Alessandro Nivola as Dickie Moltisanti, slick gangster
Newark, New Jersey, Summer 1967 through Summer 1971
Film: The Many Saints of Newark
Release Date: October 1, 2021
Director: Alan Taylor
Costume Designer: Amy Westcott
WARNING! Spoilers ahead!
“Pain comes from wanting things,” Sal Moltisanti (Ray Liotta) explains to his nephew Dickie, though it could have also been meta-messaging from David Chase, creator of The Sopranos and a frequent critic of the fans and pundits always demanding more from his magnum opus, be it answers (What happened to the Russian? Did Tony die at Holsten’s?) or more stories to be told.
Regarding the latter, Chase had expressed interest in prequel stories—if anything—to continue building the Soprano-verse. He returned to a setting that had intrigued him as far back as his days in film school: the race riots that swept through Newark in July 1967.
While much excitement was garnered when it was announced that the late James Gandolfini’s son Michael would be playing a younger version of the role his father had immortalized on the series, the central character of Chase’s prequel would be Dickie Moltisanti, the smooth mafiosi whose death prior to the events of the series left the hotheaded young gangster Christopher Moltisanti (Michael Imperioli) desperately in search of a father figure.
After years of The Sopranos building up Dickie’s mythos, Alessandro Nivola delivers a charismatic and engaging performance that makes Dickie Moltisanti a particularly compelling character to finally meet, illustrating the magnetism that would have so entranced a young Tony as well as the internal demons that he would have transferred to Christopher.
“Moltisanti is a religious name… and still I’m fucked,” Christopher narrates from the afterlife at the start of the film, contextualizing the title as his last name translates to “many saints” in Italian.
The setting may invite comparisons to Goodfellas, though I found The Many Saints of Newark to more closely resemble A Bronx Tale: focusing on a dapper but doomed gangster who serves as a de facto mentor to a kid from the neighborhood—even skillfully driving his convertible in reverse with said kid by his side—over the course of parallel timelines in the ’60s, with more significant racial themes than typically appear in mob fare. By the end of each story, the younger man finds himself at a crossroads as to whether or not he should follow his gangster mentor’s criminal lifestyle… though Tony Soprano’s ultimate path would obviously differ from Calogero’s decision in A Bronx Tale.
In my opinion, it would be hard for anything to match the mastery of The Sopranos, but I found The Many Saints of Newark to be a gaba-good addition to the world David Chase had created, bolstered by the shining performances of Nivola, Gandolfini, Leslie Odom Jr., and Vera Farmiga as the indomitable Livia Soprano.
What’d He Wear?
Aside from his impressive wardrobe of sleek silk suits, Dickie Moltisanti’s closet must be bursting with black striped knit shirts, a style that echoes the look that Ray Liotta sported for the adult Henry Hill’s dazzling “Idlewild Airport, 1963”-set introduction in Goodfellas. It may indeed be homage, as Liotta appears in dual roles in The Many Saints of Newark, first as Dickie’s gregarious father “Hollywood Dick” and as his imprisoned uncle Sal.
Costume designer Amy Westcott spoke to Caroline Reilly for InsideHook specifically about what Reilly referred to as “the gangster knit”, with Westcott explaining that she worked with a New Jersey knitter to authentically create shirts in the fashions of those originally made during the ’50s and ’60s, which would have still been lining these gents’ closets more than a decade later as they continued striving to emulate their Rat Pack heroes.
Washing the remnants of the riots off of his white Impala one morning in July 1967, Dickie encounters his father’s beautiful new Italian wife Giuseppina (Michela De Rossi) with bruises on her face and immediately knows his father is to blame. Though he sympathizes with his stepmother, he initially doesn’t react well (and why should he?!) to her kissing him: “Whassa matter with you? My wife’s right inside… you’re my fawtha’s wife.”
For this casual setting, Dickie wears the first of five black knitted shirts, this one short-sleeved but—unlike most of the others—with a full placket that extends from the waist hem up to the neck. The shirt has six black cloth-covered buttons up the front, which Dickie wears completely unbuttoned to reveal his usual white ribbed cotton sleeveless undershirt with its duo of dangling gold necklaces. The body of the shirt is ribbed with a wide gray vertical panel down the front chest on each side, shadowed on the outside only by a narrower and lighter gray strip of non-ribbed cloth.
Dickie always wears gray trousers with his black knitted shirts. In this case, he wears a pair of medium gray flat front self-suspended slacks that have slightly slanted side pockets and button-through back pockets. The bottoms are finished with turn-ups (cuffs) with no break over his black leather cap-toe oxford shoes and black socks.
That evening, Dickie has changed into a different black striped knit short-sleeved shirt, though this one is a polo-style shirt with a short placket for three black buttons at the top. This shirt is also the only one of the five to include a color other than the monochromatic black, gray, and white palette with the inclusion of brown striping.
Each side of the front of the shirt mirrors the other, separated by a black center that extends down the center from the placket to the all-black waist hem. From the inside to the outside of the shirt, the sequence is a white bar stripe, a wide chocolate-brown stripe, a black bar stripe, a wide taupe stripe, and finally a tan bar stripe before getting to the the sides, shoulders, and sleeves, which are all black to match the back and collar of the shirt.
Armed with the knowledge of his father’s brutality against Giuseppina and recalling the same abuse against his birth mother, Dickie confronts Hollywood Dick upon his return home. Their argument escalates into Dickie beating his father against the steering wheel of his ’62 Cadillac until he expires. Briefly interrupted by the surprise appearance of his nephew Tony, Dickie drives his father’s corpse across town during the riots, eventually staging his death in an inferno at Attaboy Draining Supply.
Dickie’s gray flat front self-suspended trousers and black leather shoes may be the same as he had worn earlier in the day while washing his car and, er, “consoling” Giuseppina.
The consolation also escalated by that fall when Dickie’s relationship with the stepmother he widowed blossomed into romance as he took Giuseppina as his comare. He buys her a spacious apartment with a full kitchen for her to cook his salsiccia and to ironically embrace his muttering “motherfucker” when their first moment of passion in the new pad is interrupted.
When he and Giuseppina first visit her new apartment, Dickie wears yet another black striped knit shirt, this time dressed up with what appears to be the same somber black suit he had worn at his father’s funeral.
Dickie never removes the single-breasted suit jacket—though it’s clear he intends to!—so it’s difficult to ascertain if the shirt has long or short sleeves, though I’d assume the latter as we don’t see any shirt cuffs when the jacket sleeves ride up as he and Giuseppina roll around on the floor tile. The shirt has a mostly black body, presented on the collar and the placket, with increasingly lighter gray vertical block stripes visible toward the outside, a black bar stripe bisecting the lightest gray stripe we see.
Though wearing a full two-piece suit and even a gray felt trilby, the outfit is already dressed down by the untucked knit shirt, and Dickie coordinates to this degree of informality with his black leather apron-toe slip-on loafers.
Set to The Rolling Stones’ “Sway”, we progress through the end of the ’60s, RICO statutes threatening Mafia livelihood, and when “Neil Young gave that speech from the moon,” as Christopher—who was born around the same time—narrates. The timeline jumps to the summer of 1971 when Johnny Soprano is set to be released after four years in prison, and it’s clear that his son Tony (Michael Gandolfini) has relied even more on the tutelage of his uncle Dickie.
For Johnny Boy’s welcome-home bash at the Soprano family home, Dickie wears another black striped knit polo, albeit the only one confirmed to have long sleeves. He wears all three buttons on the top placket totally open, showing the top of his undershirt and his usual pair of gold necklaces. Starting from the black center of the shirt, the chest has white and gray stripes, followed by a black bar stripe and then a series of three narrow gray stripes, each separated by an even thinner black stripe.
As with the other shirts, the collar, sleeves, back, and waist hem are all black, and Dickie wears it with gray flat front self-suspended trousers.
The last time we see Dickie in one of his black striped knit shirts, he and Giuseppina are driving Tony and a teenage Jackie Aprile to a Yankees game later that summer of ’71 in his swanky new green Cadillac Fleetwood Eldorado convertible when he pulls over to chat with a recently returned Harold McBrayer (Leslie Odom Jr.)
The mostly black shirt has a short three-button placket and a wider black center that separates each striped chest panel. Both sides of the chest are patterned with a wide marled gray stripe, bordered on both sides by four narrow lighter gray stripes that are separated by three black stripes of the same narrow width.
However, this isn’t a case where each side mirrors the other as the left side of the chest has a lighter gray figure knitted against the wide gray stripe. The figure consists of two mirrored parallelograms above what appears to be two outstretched arms, a short body, and two feet. (While likely meant to be representative of a flower or something similarly botanical, I can’t help but to see the silhouette of Sonic the Hedgehog in this curious figure.)
Looking cool behind the wheel, Dickie not only wears his usual gray trilby but also a pair of black acetate-framed Ray-Ban Wayfarer sunglasses. The Wayfarer model had been introduced in the 1950s, though Dickie wears a more anachronistic pair as it has the white Ray-Ban logo etched into the upper-right corner of the right lens, indicative of the modern RB2140 Wayfarer that was reintroduced in 2007. (One of Ray-Ban’s most enduring and recognizable frames, you can buy Wayfarers from Ray-Ban or Amazon.)
In a tweet last month, Nivola showed a closer version of the jewelry on his right hand, including the trio of diamonds mounted on the shining pinky ring and the “R.A.M.” etched in cursive on the identification plate of his chunky gold chain-link bracelet, standing for Richard Aldo Moltisanti.
On his other hand, Dickie’s stainless-cased watch appears to have a gold fixed bezel that encircles a gold-toned case, all worn on a tapered steel three-piece link bracelet. He also wears a plain gold wedding ring.
Dickie always wears two gold necklaces. A traditional Catholic cross suspends from the shorter of the two, while the longer necklace has what appears to be a round religious pendant as well as a cornicello. Italian for “little horn”, the cornicello is a traditional talisman or amulet in Italian culture that’s thought to encourage virility and ward off bad luck. (In Dickie’s case, it does not appear to provide the latter benefit.)
What to Imbibe
Suggesting the substance abuse issues that he would pass along to his son Christopher, Dickie is frequently seen sneaking pulls from a pint bottle of Smirnoff vodka.
Unlike the stereotypical tropes depicting alcoholism, Dickie doesn’t necessarily drink to brace himself for taxing occasions, instead drinking during relatively mundane occurrences like washing his car or visiting with family. (Okay, the latter could be stressful for many… but that doesn’t appear to be the case for Dickie in this instance.) In the future words of his son, “it’s like the fuckin’ regularness of everyday life is too hard” for him.
Currently the best-selling vodka in the world, Smirnoff’s story begins in 1864 when Pyotr Arsenyevitch Smirnov established his vodka distillery in Moscow. Smirnov’s family pioneered the distillery process over the next half-century until they were forced to sell the company when Tsar Nicholas II nationalized the vodka industry in 1904. The Smirnov family fled the country during the October Revolution, opening distilleries under the Smirnoff name in Turkey, Poland, France, and eventually the United States.
Smirnoff was one of the few companies to continue struggling with North American sales even after Prohibition ended, until John Martin of Heublein Spirits bought the company over the protestations of his board. Capitalizing on the American familiarity with whiskey, Heublein advertised Smirnoff vodka as “no taste, no smell” white whiskey, sealed with whiskey corks. This marketing tactic—combined with the introduction of mid-century cocktails like the Bloody Mary, Moscow Mule, and Vodka Martini—encouraged a boost in American vodka drinking… and indeed alcoholics like Dickie Moltisanti may have appreciated the “no taste, no smell” factor that allowed them to hide their unhealthy proclivities from loved ones.
How to Get the Look
Outside of his attractively tailored suits, Dickie Moltisanti’s daily dressed-down uniform consists of black striped knit shirts that were a mid-century staple often associated with Italian-American gangsters thanks to movies like Goodfellas, particularly when worn with a plethora of gold jewelry.
- Black knit shirt with vertical gray gradient stripes (either button-up or polo, short- or long-sleeved)
- Gray flat front trousers with self-suspended waistband, slightly slanted side pockets, button-through back pockets, and turn-ups/cuffs
- Black leather apron-toe loafers
- Black socks
- White ribbed cotton sleeveless undershirt
- Gray felt short-brimmed trilby with black grosgrain band
- Gold necklace with Catholic cross
- Gold necklace with cornicello and religious pendant
- Gold chain-link monogrammed ID bracelet
- Gold three-diamond pinky ring
- Gold wedding ring
- Stainless steel watch with fixed gold bezel, gold dial, and tapered steel three-piece link bracelet
- Black acetate-framed Ray-Ban Wayfarer sunglasses
Fortunately for those hoping to crib Dickie’s style, retro-inspired knitwear has been going through a revival. Many outfitters from Abercrombie & Fitch and Banana Republic to MR PORTER and Zara offer knitted polos and button-up shirts in their year-round collections, though I had to parse through many of the current lineups to find the gray-on-black striped shirts that Dickie wears so abundantly in The Many Striped Shirts of Dickie Moltisanti.
Of course, finding vintage shirts via eBay, Etsy, or Poshmark or actual used shops will typically yield the most rewarding finds, but you can also check out the below:
- Merc Fry Polo in black and ivory cotton (Merc, £55 & Mazeys Mod Clothing, $62.40)
- Ska & Soul Retro Spearpoint Knitted Polo Shirt in black cotton (Mazeys Mod Clothing, $83.21)
- Slate & Stone Colorblock Stripe Cotton Polo Shirt in navy w/ white stripe cotton (Nordstrom Rack, $49.97)
- Stacy Adams Short Sleeve Knit Sport Shirt: Multi Stripes in black acrylic (Amazon, $49)
- Stacy Adams Short Sleeve Knit Sport Shirt: Solid Geometric Jacquard with Color Tipping in black acrylic (Amazon, $49)
- Todd Snyder Short Sleeve Tonal Stripe Full Placket Polo in black silk/cotton (Todd Snyder, $248)
All prices and availability as of October 7, 2021.
Do Yourself a Favor and…
Check out the movie, currently in theaters and also streaming on HBO Max through the end of October.