Joe Pesci as Russell Bufalino, old-school northeast Pennsylvania Mafia boss
Philadelphia to Detroit, Summer 1975
Film: The Irishman
Release Date: November 1, 2019
Director: Martin Scorsese
Costume Design: Sandy Powell & Christopher Peterson
WARNING! Spoilers ahead!
Happy 77th birthday, Joe Pesci! The Newark-born actor emerged from nearly 20 years of retirement to again collaborate with director Martin Scorsese and star Robert De Niro in The Irishman, which is up for multiple Academy Awards tonight including Best Picture, Best Director, Best Costume Design, and Best Supporting Actor for both Pesci and his co-star Al Pacino.
Should Pesci take home the statue tonight, it would be his second Academy Award after he received a well-deserved Oscar for Best Supporting Actor recognizing his work in Goodfellas. (Interestingly, he was up against Pacino that year as well!) His five-word speech in 1991 is still considered one of the shortest (and thus, in my opinion, best) in Oscar history:
It’s my privilege. Thank you.
In the brief Netflix documentary The Irishman: In Conversation, Pesci recalls that it was De Niro that first presented him with the project, an adaptation of Charles Brandt’s book I Heard You Paint Houses. “I read the book a long time ago… guy brought it to me on the golf course,” explains Pesci, giving us a glimpse into his fantastic retirement that evidently composed of plenty of cigars, golf, and true crime reads. “The guy even told me then, ‘You guys are gonna make this movie someday.’ I said, ‘Yeah, good, okay, bye.'”
Scorsese confirms that he had the same thought, reflecting with Pesci on how one of the aspects that brought Pesci out of retirement and into Russell Bufalino’s Italian leather oxfords was the contrast with this quiet, shrewd old-timer as opposed to the explosively violent and impulsive Mafia killers he had become famous for playing in movies like Goodfellas and Casino. “Russell is interesting because it was just the opposite way than we normally…” started Scorsese, with Pesci interjecting “see me play?” As Scorsese laughs, Pesci recalls: “Yeah, you told me, ‘You’re not gonna be like the gangsters you always play.'”
We meet the pragmatic northeastern Pennsylvania mob boss Russell as he’s leaving for his nephew’s wedding. It’s an understated introduction, scored by Robert De Niro’s narration as Frank Sheeran that explains Russell’s ban on smoking in the car as Frank, Russell, and their wives prepare to make the days-long drive from Philly to Detroit, a trip that would be interrupted by frequent smoke breaks for Irene and Carrie to enjoy their Kools and for Russell to conduct business along the way.
What’d He Wear?
In contrast to the expansive wardrobes of flashier movie gangsters, Pesci’s Russell Bufalino wears a characteristically understated tan sport jacket and slacks for the road trip, changing only his shirts and trousers for each day of the trip. Wearing a tailored jacket for a long drive almost guarantees that it’ll accumulate some wrinkles, but Russell’s choice of a hopsack jacket is smart both for its natural wrinkle resistance as well as the breathability of hopsack’s signature open basket-weave.
Hopsack refers to the weave, rather than the fabric—typically worsted wool but can also include cooler-wearing fabrics like cotton, linen, or mohair—which gives the cloth “an appearance of minute squares,” according to Hardy Amies in ABCs of Men’s Fashion. For a more technical description, Alan Flusser defines this coarse, loose weave in Dressing the Man as the result of when “two threads of both weft and warp rise together instead of only one, using rough-textured yarns.” The hopsack weave ranges from large and loose gages to small and tight gages like Pesci wears, a more structured look that’s also more durable and less prone to snagging.
Russell’s tan hopsack sports coat has notch lapels that are fashionably broad for the mid-’70s without hitting the excessive widths found on some disco-era menswear. The pick-stitched lapels roll to a single button that subtly nods to the quality of his clothing, as one-button jackets are a subtly rakish detail most traditionally associated with bespoke tailoring or more formal dinner jackets. Additionally, the single button flatters Pesci’s 5’4″ height by not adding rows of buttons to the jacket that would draw attention to his shorter stature.
The sporty jacket has a patch pocket on the breast and large patch pockets over the hips. The sleeves are roped at the shoulders and finished with three buttons on each cuff. The foot-long double vents are likely the most dated detail of this otherwise relatively timeless sport jacket.
For the first day of the road trip, Russell rides shotgun in a beige knit short-sleeved pullover shirt. Though styled like the traditional polo shirt, a closer look at the details reveal a garment considerably more complex.
The front of the shirt, from the shoulders to the hem, is an open, breathable waffle stitch that contrasts with the tighter weave on the collar, placket, pocket welt, sleeves, and back. The wide collar, elbow-length sleeves, and the welt over the set-in breast pocket are all piped with a white edge, though the sleeve piping is considerably narrower than on the collar and pocket. The shirt buttons at the top with two clear plastic two-hole buttons, placed low on the placket so that the neck can never be buttoned.
With this beige knit shirt, Russell wears a pair of full-fitting stone gray semi-solid trousers with a subtle white and beige pinstripe effect. Likely worn with a belt unseen under his untucked polo shirts, these flat front trousers have slanted front pockets and jetted back pockets with a button-tab closure over the back left pocket. The bottoms are plain-hemmed.
Throughout the road trip, Russell wears the same brown leather wingtip oxford brogues with a rotation of dark socks.
The second day of the Sheeran-Bufalino road trip covers nearly 400 miles, leaving Pennsylvania and stretching up into northern Ohio, where the two couples stop at a Howard Johnson’s in Fremont, the seat of Sandusky County, Ohio. The drive was fraught with business dealings, flat tires, and—of course—smoke breaks for the wives, and the foursome rewarded themselves with poolside cocktails.
Russell breaks from the neutral tones of his road wardrobe for this second day, wearing a sky blue button-up shirt, subtly striped in sets of five narrow vertical stripes. The lightweight shirt has an ample fit, with large short sleeves that envelop his elbows when he removes the jacket, and a very long point collar that would have been hard to avoid when buying off the rack in 1975. The shirt has a breast pocket and a wide front placket with blue-threaded white buttons.
For this second day of the trip, Russell wore a more richly colored pair of trousers in a rusty shade of brown. The fitted waistband suggests Russell as the sort of man who has clothes made to fit him perfectly without need for belt and braces… and the sort of man disciplined enough to stay in the same shape so they always fit. The waistband has a pointed self-tab in the front that closes through a single button after passing through a single “belt loop” just to the right of the fly.
These trousers also have slanted front pockets, cutting down diagonally from the belt line to the side seam, as well as jetted back pockets and plain-hemmed bottoms.
At the start of the third day of their trip—over breakfast cereal and coffee at the Fremont HoJo—Russell tells Frank there’s going to be a detour for the two to make a solo drive to Port Clinton, where Frank will catch a plane to assassinate his friend of 15 years, Jimmy Hoffa:
You’re gonna go to De-troit, and when you come back—me and you—we get together with the girls and take a nice, slow drive up… with cigarette breaks, you know.
Russell is back in all earth tones for this conversation, wearing a chocolate brown knit polo shirt that he seems to be wearing with the same stone trousers from the first day of the trip. Unlike the beige shirt, this brown shirt has smoke-gray plastic buttons fasten all the way up to the neck like a conventional polo.
By the 1970s scenes in The Irishman, the aging Russell has taken to wearing a large pair of glasses on a regular basis. These large black acetate wayfarer-style frames have been identified by EyeGoodies as the Italian-made RetroSuperFuture “Classic Specular”, worn with both clear lenses and custom gray gradient Essilor lenses.
Aside from a gold necklace under his shirt that doubtless has a Catholic pendant or cross, Russell travels with no watches or rings, not even the decorative gold “liberty coin” ring that matches the one he gifted to Frank earlier in the film.
Go Big or Go Home
They say it’s the most important meal of the day, and Russell Bufalino—ever the pragmatist—ensures that his friend and colleague Frank Sheeran has had his breakfast before tasking him with executing one of his closest friends:
Total or Corn Flakes?
How to Get the Look
If you’re inclined to wear a sports coat for your summer road trip, Joe Pesci’s hopsack jacket in The Irishman is a classic example of an outer layer that would be both breathable and wrinkle-resistant to keep you feeling cool throughout your journey and looking cool once you hit your destination. The informality of the coarsely woven cloth coordinates better with casual shirts and trousers than many other jacket fabrics and weaves/
- Tan hopsack worsted single-breasted sport jacket with notch lapels, single-button closure, patch breast pocket, patch hip pockets, 3-button cuffs, and double vents
- Beige or brown knit short-sleeve polo shirt or sky blue short-sleeve button-up shirt
- Light brown flat front trousers with self-belted waistband, slanted front pockets, jetted back pockets, and plain-hemmed bottoms
- Brown leather wingtip oxford brogues
- Dark socks
- Black acetate-framed wayfarer-style eyeglasses
- Gold necklace
Do Yourself a Favor and…
Check out the movie, currently streaming on Netflix.
If it’s not good for you, it’s not good for me. You understand what I’m saying.