suit, Carlito opts only to wear a suit’s vest and trousers underneath his coat. Both appear to be part of a black wool suit with thin black tonal stripes.
Carlito’s single-breasted vest has four welt pockets and five buttons down the front, although he typically leaves the top one or two undone. The bottom button is high enough over the notched bottom that he can comfortably and fashionably wear it buttoned.
The matching flat front trousers are straight through the legs down to the slightly flared (this was supposed to be 1975…) plain-hemmed bottoms. Carlito can clearly be seen delving into the trousers’ slanted side pockets, but the back is never seen. He often tucks his Beretta away behind his waist, although this may just be into the waistband of his trousers and not into a pocket.
Carlito wears a thin dark russet textured leather belt, which fastens with a large half-oval brass single-claw buckle. The high placement of the vest’s bottom button and the low rise of the trousers mean that the belt is frequently poking out, especially during the action scenes.
Interestingly, Carlito mismatches his belt and shoes by sporting a pair of black leather ankle boots, similar to the “Cuban boots” that Pacino had worn in Scarface.
For a guy trying to stay under the radar, Carlito is no stranger to flashy jewelry. On his right pinky, he wears a large gold ring with a black square-set stone split by a single gold bar. He also wears a yellow gold chain-link identity bracelet on his right wrist.
Gold jewelry appears to be Carlito’s preference, as he wears a yellow gold wristwatch on his left wrist. This round-cased watch has a dark blue dial and is worn on a gold bracelet. I’ve seen it identified as an 18-karat Piaget, but that may just be from the book (which I, admittedly, have not yet read.) Hoping the experts might be able to weigh in here…
After Benny Blanco from the Bronx has made his impression on Charlie, we return to the opening sequence where Carlito is being carted off on a gurney. Part of his shirt sleeve is torn away, revealing the short sleeve of a white cotton crew neck undershirt.
Go Big or Go Home
To generalize from the two decades of Pacino’s career that preceded it, Carlito Brigante could be simplified as Tony Montana with Serpico’s scruples. He’s an outgoing and almost flamboyantly charismatic Hispanic drug dealer… but too many years in prison have led to him seeing the light and looking to honestly make *ahem* his way in the world.
Although everyone has spent much of the movie praising Carlito’s cunning, it’s during this final act that we see the greatest examples of his cunning. He outwits his sleazy, double-dealing lawyer and secures his demise in the most passive but definite way possible, and he’s able to affably distract a group of mobsters bent on killing him with just enough time to get away. This latter evasion is a stroke of genius, scored by (Patti) Labelle’s 1974 ode to intercourse “Lady Marmalade”, and leads to yet another great De Palma-directed gunfight set in a train station.
Unfortunately, his raison d’être also serves as his hamartia; though he is a master of spotting the long game, he fails to see the moves being set up in front of him that lead to his sadly aborted trip to paradise with Gail.
How to Get the Look
Carlito oozes ’70s cool, looking equally badass whether rushing through the streets, taking charge at his nightclub, or doing battle against a group of mobsters.
- Black long leather coat with large edge-stitched lapels, 4-button single-breasted front, slanted flapped side pockets, long single vent, and ribbed stripe-stitching on front/back/cuffs
- Metallic gray silk dress shirt with long-pointed spread collar, front placket, and squared double/French cuffs
- Dark silver silk tie with gray and olive square-and-diamond motif
- Black tonal-striped wool single-breasted 5-button vest with four welt pockets and notched bottom
- Black tonal-striped wool flat front trousers with belt loops, slanted side pockets, and flared plain-hemmed bottoms
- Dark russet brown textured leather belt with brass half-oval single-claw buckle
- Black leather Cuban-style ankle boots
- Silver oval cuff links
- Gold chain-link ID bracelet
- Gold wristwatch with dark blue dial on gold bracelet
- Gold pinky ring with black square-set stone
Although anachronistic for the film’s 1975 setting, Carlito Brigante’s main weapon is a Beretta 92F semi-automatic pistol, kept in the safe in his office or carried in the back of his waistband. He uses his Beretta to great effect, most famously while ducking and firing from what must be one of the longest escalators in existence.
Though it’d been making semi-automatic pistols for the Italian Army since the beginning of the 20th century, the first in the Beretta 92 series wasn’t introduced until 1975, after three years of design that incorporated elements from many previous Beretta pistols. It’s very unlikely that a recent parolee in New York would have gotten his hands on a fresh-off-the-line Beretta in ’75, let alone the 92F variant that wouldn’t be developed until the mid-1980s when the U.S. military wanted a modified design for consideration. (Spoiler alert: America went with Beretta and the M9 pistol was born.)
The Beretta 92FS was rolled out quickly after the 92F with a slightly enlarged hammer pin developed in response to issues that arose during U.S. government testing.
According to the sharp-eyed users at IMFDb, you can “note the old style single white line painted on the rear sight as opposed to the twin dots that appear on modern models” when Carlito is drawing the Beretta from behind his back on the train.
Do Yourself a Favor and…
Buy the movie.
If you can’t see the angles no more, you’re in trouble.
I’d always enjoyed Carlito’s Way but hadn’t even considered appreciating it sartorially until I received a Twitter suggestion. Thanks for the tip, Phil!