Steve Buscemi as Enoch “Nucky” Thompson, corrupt Atlantic City politician and bootlegger
Atlantic City, January 1920
Series: Boardwalk Empire
Seasons: 1 – 2
Air Dates: September 19, 2010 – December 11, 2011
Creator: Terence Winter
Costume Designer: John A. Dunn
Tailor: Martin Greenfield
In less than two hours, liquor will be declared illegal by decree of the distinguished gentlemen of our nation’s congress… to those beautiful ignorant bastards!
In the first episode of Boardwalk Empire, Enoch “Nucky” Thompson raises a glass to toast the ratification of the Volstead Act, a constitutional ban on the production, importation, transportation, and sale of alcoholic beverages in the United States, effective at midnight on January 16, 1920, exactly 98 years ago today.
It’s not that Atlantic City’s unabashedly crooked treasurer is a teetotaler, but the good Mr. Thompson already has plans in place to make he and his corrupt political pals fabulously wealthy by circumventing the new law of the land.
What’d He Wear?
Brown plaid and checked suits are a staple of Nucky Thompson’s wardrobe, particularly in the early years of Boardwalk Empire. In just the first two seasons, he is seen wearing a brown glen plaid suit with a salmon windowpane overcheck, a brown tonal plaid suit with a shawl-collar waistcoat, a taupe flannel plaid suit with pink and salmon checks, a taupe-and-purple striped plaid suit with dog-eared lapels, and the comparatively subtle charcoal brown windowpane suit that is the subject of this post.
For a few days in his hotel room office – and more than a few nights out at Babbette’s supper club – Nucky wears this charcoal brown flannel twill three-piece suit with a rich peach-colored windowpane overcheck almost certainly tailored by Martin Greenfield of Brooklyn.
The charcoal brown suiting provides a chameleon-like quality that can make the suit look dark gray or blue in certain light. According to previously cited research from Gentleman’s Gazette, charcoal brown suiting was developed in 1938 as “a new color becoming to all men”, a conservative alternative to the traditional blue and gray created by weaving dark brown yarns with black or charcoal yarns. (The late 1930s would technically make the color anachronistic for scenes set in 1920 and 1921, but just because the color hadn’t been marketed until more than a decade later doesn’t mean trendsetting trailblazer Nucky couldn’t have requested custom charcoal brown suits from his tailor.)
Nucky’s long single-breasted suit jacket has notch lapels that roll to the top of a high two-button stance, placed between the axis of the welted breast pocket and the rear-slanting flapped hip pockets. Buscemi’s Nucky Thompson always wears a red carnation in his left lapel, an affectation borrowed from the character’s real-life inspiration, Enoch “Nucky” Johnson.
The jacket has natural shoulders, a long single back vent, and four buttons at the end of each sleeve with a “turnback” cuff, an Edwardian detail consistent on all of Nucky’s early suit jackets.
The matching single-breasted waistcoat (vest) has six buttons that Nucky wears completely fastened as the lowest button is placed above the cutaway of the notched bottom (though some sartorial purists would still say to never fasten the lowest waistcoat button.) The satin-covered back is bronze with brown shadow stripes to match the lining of the suit jacket. Unlike some of his other three-piece suits, this waistcoat has no lapels.
The waistcoat has four welted pockets, and Nucky wears his gold Elgin open-faced pocket watch in the lower left pocket, connected on a 18″ gold chain to an ornate fob described by ScreenBid as “a trio of gold cubes with tiny ruby chips.” The watch has winding stem at 12:00 and a white second-hand sub-dial at the 6:00 position. He wears his watch chain through a small hole between the third and fourth buttons of his waistcoat in the traditional “double Albert” style.
The waistcoat effectively conceals the waistband of his high-rise flat front trousers, which are appropriately worn with suspenders (braces) rather than a belt. The only time we actually see Nucky’s suspenders with this suit are when he finds himself in an increasing state of undress at the hands of “Ukulele Girl” (Lauren Sharpe), a musically inclined prostitute in “Family Limitation” (episode 1.06); his suspenders in this scene are beige with a wide red stripe.
As Nucky realistically cycles through his colorful closet, this suit makes plenty of appearances in the show’s first season and sporadic appearances in the second as he begins to phase in a new wardrobe. Interestingly, little is seen of Nucky’s footwear with this suit, although he is seen several times in a pair of black leather lace-up shoes (“Family Limitation” and “Belle Femme”), a pair of light brown leather oxfords (“A Return to Normalcy”), and a combination of both with his black-and-brown spectator shoes in the pilot episode.
These may be the same black and tan calf leather six-eyelet wingtip oxford brogues that Nucky notably wears in the show’s credits sequence. The original manufacturer, Italian firm Forzieri, proudly includes in the description of these handcrafted $660 shoes that they were featured in “the opening credits of Boardwalk Empire” (available for purchase here.)
Shirts and Ties
All of Nucky’s colorful cotton dress shirts have a front placket and self-shirted double (French) cuffs. Per the traditions of the early 1920s, Nucky exclusively wears dress shirts with detachable collars; the “self-folding” attached collar had only been patented in 1919 by the Phillips-Jones Corporation (now Phillips-Van Heusen) and even then was primarily the domain of the young and/or poor like Jimmy Darmody.
Nucky’s “keyhole-cut” collar was created specifically by Boardwalk Empire costume designer John Dunn, who explained the design to Esquire just before the show premiered in September 2010. “A period collar that has a little keyhole cutout in the center — when you close the collar with the collar bar, there was then a little hole that the necktie would come out of,” described Dunn. “No one else was allowed to wear that.” The “keyhole-cut” collar lasted for three seasons before the show advanced further into the roaring ’20s and men’s fashions began taking more cues from youth and practicality than old-fashioned formalism.
Below, I’ve detailed the unique shirt and tie combinations that Nucky wears in each episode that features this suit.
“Boardwalk Empire” (Episode 1.01)
The first day of Prohibition in the United States is presented as “a day in the life” for Nucky Thompson, beginning with his holding court at the Ritz Carlton, strolling the boardwalk, and meeting mob chieftains from New York and Chicago to discuss their profitable futures in the wake of the Volstead Act.
The opulent treasurer wears a lavender shirt with a subtle circle print, the same that he wears in the opening credits. His pale blue silk tie has an ornate repeating motif in salmon and cream that echoes the peach windowpane of the suit.
In the pilot episode, Nucky wore a set of vintage octagonal silver-toned cuff links with an onyx ring around a clear stone on the face of each link.
“Broadway Limited” (Episode 1.03)
The suit makes a brief appearance two episodes later when Nucky stops into a psychic’s shop on the boardwalk to meet with Gillian Darmody (Gretchen Mol). He wars a pale blue shirt striped in alternating blue and thin rust-colored stripes. His red silk tie is covered with a blue patterned motif.
“Family Limitation” (Episode 1.06)
This charcoal brown windowpane suit makes two appearances in the show’s sixth episode, first during a brief scene in Nucky’s office at the Ritz Carlton when he and Eli (Shea Whigham) are laying the pressure on an unwelcome Lucky Luciano (Vincent Piazza). Nucky wears the same pale blue shadow-striped shirt as in “Broadway Limited” with a copper and purple paisley silk tie. This tie would prove to be his most popular tie to wear with this suit, also showing up in the first and second season finales.
Later in the episode, Nucky treats Jersey City Mayor Frank Hague (Chris Mulkey) to a seafood dinner to discuss Nucky’s potential highway, followed by an evening of oysters, champagne, and a beautiful naked woman (Lauren Sharpe) serenading the gents on her ukulele.
Nucky wears his lavender circle-printed shirt from the pilot episode with a purple and maroon jacquard silk tie woven into floral medallions. (This is the same shirt and John Kocis tie combination that Nucky wears in the credits sequence with his charcoal striped suit.) Purple is the traditional color of royalty, and Nucky is certainly treated like a king in this context.
The real Mayor Hague was reportedly so infamous for his corruption and greed that one woman oversaw his funeral procession in 1956 holding a sign that read “God have mercy on his sinful, greedy soul.”
“Home” (Episode 1.07)
Night out with the mistresses finds Nucky drinking in one of Chalky’s North Side speakeasies with Harry Price (Michael Badalucco) and avoiding getting roped into a literal Ponzi scheme as the garrulous Harry eagerly describes his investments with “this Italian fella up in Boston.”
Nucky wears a yellow shirt with subtle sets of wide white stripes that are bordered on each side and split down the center with three thin blue stripes. His tie is the navy blue, mustard yellow, and brick red “uphill”-striped silk tie that he also wore with a yellow shirt in “The Ivory Tower” (Episode 1.02) with his charcoal striped double-breasted suit.
“Belle Femme” (Episode 1.09)
Nucky’s visit with the Commodore and a night out with Margaret Schroeder (Kelly Macdonald) and Ed Bader (Kevin O’Rourke) is followed by an assassination attempt by the D’Alessio brothers in “Belle Femme” (Episode 1.09), all to the tune of Kathy Brier channeling Sophie Tucker for her signature hit, “Some of These Days”.
He wears a solid peach shirt with a gold silk tie that is printed with an orange and lavender leaf motif.
“Paris Green” (Episode 1.11)
A tough conversation with Eli leads to a meeting with crooked political cronies in Nucky’s suite at the Ritz. He once again wears his lavender circle-printed shirt (as in the pilot episode and in “Family Limitation”) but now with a pink-and-gold floral-patterned jacquard silk tie with strands of blue woven in.
“A Return to Normalcy” (Episode 1.12)
Nucky’s political crew of mayors and councilmen file into his office on Halloween for a session of planning strategy for the upcoming election day, though he finds himself frustrated with the gents’ tendency toward cracking wise and ignoring the issues that face them. Again, Nucky wears the lavender circle-printed shirt with the copper-and-purple paisley silk tie we first saw in “Family Limitation”.
“Ourselves Alone” (Episode 2.02)
The suit makes its first of two appearances in the show’s second season when Nucky and Margaret arrive at Babbette’s for dinner and run into his latest and most dangerous enemies, “Commodore” Louis Kaestner (Dabney Coleman) and one-time protégé Jimmy Darmody (Michael Pitt).
Nucky wears his boldest shirt with this suit to date, sporting a burnt orange checked shirt that made a few appearances with other suits during the first season; the check consists of bold white vertical stripes bisected by muted white horizontal stripes. His busy tie coordinates with the shirt and consists of a burnt orange grid that separates the rest of the tie’s design into blue-on-white diamond-shaped square grids.
“To the Lost” (Episode 2.12)
The final appearance of this suit is a brief one in the second season finale, worn with a lavender shirt that has a series of black-and-white stripe sets. His tie is the same copper and purple paisley silk tie seen twice during the first season.
Prohibition took effect in January 1920, which would be a chilly time of year to be walking by the sea. Nucky wisely dresses for the cold in a camel knee-length overcoat with wide Ulster-style lapels and a high six-on-three double-breasted front. The coat has padded shoulders, swelled edges, a vertical welt pocket on each side, and a wide cuff at the end of each sleeve. An inverted box pleat on the upper back aligns with the long single vent that extends up to the half-belt.
He wears this coat and a dark brown homburg hat in the pilot episode and in “Broadway Limited” (Episode 1.03).
Another year has come and gone by the time of “Ourselves Alone” (Episode 2.02), set around February 1921. Nucky has upgraded his outerwear from the utilitarian Ulster-lapel topcoat to a villainous charcoal herringbone wool single-breasted overcoat with black Astrakhan fur peak lapels. He naturally tops it off with that most villainous of headgear, an all-black homburg with black grosgrain band and edge trim.
When not wearing an overcoat for his summer evenings in “Belle Femme” (Episode 1.09) and “Paris Green” (Episode 1.11), he dons only a tan wool felt homburg with a wide brown grosgrain and and edge trim when venturing out of doors.
Vince Giordano and his Nighthawks Orchestra, led by bass saxophonist and music historian Vince Giordano, has lent its authentic sound to many period-set Hollywood productions including The Aviator, Bessie, and Boardwalk Empire.
The first season of Boardwalk Empire showcases a number of popular hits from 1920 like “Alice Blue Gown”, “Darktown Strutters’ Ball”, and one of my personal favorites, “Some of These Days”.
Penned by Shelton Brooks in 1910, “Some of These Days” made an immediate and lasting cultural impact in the soundtracks of contemporary films like Scarface (1932) and as the oft-recorded signature song of the Ukranian-born vocal powerhouse Sophie Tucker, “the Last of the Red Hot Mamas.”
When Nucky and Margaret escort the Baders to dinner at Babbette’s in “Belle Femme” (Episode 1.09) to convince Ed to make a mayoral run, Sophie Tucker is introduced as the evening’s entertainment and played to brash brilliance by Kathy Brier. Following a brief comedic set, Brier launches into a masterful rendition of “Some of These Days”, backed by the Nighthawks.
The dreamy “The Japanese Sandman” by Richard A. Whiting and Raymond B. Egan, one of the most popular songs of 1920, gets double the Boardwalk Empire treatment.
In addition to a rousing rendition by the Nighthawks in the spirit of the Original Dixieland Jass Band heard over the course of the first five episodes, Nucky and his pal Frank Hague are treated to an alluring vocal version in “Family Limitation” (Episode 1.06) as actress Lauren Sharpe accompanies herself on the ukulele.
How to Get the Look
Nucky Thompson is a colorful dresser, making the most of his eye for wearing brown and pink as opposed to the more traditional grays and blues.
With timeless style elements like a single-breasted, notch-lapel, two-button jacket, single-breasted waistcoat with no lapels, and flat front trousers, this suit remains relatively contemporary nearly a century later for wearers seeking a template for expanding their sartorial horizons.
- Charcoal brown twill flannel suit with peach windowpane check:
- Single-breasted 2-button long jacket with notch lapels, welted breast pocket, slanted flapped hip pockets, 4-button “turnback” cuffs, and long single vent
- Single-breasted 6-button waistcoat/vest with welted pockets and notched bottom
- Flat front high-rise trousers with straight/on-seam side pockets, and turn-ups/cuffs
- Lavender circle-printed dress shirt with front placket and double/French cuffs
- White detachable “keyhole”-cut collar
- Gold collar bar
- Silver-toned octagonal cuff links with black onyx face
- Patterned tie with color echoing the shirt
- Beige and red-striped fabric suspenders
- Black and tan leather wingtip oxford brogues
- Gray dress socks
- Brown felt homburg with wide brown grosgrain ribbon
- Camel wool knee-length overcoat with Ulster-style lapels, 6×3-button double-breasted front, vertical welted side pockets, and half-belted back with inverted box pleat
- Gold-filled Elgin open-face pocket watch with white dial (with Arabic numerals and 6:00 sub-dial) and 18″ gold “double Albert” chain with ruby-studded triple-cube fob
Do Yourself a Favor and…
Everything you see here… it’s mine. Buy a drink, place a bet, ride the fuckin’ Ferris wheel.