James Gandolfini as Tony Soprano, New Jersey mob chief
New Jersey, Summer 1998
Series: The Sopranos
– “The Sopranos” (Episode 1.01, dir. David Chase, aired 1/10/1999)
– “46 Long” (Episode 1.02, dir. Dan Attias, aired 1/17/1999)
– “Pax Soprana” (Episode 1.06, dir. Alan Taylor, aired 2/14/1999)
Creator: David Chase
Costume Designer: Juliet Polcsa
Today marks the twentieth anniversary of the first episode of The Sopranos, the first time that the HBO logo fizzed away to the thumping sound of A3’s “Woke Up This Morning” as we follow Tony Soprano from the Holland Tunnel along the New Jersey Turnpike to his north Jersey home.
We are introduced to Tony himself in the first shot of the show as he sits, bemused by a nude statue in his new doctor’s waiting room. We soon learn that the doctor is Jennifer Melfi (Lorraine Bracco), a psychiatrist, and that this ain’t the kind of mob entertainment you’re used to watching.
He’s not clad in a tuxedo while slowly petting a white cat, nor is he sporting a sharp silk suit while overseeing a glamorous casino or a car trunk murder... in short, none of the traditional Hollywood gangster shit. Instead, just a guy sitting in a waiting room while wearing a polo and slacks just like your dad.
Tony walks Dr. Melfi through the events of Wednesday, June 17, 1998 (according to his copy of The Star-Ledger), the day that he collapsed of an apparent panic attack at his young son’s birthday party. He presents himself to the doctor as a “waste management consultant”, but recounting a typical day in his life – with its outstanding loan collection and the threats of RICO statutes – quickly provides Dr. Melfi with the necessary context to understand that Tony may actually belong to a certain criminal element.
Yet, Dr. Melfi persists trying to reach Tony, a patient who dismissively resists the very notion of his sessions with her:
Whatever happened to Gary Cooper? The strong, silent type… that was an American. He wasn’t in touch with his feelings, he just did what he had to do.
Tony storms out of the room just as the two find themselves surprisingly on the verge of a breakthrough regarding the ducks that flew out of his pool, but he’ll be back.
What’d He Wear?
From the first shot of the series, Tony Soprano establishes a subdued aesthetic for his therapy sessions that would continue through much of the first season. The ensemble of a black short-sleeve polo, taupe pleated trousers, and black derby shoes is hardly groundbreaking, but it further serves to illustrate Tony’s less flashy qualities, particularly when compared to his associates like Silvio Dante (Steven Van Zandt) in his colorful silk suit and tie combinations, Paulie Walnuts (Tony Sirico) and Christopher Moltisanti (Michael Imperioli) in their “Bensonhurst tuxedoes”), and even Tony himself with his louder printed shirts later in the series.
Polo shirts were most common for Tony early in the show’s run, when James Gandolfini was at his most fit. “Less polo shirts became more of a necessity as Jim Gandolfini gained more weight,” explained the show’s costume designer Juliet Polsca in a September 2014 interview with The Independent. He wasn’t comfortable in knits that clung to him.”
While black is often regarded for its “slimming” qualities, the selection of a black polo for our introduction to the character was likely to subtly communicate the character’s power to the audience.
Tony’s first black polo shirt, the one that he is wearing in the opening scene of the pilot episode, is a soft knit—possibly cashmere—with a baggy fit. The shirt has a soft collar, two sew-through black plastic buttons, and wide elbow-length short sleeves.
When Tony returns to therapy in “46 Long” (Episode 1.02) and “Pax Soprana” (Episode 1.06), he wears a different black polo shirt with a slightly trimmer fit. He also wears the shirt during a therapy session—and Meadow’s choral concert—in the final scenes of “Denial, Anger, Acceptance” (Episode 1.03), but with a gray sport jacket and charcoal slacks.
The fabric looks like pima cotton, and there are three—rather than two—black plastic buttons. While both shirts have short sleeves, this second polo’s sleeves have fine-ribbed knit hems that shape the sleeves to the arms rather than hanging free.
Whether with a casual polo shirt, printed sport shirt, or sport jacket and tie, Tony often resorts to the trusty, comfortable neutrality of taupe pleated slacks. The specific trousers worn with his black polos in the first season of The Sopranos have double reverse pleats, straight pockets along the side seams, two button-closed back pockets, and turn-ups (cuffs) on the bottoms.
Tony wears a black leather belt that coordinates with his black shirt as well as his shoes, a pair of black calf cap-toe derbies that he wears with black ribbed socks.
The gold wristwatch that Tony wears in the pilot episode appears not to be his signature Rolex, as it was likely beyond the show’s budget to purchase one when the pilot was filmed in 1997. This currently unidentified watch with its beaded rice-grain bracelet has a gold bezel and gold dial.
After a full first season—and 12 additional episodes—were ordered in December 1997, the series benefited from an expanded budget that would allow for better defining characters through their props like the 18-karat yellow gold Rolex “President” Day-Date that Tony would wear for the majority of the series’ run from the second episode on. The watch’s executive moniker derives from the distinctive link bracelet with its hidden clasp. The all-gold chronometer has Roman numerals around the “champagne” gold dial with a long display for the day of the week at the top and a date window at 3:00.
Tony’s penchant for gold jewelry is also established in the first episode, though it would take a few episodes before there was any consistency with the pinkie ring on his right hand, which begins as a diamond ring in the first episode, disappears in the second episode, and then reappears for the rest of the series with ruby and diamond stones.
He also wears a gold chain-link bracelet on his right wrist and a gold wedding ring on the third finger of his left hand.
How to Get the Look
Tony Soprano establishes a simple but timeless casual outfit that he often wears to his initial therapy appointments, sporting a fail-proof combination of a black short-sleeve polo, taupe pleated slacks, black lace-up shoes, and his usual complement of gold jewelry and accessories.
- Black soft knit short-sleeve polo shirt with black plastic buttons
- White ribbed cotton sleeveless undershirt
- Taupe double reverse-pleated slacks with belt loops, straight/on-seam side pockets, jetted button-through back pockets, and turn-ups/cuffs
- Black leather belt with squared steel single-prong buckle
- Black calf leather cap-toe derby shoes
- Black ribbed crew socks
- Rolex President Day-Date 18238 yellow gold wristwatch
- Gold open-link chain bracelet
- Gold pinky ring with ruby and diamond stones
- Gold wedding band
- Gold open-link chain necklace with round St. Jerome pendant
Interestingly, Tony would wear a similar outfit of black polo and taupe pleated slacks when starting with a new therapist in the first episode of the second season (“Guy Walks into a Psychiatrist’s Office…”, Episode 2.01) and when resuming his sessions with Dr. Melfi in “Big Girls Don’t Cry” (Episode 2.05), though this latter outfit includes a polo with a quarter-zip closure (rather than buttons) and white piping.
Do Yourself a Favor and…
It’s good to be in something from the ground floor, and I came too late for that, I know. But lately, I’m gettin’ the feeling that I came in at the end. The best is over.