Boardwalk Empire : Clothes that made me want to cry.


A few months back I came across this series. Not one for watching much TV or box sets at that, but after watching this it changed my whole perspective on spending time in front of the box. Every evening it became regular to watch one or two episodes at least. It got to the point that where I realised I hadn’t gone out in a couple of weeks – which says something.

For those that don’t know B.E, in short it’s a HBO period drama set predominently in 1920’s America (Altlantic city). It’s focuses on the illegal alcohol industry during the prohibition period. Following the lives of certain political figures, criminals and the enslaught of what this cut-throat industry entails. Filled with fast booze, women and money. Most importantly and what I found the most impressive was the triple-filtered attention to detail in the clothing, props and surroundings used throughout.

From the moment you start watching your jaw will drop to the floor – trust. The sheer quality of the tailoring, both vintage and new made-to-measure pieces can be somewhat distracting from the story line at times.


Behind the rails on set you’d find that the clothes are designed by a Mr. John Dunn and tailored by a Mr. Martin Greenfield. The sum the of nearly 6,000 costume pieces used were based on 1920s tailoring books from the Fashion Institue of Technology’s, amongst extensive research found at the Brooklyn Museuem and the Met. Alongside this, some of the pieces were rented from the Daybreak Vintage Company located in Albany, NY.

WATM: Interview with “Boardwalk Empire” Costume Designers from WeAreTheMarket on Vimeo.

This process did not happen over night and began in April 2009, in preparation of shooting the series pilot two months later. Dunn’s team did meticulous research, examining old photos, studying tailoring of the time and using old books to pinpoint the exact silhouettes of the suits worn by characters. Dunn, who’s worked on period films such as “Casino” and “Factory Girl,” finds actors can start to find their character better if wearing period-specific clothing from head to toe. So, he went as far as sourcing period underwear for some of the characters.


While the production relied heavily on vintage clothing it also did require custom-made clothing for all of the principal actors. Woolen fabrics for suiting were meticulously collected, cross referenced and ordered from HMS fabrics and Gladson ltd in England – we still have got it then. The weight of the fabric was important as some of the cloth used in today’s suiting is much too light and would not sit as it did then.


Due to the fact that all the reference imagery was in black and white it made it rather hard to work out how much colour to use. After a work with photographic colourists Dunn states that “It was very interesting to discover there was a great deal of colour,”. Such to his surprise, as his first thoughts were that the wardrobe would be one palette of grey, blue and brown hues. It was important to get this issue ironed out early on in the development of the series, as the production designer, Bob Shaw, needed to know what color palette to use when building interior and exterior sets. jimmy

I won’t go on anymore. If you haven’t watched this series. Do so. No matter what you’re into, be it vintage or contemporary designer gear. There’s something in here for everyone. Bring on season 4.


This entry was published on June 15, 2013 at 9:05 am. It’s filed under Blog post and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Follow any comments here with the RSS feed for this post.

One thought on “Boardwalk Empire : Clothes that made me want to cry.

  1. hchan1981 on said:

    I can’t believe someone felt the same way I do. The clothing distracted me many times and left wanting more. It also left me unfulfilled. Most productions based on this period in history have costuming that looks like just that, costumes. BE is my gold standard. I couldn’t appreciate all of the attention to detail more unless I worked with them myself. Sets too.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: