Forget the poker tournaments you see on TV for moment. Long before the hoodies, baseball hats, ugly oversized shirts, and cheap sunglasses – gamblers actually had style. Nowhere else has noteworthy men’s casino-style been more diversely represented than in film. When filmmakers look to create an image for their character, they take all factors into consideration including personal style. Filmmakers that created gambling, casino, or poker-themed movies paid close attention to style. In most cases, the style of their characters could be directly tied to the spirit of the times as well as the players’ personalities and how they played the game. Much of the men’s and women’s styles we’ve seen the following Five Style Defining Movies have permeated into mainstream looks.
#1 – Casino Royale (2006)
CASINO ROYALE – One of the more popular casino movies of recent years was the third screen adaptation of Casino Royale staring Daniel Craig as James Bond. The creators of the movie wanted to give Bond a charming and sophisticated look at the poker table to match the elaborate Casino Royale in Montenegro. As such, you saw Bond dressed to the nines in a classic black double breasted suit complete with a bow tie. This classic look almost seems cliché for a high stakes game, but it fit perfectly and just gave an added charm to Bond. The suits and tuxedos used in the film came from Brioni Roma, a leading Italian tailor. The shirts were hand made by one of London’s finest gentleman’s Savile Row outfitters, Turnbull and Asser and Bond’s shoes and boots were also hand made by London cobblers John Lobb Ltd. Even Bond’s undergarments were specially made by Sunspell, a menswear company based in Nottingham, England. In an interview, Bond costume designer Lindy Hemming described Bond’s style as a fine balance. “We want him to look contemporary but classic, too. These films last a long, long time and people look back at them and so you are trying to create a look that won’t date very quickly.”
#2 – Ocean’s 11 (1960)
OCEAN’S 11 – For some serious timeless casino-style, as good as the 2001 Clooney/Pitt remake was, go back to 1960 for the original Ocean’s 11 featuring infamous Rat Packers: Peter Lawford, Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, Sammy Davis, Jr., and Joey Bishop. This was the Mad Men style at its best long before Janie Bryant dressed up Jon Hamm as Don Drapper. In the move, a group of World War II veterans are recruited to Danny Ocean to rob five different Las Vegas casinos. This was a case of art imitating life, as costume designer Howard Shoup, enlisted the help of Los Angeles tailor to the stars Sy Devore, who had already been making the Rat Pack’s trademark skinny suits for years. Devore’s soft wool designs ignored the boxy flannel styles leftover from the 1950s for a new aesthetic that defined the 1960s man. Personal taste permeated on-screen as Dean Martin requested French cuffs and higher collars, while Frank Sinatra’s lapels had to be exactly two-and-one-quarter inches. Joey Bishop chose not to wear a suit at all, and spent most of the movie in slacks and sweaters. The well-tailored gang of thieves had a cohesive look of cool, effortless style. According to Rachel Chambers,”Ocean’s 11 shifted the traditional bad-boy role from scary to suave, and made it cool for men to care about clothes.”
#3 – The Cincinnati Kid (1965)
THE CINCINNATI KID – In the classic film The Cincinnati Kid, producers wanted to go in a different direction with their main star. Steve McQueen played ‘The Kid’, a crackerjack New Orleans stud poker player that wasn’t supposed to fit in with the rest of the people in his world. Starting with his outfit, McQueen was made to look the part. Set during the Great Depression, the movie’s cover set the tone of what McQueen’s image was supposed to be. Unlike The Kid, the gamblers have money, and silently, implicitly try to outdo each other in displays of riches. Money in their world is to be seen to be unimportant, and so it is lavished on embroidered waistcoats, silk gowns worn over their suits around the house and tie pins that glitter around the poker table. McQueen’s clothes reflect his status. He is the epitome of downbeat cool. For much of the film, we see him wearing a shawl-collared sweater with his shirt, instead of a jacket. When he goes out to a cockfight he wears a charcoal crew neck sweater underneath his grey suit. At the table, during the final game of the film, he wears a grey shirt and black knitted tie with the suit. A clean dapper look that works even today.
#4 – Casino (1995)
CASINO – This stylish non-fiction casino-themed film came off the heels of another successful 1990’s Scorsese mafia movie called Goodfellas. Based on the book of the same name, Casino chronicled the life of Sam Rothstein, a gambling handicapper who is called on by the mob to oversee operations at the fictional Tangiers Casino in Las Vegas. It’s a loosely based story on the very real Frank Rosenthal and his stint at the Stardust, Fremont and Hacienda casinos from the 1970s until the early 1980s. There is no better portrayal of 1970s fashion in gambling movie than what the costume and wardrobe team put together for Casino. Bold patterns and exaggerated collars and lapels synonymous with Tom Ford today, were par for the course in the 1970s. Vibrant silk shirts and synthetic material like polyester is everywhere in this movie. As great as the men looked in Casino, Sharon Stone’s character Ginger Rothstein steals the show. Scene after scene Stone wears everything from a parade of extravagant beaded gowns, sequins, lush fur, layered leather, striking hairstyles, and bold jewellery. A big budget and a talented design team allowed us to experience a style evolution for each of the characters as the movie progressed from the 1970s into the 1980s.
#5 – Maverick (1994) & The Gambler (1980)
MAVERICK & THE GAMBLER – Both Maverick, the comic movie adaptation of the TV series Mavericks featuring Mel Gibson and The Gambler featuring Kenny Rogers are great for highlighting a different era of gambling and style – the American Wild West. Playing a smart poker player, Maverick knew that you could use your table image as an advantage and his style was part of that. He showed up to the table in a simple looking suit. Later it was revealed that the shirt was actually fine silk from San Francisco, but the simplicity (in relative terms) of the outfit made him look like a sucker at the table. Maverick used this image to hustle and bleed the players dry. So impressive were the costumes in Maverick that the movie was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Costume Design. Now, we’re not advocating the women pick up corsets or the men scratchy wool suits, cowboy hats and bolo ties. These movies are just two great stylish examples of the beautiful fashion unique to that period.
Filmmakers understand very well the concept of ‘clothes making the man’ and develop the wardrobe for their men (and women) in a way that helped to define their characters and tell the story. As in real life, how we dress tells a lot about who we are as a person so it makes sense that filmmakers use the same concept to tell great stylish stories.
In collaboration with Courtney Black