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TV Visual Analysis: Boardwalk Empire Essay


Boardwalk Empire is an American television series depicting a criminal life in the period between the 1920s and the 1930s. The plot focuses on the society that underwent a drastic change after the entry of Prohibition providing responsibility for the production and sale of alcoholic products. At this point, there was no need to rob, kill, or abduct people but simply to establish an illegal alcohol business to make money.

This television show involves such conflicts as the division of spheres of influence between the criminal bands, racial discrimination, and gang wars. Among other themes, one might note society and class relations and technology implementation. In effect, the TV show presents the becoming of a newly industrialized era.

After watching first three episodes, I understood the scope of the situation. In particular, a viewer notes that the main character Enoch Thompson kills a rat so that his family can eat something after the alcoholic father left it (“01: Boardwalk Empire” par. 1).

Furthermore, the opportunities provided by Prohibition were used by other leaders of the criminal gangs in Atlantic City. Stanley states that “Boardwalk Empire is a ‘Ragtime’ of an adventure story that mixes fictional characters with real ones” (par. 9). The most historical characters such as Big Jim Colosimo (Frank Crudele) or Lucky Luciano (Vincent Piazza) are gangsters. They interact with each other with time yet not intensively. The following chart presents the detailed analysis of the key characters of this TV series.

Enoch “Nucky” Thompson James “Jimmy” Darmody Elias “Eli” Thompson
Age 59 23 54
Gender male male male
Job politician driver and bodyguard head of police
Income status over $500,000 non-identified high
Personality traits shrewd, charming, and corrupt grief-stricken, strong, and revengeful competitive, forceful, and prudent
Grooming habits short haircut slicked back undercut hairstyle short haircut
Garments / accessories worn camel ulster coat and red carnation Norfolk Jacket with a waistcoat conservative three-piece suit
Level of fashionability dandy and visionary develops with time good taste clothing

Enoch “Nucky” Thompson can be regarded as an example of a perfect style. First, it seems appropriate to list his typical clothing:

  • Costumes from Scottish wool plain, either stripes or squared. Solid single-breasted or double-breasted knee-length coat with a belt at the waist.
  • Pants with pleats and cuffed or without them.
  • Wool jackets, often with lapels and collar with the back of the lining fabric in a contrasting color or tone. Watch with chain.
  • Plain or striped shirts, often with a white collar and cuffs. Collars of different shapes, sometimes with rounded ends.
  • Pins for a collar as a mandatory element of the suit. Cufflinks in the cuffs of shirts and carnation in the breast pocket of the jacket.
  • Brogues shoes with perforation, either open-lacing or closed-lacing.

According to Stanley’s review, a style of Prince of Wales was used for designing a special wardrobe for Nucky Thompson (para. 12). It should be mentioned that the Prince had his own taste in clothes. He did not need tips of tailors like the rest of his contemporaries. The same can be said of such a bright individualist as Nucky. He has an innate sense of the perfect appearance and understands that others, looking at him, are likely to try to emulate and estimate his clothing. The demonstration of a strong character of a confident man was a daunting task, but the costumers of Boardwalk Empire resolved this issue brilliantly.

The epoch described in these TV series is characterized by a victory of hedonism, sex, unrestrained energy of jazz, and alcohol despite Prohibition. In this connection, clothing reflects all these features. Indeed, in those days, clothing could help to understand the person and his or her personality. For example, clothes made of coarse fabric and simple cut told about an ordinary guy and hard worker while a suit with decadent glamor from expensive tailor pointed to a gangster dealing with luxury. In women, one can note the same phenomenon.

The strict and exquisite clothes were a sign of women who made their own meals, and the handmade dresses with a scattering of jewelry belonged to gangsters’ women and showgirls. Furthermore, it is possible to suggest that this fashion tendency was caused by a desire to forget the years of the devastating horror of the First World War. By choosing bright clothes, people wanted to forget the painful memories and chronicle of the war. At this point, Atlantic City was an epicenter of the modernization.

In order to fully combine the main character and his costume in the series, the fabrics for sewing serial clothes were a full copy of those of the 1920s or originals. This was done not only due to the aspiration to believability but also to ensure a particular compatibility of the man and the costume. The key characteristic of the bold style of Nucky is a mix of garments and patterns in one image. Each time this is done with a very precise compliance with the 1920s style.

Likewise the Prince of Wales, Nucky dresses so that he immediately catches the eyes of the audience and stands out from the crowd. Both good taste and brightness in the clothes provide such an attitude of people. Nucky is a confident man who is at the peak of his criminal game. One of the distinctive features in his suits is a collar bar the wearing of which is not available for the other characters of the series at the behest of the costume designers. The shirts for Nucky had a special type of collar which was provided especially for the collar bar. Besides, in order to miss the tie through the hole resulting from the collar bar, the tie should be made by a particular node that was small in size.

From the above observations, it becomes clear that clothing of Nucky represents his personality in depth as well as communication practices. Nucky’s clothing proves that he is one of the most influential politicians of his time and one of the key players of a criminal game. Being a brother of the head of police, he uses this position to get money illegally. Nucky’s dandy style reflects his determination, rigidity, and alluring temptation. He says that “we have whiskey, wine, women, songs, and slot machines”, and this becomes a life motto matching with dress preferences.

However, Chilton argues that “he sold his soul for a piece of silver after talking a young, impressionable teenage girl into becoming the sex slave of a paedophile” (para. 5). This means that in spite of his excellent appearance, the male character gets his just deserts for all the actions. In any way, Nucky’s personality and clothing coincide in the main aspect of the character, in particular, in the capability of finding common ground with everyone and always being in the right place at the right time.

In my opinion, Boardwalk Empire lacks a female character acting as a competitor of the male protagonist. This improvement of the series is useful in order to introduce the conflict of diversity, namely, initial refusal to acknowledge female criminal authority. It can be 40-years-old American women with English roots and bright personality. Being the former housewife, Katherine Black can act as a politician and be the antagonist of Nucky. I guess that such actress as Keira Knightley perfectly suits this role due to both her appearance and experience (see Fig.1).

Keira Knightley.
Fig. 1. Keira Knightley (“Keira Knightley” par. 1).

This new character should be dressed accordingly as well. Likewise Nucky, Katherine would be fully aware of her sexuality and attractiveness and make every effort to show it to the audience through clothing. Margaret’s style can be a prototype yet needs to be improved (see Fig. 2).

Margaret and Nucky.
Fig. 2. Margaret and Nucky (Laverty par. 4).
Margaret and Nucky.
Fig. 2. Margaret and Nucky (Laverty par. 4).

The above images are taken from the Boardwalk Empire series and represent a mix of female clothes. I believe that the proposed character should implement rigor of the politician and female sexuality making the overall image comprehensive and versatile. As for the match-up between the price, fashionability, and modesty, this choice is quite suitable in the context of the fact that the creation of historical films always carries significant costs and should be complied with the epoch.

TV shows strive to reflect the time by using certain clothing that sometimes leads to stereotyping. However, this process is necessary for revealing the core values, tendencies, and other specific features. Therefore, TV series need stereotyping, yet it should be appropriate and limited to some extent.

Works Cited

“01: Boardwalk Empire.” HBO. HBO, n.d.

Chilton, Martin. “Boardwalk Empire: A Bittersweet Triumph of Television.” The Telegraph. The Telegraph, 2016.

“Keira Knightley.” IMDb. IMDb, n.d.

Laverty, Christopher. “Boardwalk Empire: Women of the Empire.” Clothes on Film. Clothes on Film, 2014.

Stanley, Alessandra. “Jersey Shore, the Early Years.” The New York Times. The New York Times, 2010.

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IvyPanda. (2020, August 26). TV Visual Analysis: Boardwalk Empire. Retrieved from https://ivypanda.com/essays/tv-visual-analysis-boardwalk-empire/

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"TV Visual Analysis: Boardwalk Empire." IvyPanda, 26 Aug. 2020, ivypanda.com/essays/tv-visual-analysis-boardwalk-empire/.

1. IvyPanda. "TV Visual Analysis: Boardwalk Empire." August 26, 2020. https://ivypanda.com/essays/tv-visual-analysis-boardwalk-empire/.


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IvyPanda. "TV Visual Analysis: Boardwalk Empire." August 26, 2020. https://ivypanda.com/essays/tv-visual-analysis-boardwalk-empire/.

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IvyPanda. 2020. "TV Visual Analysis: Boardwalk Empire." August 26, 2020. https://ivypanda.com/essays/tv-visual-analysis-boardwalk-empire/.

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IvyPanda. (2020) 'TV Visual Analysis: Boardwalk Empire'. 26 August.

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