Gangster Squad: suiting Film Noir style

Forget black and white: the newest sartorial marker between good and evil is single-versus double-breasted suiting – or so posits Gangster Squad, a film noir style caper from director Ruben Fleischer that opened this weekend.

Set in 1940s gangland Los Angeles and based on the true story of East Coast-born kingpin gangster – and confirmed double-breasted devotee – Mickey Cohen (Sean Penn), the film features a team of gumshoe coppers, led by single-breasted stalwart Sgt. John O’Mara (Josh Brolin), tasked with running the bad guys out of town.

It also contains another fashion-star-making turn from Emma Stone as the love interest/gangster’s moll, complete with claret-red bias-cut evening dress: nipped in at the waist, slashed at the thigh and with a long, noose-like halter neck (symbolic of the gangster’s grip on the girl no doubt). But despite a series of figure skimming gowns on Stone, the focus here is firmly on the guys and their gear.

Those on the side of justice are almost exclusively clad in heavy single-breasted suit jackets. “We didn’t go for any wools that were under a 12-ounce weight. It wasn’t about comfort in those days, it was about long lasting,” explains Mary Zophres, an Academy Award-nominated designer whose team made 90 per cent of the costumes that appear in the film.

Sporting a cork-brown felt fedora pulled firmly down at the brim – a unique piece created by Chicago-based milliner Optimo – a single-breasted clad Brolin contrasts neatly with gangster Cohen, who in real life was said to have never worn the same suit twice (as Cohen used to get his suits made by his own dodgy tailoring shop). Similarly, Penn’s character never wears the same outfit in multiple scenes, his hot temper offset by a wardrobe of double-breasted suits in cool greys, blues and blacks.

Caught between these two poles is Sgt. Jerry Wooters (Ryan Gosling) – a member of Brolin’s squad whose true motives are often hidden behind his penchant for hard liquor and loose women – his questionable allegiance reflected in his style. Like gangster Cohen, Wooters favors a double-breasted long line wool blazer, as opposed to his colleagues’ single-breasted styles.

But if his suit choices are morally suspect, Wooter’s stylishness is beyond reproach. Not only does he sport a natty pair brown leather lace-up loafers with a mesh raffia woven tongue, sourced from a vintage dealer in San Francisco, but some of the most decorative ties in a film full of look-at-me neck wear. One particularly flamboyant example in deep red with an art deco design etched in silver is almost more eye-catching than a ricocheting bullet.

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