In the Style of the Don’s Son

Francis Ford Coppola’s 1972 masterpiece The Godfather will go down as one a staple of cinematic greatness – hopefully forever. However, it is not only because of sensational acting or memorable one liners (“Leave the gun, take the cannoli”) that this is the case; The Godfather is also a monument in menswear, a capsule of a time period when suits were compulsory, and an example of how a man dressed told stories about himself, the message he was trying to share with the world, as well as what was expected of him due to societal norms during the time period.

I prefer to focus on Michael Corleone (Al Pacino) when I think about sartorial influence in this film. The reason for this is that Michael’s garments are a story in transition, as his role in the family from Ivy League pretty boy shifts to that of a stoic and murderous kingpin, we see dramatic changes in the way he dresses – offering the full gamut of sartorial styles for the time period. 

Take Michael’s early style choices, a brown corduroy jacket paired with charcoal flannel pants, an off-white oxford shirt and striped tie. This look is unmistakably Ivy, we can assume he has spent some time at any of the New England’s more privileged institutions. What defines the “Ivy look” is the degree of casual flair in line with formality – it is all about making it clear that you come from money, but not being as put together as your father would be in the same social setting. Within this style, the viewer can look for patch pockets, patched elbows and thicker fabrics of corduroy and tweed suited to the Northeaster weather, as well as contrasting-coloured trousers and the ever-present oxford shirt. Michael uses this look to establish that he comes from a strong institution -but he isn’t in charge (at least not yet).

As the film progresses, a significant shift in power occurs. We see the Don himself (Marlon Brando) pass leadership of the family business on to Michael, which then allows him to dress down into knit cardigans suited for spending most of his time at the family’s spacious upstate estate. Michael takes this time to update his wardrobe, specifically by upgrading to wider lapels and high-cut vests in charcoal and black.

The significance of the wide lapel in positions of power is unmistakable. Simply enough, it accentuates a “V” shape in the upper body, broadening the shoulders and giving a sense of status and confidence in the wearer. Scenes throughout the movie show most members of the crime family adorned in it, but it is also a feature that was widespread at the time, so what makes Michael’s distinctive is the adherence to details: high quality of fabric, well-placed accessories (every tie is worn with flair) and a sense of swagger that has a lot to do with the way he looks when he sits.

The dramatic conclusion of the film sees Michael drift fully to the “dark” side of the family business, ordering murder and shifting power with apparent ease, all in a suit that fits the “mafioso” image to a tee. The dark gray double-breasted wool three-piece suit worn became emblematic for is powerful look, and it does this because of how it fits Michael’s character. The suit is stoic, commanding, but still slightly understated. With wide (but not too wide) peak lapels and a high-cut seven button vest, the suit isn’t outlandishly done or overly detailed. This was something notable considering that, during the immediate post WWII era of relative excess and frivolity (after a period of time where fabrics and stylistic choices were limited for rationing sake), it was permissible for well-to-do men, especially those involved in “less-legitimate” business to wear louder colours. Look only to Moe Greene and Michael’s brother Fredo Corleone for this, both feature bright fabrics, oversized shirt collar and cravats fit for the Las Vegas sun.

In conclusion…this is why I love watching old movies set in this era, or any era when menswear was the norm (think Mad Men, Peaky Blinders, or Italian neorealism from Fellini and De Sica). It’s fun to realize certain styles making a comeback in the contemporary scene, and with the entire history of menswear easily available to us through film with on-demand streaming, it may not be too hard to implement some of these topics into your wardrobe.

Chalk stripe in navy w/ Ammy Gill

Friend of the blog and fellow INDOCHINO style guide Ammy Gill looks incredible in this Navy Chalk Stripe Suit.

What really defines this look are the little details, Ammy is a broad shouldered guy, so the double-breasted with wide peak lapel is pulled off effortlessly. A well-matched pocket square and tie complete the look, especially because they work well with the lighter buttons on the suit. Buttons can make a huge difference on how a suit is accessorized (especially with your shoes and belt) and have got to be one of the cheapest ways to spruce up an old look.

I have two favourite spots in Vancouver, Button Button and Dressew in Gastown both have a large selection, and getting set up with 12 buttons (2 front and 8 cuff for a standard suit) should only set you back around $10 or so…how’s that for a bargain?

What this is all about

In this article I plan to share my thoughts on style, the pervasive little five letter word that means so much and so little at the same time. I don’t really intend for this to be a style blog, and to be completely honest, I don’t have a clue what I intend for it to be at all. All I know is that I want to explain why I wear what I do, how it impacts my life, and what I think more people should care about when they make decisions about what to buy and what to wear. 

Firstly, I want to talk about menswear. I am bringing this up because it’s what I care about the most right now, and that is really only because menswear fills my closet, most of my Instagram feed, and it even pays my bills. A year ago, this term evoked a certain dichotomy to me. On one end of the spectrum there is functional menswear, the banker, lawyer, or accountant who wears suits because they have to. On a similar vein there was Tommy Shelby from Peaky Blinders, older gentlemen wearing looser-fitting garments and to an extent-Ivy Leaguers in striped ties and sport jackets. Let’s call this traditional menswear for lack of a better word. This was worn because it always had been, because the social code dictated. Because it was necessary to be seen in it to maintain a social class.

I had other evocations too. I knew that there was the shiny, slender-cut profiles of movie stars and Henrik Lundqvist, that collars could be worn open and high cut (Scotty Lavin in Entourage) and narrow pinstripes looked good when shot inside a nightclub for a TV Show (who wants to go to a nightclub in a suit anyways). This could be hedonistic menswear, or modern menswear or any other sleek sounding word that brought to mind any European designer meant to be purchased by the newly rich as an affirmation to the American dream. Quality was assumed, but not necessarily distinct from any other brand.

The point about this isn’t that each variety of menswear mattered at all. The point here is that they were all inaccessible.There was no way to start wearing suits unless you reached a point in your life where you were supposed to wear suits.

For someone like me, that meant waiting until my first proper job interview, walking into a department store and talking to a wizened old salesman who had surely fitted off-the-rack suits for thousands of men in his time, but upon finding out I was a complete rookie with a $300 budget, put me in the closest navy-blue slim fit garment he could find and sent me on my way. 

As a Prairie-bred kid from a middle class family, I was adrift in the suiting world. Where was I supposed to learn about this brand-new discipline with its triple digit price tags, “modern” fit tips that contradicted the wisdom of tradition, and, let’s face it, a North American disposition to accept the “black sack suit” as the default for business formal. 

It seemed like my fate was to fall into menswear and figure it out along the way while picking up tips from a sea of “style blogs”, someone’s lawyer father who was worn the same suits for thirty years, and visual cues of co-workers whose shirts are barely tucked in for eight hours of the day. Then I would be buried in something that would look like shit if I was standing up. But I guess there’s always cremation. 

Now that I have worked in made-to-measure suiting for the better part of seven months and wear suits almost daily, I have come to several simple conclusions.

It’s just not that fucking hard.

It’s not as expensive as you think.

You can change your life by dressing better.

Menswear makes people anxious because of the same evocations that I mentioned earlier. But what menswear should be about is leaving a few buttons undone, knotting a tie using an app on your phone (and not feeling bad about it), feeling confident knowing that your clothes are well cut to your figure, and looking like you hardly had to think about putting the outfit together. 

The Italian suiting community holds the term sprezzaturra dearly to their hearts; it is the act of looking good effortlessly, as though you hardly care about your appearance even though it is so dashing it turns heads and breaks hearts.

Sprezzatura is the goal, and in order to stay true to form it should be achieved through the fewest possible inputs. Menswear shouldn’t be mind-racking, it should be fun. Wearing a suit should never be a chore, and you should look forward to your next opportunity to spruce things up. And it should never be reserved only for weddings, really. 

I guess that’s the point of what I’m trying to do. To inspire, but to make things easy. Suits can seem like one of society’s most effective ways of segmenting social classes and making people feel uncomfortable. I think this is bullshit. I dress up almost every day and I barely make above minimum wage. But at least I can play mind games with the people I line up with at Starbucks, and that is kind of fun for me.

So, stay overdressed, you might just enjoy it.