The Godfather, Part II: De Niro’s Blue Two-Toned Shirt as Young Vito

Robert De Niro as Vito Corleone in The Godfather, Part II (1974)


Robert De Niro as Vito Corleone, née Andolini, Sicilian-born immigrant-turned-gangster

New York City, Summer 1917 to Spring 1920

Film: The Godfather Part II
Release Date: December 12, 1974
Director: Francis Ford Coppola
Costume Designer: Theadora Van Runkle

WARNING! Spoilers ahead!


On screen legend Robert De Niro’s 80th birthday, today’s post revisits his star-making, Oscar-winning role as the young Vito Corleone in The Godfather, Part II.

Born August 17, 1943, De Niro’s birthday falls the day after the traditional August 16th observance of the Feast of San Rocco—the backdrop of the young Vito’s 1917 assassination of Black Hand extortionist Don Fanucci (Gastone Moschin) that propels his gangland ascension.

De Niro had lingered in Francis Ford Coppola’s mind ever since his dynamic audition for a role in The Godfather. In the two years between the release of The Godfather and its sequel, De Niro had appeared in the baseball drama Bang the Drum Slowly and the crime film Mean Streets, the latter beginning his long collaboration with director Martin Scorsese.

Though Coppola reportedly toyed with the idea of recasting Marlon Brando to play his younger self in the role he originated, it was ultimately the 30-year-old Robert De Niro who was cast and made cinematic history with his excellent portrayal. The New York-born De Niro spent four months learning how to properly speak the Sicilian dialect that would be required for his character’s dialogue—save for just seventeen words in English.

Generally departing from Mario Puzo’s source novel that was adapted into the first film, Coppola used The Godfather, Part II to realize his vision about making a movie that followed a father and son at roughly the same points in their life, by paralleling the saga of mob kingpin Michael Corleone (Al Pacino) in the late 1950s with his father’s rise to power in the first quarter of the 20th century.

Though the adult Michael and young Vito never appear on screen together at the same time (for obvious reasons), photographer Steve Schapiro captured Al Pacino and Robert De Niro in costume together during the production of The Godfather, Part II. Note that Vito’s waistcoat, single-button shirt cuffs, and trousers inform that this is the costume from the 1920 scenes, though he is clean-shaven like he was for the 1917 sequence.

(There have been conflicting theories about the timeline of Vito’s sequences in The Godfather, Part II, but I tend to believe that the New York scenes are split between 1917 and 1920, with his trip to Sicily likely around 1925.)

What’d He Wear?

Theadora Van Runkle’s Academy Award-nominated costume design for Robert De Niro as the young Vito Corleone evolves with his status, from threadbare coats and neckband shirts in his immigrant days to sharp three-piece suits and spats as he rises through the ranks of La Cosa Nostra during the roaring ’20s. The one surprising constant of his wardrobe through this transition is a distinctive two-toned blue shirt, which he adapts to both respective eras of his life.

The body of the shirt is a light-blue woven flannel, contrasted with a darker blue long-pointed collar, six-button placket, and squared button cuffs. (At least more than one shirt was used, as the 1917 shirt has two-button cuffs while the 1920 shirt cuffs close with just a single button.) The shirt has chest yokes that curve up toward the center from each armhole. The set-in chest pockets on each side slant toward the center, with darker blue welted openings.

Robert De Niro as Vito Corleone in The Godfather, Part II (1974)

You can see more photos of one of the screen-worn shirts, complete with its Western Costume tags, at The Prop Gallery.


By 1917, Vito Corleone is struggling to make ends meet for his young family. A “favor” for the sinister Don Fanucci (Gastone Moschin) results in his being unable to keep his job at the Abbandando Grosseria, but Vito finds other opportunities selling stolen merchandise with the smooth Sicilian crook Peter Clemenza (Bruno Kirby). Unfortunately—or perhaps fortuitously—this attracts Fanucci’s attention… and gives Vito an opportunity to both advance his reputation and remove a violent threat looming over his paisans.

At this point, Vito’s clothes are humble yet hardy workwear, with a small rotation of shirts—including the blue two-toned shirt—layered under a warm-brown wool double-breasted coat. The heavy woolen construction, ulster collar, short length, and double-breasted button configuration recall classic naval pea coats (and the Heritage Auctions listing describes it as such),  though I’d hesitate to specifically call it a pea jacket. Two closely spaced columns of five buttons each close up the front, with buttonholes on the ulster collar suggesting an additional top row of buttons. The hip-length coat has a ventless back, set-in sleeves with plain banded cuffs, and rounded patch-style pockets over the left breast and both hips.

Vito’s charcoal-and-brown striped tweed newsboy cap is also consistent with his youth and lower economic status. He also wears a woolen six-button sweater in a cooler shade of brown than his coat. I can’t tell if this is a sleeveless sweater or a full-sleeved cardigan—as is more likely—but we do see that it has patch-style hip pockets and a straight-cut bottom.

Robert De Niro as Vito Corleone in The Godfather, Part II (1974)

Vito’s regular trousers through this period of his life are made of taupe-brown pinwale corduroy, also known as “needlecord”. The trousers have an era-correct long rise to Robert De Niro’s natural waist, where—despite the presence of belt loops that remain unused—he holds them up with a set of tan striped cloth suspenders that have dark-brown leather hooks connecting to buttons along the inside of his trouser waistband.

The trousers have long, slightly slanted side pockets and a straight cut through the legs to the plain-hemmed bottoms, which break high over his brown leather derby-laced boots.

Robert De Niro as Vito Corleone in The Godfather, Part II (1974)


Having spent the last three years growing his respect in the neighborhood (as well as his little mustache), Vito ascended into a much more benevolent—if hardly more legitimate—leader in the neighborhood than Fanucci. He and his friend Genco Abbandando (Frank Sivero) establish the Genco Pura Olive Oil Company, a front for the illegal operations that he runs with Clemenza and Sal Tessio (John Aprea), both of which would reappear in The Godfather‘s timeline, two decades later.

Vito elevates his appearance to match his position, with more carefully styled hair and intentional clothing. He’s not quite wearing suits yet, but he dresses up his familiar two-toned blue shirt to create a suit-like effect with overcoats, ties, and a pinstriped waistcoat—even thought this heavy flannel shirt isn’t the type typically worn with ties.

The charcoal waistcoat (vest) is patterned with a closely spaced white pinstripe, constructed from a tufted material like corduroy or velvet. The single-breasted waistcoat has five black buttons up the front and four welted pockets. Vito wears his gold pocket watchchain “single Albert”-style, with the actual watch tucked into the waistcoat’s lower left pocket.

Robert De Niro as Vito Corleone in The Godfather, Part II (1974)

Note that Vito’s shirt now has single-button cuffs, while the rest of this very distinctive shirt is identical to what we had scene in the 1917 scenes. This suggests either multiples of the shirt were used (which would make sense, given its prominence) or that the cuffs of one of the shirts were damaged and replaced with ones that featured a different buttoning system. But who am I to poke holes (so to speak) in a masterpiece like The Godfather Part II?

Although he still regularly wears the same shirt and waistcoat, Vito keeps his appearance fresh on the streets with a rotation of coats and ties. When we first catch up with the now-mustached Cosa Nostra kingpin, he’s wearing a brown soft woolen knee-length overcoat and a dark brown leafy-printed silk tie.

Vito wears the single-breasted coat with all three buttons fastened. The lapels are triple-stitched around the edges and boast especially wide notches. The shoulders are soft, with long, set-in sleeves that are left plain at the cuffs. There are straight set-in pockets at hand level, aligned with the lowest button—if these pockets are flapped, the flaps may be tucked into the pockets themselves.

Robert De Niro as Vito Corleone in The Godfather, Part II (1974)

Oranges! Is death around the corner… or merely the intimidation of a dog-hating landlord?

As part of his duties of asking “favors” on behalf of the neighborhood denizens, Vito meets with stubborn landlord Signor Roberto (Leopoldo Trieste) and smoothly implores him to allow a local woman to keep her apartment—and her dog. Unfortunately for Roberto’s nerves, Vito’s reputation hasn’t quite preceded him… but it makes quite an impression once it catches up to him.

Vito wears the same blue two-toned shirt and pinstriped waistcoat, but with a different coat and tie. The light silver silk tie is patterned in an alternating series of burgundy rectangles and pairs of black-dotted vertical rectangles. His single-breasted overcoat is tonally multi-striped over a charcoal-brown woolen ground and—aside from single-stitched, rather than triple-stitched, edges—is styled almost identically to the earlier brown topcoat.

Robert De Niro and Leopoldo Trieste in The Godfather, Part II (1974)

“Of course, the dog stays. Right?”
Don Vito bargains with Signor Roberto, who is about to get an alarming lesson from the neighborhood about the genial man whose Sicilian ass he just threatened to kick out into the street.

Vito’s taupe-brown pinstripe wool flat-front trousers look like they may have been orphaned from a suit. Unlike his earlier corduroys, we can see little of these trousers—the waistcoat covers the waistband (as a waistcoat is intended to do), but we can see slanted side pockets and back pockets that close with scalloped single-button flaps. The bottoms are finished with turn-ups (cuffs), and he completes the look with dark brown boots.

How to Get the Look

I had received several requests to cover this shirt from Robert De Niro’s New York flashback scenes in The Godfather Part II, so this long-overdue post breaks down how the young Vito Corleone adapted a favorite shirt to his respective styles as a struggling immigrant in 1917 to a rising neighborhood crime boss just three years later.

Robert De Niro as Vito Corleone in The Godfather, Part II (1974)

Vito in 1917:

  • Brown wool 10×5-button double-breasted hip-length coat with ulster collar, rounded patch-style breast pocket and hip pockets, plain cuffs, and ventless back
  • Light-blue woven flannel shirt with dark-blue contrasting long point collar, 6-button placket, two inward-slanted set-in chest pockets, and button cuffs
  • Brown wool 6-button cardigan sweater with patch-style hip pockets and straight-cut bottom
  • Taupe-brown corduroy flat-front trousers with belt loops, slanted side pockets, and plain-hemmed bottoms
  • Brown leather derby-laced boots
  • Tan striped cloth suspenders with dark-brown leather hooks
  • Charcoal-and-brown striped tweed newsboy cap

Vito in 1920 (pictured here):

  • Brown solid or charcoal-brown multi-striped wool single-breasted 3-button overcoat with wide-notched lapels, straight hip pockets, and plain cuffs
  • Light-blue woven flannel shirt with dark-blue contrasting long point collar, 6-button placket, two inward-slanted set-in chest pockets, and button cuffs
  • Silk printed tie
  • Charcoal pinstripe tufted 5-button waistcoat/vest with four welted pockets
  • Taupe-brown pinstripe wool flat-front trousers with slanted side pockets, back pockets (with scalloped single-button flaps), and turn-ups/cuffs
  • Dark-brown leather boots
  • Gold pocketwatch on gold “single Albert”-style chain

Do Yourself a Favor and…

Check out the series.

The Quote

Do me this favor. I won’t forget it. Ask your friends in the neighborhood about me. They’ll tell you I know how to return a favor.

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