James Gandolfini as Anthony Soprano, precision optics salesman with an uncanny resemblance to heating systems merchant Kevin Finnerty
Costa Mesa, California, Spring 2006
Series: The Sopranos
– “Join the Club” (Episode 6.02, dir. David Nutter, aired 3/19/2006)
– “Mayham” (Episode 6.03, dir. Jack Bender, aired 3/26/2006)
Creator: David Chase
Costume Designer: Juliet Polcsa
WARNING! Spoilers ahead!
Who am I? Where am I going?
Sixteen years ago this week, The Sopranos first aired what became one of my favorite arcs from TV, exploring the mysterious, mythical adventures of the unconscious Tony Soprano, reborn as a de-Jersey-fied defense optics salesman on a surreal business trip in Costa Mesa.
After the cliffhanger ending of “Members Only” left Tony gut-shot on his uncle’s kitchen floor, I’m sure the last thing that viewers expected to see the following Sunday night was the erstwhile don of New Jersey waking up in an anonymous hotel room, his flashy wardrobe of printed silk lounge shirts replaced with off-the-peg Brooks Brothers as showrunner David Chase embarked on one of the most audacious episodes of the acclaimed series. Something is certainly off, the disquiet intensifying as we follow this slightly more articulate version of Tony—excuse me, Anthony—Soprano to a nearby bar, where he offers a sheepishly amused smile in response to his family’s saccharinely dorky answering machine message as wildfires burn from the news on TV behind him. (“Around here? It’s dead,” suggests a bartender.)
Are we seeing what life would be like without those “putrid” Soprano genes? Or is this something more metaphysical, the crossroads for a comatose Tony given the choice between a life of clarity or departing deeper into Hell?
The Sopranos consistently seems more interested in exploring the mind than the mob, and five seasons of psychiatric prodding at Tony’s subconscious lead us to what may first feel like the ultimate dream sequence, though Matt Zoller Seitz and Alan Sepinwall make the point in The Soprano Sessions that this two-episode Costa Mesa sequence “is both more straightforward and more portentious” than the realistically scattered narratives of Tony’s dreams. We’ve seen those in the Soprano orbit use their time above ground to make sense of the afterlife, with Paulie Walnuts (Tony Sirico) making the bizarre case for purgatory after Christopher Moltisanti’s near-death vision several seasons earlier, and it’s possible that we’re following a purgatorial version of Tony Soprano. Purgatory… disguised as a business trip.
I’d always been strangely fascinated by business travel: spending time in another city but relegated strictly to impersonal hotels, conference rooms, and banquet halls, missing sights that make travel worthwhile, collecting part-time acquaintances you’ll never see (or make out with) again, and the vulnerability of losing cash, identity, or belongings while away from home (“my whole life’s in that case.”)
As Purga-Tony reflects to his single-serving friends that he’s uncertain about his future, he’s offered to “join the club” by fellow optics merchant Lee (Sheila Kelley), who shares more than a passing resemblance to the Gloria Trillo-types that so intrigue Mob Tony.
During his conversation with Lee, Anthony reveals that he’s transitioned from his former job selling patio furniture—a vocation that Mob Tony had derided as far as back the first season—and now sells precision optics, hence his presence at the military vendor convention where he learns he must have swapped his wallet and briefcase with a similar-looking HVAC salesman named Kevin Finnerty… or “infinity”, to truly hit us with the themes. Unfortunately, the physically absent Finnerty brings his own baggage to Anthony’s life via his installation of a defective heating system at a Buddhist monastery, leading to his harassment by a contingent of monks seeking atonement.
With only $87 to his name (which holds little value in this alternate plane of existence), Anthony tries to make the best of his situation, renting a hotel room using Finnerty’s ID and money (a “crime” that Anthony finds amusing in its ease) as he awaits an absolution beyond his control.
Returning again to the wisdom of The Soprano Sessions, Seitz and Sepinwall conclude: “Here Tony’s stuck in Orange County, with no way to leave (Purgatory). On one end of town is a shining beacon (Heaven), on the other, a raging forest fire (Hell). Over and over, he stops to assess the worth of his life. Then, having lost his own wallet and all the ID and credit cards needed to prove who he is, he steals the identity (sin) of Kevin Finnerty—a heating salesman who lives in one of the hottest states of the union (Arizona)—checks into another hotel, and falls down a staircase, at which point he learns he has Alzheimer’s (eternal damnation). While Carmela’s busy in the real world telling him he’s not going to Hell, Tony’s in Purgatory, debating whether to tell his wife this is exactly the fate he has coming to him.”
What’d He Wear?
“Join the Club”
“Join the Club” opens with James Gandolfini sprawled out on a hotel bed, as if in a coffin, picking up from the “Members Only” cliffhanger. If you’ve paid any attention over the show’s five preceding seasons, you know this blue oxford button-down shirt and Ivy-inspired striped tie aren’t the usual pieces from the Tony Soprano closet.
Anthony wears dark gray wool double reverse-pleated slacks, held up with a dark brown leather belt that coordinates to his cordovan derby shoes, laced up under the trousers’ turn-ups (cuffs). Before heading to the bar, he pulls on the taupe worsted wool suit jacket that hangs over the handle of his suitcase next to the bed.
The taupe suit jacket flatters Gandolfini’s larger frame, while not exactly creative with its standard single-breasted configuration with notch lapels, two-button front, welted breast pocket, and flapped hip pockets. You could almost see this universe’s version of Carmela picking out the tie with its varying dark brown, powder blue, and tan stripes, suggesting that he wear it to match his blue shirt and taupe suit.
Taupe is one of the most neutral shades in men’s tailoring, and Tony almost blends into the bland background of the Costa Mesa bar while wearing it. We’re not sure exactly who it is we’re seeing—the biographical details line up with the man we’ve come to know as Tony Soprano, but something isn’t right—and his immersion into the setting suggest that this is indeed Tony Soprano’s gateway into purgatory, an expanse of neutrality.
The next day, Anthony strolls into the mil spec ’06 conference still wearing that blue oxford shirt but with a navy blazer, pleated khakis, and Brooks-style striped tie, the trusty trad uniform of the “Ameri-gan” that Mob Tony’s cronies so vocally resent but also his own de facto uniform through the rest of these Costa Mesa sequences, illustrating the variation of Anthony Soprano, optics salesman vs. Tony Soprano, wiseguy.
“There’s something boring and wholesome to Purga-Tony; he’s wearing the 9-5 uniform for men at that time,” explained Caroline Reilly, who has written about the style of The Sopranos for InsideHook. “It also blunts his intimidating persona, it softens him.”
While Tony and his Mafia cohorts all have their established images of silk suits and sport jackets with colorful shirts and tacky ties (perhaps best exemplified by his stalwart consigliere Silvio Dante), the classic navy blazer, subdued oxford button-down shirt, and khakis live on the opposing end of the sartorial spectrum, offering easy respectability while lacking the creativity and flash of mobbed-up menswear.
There’s no denying that a smart navy blazer can look great with gray flannels or khakis; indeed, I’d argue that this reputation for presentability has attracted its comfortable simplicity to even uncomplicated dressers, ranging from freshman fraternity inductees to the frustrated Anthony Soprano, fumbling through another man’s briefcase at a convention reception table.
The navy wool Kingsridge single-breasted blazer is resplendent in all the tastefully traditional detailing like the crested gold shank buttons—two on the front, four “kissing” on each cuff—that nod to the garment’s genesis at sea. The rest of the blazer reflects evolution from its sportier, less-shaped origins, with front darts, welted breast pocket, straight flapped hip pockets, and a single vent that all echo the standard American business suit jacket.
In addition to his classic Brooks Brothers blue-and-white oxford cotton shirt with its button-down collar, front placket, breast pocket, and button cuffs, Anthony also wears the instantly recognizable Brooks Brothers No. 1 silk repp tie, striped in burgundy with two narrow navy stripes against each gold bar stripe, all following the brand’s right-down-to-left direction.
After taking on The Finnerty Identity for a night at the Omni, Anthony’s asked to “bear” with the hotel’s maintenance staff while the elevator is out of service, but somewhere along the seven flights of stairs between his room and the lobby, the leather soles of his brown leather tassel loafers slip on the waxed rubber flooring, sending Anthony tumbling down the steps.
Throughout this misadventure, Anthony again wears the Kingsridge blazer and blue Brooks shirt, paired with the dark gray pleated slacks and yet another BB#1 tie, this one a light gold with narrowed navy-and-white diagonal stripes.
When we pick up with Anthony in “Mayham”, he’s again waking in a hotel room, albeit looking more content and appropriately dressed for slumber in a more suburban variation of Mob Tony’s underwear: a white short-sleeved V-neck Jockey undershirt (not sleeveless), rich blue boxers, and a thin gold bracelet on his right wrist that lacks the chunkier linkage of his usual. Receiving notice of the lawsuit under his door, he dresses to visit the monks at the nearby Crystal Monastery.
The monastery scenes show Anthony in a variation of his usual Costa Mesa wardrobe: blue blazer, khakis, blue oxford button-down shirt, and striped tie, but this single-vented blazer is arguably different from the solid navy Kingsridge jacket seen before and after this. Similarly styled with its shining array of gilt crested buttons, welted breast pocket, and flapped hip pockets, the jacket is made from a slightly lighter slate-blue cloth with a mottled, semi-solid presentation.
Anthony’s blue oxford button-down shirt is likely another from Brooks Brothers. His tie is patterned with alternating narrow blue and cream stripes against a deep maroon ground, with each stripe busier than the balanced pattern of the Brooks repp ties. He again wears the pleated cotton khakis, held up with a dark brown leather belt that echo those chunky cordovan derbies. (After his fall down the stairs, Anthony may have sworn off his slip-ons.)
The final scene of the Costa Mesa sequence follows Anthony to the Finnerty family reunion in nearby Irvine, hoping for some answers. He may indeed get them in the form of a mysterious host (Steve Buscemi, who notably played Tony’s now-deceased cousin Tony Blundetto the previous season) welcoming him into the well-lit Inn at the Oaks that may just be a portal into death… while the increasingly louder voice of Tony’s daughter Meadow (Jamie-Lynn Sigler) implores our hero not to leave us just yet.
This complete outfit had been auctioned by Christie’s in 2008, a year after the series concluded. Sold for $3,250, the listing informs that Gandoflini wore “a blue Oxford shirt by Brooks Brothers, a white V-neck Jockey t-shirt, a pair of charcoal gray Brooks Brothers pants, a navy wool blazer by King’s Ridge, and a navy, light blue, and yellow Polo tie.”
The unique navy silk Polo Ralph Lauren tie is patterned with tight, repeating arrangement of light-colored shapes—alternating between squares and squares turned askew 45°—each with a small circle in the center.
No pinky ring, no pendant necklace, just a more subdued gold chain-link bracelet on his right wrist. On the opposing hand, Anthony the [mostly] faithful husband wears just his gold pinky ring and a plain steel wristwatch with a round white dial on a dark brown leather strap that presents a significant contrast when compared with the Skip’s all-gold Rolex “President” Day-Date.
What to Imbibe
“Imagine you could use one on the house,” the affable bartender (Edward Watts) offers after hearing about the misplaced wallet and briefcase. “Yeah, yeah, you said a mouthful,” chuckles a friendlier Anthony than we’re used to seeing. “Uh, Scotch. Rocks.”
“Alright… Glenlivet okay?”
“Oh yeah, better than okay!” Anthony enthusiastically confirms, receiving a generous dram of the same spirit that we’ve seen Mob Tony enjoy on multiple occasions.
Currently the best-selling single malt whisky in the United States (and second best-selling globally), The Glenlivet distillery was founded nearly 200 years ago in Ballindalloch, located in the Scottish Highlands along the River Spey and thus establishing it as a vanguard of Speyside-style single malt whisky. One of the five official regional whisky variations in Scotland, Speyside whiskies are characterized by The Glenlivet’s defining traits of fruity flavor, lacking the smoky peat that defines regions like Islay.
Following the Excise Act passing, The Glenlivet was the first legal distillery in the area when it was founded in 1824 by George Smith, whose connections to Alexander Gordon, 4th Duke of Gordon—and his double brace of flintlock pistols—protected him from the local distillers whose illicit operations were threatened.
“Due to the efficiency of the operation and the high quality of the product, the Glenlivet was being exported by the mid-1860s,” writes Daniel Lerner in Single Malt and Scotch Whisky, adding that the distillery had to fight for the rights to its name, finally receiving sole ownership of The Glenlivet brand in 1884. The Glenlivet distillery survived Prohibition (when legal exportation to the U.S. halted) and the Depression, emerging from closure during World War II to establish its footing as one of the most prominent single malt distilleries.
A range of varieties are available today, with the most common being its 12-year-old whisky as Tony often drinks throughout The Sopranos, even while in
Coma Costa Mesa. The 12-year Glenvliet offers drinkers a slightly perfumed aroma and a sweet—if somewhat smoky—flavor with a caramel finish.
How to Get the Look
Tony Soprano and his mobbed-up colleagues may not normally dress like the Amer-igan optics salesman Anthony Soprano in his traditional navy blazer, blue button-down oxford shirts, striped ties, and khakis, but that doesn’t mean the more conventionally dressed yin to the bolder-dressing Skip’s yang is poorly dressed; on the contrary, many menswear purists would probably see the Costa Mesa scenes as James Gandolfini’s finest sartorial moments on The Sopranos. Yet seeing our protagonist so differently dressed adds to the surreality of these episodes, contributing to the overall sense of melancholic disquiet that permeates “Join the Club” and “Mayham”.
- Navy wool single-breasted blazer with notch lapels, two crested gilt buttons, welted breast pocket, straight flapped hip pockets, 4-button cuffs, and single vent
- Blue-and-white oxford-cloth Brooks Brothers shirt with button-down collar, front placket, breast pocket, and single-button barrel cuffs
- Burgundy striped BB#1 silk repp tie
- Khaki cotton pleated slacks with belt loops, side pockets, button-through back pockets, and plain-hemmed bottoms
- Dark brown leather belt with gold-toned single-prong buckle
- Cordovan leather five-eyelet plain-toe derby shoes
- Tan ribbed cotton lisle socks
- White cotton short-sleeve V-neck undershirt
- Blue boxer shorts
- Thin gold bracelet
- Stainless steel watch with round white dial on black leather strap
Do Yourself a Favor and…
I recommend reading more about the series in my oft-cited The Soprano Sessions by Matt Zoller Seitz and Alan Sepinwall, as well as the excellent blog Sopranos Autopsy that includes in-depth analyses of every episode, including “Join the Club” and “Mayham”.
Who wants more complications? I just want to come home!