Once Upon a Time in America: Max’s Beige Beachwear

James Woods and Tuesday Weld in Once Upon a Time in America (1984)

James Woods and Tuesday Weld in Once Upon a Time in America (1984)


James Woods as Max Bercovicz, ambitious mob bootlegger

Miami Beach, Fall 1933

Film: Once Upon a Time in America
Release Date: May 23, 1984
Director: Sergio Leone
Costume Designer: Gabriella Pescucci


Happy first weekend of summer… at least to my fellow readers in the Northern Hemisphere! Today’s post continues embracing sun-friendly resort-wear, this time by way of Sergio Leone’s controversial gangster epic Once Upon a Time in America.

Robert De Niro and James Woods star as Noodles and Max, a pair of gangsters who worked their way up from teenage street hoods to bootleggers viciously ruling the streets of New York in the latter Prohibition era. Between Max’s megalomania and Noodles having spent much of their mob’s formative years in prison, resentments grow between the pair, but the influx of cash is enough to bury any problems… at least until late 1933.

While lazing under the sun with their respective molls in Miami Beach to the dulcet tones of Cole Porter’s “Night and Day”, Noodles learns from the newspaper that they’re about to be “unemployed” with the repeal of the Volstead Act just weeks away.

Max isn’t the type to welcome retirement, so he immediately begins drawing plans in the sand to fulfill his lifelong dream of… robbing the Federal Reserve. As Noodles casually sips what appears to be a strawberry daiquiri, we get a glimpse of how crazily Max reacts to, well, being called crazy.

What’d He Wear?

As formality standards began loosening with the increased popularity of beach vacations among the wealthier classes during the interwar era, advances were made in seasonal sportswear and leisurewear.

Max wears a matching top and trousers made of slubby beige cloth, an elegant set that may have been called “beach pajamas” at the time but could also be classified as a precursor to the infamous leisure suits of the ’70s. While linen would be the more breathable and resilient fabric, the textile appears to be raw silk. The more expensive silk may have appealed to Max’s cutthroat obsession with wealth.

The unlined single-breasted jacket has a flat camp collar in a drooping, “dog-eared” shape and a three-button front that he wears open. The shoulders are built up with padding for a wider silhouette, set-in at the top of each sleeve. The sleeves are comfortably loose and plain at the cuffs, and Max rolls them up each forearm. The patch pockets can be accessed through each side. The western-yoked back has two points, each positioned at the top of an inverted box pleat that extends down the back.

James Woods, Robert De Niro, and Darlanne Fluegel in Once Upon a Time in America (1984)

Maybe Max would chill out if he just took a few sips from that delicious-looking red cocktail.

Max wears his raw silk beach set over a dark navy swimsuit, likely following the same design as the black swimsuit that Noodles wears: a sleeveless, one-piece singlet with a very short inseam. Though it may seem absurd in the modern age of water-resistant polyester trunks, Prohibition-era swimwear was often made from a tightly knitted wool.

The matching flat-front trousers have side pockets and a loose fit through the legs out to the bottoms, which are finished with turn-ups (cuffs). Belt loops were being increasingly integrated onto trousers over the previous decade, as seen on Max’s beach pants. He holds them up with a tan-and-white striped webbed cotton belt with a gold-toned single-prong buckle that coordinates to four gold-toned grommets.

James Woods, Tuesday Weld, Robert De Niro, and Darlanne Fluegel in Once Upon a Time in America (1984)

Max canoodles with Carol (Tuesday Weld) while Noodles reads the newspaper with his new girlfriend Eve (Darlanne Fluegel).

Max likely has a pair of beach-friendly shoes like espadrilles tucked among their belongings, but he remains barefoot through the scene.

On his right pinky finger, Max wears a large gold ring with an oval, rust-colored surface.

James Woods as Max Bercovicz in Once Upon a Time in America (1984)

Only a true mastermind leaves no trace of his criminal plans by drawing a box in the sand, writing “FR” in it, and then letting it wash away at hide tide.

Max’s light brown acetate-framed sunglasses follow a squared panto-style shape that may not have been common yet in the early 1930s, though the overall themes of time manipulation in Once Upon a Time in America could account for the occasional anachronism.

Tuesday Weld and James Woods in Once Upon a Time in America (1984)

James Woods and Tuesday Weld in Once Upon a Time in America (1984)

James Woods and Tuesday Weld in Once Upon a Time in America (1984)

How to Get the Look

I haven’t heard yet if Prohibition-era beach pajamas are making a comeback this summer, but I’ve noticed an increasing popularity for men’s matching sets, so it’s possible that gents will soon be strolling back out onto the sand in Max-style sets, though I’d suggest linen as a hardier, more breathable, and ultimately more practical alternative to raw silk.

  • Beige raw silk beach pajamas:
    • Three-button shirt-jacket with drooping camp collar, side-entry patch pockets, and set-in sleeves with plain cuffs
    • Flat-front trousers with belt loops and turn-ups/cuffs
  • Navy knitted wool sleeveless singlet swimsuit
    • (For a more modernized alternative, I suggest a dark navy tank top worn as an undershirt)
  • Tan-and-white striped web belt with gold-toned single-prong buckle and four gold-toned grommets
  • Gold pinky ring with oval rust-colored surface
  • Light brown acetate-framed squared panto-style sunglasses

Do Yourself a Favor and…

Check out the movie.

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