James Gandolfini as Tony Soprano, New Jersey mob chief
New Jersey, Fall 1999
Series: The Sopranos
– “46 Long” (Episode 1.02, dir. Dan Attias, aired 1/17/1999)
– “Pax Soprana” (Episode 1.06, dir. Alan Taylor, aired 2/14/1999)
– “Nobody Knows Anything” (Episode 1.11, dir. Henry J. Bronchtein, aired 3/21/1999)
Creator: David Chase
Costume Designer: Juliet Polcsa
As this year is the 20th anniversary of The Sopranos‘ groundbreaking debut season, I’ve been dedicating more BAMF Style posts than usual this year to the acclaimed HBO mob drama.
On what would have been series star James Gandolfini’s 58th birthday, let’s follow the journey that Tony Soprano made during each episode’s opening credits, emerging from the New Jersey side of the Lincoln Tunnel and snaking his Chevy Suburban through the Jersey turnpike, the suburbs of Newark, and finally his North Caldwell mansion, all to the thumping sound of A3’s “Woke Up This Morning”.
What’d He Wear?
The shirt that James Gandolfini wears in the opening credits of The Sopranos also made appearances in three episodes across the first season: the series’ sole cold open in “46 Long” (Episode 1.02), a day of therapy and mob business in “Pax Soprana” (Episode 1.06), and a paranoid consultation with his pal Silvio Dante (Steven Van Zandt) in “Nobody Knows Anything” (Episode 1.11).
Tony’s unique shirt is patterned in a series of chaotic streaks, primarily colored in shades of blue, in a horizontal orientation. (The roller coaster enthusiast in me likes to call it his “blue streak” shirt, in tribute to Cedar Point’s oldest operating coaster.) While black and white are also present in the shirt’s unique pattern, the dominating presence of blue creates a light blue overall effect.
The iconic shirt was auctioned by Christie’s in June 2008, shortly after the series wrapped, pulling in a total of $13,750, far above the estimated $2,000-$3,000 included in the auction listing. The listing informs us that the shirt was manufactured by Rochester Couture, a menswear brand specializing in big-and-tall sized clothing, and that “there was only one of these shirts used in the production (no other authentic screen worn duplicates are in existence) and the series opening credit sequence was never changed… making this the most immediately identifiable garment Tony wore in the groundbreaking series.”
The collared short-sleeve shirt is likely a soft-knit cotton, perhaps with an element of elastic for a stretchy fit, with seven smoke-gray plastic sew-through buttons up the plain, placket-less front. Though it can button up to the neck, Tony wears the top one or two buttons undone in each of the shirt’s appearances. He also never fastens the button that closes the patch pocket over the left breast. The casual shirt is meant to be worn untucked, with its straight-cut hem and short vents on each side.
Tony wears the blue streaked shirt over one of his usual white ribbed cotton sleeveless undershirts, and we even catch sight of his light blue cotton boxer shorts before he pulls on his trousers after an assignation with Irina (Oksana Lada). Per his usual style, the trousers are pleated with side pockets, back pockets, and turn-ups (cuffs) on the bottoms. Tony wears a black leather belt with a steel single-prong buckle that he struggles to hurriedly get back on after his argument with Irina.
Even with more casual outfits like this, Tony eschewed the sneakers or white plimsolls of his colleagues and almost exclusively wore leather lace-ups from prestigious footwear brands like Allen Edmonds. In “Pax Soprana” (Episode 1.06), we get a clear look at the black leather apron-toe derby shoes and black socks that he wears to Dr. Melfi’s office for his appointment.
Tony’s full complement of gold accessories was established by the second episode, “46 Long”, where his neck, fingers, and wrists are all adorned with the same jewelry that he would wear for much of the series’ run. Around his neck, Tony wears a gold open-link chain necklace with a pendant of St. Jerome, whose feast day is coming up on September 30. On his right hand, a gold chain-link bracelet and a gold pinky ring with its diamond and ruby stones. He also wears his plain gold wedding band on the third finger of his left hand.
After sporting a different watch in the series’ pilot episode, “46 Long” also introduced us to Tony’s all-gold Rolex President watch, a luxury chronometer with an executive connotation apropos Tony’s leadership ambitions. The “President” moniker refers to the distinctive link bracelet with its hidden clasp that was developed in the 1950s specifically for this Rolex Day-Date. Tony specifically wears a ref. 18238 Rolex Day-Date with an 18-karat yellow gold case, bracelet, and “champagne” gold dial with Roman numeral markers, a long display for the day of the week at the top, and a date window at 3:00.
This is the second TV character in a row to be featured this week wearing a Rolex President watch, though Tony—unlike Sonny Crockett—wore his in almost every episode of the show’s run. While a genuine Rolex President (or “Presidential”) could cost you up to around $22,000—with even used models rarely less than $10,000, according to Bob’s Watches—there are some natty alternatives out there for a fraction (and by fraction, I seriously mean 1.5%) of the price… as long as you’re willing to sacrifice the Rolex prestige and quality.
Among the gold-plated steel lookalikes offered by Seiko are the quartz-powered Seiko SGF206 and the automatic Seiko SNKK52, both available for less than $150 as of September 2019. Would Tony Soprano wear either of these? Likely not, especially after becoming a mob boss, but running a Jersey crime family is hardly worth the dangerous risks if you’re only in it to be able to afford a gold Rolex. (Then again, neither is succeeding in the cutthroat world of real estate closers.)
A Similar Shirt
“Pax Soprana” (Episode 1.06), the second episode where Tony wears this blue printed shirt, also introduces a different-colored version of the same shirt, this time in tan. According to Julien’s Live, it was the personal property of James Gandolfini that the actor acquired when the shirt was no longer needed on the show. In November 2013, five months after the actor’s death, the shirt was auctioned and sold for $1,664.
Slightly less varied in color, the streaks are all within the beige, tan, and khaki palette so the effect is less chaotic than the “blue streak” shirt. Tony pairs the shirt with a more thematically appropriate pair of taupe-brown pleated slacks, worn with brown belt, shoes, and socks, for his sit-down with Hesh (Jerry Adler), Junior (Dominic Chianese), and Johnny Sack (Vincent Curatola).
In the season’s penultimate episode, “Isabella” (Episode 1.12), Tony is fully engulfed by the symptoms of severe depression, exacerbated by his increasing regiment of psychiatric drugs that now includes lithium in addition to his daily Prozac. “You get stabbed in the ribs, that’s painful,” he explains to Melfi. “This shit… I don’t feel nothin’.”
Barely motivated to move until he
sees hallucinates a beautiful Italian woman (Maria Grazia Cucinotta) in the yard next door, Tony half-heartedly dresses in the same “tan streak” shirt, half-buttoning it up over his sleeveless undershirt and slipping into brown boat shoes, likely Sperry Top-Siders, as he makes his way next door to meet the young woman.
While Tony himself clearly isn’t putting much thought into his wardrobe, the costume team is clearly going to great measures to communicate the change in Tony’s attitude. All of the color has been washed out of Tony’s palette in “Isabella”, and he spends his depressive days wearing all bland, neutral tones… culminating in a tan knit polo and sweatpants(!) when he is nearly killed in an assassination attempt.
Seeing this neutralized version of the vivid shirt that defined him in the opening credits communicates to the viewers that we’re seeing the same old Tony, of course, but there’s something off; the bright blue shirt we know so well from the opening credits and from three prior episodes has been subtly replaced with an alternative that leaves Tony looking bland, empty, and wooden… just as he feels during this lithium-induced daze. In a way, it’s a self-actualization of his comparing himself to “fuckin’ King Midas in reverse here… everything I touch turns to shit,” as his formerly colorful clothing has now taken on the colors more associated with… well, shit.
What to Imbibe
The Sopranos featured its one and only “cold open” at the start of “46 Long” (Episode 1.02), a brief and entertaining three minutes of character establishment that serves to re-introduce viewers to its world of Jersey mafiosi. Far from the prestigious-looking world of silk-suited mobsters in wood-paneled offices made popular by The Godfather, we have five guys of varying physique illuminated by neon beer signs and a grainy TV counting money in the back room of a strip club. Fueling their escapades is a bottle of Cutty Sark, the inexpensive blended Scotch whisky that had also been a booze of choice for many of the mobsters in Goodfellas.
The Sopranos makes no secret of being referential of its genre, from its own mobsters citing and quoting The Godfather series to many of the series main cast being cribbed straight from Goodfellas. This scene alone drives that point home, with the fellas ignoring the reality of their situation (the ex-mobster on TV informing them that their time is limited) in favor of poor Al Pacino impressions and inane conversation ranging from cloning sheep (and cell phones) to whether or not the royal family had Princess Di “whacked”. (For evidence of self-referentiality, look no further than Sil spouting lines from the much-maligned The Godfather, Part 3, and the fact that most of the conversation is conducted between the characters played by Michael Imperioli, Vincent Pastore, and Tony Sirico… all who appeared in Goodfellas.)
As Vincent Rizzo, the fictional Genovese family turncoat on TV, declares “party’s over” for the mob, Tony counters it by sling-shotting a rubber band at Rizzo’s face on screen… an admittedly juvenile prank to insist that their party’s still going. Indeed, even Rizzo has to admit that there will always be a place for organized crime in American culture. The “golden age” may be gone, but it left behind plenty of rusted metal that will endure.
How to Get the Look
While many of Tony Soprano’s cohorts dress down in track suits and sneakers, the mob leader himself tends to favor casual attire on the more presentable end of the spectrum like this blue-streaked short-sleeve shirt worn with dark slacks, derbies, and gold jewelry in not just a few first season episodes but also the opening credits that would endure throughout The Sopranos‘ entire run.
- Blue “streak”-patterned soft-knit cotton casual short-sleeved shirt with point collar, plain front, button-through patch breast pocket, and straight hem
- Black pleated trousers with belt loops, side pockets, back pockets, and turn-ups/cuffs
- Black leather belt with steel single-prong buckle
- Black leather apron-toe derby shoes
- Black socks
- White ribbed cotton sleeveless undershirt
- Light blue cotton boxer shorts
- Rolex Day-Date “President” 18238 chronometer watch in 18-karat yellow gold with champagne-colored dial and “President” link bracelet
- Gold open-link chain bracelet
- Gold pinky ring with ruby and diamond stones
- Gold open-link chain necklace with round St. Jerome pendant
Do Yourself a Favor and…
Let me ask you a question. Why do you have me as a patient? Most legit people, they’d go a hundred miles out of their way not to make eye contact with me. But you… you didn’t flinch.