Lucky Luciano’s 1931 Navy Suit on Boardwalk Empire

Vincent Piazza as Charlie “Lucky” Luciano on Boardwalk Empire (Episode 5.02: “The Good Listener”)

Vitals

Vincent Piazza as Charles “Lucky” Luciano, Sicilian-American mobster

New York City, April 1931

Series: Boardwalk Empire
Episodes:
* “Golden Days for Boys and Girls” (Episode 5.01, aired September 7, 2014, dir. Tim Van Patten)
* “The Good Listener” (Episode 5.02, aired September 14, 2014, dir. Allen Coulter)
* “Eldorado” (Episode 5.08, aired October 26, 2014, dir. Tim Van Patten)
Creator: Terence Winter
Costume Designer: John A. Dunn

WARNING! Spoilers ahead!

Background

86 years ago tomorrow “Lucky” Luciano brought an end to the Castellammarese War – as mob historians refer to the bloody gangland conflict that divided New York City – by engineering the death of Sicilian-American mob chieftain Giuseppe “Joe the Boss” Masseria.

Masseria’s demise is one of the many colorful episodes that has, for better or worse, iconicized the history of the American Mafia… and it makes for a compelling and dramatic re-introduction to Lucky Luciano (Vincent Piazza) for the final season of Boardwalk Empire.

Vincent Piazza may be the best Lucky Luciano ever portrayed on screen, having convincingly grown from the swaggering young mob lieutenant bitching about his VD to a cool, calculating, and shrewd gangland boss who earns then swiftly betrays the trust of the old school “Mustache Petes” in his orbit.

A tale of two Luckies: The real Luciano's February 1931 mugshot (left) and Piazza as Luciano in a scene set several months later (right). Note the drooping left eye, the result of a scar left by Salvatore Maranzano's faction many months prior after Lucky was "taken for a one-way ride"...and lived to tell about it. (Hence his nickname.)

A tale of two Luckies: The real Luciano’s February 1931 mugshot (left) and Piazza as Luciano in a scene set several months later (right).
Note the drooping left eye, the result of a scar left by Salvatore Maranzano’s faction many months prior after Lucky was “taken for a one-way ride”…and lived to tell about it. (Hence his nickname.)

As The New York Times would report the following day (link), “it took ten years and a lot of shooting to kill Giuseppe Masseria,” but Joe the Boss finally met his fate on the afternoon of Wednesday, April 15, 1931, when meeting Luciano for lunch, ostensibly to discuss the fate of their shared rival, Salvatore Maranzano. “It took him about three hours to finish that meal,” Luciano would later tell authors Martin A. Gosch and Richard Hammer for their definitive biography The Last Testament of Lucky Luciano. Following Masseria’s antipasto, spaghetti with red clam sauce, lobster fra diavolo, and a quart of chianti, Luciano noticed the nearly empty restaurant and suggested playing the Russian-Hungarian card game of Klob.

Boardwalk Empire reflected the known events of the afternoon closely, and as soon as Piazza’s Luciano excuses himself to go to the bathroom, blaming his five espressos, scholars of mob history know what’s coming. Luciano’s confederates, led by Bugsy Siegel, burst through the front door and emptied their handguns at Masseria. “I was in the can takin’ a leak,” Luciano reportedly told the police who arrived on the scene. “I always take a long leak.”

Joe Masseria (Ivo Nandi) meets his fate in the first episode of Boardwalk Empire’s final season. A playing card within reach of his hand may have been inspired by the actual photo taken at the scene of the real Masseria’s murder in 1931 (inset).

(If the incorporation of a restaurant bathroom into a Mafia assassination plot sounds familiar to you, you should know that Mario Puzo was supposedly inspired by this murder when he scripted Michael Corleone’s monumental murder of Sollozzo and McCluskey in The Godfather, blowing their brains all over his “nice Ivy League suit.”)

What’d He Wear?

Blue suits have been a consistent favorite for Lucky Luciano on Boardwalk Empire, so it’s fitting that he wears this rich navy flannel three-piece suit for many significant scenes in the show’s final season.

When you've got the world at your fingertips, Lucky believe it's important to keep said fingertips well-manicured.

When you’ve got the world at your fingertips, Lucky believe it’s important to keep said fingertips well-manicured.

Single-breasted jackets with peak lapels tend to be in vogue during eras of excess such as the Prohibition era of the ’20s and ’30s and its brief revival during the 1970s “disco era”. Some sartorialists, like Simon Crompton of Permanent Style, argue that the peak lapel only looks best with its long, sweeping elegance showcased by a double-breasted jacket or a low-stance single-breasted jacket. While I like these “stubby” peak lapels created by a higher button stance, I also think that a suit jacket styled in this manner should also follow the classic drape cut of larger shoulders and a suppressed waist to create a strong, flattering effect.

This short, wide peak lapel with a long, straight gorge is very evocative of 1930s menswear. Gentleman’s Gazette posted a very comprehensive analysis of the elegant “short peaked lapel” on suits of that era with delightful illustrations, diagrams, and screenshots from the 1932 George Raft and Mae West film Night After Night. Gentleman’s Gazette describes most short peak lapels of the era extending to nearly 4″ wide, considerably wider than today’s trends and very complementary with Luciano’s broad-shouldered jacket.

Power drag.

Power drag.

Luciano’s suit jacket is a fine example with its short, peak lapels that roll just over the top of his three-button jacket, effectively creating a 3-roll-2 button front. His shoulders are wide and padded with roped sleeveheads, and the jacket elegantly tapers to the suppressed waist, although Luciano’s habit of wearing his jacket open reduces the elegant effect.

Luciano’s suit jacket has a welted breast pocket, straight flapped hip pockets, and four-button cuffs. Interestingly, the jacket appears to also have double vents although ventless jackets were the most common and fashionable with men’s suit jackets in the early ’30s.

LUCKY

Luciano’s suit has a matching single-breasted six-button vest with no lapels and a notched bottom. He never removes his jacket during these scenes, but this vest (or waistcoat, if you will) likely has four welt pockets – two on each side – like the similarly styled darker blue striped suit he also wears during the fifth season.

The full cut trousers have single forward pleats, side pockets, and are finished with cuffs (turn-ups) on the bottoms. The trousers have belt loops, through which Lucky wears a slim dark leather belt with a flat gold buckle. Sartorial purists often eschew belts with three-piece suits as they can bulge through a waistcoat or, as in Lucky Luciano’s case, pop out just beneath it for an inconsistent flash of the belt’s buckle. However, gangsters of the era like Al Capone and “Diamond Jim” Colosimo were known for the flashy diamond belt buckles worn with their suits, turning a sartorial no-no into a status symbol…albeit a rather ostentatious one.

After filming wrapped on Boardwalk Empire, many props and costumes from the show were auctioned, including a chestnut brown leather belt that Vincent Piazza supposedly wore in the seventh episode of this season. The brass belt buckle is studded with faux diamonds and monogrammed with the letter “L” for Luciano. It’s certainly possible that Piazza wore this belt all through the season, including with this outfit.

Luciano holds court in "The Good Listener" (Episode 5.02).

Luciano holds court in “The Good Listener” (Episode 5.02).

In The Last Testament of Lucky Luciano, the real-life Luciano described to the authors the process of his creating his image under the tutelage of Arnold Rothstein in the early 1920s:

Arnold gimme a dozen French ties made by some guy by the name of Charvet; they was supposed to be the best and Arnold bought a hundred ties whenever he went to Paris. He also used to buy the silk for his shirts by the bolt at a place in France called Sulka, and he always would give me some as a present; that’s how I get the rep for wearin’ silk shirts and underwear and pajamas.

Lucky wears a pale blue-gray dress shirt with this suit with a luxurious finish added by its barely discernible hairline-width self-stripes. The shirt has a front placket, double (French) cuffs and a point collar that he wears with a looped spiral-ended gold collar bar that slides onto each collar leaf, behind the tie knot. Vintage collar bars like this are a dime a dozen online, but The Tie Bar offers vintage-inspired spiral-ended collar bars for only $15.

Lucky wears four different ties with this suit throughout the season, primarily ties in shades of light gray with minimal contrast against his shirt.

In “Golden Days for Boys and Girls” (Episode 5.01), Lucky dresses for his lunch with Joe Masseria with a pale gray silk tie with a burgundy pattern. The pattern consists of small burgundy squares – alternating between the square on its own (rotated 45° to a diamond square) and the square encased in an ornate burgundy octagon.

Lucky may not have physically pulled a trigger to end Masseria's life, but his tie's burgundy splashes against the pale ground of his shirt and tie evoke the image of Masseria's blood spatter... the very blood that Luciano needed to spill to ascend to his ultimate position of power in one of the few outright violent sequences of his fifth season appearances.

Lucky may not have physically pulled a trigger to end Masseria’s life, but his tie’s burgundy splashes against the pale ground of his shirt and tie evoke the image of Masseria’s blood spatter… the very blood that Luciano needed to spill to ascend to his ultimate position of power in one of the few outright violent sequences of his fifth season appearances.

In the following episode, “The Good Listener” (Episode 5.02), Lucky wears much more “peaceful” ties that evoke elegance rather than violence. His first tie, worn when meeting Nucky Thompson and Maranzano, is powder blue silk with a subtle gray box pattern.

A few scenes later, Lucky wears a silver silk tie with a small navy block pattern, with these micro-blocks spaced about an inch apart and bordered in white. He would later wear this tie with a gray sharkskin three-piece suit during his final appearance in the final episode.

Lucky in "The Good Listener" (Episode 5.02)

“The Good Listener” (Episode 5.02)

In the series finale, “Eldorado” (Episode 5.08), Lucky wears a gray-and-cream patterned silk tie that I affectionately call his “Tetris tie” due to the sets of notched patterns against the tie’s dark gray woven pincheck ground, forming the appearance of broken stripes from the right shoulder-down-to-left hip.

A closer look at these “notched patterns” that resemble an incomplete crossword puzzle or Tetris game reveals eight boxes, each alternating in cream and gray silk.

Promotional photo of Vincent Piazza as “Lucky” Luciano in “Eldorado” (Episode 5.08)

“Eldorado” also gives us a look at Lucky’s footwear, which appear to be a pair of dark brown calf leather plain-toe chukka boots with two eyelets, worn with striped burgundy silk socks.

Chukka boots had only recently come into fashion during the Boardwalk Empire era, following the Prince of Wales sporting a pair of chukkas on his feet during a 1924 visit to the United States.

Lansky, Lucky, and Bugsy shoot the shit in a whorehouse parlor.

Lansky, Lucky, and Bugsy shoot the shit in a whorehouse parlor.

Since most of these scenes are indoors, Luciano’s hat makes its sole appearance in his inductory scene in “Golden Days for Boys and Girls” (Episode 5.01) when waiting for Masseria in the Nuova Villa Tammaro restaurant. He wears a gray felt wide-brimmed fedora with dark gray grosgrain trim on the edges of the brim and a wide black grosgrain ribbon around the base of the pinched crown.

According to Gosch and Hammer's book, April 15, 1931 was "a beautiful warm and sunny day," but there's no denying the atmospheric qualities of the rain on the windows as Luciano waits for his doomed lunch date.

According to Gosch and Hammer’s book, April 15, 1931 was “a beautiful warm and sunny day,” but there’s no denying the atmospheric qualities of the rain on the windows as Luciano waits for his doomed lunch date.

Gentleman gangster that he is, Lucky Luciano sports a sizable gold pinky ring with a large flush-set diamond on his right hand. This ring was also included in the auction, where it was described as “a fantastic, opulent piece of costume jewelry from company EDCO,” which evidently made several other pieces of jewelry worn by Boardwalk Empire characters during the show’s run.

The ring worn on Lucky’s right pinky most resembles this gold-finished ring with a large cubic zirconia sparkler.

Real gangsters match their gold rings to their collar bars.

Real gangsters match their gold rings to their collar bars.

As one of the more youthful characters on Boardwalk Empire, Luciano always wore a wristwatch rather than the more traditional pocket watch. The same auction where his belt and ring were sold included his wristwatch, described as a non-functioning 17-jewel Rensie watch. It has a flat, rectangular yellow gold case and is strapped around his left wrist on a black alligator band.

Some internet researchers have done some digging to discover the origins of this company, the Rensie Watch Company, which its German-American founder Paul V. Eisner christened by spelling his name backward. Eisner established his import company in New York and registered the Rensie brand in January 1943. Although it would be anachronistic for Lucky Luciano to be wearing a Rensie watch in 1931, the slim, square-cased watch certainly reflects the fashionable timepieces sported by men in the early ’30s.

Go Big or Go Home

A shrewd, hardworking professional, Charlie “Lucky” Luciano offers a fresh take on the concept of a productive “working lunch,” although Roger Sterling would have likely turned up his nose at the idea of replacing his three martinis with Lucky’s five espressos… not to mention the fact that Lucky’s business lunch ends with the grisly murder of his boss.

Lunch with Lucky isn’t always good for your health, as Masseria is soon to learn…

Assassination aside, Luciano’s lunch provides a fine template for recreating the art of the weekday lunch, topping it off with anisette-laced coffee, a round of cards, and pleasant background music.

The latter is a particular passion of mine, as I’ve always had a soft spot for music of the ’20s. Johnny Green and Edward Heyman’s standard “Out of Nowhere” – also a Woody Allen – serves as the motif for Luciano’s ascension with artist Marshall Crenshaw crooning along with Vince Giordano and his Nighthawks Orchestra for a Bing Crosby-soundalike version that plays over their lunch.

Gene Austin’s subtle and wistful recording of “My Blue Heaven” plays during the assassination itself. The bittersweet peace of the song, which Austin popularized with his 1927 recording, nicely juxtaposes the brusque violence of the scene.

A few scenes later in the same episode, “Out of Nowhere” again kicks onto the soundtrack as Maranzano orders his gangsters to follow Luciano’s lead in slicing their hands to show their loyalty.

If you prefer instrumental background music, “Eldorado” (Episode 5.08) features “The Nightmare”, recorded in 1931 by Clyde McCoy and his Orchestra.

How to Get the Look

Lucky Luciano’s vivid navy blue suit provides a snapshot of that era’s elegant gangland fashions.

Shades of Michael Corleone?

  • Blue serge three-piece drape cut suit:
    • Single-breasted 3-roll-2 jacket with short/wide peak lapels, padded shoulders with roped sleeveheads, welted breast pocket, straight flapped hip pockets, 4-button cuffs, long double vents
    • Single-breasted 6-button vest with notched bottom
    • Single forward-pleated trousers with belt loops, side pockets, and turn-ups/cuffs
  • Pale blue-gray hairline-striped dress shirt with point collar, front placket, and double/French cuffs
    • Gold looped spiral-ended collar bar
    • Round silver-trimmed cuff links
  • Light gray patterned silk tie
  • Chestnut brown leather belt with monogrammed brass buckle
  • Dark brown calf leather two-eyelet plain-toe chukka boots
  • Burgundy striped silk socks
  • Gray felt wide-brimmed fedora with black grosgrain band
  • Gold pinky ring with square flush diamond
  • Rensie 17-jewel gold wristwatch with white square face and black alligator strap

Do Yourself a Favor and…

Check out the whole series.

I’d love to see a movie accurately portray Lucky Luciano’s rise, the Castellammarese War, and the founding of the Mafia Commission. There’ve been a few sporadic attempts, most notably the Young Guns-does-Prohibition 1991 flick Mobsters, but the fifth season of Boardwalk Empire comes the closest to delivering the most accurate sense of what it would’ve been like to watch Lucky masterfully play both sides against each other in the Yojimbo-style gambit that led to his fast and furious half-decade at the top of the American mob.

The Quote

Anybody ain’t on board, and I mean anybody…they fuckin’ go.

2 comments

  1. Wolf

    It is nicely flattering suit. The stubby wing lapels show the suit’s vintage styling. The suggestion of a drape cut, without being excessive, and the sober cloth fits appropriately with the early 30s and reflects how fashions have changed from the slim cut suits and flash fabrics of most of the earlier Boardwalk Empire series. If I had a criticism, i’d’ve liked to see the trousers taken up a bit – such full breaks aren’t appropriate.

    And the music for this season of Boardwalk Empire (always one of the series’s treats) was particularly good.

    Like

  2. Simon

    Great article! I always admired this suit when watching the show – nice to see an article about it. And adding the music was a nice touch to the post.

    Like

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