Today, we want to take a close look at the clothes worn by the main character Nucky Thompson (Steve Buscemi) in the TV show Boardwalk Empire.
The show’s main character was modeled after Enoch “Nucky” Johnson, who ruled Atlantic City in the 1920’s.
Nucky Thompson’s Suits & Outfits
In that very first scene, Nucky Thompson wears a 4×2 double breasted three piece suit in a cashmere stripe, which is the pattern of the trousers for a stroller or morning coat that does not necessarily need to be made of cashmere.
The buttons are positioned extremely high compared to today, and so the peaked lapels are rather short. Since Nucky wears his suit unbuttoned, we can see his single breasted vest, which comes without a lapel but is of course worn with a watch chain. Pinned to his left lapel, he often proudly wears a huge red carnation
boutonniere. His yellow striped shirt has a detachable stiff collar in white, which is paired with a bold turquoise tie held in place by a collar pin that elevates his tie knot. In fact, the original Nucky Johnson also wore fresh red carnations on a daily basis. However, unlike in the TV show, he always wore them through the buttonhole of his lapel. For some reason, the characters in Boardwalk Empire wear their overly large boutonnieres pinned to the lapels. Obviously, that was not the way boutonnieres were worn back then, especially not by Nucky Johnson. When Nucky Thompson leaves the building after his initial speech, he wears a 6×3 Ulster with cuffs, a half belt in the back and ulster revers. Since everybody wore a hat back then, he tops it off with a dark brown Homburg hat. Altogether, Nucky is always well dressed and not at all shy about using color in his outfits. Considering that he essentially runs the city, he always wants to make sure that he looks the part. This is especially true in the second season when things start to get difficult for him. On the other hand, the real Nucky Johnson supposedly wore white shirts most of the time and liked red ties. However, he also had an affinity to luxurious items and clothes.
Herringbone Plaid Suit
In one of the pictures from HBO, we can see Nucky in a single breasted grey herringbone flannel suit with a rust and orange overplaid. He combines it with a pastel orange shirt with double cuffs, white detachable collar, gold paisley tie and of course a collar pin. As with the prior outfit, he chooses to wear a huge boutonniere - again pinned to the lapel – which is not ideal or authentic in my opinion.
Orange Chalk Stripe
Just take a look at this single breasted orange on grey chalk stripe suit with peaked lapels. He wears it with a bold striped orange shirt ( a common shirt color for Nucky), purple tie and of course the obligatory detachable collar and big boutonniere.
Evening Wear – Tuxedo
In all honesty, I must to say that I was a little disappointed not to see Nucky in a tailcoat or a proper tuxedo. Instead, he wears an unusual double breasted evening jacket with notched lapels, angled flap pockets and cuffs trimmed in silk, which he wears unbuttoned, and the back features a center vent! Evening garments back then were tailored without vents in general, and most especially without center vents. Also, angled hacking pockets and notched lapels (especially on an evening garment) were something you would see on casual garments, not on dinner jackets.
The coat is paired with a horizontally textured repp silk waistcoat in ivory with a shawl collar, a white pleated shirt with studs and ivory colored bow tie. This is anything but classic, though maybe Dunn chose this outfit in order to underline the lawless and more rebellious flair of Atlantic City. Later in the season, he wears a peaked lapel dinner jacket with a center vent and hacking pockets.
Interestingly, his bow tie is adjustable and often slips up his collar, which looks rather unfortunate. Vintage shirts usually had a loop in the back specifically to prevent slippage. However, the real Nucky Johnson actually wore a proper double breasted dinner jacket with a black bow tie, pocket square and a boutonniere in his buttonhole. Obviously, he dressed according to the dress code of the time. The evening outfits from Nucky Thompson in Boardwalk Empire are anything but historically correct, especially when Nucky Johnson’s pictures reveal him wearing traditional attire. Nucky Thompson’s evening topcoat is single breasted in charcoal herringbone with peaked lapels that are covered in astrakhan. Surprisingly, it barely reaches the knees, which was extremely short for the 1920s. On his head, he usually wears a black Homburg or Derby hat.
Altogether, Nucky dresses quite flamboyantly in a positive way, even though the boutonnieres, the evening wear, and some other details are historically inaccurate. If you care to reach your own verdict, I suggest to watch this 45 minute documentary about Nucky Johnson, which reveals many of his original outfits.