The Sopranos: Paulie’s Black Velvet Tracksuit

Tony Sirico as "Paulie Walnuts" Gualtieri in "The Strong, Silent Type", the tenth episode of the fourth season of The Sopranos.

Tony Sirico as “Paulie Walnuts” Gualtieri in “The Strong, Silent Type”, the tenth episode of the fourth season of The Sopranos.

Vitals

Tony Sirico as “Paulie Walnuts” Gualtieri, mob captain and Army veteran

New Jersey, Spring 2002 and Fall 2006

Series: The Sopranos
Episodes:
– “The Strong, Silent Type” (Episode 4.10, dir. Alan Taylor, aired 11/17/2002)
– “Moe n’ Joe” (Episode 6.10, dir. Steve Shill, aired 5/14/2006)
Creator: David Chase
Costume Designer: Juliet Polcsa

Background

November 21 was proclaimed World Television Day by the United Nations in 1996, so this Saturday evening feels like a fine opportunity to pop down in your favorite plastic-covered chair to read about one of the greatest TV shows of all time. And, as I discovered far too late in life, there are few outfits more comfortable for such indulgence than a velvet tracksuit.

I feel that I’ve demonstrated several times my appreciation for the once-in-a-lifetime character of Paulie Walnuts on The Sopranos, a perfect character for the world of the acclaimed series as well as a role that could have only been played by Tony Sirico, the Brooklyn-born actor and one-time “half a wiseguy” who lent his quirks, mannerisms, style, and even biographical details to the character.

It seems like nearly each new episode of Michael Imperioli and Steve Schirripa’s “Talking Sopranos” podcast reveals yet another Sirico story, whether he was spraying Binaca in his co-stars’ mouths or microwaving his mail to *checks notes* …neutralize any potential anthrax that terrorists may have sent among his correspondence.

Given Sirico’s reported germaphobic tendencies, he no doubt approved of The Sopranos‘ set decorators providing Paulie with a plastic-covered easy chair just those we may remember from our nonnas’ living rooms. (Why the plastic? The practice reportedly originated in mid-century America among first- and second-generation families—including but certainly not limited to Italian-Americans like my own family members—who sought inexpensive solutions that would extend the longevity of their furniture.)

What’d He Wear?

For as much as I’ve already written about Paulie Walnuts’ distinctive sense of style—an extension of Tony Sirico himself—this marks the first time I’m focusing on one of the dozens of tracksuits that Sirico famously wore on the series. In the spirit of today’s observance, I selected one that not only makes multiple appearances but also seems to be a particular favorite of Paulie’s for quiet evenings at home in front of the tube that find him ultimately distracted by Tony.

The evidence?

  1. Paulie introduces this tracksuit while catching a ballgame in “The Strong, Silent Type” (Episode 4.10) under the auspices of his boss’ Napoleon-esque likeness above the mantle behind him.
  2. Sitting at home in front of the TV in “Moe n’ Joe” (Episode 6.10), Paulie takes a call from Tony and reveals that he’s secretly been dealing with prostate cancer, proving himself to be an unlikely contender for the “strong, silent type” that Tony so admires… though, in the spirit of another fourth season episode title, there’s little doubt that Paulie watches far too much television!
Tony Sirico as "Paulie Walnuts" Gualtieri in "Moe n' Joe", the tenth episode of the sixth season of The Sopranos.

“Well actually, T, I’ve been dealing with some shit. Cancer, to tell you the truth.”

In both episodes, Paulie wears a black velvet tracksuit with tan and beige trim, made by Falcon Bay Sportswear as described in its Christie’s auction listing from June 2008. Founded in 1998, Falcon Bay is a wholesale outfitter that specializes in men’s casual clothing, particularly budget-friendly offerings and big-and-tall sizes.

The zip-up track jacket has slanted-entry welt hand pockets and elasticized cuffs and hem. The tan-and-beige piping crosses the chest in the front and back as well as extending down each shoulder from the neck to the upper arm, where the piping rings around each sleeve.

The elastic-waisted track pants have the same tan-and-beige piping running down the side seam of each leg, reinforcing the tracksuit’s reputation as “the Bensonhurst tuxedo” as this detail mimics the classic silk tape that runs down the sides of formal trousers.

Paulie wears the track jacket zipped up over his white ribbed cotton sleeveless undershirt, a wiseguy staple also favored by his colleagues Tony and Christopher, to name a few. Before its was tacked with the unsavory “wife beater” moniker following a 1947 murder case, these undershirts were marketed as the “athletic shirt”—or “A-shirt” for short—after they were pioneered by Jockey in the 1930s.

Tony Sirico as Paulie Walnuts on The Sopranos

Even outside his living room, Paulie dresses for comfort in his black velvet tracksuit as seen here in the back room of the Bing in “Moe n’ Joe” (Episode 6.10).

Paulie’s clean white loafers are an essential part of his image (and consistent with his distaste for shoelaces), established early in the show’s run and worn through the last season, prominently featured in “Remember When” (Episode 6.15) as Paulie pulls out a trio of identical pairs to pack for a trip to Florida with Tony. Like so many other aspects of the character, these all-white leather Vikings split-toe slip-ons were reportedly another Sirico favorite that made their way onto the screen. At least in “The Strong, Silent Type”, we see that he wears them with a pair of plain white ribbed crew socks.

Around his neck, Paulie wears a gold rope-chain necklace with a textured cross pendant, symbolic of his Catholic beliefs and upbringing…even if his faith isn’t reflected by his violent behavior. Paulie favors gold jewelry like his friends, and—by the fourth season—he frequently wears a heavy yellow gold figaro-link bracelet on his right wrist.

Tony Sirico as "Paulie Walnuts" Gualtieri in "Moe n' Joe", the tenth episode of the sixth season of The Sopranos.

Velvet tracksuit, gold jewelry, non-laced white loafers, and a plastic-covered chair: Paulie has all the ingredients he needs for a comfortable night in during “The Strong, Silent Type” (Episode 4.10).

Of course, neither the cross or bracelet are nearly as integral to Paulie’s image as his pinky ring, an affectation worn by many in the world of The Sopranos but perhaps most associated with Sirico and his famous three-finger point. Sirico wore his own rings on the series, always gold and detailed with a black onyx stone. “They say Mafia wear pinkie rings, but men of style wear pinkie rings,” Sirico told The New York Times‘ Ilene Rosenzweig for “Ba-Da-Bing! Thumbs Up for the Pinkie Ring,” before the second season aired. “I’ve been wearing it for 30 years… it’s part of my life.”

Tony Sirico as "Paulie Walnuts" Gualtieri in "Moe n' Joe", the tenth episode of the sixth season of The Sopranos.

Like many of his mobbed-up cohorts, Paulie cycled through several wristwatches over the course of the series, primarily rotating between a duo of Movado Esperanza stainless steel watches, one PVD-coated in yellow gold and another in a silver finish. These distinctive watches have Movado’s minimalist “museum dial” in matte black with a gold-toned concave dot at 12:00 and gold hands, held to the wrist by Movado’s signature open-linked “free-falling” bracelet design.

What to Imbibe

Just because Paulie isn’t drinking in these scenes doesn’t mean you can’t mix yourself a well-deserved weekend concoction! Both the name and hedonistic spirit of Paulie’s garb lead me to recommend the Black Velvet, a simple but surprising drink created by gently pouring equal parts stout and sparkling wine in a beer tankard or, for a more refined presentation, a champagne flute.

Perhaps even more appropriate given Paulie’s morose obsession with and fear of death, the Black Velvet was reportedly first made by a bartender at Brooks’, an exclusive London gentlemen’s club, to mourn the death of Prince Albert, Queen Victoria’s Prince Consort, in December 1861. In the decades to follow, the Black Velvet shed its funereal connotations and was even the celebratory concoction of choice at Humphrey Bogart’s 1938 wedding to his third wife, Mayo Methot, according to Mark Bailey in Of All the Gin Joints: Stumbling through Hollywood History… though the Battling Bogarts’ turbulent marriage may suggest that the couple was indeed damned by their decision to toast with a drink developed in mourning.

The Black Velvet also shares a connection to James Bond, as Ian Fleming’s novel Diamonds Are Forever includes a brief mention of the drink when agent 007 offers to treat Bill Tanner to lunch including “dressed crab and a pint of black velvet.”

The 007 connection made the Black Velvet a reasonable candidate for inclusion in Shaken: Drinking with James Bond & Ian Fleming, where the authors tout it as “one of the great many drinks which combine two seemingly incongruous ingredients to great effect” and suggest a three-to-one ratio of chilled champagne to Guinness, perhaps with two teaspoons of rich demerara syrup added.

How to Get the Look

Tony Sirico as "Paulie Walnuts" Gualtieri in "Moe n' Joe", the tenth episode of the sixth season of The Sopranos.

Tony Sirico as “Paulie Walnuts” Gualtieri in “Moe n’ Joe”, the tenth episode of the sixth season of The Sopranos.

If you don’t already have a comfortable tracksuit, this may be the time to see if Paulie Walnuts’ loungewear of choice will work for you… whether you’re loafing around your house or dressing for comfort after an indulgent Thanksgiving!

  • Black velvet tracksuit with tan-and-white piped trim:
    • Zip-up track jacket with set-in sleeves and slanted hand pockets
    • Elastic-waisted pants with side pockets and elasticized bottoms
  • White leather split-toe Vikings loafers
  • Movado Esperanza 0607059 gold-coated stainless steel watch with black minimalist dial on gold-finished “free-falling” open-link bracelet
  • Gold figaro-link chain bracelet
  • Gold pinky ring with black onyx stone

Do Yourself a Favor and…

Check out the whole series, and follow my friend @tonysopranostyle on Instagram for more looks into the mobbed-up menswear of The Sopranos.

For fans of the show, I always recommend picking up a copy of The Soprano Sessions by Matt Zoller Seitz and Alan Sepinwall.

The Quote

I must have done good things in my life.

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