A decade ago, HBO brought us the loosely historic “Boardwalk Empire,” a hit period drama by Martin Scorsese and Mark Wahlberg starring Steve Buscemi. Overflowing with illegal scotch and homicidal blood, the program was nominated for scores of Emmys and is worth checking out if you missed it the first time around.
Focusing on Atlantic City organized crime at the dawn of Prohibition, the cast is decked out. The male characters’ dress ranges from the flamboyance of Jay Gatsby to post-World War I working-man tweeds reminiscent of recent workwear fashions. There are plenty of three-piece suits, bow ties, straw boaters and fedoras, collar pins and carnations, and lush woolen fabrics. “Boardwalk” is a great reminder that whatever was in fashion once will be in again — unless, of course, it never fell out of taste to begin with.
With the pilot alone costing $18 million, no penny was left unspent and no historical stone unturned, demonstrating an incredible attention to detail. According to Variety, the costume designer John Dunn (nominated for a 2011 Emmy for his work), “hit the research libraries at FIT [Fashion Institute of Technology]… went to the Brooklyn Museum, the Met,” and “just completely immersed [him]self in 1920.” Martin Greenfield supplies the tailoring.
One of season two’s great episodes, the penultimate, was no exception in the fashion detail department. This episode depicted the backstory of one the show’s main characters, Jimmy Darmody, a Princeton dropout who enlisted to be a doughboy after beating up one of his philandering young professors. (The episode is aptly titled “Under God’s Power She Flourishes,” from the university’s motto.)
Before Darmody’s booze-fuelled, belligerent mistake, there are a couple of classroom and social-season scenes providing a well executed take on pre-Great War Ivy fashion.
“Boardwalk Empire” ran for five seasons. — PHILLIP R. PINEGAR