Al Pacino as Michael Corleone, calculating Mafia boss
Havana, December 1958, and Lake Tahoe, Spring 1959
Film: The Godfather Part II
Release Date: December 12, 1974
Director: Francis Ford Coppola
Costume Designer: Theadora Van Runkle
WARNING! Spoilers ahead!
When “gangster style” comes to mind, you may think first of the silk suits from Goodfellas or tracksuits of The Sopranos, but Michael Corleone established an aristocratic sense of style as he grew into his leadership role in accordance with his reserved nature.
The Godfather Part II debuts Michael’s penchant for the day cravat, a decorative and sporty scarf-like neckwear. Some use the term “ascot” when referring to a day cravat, though it’s worth pointing out that the ascot tie is a different, more formal type of neckwear worn inside a shirt collar like a traditional tie while the day cravat is worn against the skin, under the shirt itself. (Michael may be a rarity among fictional mafiosi to sport this elegant type of neckwear, but Joe Pantoliano as the vain sociopath Ralph Cifaretto on The Sopranos illustrates that he wasn’t alone.)
My previous post explored the silk day cravat that Leslie Odom Jr. wore as Sam Cooke in the recent One Night in Miami. Now, on #MafiaMonday, let’s take a look at how Al Pacino wore his cravats to dress up Michael Corleone’s dressed-down looks in The Godfather Part II.
What’d He Wear?
Unlike some movie mobsters—think Robert De Niro’s pastel wardrobe in Casino—Michael Corleone has a practical and utilitarian approach to his clothes that matches his mind for business. Across the events of The Godfather Part II, Michael cycles through a limited closet of quality pieces that make a powerful impression on friends and foe and everybody in between. Indeed, he only appears on screen wearing four different suits, though he wears them with such versatility that it can feel like more: a flashy gray dupioni silk suit for public events like his son’s communion and a meeting in Havana, a sinister black suit when he needs to evoke power (worn with or without waistcoat), a businesslike pinstripe suit for austere occasions like testifying during a Senate hearing, and a summer suit with a subdued check for low-key business dealings in warmer cities like Miami and Havana; it’s with this latter suit that he first see Michael in a day cravat, dressing the suit down with a white knitted polo shirt for Hyman Roth’s birthday party.
A serious man aware of the importance of his appearance, Michael never appears in public wearing anything less dressier than a tailored jacket and collared shirt, anchoring his few “casual” outfits with a tasteful navy blue sports coat that appears to be made from a comfortable wool serge. Not technically a blazer like some odd jackets in this color, this single-breasted jacket avoids the trendy extremes of ’50s fashion with its timeless cut. The notch lapels roll to a two dark blue plastic buttons that resemble the three buttons on each cuff. The welted breast pocket is conventional, but the patch pockets on the hips are sporty enough to discern this jacket from traditional business attire. The single-vented jacket has padded shoulders—with gently roped sleeveheads—that were fashionable in the ’50s but also build up the 5’7″ Al Pacino’s silhouette to look more subtly powerful.
We first see Michael’s “off-duty” sports coat in Havana during the days leading up to the fateful New Year’s Eve celebration. An afternoon in his hotel room with only his bodyguard and newly arrived brother Fredo (John Cazale) present calls for something a little less dressy than his usual suit and tie, so he recycles the white short-sleeved shirt from Roth’s birthday party and ties on a dark indigo and gold paisley silk day cravat.
It may be December, but the tropical Caribbean climate still averages around 80°F in Havana so Michael is wise to wear this lighter white shirt, constructed from a breezy knitted cotton. The shirt has a three-button top, worn with only the top button undone to accommodate the day cravat, and a breast pocket. Michael wears light gray wool double forward-pleated trousers and a black leather belt that coordinates with his black leather shoes and socks.
Back in Lake Tahoe, he dresses more warmly for the snowy winter. Again, Michael is meeting with Fredo but his demeanor is as chilly as the snow-covered docks outside as he formally severs ties with the brother who betrayed him.
Michael’s light gray button-up shirt diverges from his polo-style shirts, worn under a dark gray wool sweater with a ribbed-knit V-neck that draws more attention to the shirt’s open point collar and the dark paisley silk day cravat. This manner of dress gives Michael the appearance of a cavalry officer—think Colonel Kilgore from Coppola’s later masterpiece—as he firmly lays out his orders for Fredo to follow.
No longer in Havana and certainly not in any mood for lightness, Michael maintains his sartorial sobriety with a pair of charcoal slacks. His black leather shoes appear to be cap-toe oxfords, again worn with uninteresting—but not unexpected—black socks.
Finally, Michael manifests his warmest look for the quiet climax as he appropriately dons a blood red shirt while arranging the deaths of his adversaries.
I don’t feel I have to wipe everybody out, Tom… just my enemies.
The scarlet-hued long-sleeved shirt looks to have been knitted from a material like Ban-Lon, the trade name for Joseph Bancroft & Sons’ synthetic yarn that revolutionized men’s sportswear in the ’50s and ’60s. The long-collared shirt has three red plastic two-hole buttons, the top worn undone to reveal that indigo-and-“old gold” paisley printed silk day cravat. Again, he wears charcoal trousers with a black leather belt and shoes.
Having engineered the deaths of his brother and two of his father’s oldest friends who have since had reason to turn against him, Michael can no longer behind his guise of continuing his evil deeds on behalf of his family, cemented by once again closing the door on his wife for a second—and arguably more decisive—time. With these final acts, Michael also discards the day cravats that had lent him the appearance of respectability. Who’s he trying to fool anymore?
Still in his open-necked red knit shirt and charcoal trousers, Michael layers on a broad-shouldered camelhair double-breasted overcoat and tonal cashmere scarf with fringed ends. These are items typically worn to fight against the cold, but the insouciant way that Michael wears them—coat open, scarf untied—suggests that he’s given up that fight, yielding completely to the coldness in his heart as he allows himself to commit to previously unthinkable acts.
Michael would resume wearing day cravats, admittedly more loosely tied and supplemented by the occasional neckerchief, with his dressed-down suits and sport jackets in The Godfather Part III. By then, he’s refocused on reforming his image for the public after rebranding himself as a philanthropist.
Throughout The Godfather Part II, Michael wears a yellow gold watch that has been speculatively identified as an Omega Constellation—appropriately of 1950s vintage—with a white dial and shining gold bracelet. Consistent with his personality, he eschews excessive jewelry and accessories, wearing only the plain gold wedding ring that communicates to the rest of the world that he’s a “family man”.
What to Imbibe
Michael isn’t a teetotaler, but he limits his drinking to the occasional celebratory concoction or late-night cognac. When he takes Fredo out for an afternoon in Havana, he refreshes himself with a plain club soda while Fredo maintains a steady diet of, uh, “how do you say banana daiquiri?”
“Banana daiquiri,” Michael answers, allowing himself an amused smirk at his brother’s expense.
This happy hour staple indeed originated in Cuba, credited to Americans around the time of the Spanish-American War though, as with most cocktails, the true inventor of the daiquiri remains lost to history with mining engineer Jennings Cox and congressman William A. Chanler competing for credit among modern sources. Whoever invented it, the standard daiquiri recipe emerged as a generous amount of white rum shaken with lime juice and sugar before being strained into a chilled cocktail glass.
As rum-based drinks became increasingly fashionable in the United States following World War II and the boom of Tiki culture, Americans discovered their palette for cocktails like the Planter’s Punch, Zombie, and the almighty daiquiri. Mainland mixologists exercised their creativity on the original recipes, though it was reportedly British sea captain George Soule who pioneered the banana daiquiri while exploring St. Thomas in the Virgin Islands, where he blended local bananas with rum, lime juice, and sugar for a tasty new concoction. (Captain Soule’s story is substantiated by Cruzan, stipulating that it was their rum, of course!)
How to Get the Look
A shrewd leader like Michael Corleone is aware of the importance of a neat and tasteful appearance, even in casual situations. He adapts his dressed-down “uniform” of a navy odd jacket, open-neck shirt, and gray trousers to adapt to the temperature (regarding climate and situation) of his surroundings, completing each outfit with a day cravat that adds a subtle touch of affected elegance.
- Navy wool serge single-breasted 2-button sport jacket with notch lapels, welted breast pocket, patch hip pockets, 3-button cuffs, and single vent
- White or red knitted polo-type shirt with 3-button top
- Dark indigo and gold paisley silk day cravat
- Gray double forward-pleated trousers with belt loops and turn-ups/cuffs
- Black leather cap-toe oxford shoes
- Black socks
- Omega Constellation gold wristwatch with round white dial on gold bracelet
- Gold wedding band
Do Yourself a Favor and…
Check out the series, including the masterpiece sequel The Godfather Part II.
If anything in this life is certain, if history has taught us anything… it says you can kill anyone.