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Twenty years after it first aired in 1999, The Sopranos is still considered one of the greatest television shows ever made. There are countless aspects that make it great — the writing, acting, directing, cinematography, etc. But personally, I don’t think the costumes are celebrated enough. What gives?
Other popular shows like Sex and the City and Mad Men may have had trendier or more elegant wardrobes, but the Sopranos characters are just as tuned in to high-fashion brands like Versace, Jimmy Choo, and Fendi. They also have an overwhelming passion for luxury and the power and beauty it embodies — so much that it informs a large number of the decisions they make. When Christopher Moltisanti sees a woman in Manolo Blahniks, for example, he decides to take her to bed.
More importantly, though, the characters on The Sopranos have an authentic sense of style that exists independent of trends and labels, fashion or otherwise. Costume designer Juliet Polcsa made a concerted effort to portray the Italian-American characters in a non-stereotypical way, and the result is a nuanced, six-season wardrobe that feels deeply personal. Sure, oftentimes the characters wear loud prints and flashy jewelry, but to describe The Sopranos’ style as “tacky” misses the point entirely, as nothing in the show is cheap or tasteless. Carmela, Adriana, Silvio — all the characters dress with personality, and that’s not something that can be said of everyone in fashion.
Below, an abridged appreciation of some of the best, most stylish moments on The Sopranos.
When we’re first introduced to Tony Soprano in the pilot episode, it’s the morning after he’s met with his therapist, Dr. Melfi. He wakes up and goes to get the paper in his bathrobe — a scene we’ll see over and over again throughout the series. Despite Tony being the boss, we get to see him at his most vulnerable and stripped-down. His bathrobe helps to portray him as human, or someone just like us.
We don’t know it yet in season one, episode four, but the cute and chubby A.J. Soprano grows into a “troubled” teen who gets high at his own confirmation party. He has so much misdirected anger and angst in the series that this Marilyn Manson T-shirt feels like a premonition. He’s also got an emo sensitivity to him, like when he reads “The Road Not Taken” by Robert Frost and is overcome by the meaninglessness of life.
When we first meet Dr. Melfi, she’s wearing a three-piece beige outfit that looks straight off the Max Mara runway. (In 1999.) Her constant rotation of monochromatic suits in the series read as a symbol of her level-headedness and how seriously she takes her practice. It’s this power that makes her both irresistible and unattainable to Tony Soprano. Even though she may be conflicted internally about her flirtatious mob boss of a patient, she looks steadfast on the surface.
Meadow Soprano prides herself on being the smartest, most worldly person in the room. She often turns her nose up at her New Jersey roots and what her father does for a living, making it her life goal to not only distance herself from her family, but also right their wrongs. This Churchills shirt, though, which she later wears to college, is a reference to the New Jersey–based indie pop/rock band, proving that she never really wanted to let go.
With his long, flowing hair, Italian accent, and gilded T-shirts, Furio Giunta is one of the more obviously stylish characters on the show. It’s no wonder he wins Carmela’s heart when he arrives from Naples. Still, he has trouble assimilating in America — and no wonder. His shirts don’t look like anyone else’s, and embody a sort of flamboyance that would only fly in the home country.
Carmela has a similar taste and appreciation for luxury as Adriana, but as the boss’s wife, she’s more serious looking. She also gets way more perks, including fur coats like the one Tony gives her in the finale of season two. Despite the couple’s differences, he always wins her back with the help of jewelry or Louis Vuitton wallets stuffed with cash — the same way he does with his many goomars. There’s something about the way Carmela envelops Tony in this coat, though, as she mounts herself on top of him, that makes it clear she’s the one in control.
Silvo is one of the more traditional consiglieres in Tony’s crew. Unlike the younger guys, who would prefer to be buried in their tracksuits, he’s also often dressed in a large suit and tie, with his hair coiffed. Actor Steven Van Zandt loved his looks so much, he reportedly took his full wardrobe home at the end of every season. Except in real life, he paid for it.
Paulie is also one of the old dogs, but unlike Silvio, he’s a bit more reckless, hence his preference for tracksuits. In the finale of season five, Tony pays Paulie an unexpected visit, and we see him wearing suspenders with his tracksuit, like he would an actual suit. Goes to show why the look was referred to locally as a “Bensonhurst Tuxedo.”
In episode seven of season two, Christopher is impressed by the Hollywood connections of his cousin Greg’s fiancée … and by her Manolo Blahniks. He knows just as much about high-fashion as Adriana, but is more turned-on by what it symbolizes, which is a rich life beyond New Jersey. Throughout the show, Christopher is always chasing something more, whether it’s designer shoes, a screenplay, drugs, or just respect.
There are so many incredible Adriana outfits to choose from. (Just ask the F.B.I agents spying on her.) But this catsuit from her final scene before getting whacked in season five feels like an apt embodiment of all of them. Adriana loved animal prints (and actual animals) so much, that some think the appearance of a cat in season six is a symbol for her spirit. But she’s fiercer than any living feline. RIP to a real one.
Honorable mention: Ralph Cifaretto’s scarves, because they so clearly signify he’s not a part of the family.