The Untouchables: Thirties Giorgio Armani – Part 1 | Clothes on Film

Posted by Chris Laverty on September 4, 2009

The Untouchables (1987) director Brian De Palma’s prohibition era Chicago crime thriller is remembered for, amongst other things, Sean Connery’s accent, the controversial Ennio Morricone score, that Battleship Potemkin scene with the pram, plus a rather lavish Giorgio Armani designed wardrobe.

And if this is how cops dressed in the 1930s, it is a wonder anybody wanted to be a gangster.

Of course this was not really how cops dressed in the thirties at all. Following the Wall Street crash of 1929 most ordinary people were lucky not to be wearing potato sacks. However in all fairness this film is not selling itself as a truthful portrayal of the period; it’s opulent dramatisation.

Although as Elliot Ness (Kevin Costner) runs around in a leather coat that would have cost him six months salary, it is hard not to view the whole endeavour as one long advertisement for Armani.


While most of the clothes worn are obviously plush, experienced costumer Marilyn Vance-Straker worked (or argued?) with Armani to ensure they were at least accurate in terms of fit and colour. Costner dons dark suits with flashes of pinstripe; Connery a lot of chunky knitwear, which took off frantically following the Prince of Wales’ flamboyant example during the 1920s.

However even though some of the villains’ costumes are surprisingly sedate considering the influence of Hollywood gangsters such as Edward G. Robinson and Paul Muni, peripheral characters in The Untouchables wear clothes inappropriate for their personality and bank balance.


Take newspaper man Scoop (Steven Goldstein) in a Glenurquhart check jacket under his overcoat. Glenurquhart is a complex worsted that would have cost a fortune. Likewise patrolman Stone (Andy Garcia) with his short leather coat and plaid wool pants.

Or even Charles Martin Smith as Washington bean counter Oscar Wallace – who bizarrely chooses a bright red shirt and tie for the team’s trip to the Canadian border. This is a man who would have worn a steel grey suit and plain tie not the party colours of the idle rich on holiday. Yet despite such obvious errors there are still many outfits to enjoy in the film. Here is a selection of personal Armani favourites, if not for accuracy then at least for sheer screen luxury:


When we first meet Costner’s Elliot Ness he is earnest and optimistic, wearing a plain grey flannel suit and pattern tie. So far so ordinary, but at least the colour is dour enough to be on-period for a working man.

One bungled liquor raid later and Ness is trawling the streets in a full length slip-on with raglan sleeves. This is an important scene because it is where Ness first meets Malone (Connery) walking the beat.


Then following a pep talk from a grieving widow, Ness silently vows to bring down Capone by whatever means necessary. This requires guts, guns, said Scottish beat cop, and the sharpest suit Kevin Costner will ever wear in his life:

Dark Grey single breasted wool suit with wide chalkstripe and wide lapels. Matching six button waistcoat, straight leg trousers with turn ups. White thin stripe shirt with long, narrow spread collar; red/blue geometric print tie. Light grey trilby hat with black silk band.

Even though the broad shouldered column or ‘London cut’ suit (later re-dubbed ‘American’ as Hollywood actors started wearing them) was to dominate the decade, Costner’s slimly cut jacket and straight leg pants are fine for 1930. Turn ups, or cuffs in America, were made fashionable by the Prince of Wales’ grandad Edward VII some thirty years earlier; while at the races he would roll his trousers up to avoid getting the hems muddy (so the story goes).


This is a serious suit; sombre to reflect Ness’ mood. Chalk and pinstripes were a popular way of livening up a gloomy outfit, as was combining the weight of the stripes on the shirt and jacket. Though by the exceptional cut and quality of the fabric, this is far too luxurious a suit for any honest treasury agent to have owned. Ness must have been on the take.

Part 2 to follow soon

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