The Irishman: Joe Pesci’s Christmas Cardigan
Joe Pesci as Russell Bufalino, shrewd and pragmatic Mafia boss of northeast Pennsylvania
Philadelphia, Christmas 1960
Film: The Irishman
Release Date: November 1, 2019
Director: Martin Scorsese
Costume Design: Sandy Powell & Christopher Peterson
Nearly 30 years after he and Daniel Stern embarked on their first foolhardy attempt to ruin Christmas for Macaulay Culkin, Joe Pesci was given the opportunity to redefine his yuletide association via a brief vignette in The Irishman, Martin Scorsese’s latest crime epic and the subject of frequent requests from BAMF Style readers.
It’s Christmas 1960, more than a month after Pennsylvania mob boss Russell Bufalino (Joe Pesci) cheered on John F. Kennedy’s win for the U.S. presidency. Russell and his pal Frank Sheeran (Robert De Niro) aren’t yet away of JFK’s plan to appoint his brother as United States Attorney General… and a particularly aggressive A.G. when it comes to organized crime. Ignorance being bliss in this instance, Russell and Frank enjoy a pleasant holiday evening at home with their families.
Russell is riding high after his role in JFK’s election, but he finds it far easier to help a man he never met win a presidential election than it is to win the affection of Frank’s shrewd daughter Peggy. Despite his gift of brand-new skates (with a $100 bill inside!), Russell is still unable to get through to Peggy, who—despite being only 11 years old—refuses to see him as a benevolent uncle and instead resents him for representing her father’s violent side.
What’d He Wear?
Thanks to the myriad holiday specials that the likes of Perry Como and Andy Williams hosted through the 1960s and 1970s, the image of the classic, Rockwell-ian Christmas at home is hardly complete without the avuncular patriarch in an easy chair, clad in a cardigan and possibly nursing a pipe. While he doesn’t have the pipe, the 57-year-old Russell Bufalino is our de facto patriarch for this yuletide scene and dresses appropriately in a seasonally appropriate color-blocked cardigan and coordinated printed silk tie.
Russell’s knit wool cardigan is primarily burgundy, though the front is vertically striped in wide color blocks that split each front panel into blocks of burgundy, gray, and black from outside to center. The five-button sweater is no-frills, devoid of pockets or additional details other than the ribbed cuffs. While I suggest that the cardigan is likely made from wool or a wool blend, it also reminds me of the fuzzy cardigans from that era that I inherited from my grandfather, all branded from various acrylic fibers like Dacron and Orlon.
Thanks to the renaissance of the shawl-collar cardigan led by celebrities like Daniel Craig, the simpler collarless cardigan has taken a back seat as menswear brands roll out their warmer, winter-friendly lineups. While mining vintage retailers is probably your best bet for finding something similar to Pesci’s screen-worn sweater, there are still a few options out there in the same spirit of Russell’s collarless, colorful Christmas cardigan:
- Alfani (Macy’s house brand) two-tone burgundy cardigan (Amazon)
- Ermengildo Zegna burgundy and patterned-front knitted silk cardigan (Amazon)
- HOUBL burgundy, gray, and black argyle cardigan (Amazon)
- LINGMIN burgundy, gray, and black argyle cardigan (Amazon)
Just want a burgundy cardigan without the fuss of the colors and patterns? Check these out:
- Buttoned Down five-button cardigan in merino wool (Amazon) and cashmere (Amazon)
- Cashmere Boutique cashmere five-button cardigan (Amazon)
- Chaps cotton five-button cardigan (Belk)
- Classics by Palmland acrylic six-button cardigan (Amazon)
- Kallspin wool/viscose blend five-button cardigan (Amazon)
- Quinn wool/cashmere five-button cardigan with gray fleck and sleeve stripe (Nordstrom Rack)
- Shephe cashmere five-button cardigan (Amazon)
- State Cashmere cashmere five-button cardigan (Amazon)
- Uniqlo lambswool five-button cardigan (Uniqlo)
Under his cardigan, Russell gives himself a considerable palette with a simple pale gray shirt, no doubt among the hundreds made for the production by Geneva Custom Shirts. The shirt has a point collar but plenty of tie space to accommodate the wide Windsor knot of Russell’s tie, a printed silk piece so rooted in retro goodness that it has to be vintage.
The tie is patterned below the knot with two white shapes resembling vertically extended hexagrams (or snowflakes, if you’re looking to stretch it into a seasonal context), each shadowed in black. The entire tie is patterned in a series of tonal swirls, interrupted only by a triangular set of lines over each hexagonal pattern and extending up from the blade.
In a video recorded for Vanity Fair, costume designer Sandy Powell jokes that “I kind of got the feeling in this scene that Russell’s wearing his Christmas under duress… like [his family] made him wear it.” In the same video, Powell points out that she dressed Russell in a wider tie, more consistent with the previous decade’s fashions.
Russell balances the colorful upper half of his outfit with a subdued lower half, nodding to the gray shirt and center stripes of his cardigan with his dark gray micro-checked wool trousers that rise high to Pesci’s natural waist, per the trending fashions circa 1960. The trousers are worn with a narrow black leather belt, coordinating with the black bicycle toe oxfords and black silk dress socks visible under the short break of his trousers’ cuffed bottoms.
While Russell would be reasonably proud of the gold “liberty coin” ring that he would gift to Frank more than a decade later, the low-key mafioso forgoes jewelry for his holiday celebration with no visible rings. If he’s wearing a wristwatch, it’s concealed under the ribbed cuffs of his cardigan and his shirt’s long sleeves.
How to Get the Look
Joe Pesci’s color-blocked cardigan and colorful vintage tie for a mid-century Christmas celebration in The Irishman give the actor a refined reprieve from the threadbare tweed coat and far-too-flammable ribbed beanie associated with Pesci’s previous holiday-adjacent role, hapless burglar Harry Lime in the Home Alone series.
- Burgundy, gray, and black color-block striped knitted wool five-button cardigan sweater
- Pale gray cotton shirt with point collar and button cuffs
- Vintage bright red silk tie with retro white-on-black shadowed patterns
- Dark gray micro-checked wool high-rise trousers with belt loops, slanted side pockets, and turn-ups/cuffs
- Black narrow leather belt with thin steel single-prong buckle
- Black bicycle-toe 5- or 6-eyelet oxford shoes
- Black silk dress socks
Do Yourself a Favor and…
Check out the movie, currently streaming on Netflix.
I heard you like to skate.
De Niro was a mistake for this role.