Boardwalk Empire: Al Capone’s Ivory Suit in 1931

Stephen Graham as Al Capone on Boardwalk Empire (Episode 5.08: “Eldorado”)


Stephen Graham as Al Capone, infamous mob boss

Chicago, Spring 1931

Series: Boardwalk Empire
Episode: “Eldorado” (Episode 5.08)
Air Date: October 26, 2014
Director: Tim Van Patten
Creator: Terence Winter
Costume Designer: John A. Dunn

WARNING! Spoilers ahead!


Happy 50th birthday to Stephen Graham, whose memorable performance as Al Capone on Boardwalk Empire counts among the best cinematic depictions of the real-life Chicago crime lord, who was also been portrayed on screen by Robert De Niro, Ben Gazzara, Tom Hardy, Rod Steiger, Neville Brand, and—curiously, given Al’s stout physique—F. Murray Abraham and Jason Robards.

To the appropriately funereal tune of Vince Giordano and his Nighthawks Orchestra adapting Duke Ellington’s 1930 classic “Mood Indigo”, the Boardwalk Empire series finale spends one last moment with Graham’s Capone as he surrenders himself at a Chicago federal court to face trials for tax evasion and Volstead Act violations. Though the wily Capone had managed to evade consequences for building his criminal empire over the decade, the roaring ’20s are now over and Capone seems aware that it’s all over for him.

Aware that this would be his last public moment as a big shot, Capone takes a private moment to make sure his famous facial scar is adequately covered, arms himself with a fat cigar, and then exits his chauffeured town car to greet the throngs of reporters and well-wishers with his usual bravado. He’s risen high from being the scrappy, trigger-happy hijacker stomping through the New Jersey woodlands at the start of the series, but even his characteristically gregarious façade shows cracks as Capone ponders his fate while marching to legal doom up the steps of the Federal Building.

What’d He Wear?

John A. Dunn’s opulent costume design on Boardwalk Empire reflects clothing’s longstanding role in American gangsterdom, with flashy mafiosi like Al Capone flaunting their success by evolving their wardrobe to match it.

At the start of the series, set in 1920, the young Capone is relatively new to the Chicago underworld, his role relegated to finding violent opportunities to himself when not waiting by the car. His scrappy attire of mackinaw coats, shirts buttoned to the neck, and “the cap of a boy” echoes this low position. Upon coming into a higher status, Capone prioritizes getting a tailored suit to equal his position. Once he’s firmly established as an ambitious lieutenant—and eventual boss—of the Chicago Outfit, he exclusively dresses in tailored suits, silk ties, coats, and hats all befitting his extravagant reputation as king of the gangsters.

Even in real life, the flamboyant kingpin didn’t shy away from colorful tailoring even during his legal troubles of 1931, reportedly wearing suits in bold shades of blue, green, banana-yellow, and gray for his many courtroom appearances, even sporting a “heather-purple pinchback suit” during his sentencing in October 1931, as described by John Kobler in his 1971 biography Capone: The Life and World of Al Capone.

Al Capone

Chicago, 1931: the actual Al Capone signs his $50,000 bail bond in the Federal Building. Photo credit: Topical Press Agency/Getty Images.

Likely aware that he’ll be trading his custom-tailored suits for prison stripes sooner rather than later, Stephen Graham’s Capone dresses to make a splash for both the audience on the courthouse steps and the Boardwalk Empire audience watching at home.

Capone strides from his Auburn town car in ivory herringbone three-piece suit, made from a slubby raw silk. The off-white color is an obviously offbeat choice for court, particularly illustrated by the reporters, agents, and bodyguards surrounding him in more conventional shades of brown, blue, and gray. Raw silk has a nubby texture that can often be mistaken for linen, though silk’s luxurious properties typically make it softer and more lustrous, befitting a flamboyant gang lord and evident by his suit’s subtle sheen in the sunlight.

Three-piece suits with double-breasted jackets were a common tailoring configuration through the early 1930s, especially among men like Capone who could afford it—and wanted to show that they could afford it. Capone’s ivory silk suit has a double-breasted jacket, with era-correct wide peak lapels that have a straight gorge and roll to the second row of a classic 6×2-button arrangement. The buttons are a cream-colored plastic or horn, matching the four-button cuffs. The ventless jacket has a welted breast pocket and straight flapped hip pockets, structured with straight, padded shoulders and roped sleeveheads that build a more imposing physique.

Stephen Graham as Al Capone on Boardwalk Empire (Episode 5.08: "Eldorado")

Under the watchful eyes of his legal pursuers, the white-suited Capone gesticulates on the Federal Building steps.

We see little of the suit’s matching waistcoat and trousers on screen, though a behind-the-scenes photo that Graham took with fellow actor Michael Iacono shows more detail, consistently detailed with the other suits that Capone wore on screen through Boardwalk Empire‘s fifth season.

The single-breasted waistcoat (or vest) has peak lapels and a high-fastening six-button front with cream-colored buttons matching his suit jacket. The bottom is notched, and the waistcoat also has four welted pockets. The waistcoat does its name-implied job of covering Capone’s waist, so we don’t see the waistband of his trousers. Despite the oft-repeated sartorial guidance that waistcoats and three-piece suits shouldn’t be worn with belts (to avoid the buckle bunching up under the waistcoat), it’s possible that Capone wears one as the real-life Capone wore diamond-studded belt buckles, even with three-piece suits, reflected by Graham’s other on-screen three-piece suit trousers.

However the trousers are held up remains mere speculation, as all we can see are the single forward-facing pleats on each side of the fly and the plain-hemmed bottoms.

Stephen Graham and Michael Iacono on Boardwalk Empire (Episode 5.08: "Eldorado")

More of Capone’s waistcoat, trousers, and shirt can be seen in this behind-the-scenes photo of Stephen Graham with young actor Michael Iacono, who can be seen near Capone in many shots of him ascending the Federal Building steps.

One of my favorite aspects of  Boardwalk Empire’s costume design is the intention that John A. Dunn’s team put into the men’s shirt collars, including the abundance of detached white dress collars particularly seen among wealthier characters during the show’s early seasons. By the early 1930s, when the final season is set, men’s shirts had evolved toward attached collars being the norm, though fussier dressers like protagonist Enoch “Nucky” Thompson (Steve Buscemi) could still dress them up with metal collar pins and bars.

Even after reaching his highest position in the Chicago underworld, Capone typically disregards the formality of contrasting white collars until this final scene. The body of his cotton shirt is light-blue, patterned with white bar stripes that are each bisected by a faint slate dotted line. The double (French) cuffs match the body of the shirt, each fastened by a set of copper scroll-engraved hexagonal cuff links with bullet-back closure. The shirt’s contrasting clean white point collar may be attached (an arrangement known as a “Winchester shirt”) or it may be one of the few detached-collar shirts in the screen Capone’s closet. Either way, the point-shaped collar presents with a “pinned” effect thanks to a curved gold bar that slides onto each collar leaf behind the tie knot.

Capone creates a rich, non-threatening devil-may-care look with his lavender diamond-woven silk tie that calls out the blue tones of his shirting.

Stephen Graham as Al Capone on Boardwalk Empire (Episode 5.08: "Eldorado")

When not being observed, a more dour Capone examines the makeup over his scars in his gold-finished compact to make sure his last public appearance as a big shot gangster will be a flattering one. Note also his flashing display of accessories, from collar bar and cuff links to the diamonds set on his gold ring.

Like many of his ilk—including his ill-fated early mentor “Big Jim” Colosimo (also known as “Diamond Jim”)—Capone used diamonds to add flash to his look and communicate his growing fortune, from rings to belt buckles, all either worn or given away as extravagant gifts.

In the Boardwalk Empire finale, Capone’s diamond addiction is represented by a large gold ring on Stephen Graham’s left hand. The ring flares out to a silver-filled center with a squared center for a large diamond, flanked by four diamonds—one in each corner.

Although I believe the real Al Capone often favored pocket watches with—of course—diamond-studded chains when wearing three-piece suits, Graham’s Capone wears a vintage Elgin wristwatch on a black calfskin leather band, strapped to his left wrist and closed through a silver-toned single-prong buckle. The silver tonneau-shaped case is expanded so that etched scrollwork flanks the right and left sides of the dial, which is off-white with gold-scripted Arabic numeral hour indices and a second-hand sub-register at the 6:00 position.

Capone tops his look with a creamy white felt fedora. The wide band and edges are made from a matching cream-colored grosgrain silk that hardly contrasts against the lush felt hat.

Stephen Graham as Al Capone on Boardwalk Empire (Episode 5.08: "Eldorado")

“What? Is there a ball game here today?”

Capone completes the summery ensemble with a set of spectator shoes, an appropriately caddish and flashy style given Snorky’s reputation. These two-toned shoes were arguably their most popular during the Prohibition era, worn on both sides of the Atlantic, though they were somewhat less regarded in the UK, where they were also known as “co-respondent shoes” for their association with third-party “co-respondents” in adultery-related divorce cases.

The brown-and-white leather shoes that Capone wears have five oxford-style lace eyelets and are fully brogued, with brown wingtips against the white instep.

Stephen Graham as Al Capone on Boardwalk Empire (Episode 5.08: "Eldorado")

Though barely glimpsed on screen, even in this zoomed-in version of their only screen appearance, Capone’s brown-and-white spectator shoes are almost as unmistakable as he is in his off-white suit against the crowd of darker-dressed men surrounding him.

Three months after Boardwalk Empire aired its finale in October 2014, many of the series’ costumes and props were auctioned by ScreenBid, including the suit, cuff links, wristwatch, and ring that Stephen Graham wore for his final scene as Al Capone.

Boardwalk Empire costumes and props

Capone’s screen-worn suit, tie, hat, shoes, cuff links, ring, and watch, all auctioned by ScreenBid after Boardwalk Empire ended production in 2014.

How to Get the Look

Stephen Graham as Al Capone on Boardwalk Empire (Episode 5.08: “Eldorado”)

Dressed by costume designer John A. Dunn, the Al Capone of Boardwalk Empire followed the a sartorial trajectory similar to his real-life counterpart, ending the series flashily dressed in an all-white three-piece suit with matching hat, spectator shoes, and a hefty diamond ring.

  • Ivory raw silk tailored suit:
    • Double-breasted 6×2-button jacket with straight-gorge peak lapels, welted breast pocket, straight flapped hip pockets, 4-button cuffs, ventless back
    • Single-breasted 6-button waistcoat with peak lapels, four welted pockets, and notched bottom
    • Single forward-pleated trousers with belt loops, side pockets, and plain-hemmed bottoms
  • Light-blue (with white bar stripes bisected with slate dotted lines) cotton Winchester shirt with contrasting white point collar and self-double/French cuffs
    • Gold sliding collar bar
    • Copper scroll-engraved hexagonal cuff links
  • Lavender diamond-woven silk tie
  • Cream-colored felt fedora with cream-colored grosgrain silk band and edges
  • Brown-and-white leather 5-eyelet oxford-laced wingtip spectator shoes
  • Gold-and-silver ring with diamond-studded face
  • Vintage Elgin wristwatch with silver scroll-etched tonneau-shaped case, off-white dial with gold Arabic numerals and 6:00 second-hand sub-register, and black calfskin leather strap

Do Yourself a Favor and…

Check out the whole series.

The Quote

What “Outfit”? I’m a businessman!

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