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Get the Boardwalk Empire look

Buscemi in a wardrobe. Job done.

Get the Boardwalk Empire look
26 January 2011

Remember the effect Mad Men had on men's fashion? Remember it? What are we saying, chances are you're still sporting a slim fit, Draper-esque suit with 'minmalist palettes'.

Things may be about to change, courtesy of Sky Atlantic's new show Boardwalk Empire. Tuesday saw the arrival of episode one while episode two landed last night (it's usual slot in Sunday evenings, confusingly). In short it's superb. Steve Buscemi plays the central character while Martin Scorsese Executive Produces. Hence brilliance.

But in amongst the Prohibition-era storyline is a sartorial phenomenon just waiting to explode. Our fashion expert Tamara Hinson reveals what to look out for and how to work the 1920s gangster look 90 years on...

Love your layers

Whether it’s a tuxedo or tank top, the 20’s were all about the layers – with waistcoats, vests and thick fabrics such as wool and velvet being the order of the day. “A key trend was for contrasting collars on shirt and jackets,” says Ben Leaver, Selfridges' men's formalwear buyer. “This encapsulates contrasting fabrics as well as colours - velvet top collars feature especially heavily in programmes such as Boardwalk Empire.”

Colour codes

If you’re the kind of guy whose mother still chooses your clothes, be prepared to step outside the box. “Don’t be afraid to dress flamboyantly and make a bold statement - a sharp 20s style suit is not completely clean and monochrome,” says Ben Leaver at Selfridges. Look for shirts in unusual colours such as orange-toned pink or royal blue, and team with a waistcoat and tie in a contrasting colour.

Material matters

While suits from the 20s often looked severe, thanks to dark, heavy material, the addition of a trim in a different material was often used to prevent the outfit looking too severe. If you’re sporting an entire suit made from the same material, opt for a waistcoat with pocket trims in a different colour or a shirt made from a lighter material to break up the look.


Accessories played a huge part in 20’s style, with hats and bow ties leading the way. “Key items include a fedora hat with a wide shiny groisgrain trim, a bow tie and a walking stick for the gangster look,” says the Tie Rack’s Raffaele Caroli. For a more wearable take on 20’s style, swap the fedora for a newsboy cap – the walking stick’s also optional!

The dark side

While 20’s style revolved around darker colours, suits and outfits were kept interesting by using different materials and incorporating varying shades of the same colour – for example, a dark navy suit might be worn with a shirt in a lighter shade of blue. “When it comes to colours, think of warm and natural muted tones with navies, greens and browns applied to heritage English fabrics like tweeds checks,” suggests Raffaele Caroli, Italian brand director at the Tie Rack.

Flower Power

While shirts came in a range of colours from jewel tones to more earthy shades, white remained a popular choice of shirt colour for the 20’s gent, and was often used to liven up a dark suit. Rounded or “club” collars were commonplace, often with the addition of gold or silver collar bars. Flower pins were often used to add a pop of colour to outfits – although if you’re planning on going the whole hog, expect some severe ribbing from your mates…

The Power of three

If you’re looking to channel your inner gangster, a tailor-made suit is a wardrobe essential – preferably in wool or tweed. “Go smart all the way,” advises Jackie Hay, director of menswear buying at House of Fraser. “Invest in three piece suits - it’s all about old fashioned elegance from top to tail.” When it comes to trousers, go for a high waist (and a button fly for ultimate authenticity) then add saddle shoes or wingtips in shades such as tan and leather.