Michael Douglas as Gordon Gekko, unscrupulously successful Wall Street businessman
New York City, Spring 1985
Film: Wall Street
Release Date: December 11, 1987
Director: Oliver Stone
Costume Designer: Ellen Mirojnick
Tailor: Martin Greenfield
BAMF Style is back to business on this Monday morning, taking a suggestion from readers Jose, Andrey, and Ryan to heed the style—if not the business ethos—of Gordon Gekko, the corporate business raider of Wall Street who managed the task of making Charlie Sheen look like not such a bad guy.
“Greed…is good,” is how Wall Street is often best remembered, paraphrasing the famous speech given by Gekko while also summarizing his drive. Although frequently included in lists of “The 100 Greatest Movie Lines” (#57 by AFI and #70 by Premiere), it’s perhaps even more unnerving to know that it was inspired by the real words of stock trader Ivan Boesky. In 1986, the year before Wall Street was made, Boesky told the graduating class at the University of California:
Greed is all right, by the way. I want you to know that. I think greed is healthy. You can be greedy and still feel good about yourself.
Of course, Boesky became infamous for paying $100 million that year to the SEC to settle insider trading charges, but the damage was done and the dangerous “greed is good” mentality led to a generation redefining capitalism with unrestrained avarice. Two decades later, everyone from Australian PM Kevin Rudd to Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone cited the “greed is good” ideology as a direct cause of the 2007 financial crisis. “It is perhaps time now to admit that we did not learn the full lessons of the greed-is-good ideology,” realized Rudd in a 2008 speech. “We are still cleaning up the mess of the 21st-century children of Gordon Gekko.”
What’d He Wear?
Gray suits have been a business-wear staple for men since the first office was ever built, so it makes sense that the quintessential American business icon, Gordon Gekko, would have several lined up in his stable. An ardent follower of fashion, Gekko would know the impact of his clothes, so he dresses for power when he needs to look it the most. For a meeting at the 21 Club and later during the infamous “greed…is good” speech, Gekko wears the darkest of his gray suits, an intimidating charcoal wool double-breasted suit.
Costume designer Ellen Mirojnick shared during a 2022 appearance on the From Tailors With Love podcast that, while she had initially contacted Alan Flusser to turn the suits around in a two-week timeframe, they were actually tailored by legendary New York tailor Martin Greenfield.
With its shorter fit and 4-on-1 buttoning double-breasted front, Gekko’s ventless suit jacket incorporates elements from the ’80s “power suit” although the shoulders—while padded—aren’t quite as boxy as the most prototypical examples. There is a buttonhole stitched through each of the jacket’s sweeping, wide peak lapels.
Gekko always keeps his double-breasted jacket closed, hiding most of the trouser details other than the straight cut through the legs down to the plain-hemmed bottoms. Based on most of his other trousers, it can be deduced that they likely have double forward pleats, and buckle-strap side adjusters either in lieu or in addition to suspenders.
The solemnity of Gekko’s charcoal suit allows him to explore more interesting shirt and tie patterns without looking too sartorially brash. During the space-invading lunch with Bud at the 21 Club, Gekko wears one of his horizontally-striped shirts that received attention from the New York Times in this style section article from August 1988:
According to Alex Kabbaz, the vice president of Custom Shirts by Denhof, which made the horizontally striped shirts that Michael Douglas wore in ”Wall Street,” that film, plus the resurgence of double-breasted suits, has brought an increase in demand. But because they appeal to a small, sophisticated market and because they are difficult to construct, horizontally striped shirts are generally custom-made.
The article cites the history of the horizontally-striped shirt and its flattering pairing with double-breasted suits, indicating that Gekko would know more than the average man about fashion when putting his outfit together. (Although, once again, credit is due to Ellen Mirojnick!) The article further informs readers that Kabbaz made his first horizontally-striped dress shirt in 1983 for novelist Tom Wolfe, already known for his distinctive sartorial preferences.
Gekko’s shirt is white with charcoal stripes in contrasting directions; the collar striping is vertical while the rest of the shirt is horizontally-striped. The shirt has a front placket, double cuffs, and a slim collar with a wide spread. His silk tie has a black ground with bold yellow dots, secured by a tie bar.
Gekko’s charcoal suit is next seen at the Teldar Papers shareholder meeting, where he eventually delivers his “greed…is good” message. Though confident as a businessman, Gekko knows that flash won’t impress the old money types in the room, so he dresses more conservatively with a plain white dress shirt and a dark navy silk tie with white pin dots, held in place with a rakishly-angled gold tie bar that matches his rectangular gold cuff links. Like all of his shirts, this shirt has a spread collar, front placket, and double cuffs.
Gekko wears black leather oxfords and dark—probably black—socks, saving the flash for the parts of his outfit that more people see.
Gold is most associated with opulence, so it’s no surprise to see it all over Gekko’s hands… perhaps as a subliminal message to investors that everything he touches turns to gold. Though not clearly seen in these scenes, Gekko’s luxury watch is an 18-karat yellow gold Cartier Santos de Cartier Galbée with a white square dial on a gold bracelet. On his right wrist, he often wears a thin gold chain-link bracelet. Also on his right hand, he wears a large gold signet ring on his pinky.
Go Big or Go Home
Gordon Gekko’s Machiavellian personality leaves little to be desired, but it was Michael Douglas’s preparation for his role as the ruthless capitalist outlaw that deserves the most attention and accolades. Impressed by the script – and particularly the length of his monologues – Douglas buried himself in research of corporate raiders like T. Boone Pickens and Carl Icahn. Icahn is supposedly one of many men who Oliver Stone used as a composite for the role, others including art collector Asher Edelman, agent Michael Ovitz, scandalized Wall Street hotshots David Brown, Ivan Boesky, Dennis Levine, and Owen Morrisey, and even Stone himself.
To encourage the greatest performance out of Douglas, Stone took personal measures to enhance the actor’s repressed anger, even to the point of asking Douglas if he was doing drugs because “you look like you haven’t acted before”. According to IMDB, “all of this hard work culminated with the ‘Greed is good’ speech.”
Not only did Douglas’ performance strike an immediate chord with audiences who were either tired or inspired(!) by the insider trading scandals marring Wall Street at the time, but he also won his first acting Academy Award for the role and established himself as a cultural icon in his own right.
How to Get the Look
If you want to look like a successful—if not particularly friendly—’80s power broker, then Gekko’s got the look for you. Don’t forget to slick back that hair, too.
- Charcoal wool tailored suit:
- Double-breasted 4-on-1 buttoned jacket with peak lapels, welted breast pocket, jetted hip pockets, and ventless back
- Double forward-pleated trousers with straight leg fit and plain-hemmed bottoms
- White solid or dark-horizontally-striped dress shirt with slim spread collar, front placket, and double/French cuffs
- Dark silk polka-dotted tie
- Gold tie clip, angled down toward edge of tie
- Gold rectangular cuff links
- Black leather oxford shoes
- Black dress socks
- Large gold signet ring
- Cartier Santos de Cartier Galbée gold wristwatch
- Gold chain-link bracelet
Do Yourself a Favor and…
Check out the movie.
I am not a destroyer of companies. I am a liberator of them! The point is, ladies and gentleman, that greed, for lack of a better word, is good. Greed is right, greed works. Greed clarifies, cuts through, and captures the essence of the evolutionary spirit. Greed, in all of its forms; greed for life, for money, for love, knowledge has marked the upward surge of mankind. And greed, you mark my words, will not only save Teldar Paper, but that other malfunctioning corporation called the U.S.A.