Steve Buscemi as Enoch “Nucky” Thompson, corrupt Atlantic City politician and bootlegger
Atlantic City, Summer 1924
Series: Boardwalk Empire
– “The Old Ship of Zion” (Episode 4.08, dir. Tim Van Patten, aired 10/27/2013)
– “White Horse Pike” (Episode 4.10, dir. Jake Paltrow, aired 11/10/2013)
– “Farewell Daddy Blues” (Episode 4.12, dir. Tim Van Patten, aired 11/24/2013)
Creator: Terence Winter
Costume Designer: John A. Dunn
Tailor: Martin Greenfield
This #MafiaMonday, turn back the calendar almost a century to some spring-friendly fashions courtesy of Enoch “Nucky” Thompson, the delightfully corrupt bootlegger who ruled Prohibition-era Atlantic City on HBO’s Boardwalk Empire. Steve Buscemi’s character was based on the gregarious Enoch “Nucky” Johnson who indeed used his political position to rule the New Jersey resort city’s underworld during the roaring ’20s and beyond until he was convicted for tax evasion in 1941 and spent the following four years in federal prison.
Toward the end of Boardwalk Empire‘s fourth season, we find the fictional Nucky overseeing a shipment of booze from Florida while trying to manage his beleaguered older brother Eli (Shea Whigham), Eli’s ambitious college-aged son Will (Ben Rosenfield), and his latest paramour/business partner Sally Wheet (Patricia Arquette).
What’d He Wear?
Several episodes toward the end of Boardwalk Empire‘s fourth season feature Nucky Thompson in this spring-friendly blue glen plaid three-piece suit, almost assuredly one of the legions of dapper suits made for Steve Buscemi to wear on the series by venerated Brooklyn tailor Martin Greenfield. With a navy, black, and rust plaid check on a teal-blue ground, the suiting balances his penchant for bold patterns and colors with traditional businesswear.
The single-breasted suit jacket has Nucky’s signature high three-button front with notch lapels, a welted breast pocket, and slanted flapped hip pockets. Each sleeve is roped at the shoulder head and ends with four buttons and the Edwardian detail of a narrow gauntlet cuff.
Nucky always wears this suit jacket open to show off the matching single-breasted waistcoat (vest) which has notch lapels like the jacket. The six-button waistcoat has four welted pockets, keeping his gold pocket watch in one pocket with the chain looped “double Albert” style below the middle button across the waist.
The inside of the suit jacket and the back of the waistcoat are lined in matching gold spotted brocade silk lining. There is also an adjustable strap across the lower back of the waistcoat.
The flat front trousers rise just high enough that the waistband remains unseen under the waistcoat. However, shots of Nucky preparing for the day in “The Old Ship of Zion” (Episode 4.08) show that the trousers are fitted with belt loops though he avoids those in favor of wearing suspenders (braces), sporting a set in blue-gray silk suspenders with russet brown leather hooks that connect to buttons along the inside of the waistband.
The trousers have side pockets, jetted back pockets that close through a single button each, and plain-hemmed bottoms.
Brown shoes are Nucky’s choice with this suit, sporting a pair of walnut brown leather oxfords in “The Old Ship of Zion” (Episode 4.08) and a darker pair of burgundy oxfords in “White Horse Pike” (Episode 4.10).
Shirts and Ties
Nucky Thompson’s style evolves as the Prohibition era progresses over the show’s timeline, particularly notable with his shirts. At the start of the series, set at the dawn of the decade in early 1920, Nucky wears a distinctive, old-fashioned “keyhole-cut” stiff white detached collar on all of his colorfully patterned shirts. Dress shirts with attached collars had only recently been patented after World War I by the Phillips-Jones Corporation (now Phillips-Van Heusen), though fussier and more sophisticated dressers like Nucky would have continued wearing their detached collar shirts.
By mid-decade, even traditional dressers like Nucky were taking their fashion cues from youth. Nucky still wore shirts with detached white collars during the show’s fourth season, set in 1924, but the collar shape more closely resembled an attached turndown collar, albeit still a clean contrast against his striped shirts.
“The Old Ship of Zion” (Episode 4.08)
“Well, you found the coffee,” a half-dressed Nucky comments as he walks out in the morning to find his nephew Will (Ben Rosenfield) poring over the newspaper with a cup of joe.
Nucky’s half-dressed state shows off his collarless striped dress shirt with a plain white neckband where he will later fasten the collar with a single brass stud in the front and back. The ecru shirt is covered in alternating triple stripe sets in periwinkle and tan. It buttons up a plain front and has self-double (French) cuffs with links that snap together.
Once Will declines his offer to join him on “some business” as his father Eli would be present, Nucky arrives at one of his liquor warehouses where a babbling Mickey Doyle is already driving both Thompson brothers crazy with an anecdote about accidentally dating his girlfriend’s sister.
After giving the lucky first bottle of a new shipment from Florida to Eli as an olive branch, Nucky is intrigued to see that the brassy barmaid Sally Wheet (Patricia Arquette) joined the booze on its way up from the Sunshine State.
By that time, Nucky has fully dressed for his day at work, having attached a white point collar with a hairline-width self-striping to the neckband of his shirt. The collar is pinned with a gold safety-style pin under the knot of his periwinkle silk tie, which is ornately patterned in large magenta-and-tan and orange-and-tan bursts.
Nucky wears a camel felt homburg with a dark brown ribbed grosgrain silk ribbon and camel grosgrain trim along the edge of the brim. As the weather is approaching a warm Atlantic City summer, he needs no overcoat.
Following an engage of bon mots with Sally, Nucky returns to his hotel home to find Mayor Ed Bader (Kevin O’Rourke) “havin’ a little chin wag” with Will.
“White Horse Pike” (Episode 4.10)
After discovering that drug dealer Vincenzo Petrucelli (Vincenzo Amato) is in league with New York gangsters Joe Masseria (Ivo Nandi), “Lucky” Luciano (Vincent Piazza), and Meyer Lansky (Anatol Yusef) to import heroin to the northeast via rum shipments to Nucky, Nucky once again has Lansky on his knees and at gunpoint.
Lansky: He would’ve killed us if we didn’t go along.
Nucky: You think I fucking won’t?
Even though Eli draws his .45 at that moment and holds it to Lansky’s head, history tells us that the man who famously once said the mob was “bigger than U.S. Steel” wouldn’t be killed in a New Jersey ditch in 1924, instead becoming one of the few mobsters to enjoy old age and relative retirement when he passed away in Miami Beach in January 1983 at the age of 80.
The rest of Nucky’s day includes meetings into the evening with friends like Chalky White (Michael K. Williams) and foe like Masseria and Dr. Valentin Narcisse (Jeffrey Wright), eventually preparing for battle by episode’s end as he racks his pistol and slips it into his inside jacket pocket.
Nucky once again wears a striped dress shirt with a detachable white point collar, though this shirt is striped in slate blue and lavender and has contrasting white double cuffs.
Nucky’s light pink silk tie is covered in a neat alternating sequence of burgundy octagons enclosing a tan square that itself encloses a gold circle and a larger, more complex design in gray, burgundy, navy blue, tan, and gold.
Nucky now wears a dove gray felt homburg with a black grosgrain ribbon.
“Farewell Daddy Blues” (Episode 4.12)
After the action-packed drama of the season, Will is back at his parents’ home, taking his father’s luggage out to Nucky’s waiting car, where he confronts his uncle after he saw him holding a gun to Eli’s head. “He’s your father, my brother, and I’m not the person you think I am,” responds Nucky.
Nucky wears a serene pale blue shirt devoid of stripes or any other patterns with self-double cuffs, though this shirt is also worn with his contrasting white collar. He wears a gold silk tie with small sets of four navy squares that all connect on a low-contrast yellow grid.
The gray homburg from “White Horse Pike” (Episode 4.10) reappears as Nucky smokes and chats with Will from the back of his car.
What to Imbibe
In “The Old Ship of Zion” (Episode 4.08), the brothers Thompson are overseeing a shipment of rum from Florida, transported in boxes of “Alligator Supreme Oranges”. The growing rift between Nucky and Eli isn’t enough to stop the former from cracking open a box and gifting a bottle to Eli, assuring him that “it’s good luck.”
The brotherly love is interrupted by the unexpected arrival of Sally Wheet. After rebuffing Nucky’s dinner invitation, Sally grabs one of the discarded oranges sent with the liquor shipment and tosses it at Nucky as she walks away: “Here! Mix yourself a rum swizzle.”
While it hardly sounds like something that a dedicated whiskey drinker like Nucky Thompson would order, let’s take a look at the Rum Swizzle to see how much more than an errant orange it would take!
The Rum Swizzle emerged in the Caribbean during the 19th century, though many contemporary accounts describe a simple drink of local rum diluted with water and mixed with a forked root that would become known as “swizzle sticks” once they entered mass production in the years following Prohibition. When Alec Waugh held what he boasts as the world’s first cocktail party in April 1924, the same year that these episodes of Boardwalk Emprie are set, rum swizzles were on the esteemed novelist’s menu for his guests.
“Jamaican rum had been blended with Rose’s lime juice and sharpened with Angostura,” wrote Waugh for Esquire half a century later. “Large nuggets of ice kept the mixture cool. It was very potent. The first sip made me shiver, in the way that a dry martini does. It also sent a glow along my veins. ‘This,’ I said, ‘is going to be a party.'”
Sinclair Lewis was also a fan of the drink, including them in his 1925 novel Arrowsmith and his ex-wife, Vogue editor Grace Hegger, included them in her 1931 autobiography Half a Loaf about her time with him.
By Prohibition’s end, the concoction was firmly established as the national drink of Bermuda, where it was a house favorite at the Swizzle Inn in Bailey’s Bay on the north end of Hamilton Parish.
To make a Bermuda Rum Swizzle, pour the following into a pitcher with crushed ice:
- 4 ounces of black rum
- 4 ounces of gold rum
- 5 ounces of pineapple juice
- 5 ounces of orange juice
- juice of two lemons (optional)
- 3/4 ounces of grenadine syrup (or 2 ounces of Bermuda falernum)
- 6 dashes of Angostura bitters
Shake the pitcher ingredients with crushed ice until the mixture is frothing at the head, then strain into six chilled martini glasses or rocks glasses filled with ice and garnish each one with an orange slice, a cherry, and a pineapple wedge! In the spirit of Bermuda, Gosling’s rum is often recommended.
There are several other variants on the Rum Swizzle, including tiki guru Don the Beachcomber’s more potent version that swaps out the rums for 151-proof rum and adds a few drops of absinthe.
Nucky Thompson prefers to conduct business as cleanly as possible without getting his hands dirtier than they would touching a bribe. When the times get tough, though, Nucky isn’t afraid to pack some heat.
After carrying smaller caliber Colt revolvers during the first three seasons of Boardwalk Empire, Nucky begins carrying a semi-automatic pistol with the blued Colt Model 1903 Pocket Hammerless that he chambers and pockets in “White Horse Pike” (Episode 4.10).
The Colt Model 1903 Pocket Hammerless, available in both .32 ACP and .380 ACP (the latter marketed as the “Model 1908 Pocket Hammerless”), was one of the most popular American handguns during the earlier half of the 20th century among both civilians and criminals. I can speak from experience when I say that, more than 100 years after my particular model was produced, a well-maintained Colt Model 1903 still operates with relative smoothness, reliability, and accuracy.
Nucky’s Colt pistol gets more prominent screen time in “Farewell Daddy Blues” (Episode 4.12) and he also carries it during the duration of the fifth season, albeit in a shoulder holster.
How to Get the Look
As his criminality deepens and Nucky Thompson drifts further away from his garrulous political position into a hardboiled gangster, his once-colorful wardrobe affects a more businesslike aesthetic in conservative shades of blue and gray while still incorporating the character’s signature sartorial affectations and tailoring details.
- Blue glen plaid suit with navy, black, and rust check:
- Single-breasted 3-button long jacket with notch lapels, welted breast pocket, slanted flapped hip pockets, 4-button gauntlet cuffs, and long single vent
- Single-breasted 6-button waistcoat/vest with notch lapels, four welted pockets, notched bottom, and adjustable back strap
- Flat front high-rise trousers with belt loops, straight/on-seam side pockets, jetted back pockets, and plain-hemmed bottoms
- Light blue striped dress shirt with collarless neckband, plain front, and double/French cuffs
- White hairline-striped detachable point collar
- Gold collar pin
- Snap-function cuff links
- Light pastel-colored and neatly patterned silk tie
- Blue-gray silk suspenders
- Brown leather oxford shoes
- Camel or gray felt homburg with ribbed grosgrain silk ribbon
- 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
This suit inspired one of my own recent custom purchases, a three-piece suit tailored by Surmesur though I opted for wide peak lapels on a 3/2-roll jacket and a double-breasted waistcoat with sweeping peak lapels.
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