We have all seen them in the papers and heard about them on the radio; you may even know one. I’m talking about gangsters (also known as racketeers or bootleggers).
In these challenging times of Prohibition, gangsters have become entrepreneurs and used this law as a way to profit from illegal bootlegging. Al Capone along with several other gangsters are portrayed in papers and magazines as personifying the American Dream, working from rags to riches. Crimes has become organized and structures just like other businesses because gangsters realize that they can provide the goods and services that society demands, regardless of what is against the law. Therefore they have formulated themselves into legitimate businessmen, using business methods and managing themselves as a business.
Al Capone’s financial success is common among mobsters and they want to show themselves as successful businessmen. Al Capone himself typically dresses in pinstripe suits, fedoras, and fancy neckties, and is basically is a model of underworld fashion. Their fashion can be described as spiffy businessmen. They wear not only suits, such as the ‘lounge suite’ which they appropriated in order to gain the good reputation they were after, but additional details show off how much money they actually have. For example, they wore overcoats, spectator shoes, watch fobs, and jewelry.
Jack McGurn’s clean, crisp, and dapper look makes him into a distinguished professional man. Capone enriches his style by wearing the suit but altering its traditional colors; his bright lime green suits, brilliantly colored silk ties, and white hat allow him to stand out in a crowd. Even in black-and-white photographs, his showy fashion sense is clear. Jack Diamond has the type of wardrobe that draws attention to his success as well. He is considered the snappiest dressed gangster and easily spotted in his custom-fitted dark suits, flashy ties, and black and white checkered cap. Gangsters have quite expensive taste. Many adorned their outfits with diamonds, got shoes custom made (Capone even has a personal car by GM made for him), and fedoras.
These gangsters truly are a model of the American ideal for the working class. As such, their fashion has trickled into daily life for men. The ads we see these days tell men that their clothes are how they express themselves, so they want to appear like these successful business men as well. My husband has taken that to mean that he needs to boast how much he spent on his clothes so he got clothes with visible labels of fashionable clothiers. This way, he can show that his pricey but stylish clothes also show his wealth and status. Another example includes the loose overcoats gangsters wear to conceal their weapons. This has transferred over to looser and more comfortable everyday men’s coats.
Now you don’t have to be a mobster to dress fashionably—just check your local department store!
Beshears, Laura. (2010), Honorable Style in Dishonorable Times: American Gangsters of the 1920s and 1930s. The Journal of American Culture, 33: 197–206. doi:10.1111/j.1542-734X.2010.00743.x