New year, new wardrobe. It’s now 1924 on Boardwalk Empire, which means there’s been a slight shift in the show’s look. And while those silk dresses, three-piece suits, and trench coats may look effortlessly gangster chic, they involve a lot of hard work courtesy of Emmy nominated costume designers John A. Dunn and Lisa Padovani.
According to the design duo — who custom make most of the show’s wardrobe — fashion history is only one element of the aesthetic. “When we get the scripts, we’re inspired by the stories, the characters,” said Padovani of the Prohibition-era show. “We do a lot of research and then we take whatever that reality was and tweak it [to suit] our story.”
What’s new this season? “We’re heading into the mid 20’s, so there are new silhouettes and new fabrics,” said Dunn. “The silhouette is very slim, the waist is dropping, the women’s dresses are still long, but they’re going to start to shoot up. The patterns are just beginning to show the influence of art deco.” Though, Padovani added, “I’m inspired by contemporary stuff too and I’ll think, ‘That could translate into 1920’s….’ We try to incorporate old pieces with new pieces and old trimmings and accessories with the new things we manufacture to give it a seamless quality.”
The addition of new characters like Daughter Maitland (Margot Bingham), Dr. Valentin Narcisse (Jeffrey Wright), and Roy Phillips (Ron Livingston) means the costume designers have more actors to dress, and Livingston has been especially excited about the process. “He’s very much into the clothing,” said Padovani. “He wants to know the motivation behind what we’re thinking. He likes to discuss it.” The show’s other leading players are equally motivated by the 1920’s fashion, particularly Michael K. Williams, who plays Chalky White. “He’s so cute. He [recently] said, ‘I think Chalky White has a shoe fetish,’ so he wanted special shoe inserts to keep his shoes pristine,” said Padovani, who happily granted the actor’s wish. “John and I are very detail oriented. [When they’re filming, the cast] can’t wear their sneakers, even though we usually don’t see their feet. Once you’re on set, you really should wear the costume. It helps the actor.”
Click through the gallery to find out how Nucky and Gillian’s wardrobes have changed this season, and what inspired the look of new characters like the Onyx Girls, Daughter Maitland, Dr. Valentin Narcisse, and Roy Phillips.
Nucky Thompson (Steve Buscemi)
“This season, Nucky is not quite the public figure that he’s been in the past,” explained Dunn. “He’s not in public on the boardwalk living at the hotel anymore. He’s gone a little bit underground and we’ve reflected that in his wardrobe. He’s presenting a respectable businessman this season while he continues his activities.” The duo decided a muted color palette would better suit Nucky’s lower profile. “Color palette wise, we toned down the color on him,” said Padovani. “He definitely looks much more like a conservative business man, like a banker in a way… just to keep that profile a little lower. His personality and the story lines got a little darker for him, so we reflected that in his clothing.”