Stanley Kubrick said it was possibly the greatest movie ever made. The Academy awarded it three Oscars. And critics wrote that it was the “the most brutal and moving chronicles of American life ever designed.” Francis Ford Coppola’s The Godfather opened today back in 1972. The story of an aging mafia Don (Marlon Brando) who gives control of the family “business” to his reluctant son (Al Pacino) became a milestone in American filmmaking. There are no accidental choices in Coppola’s film, including those from award-winning costume designer Anna Hill Johnstone. We revisit some of The Godfather’s most iconic fashion statements, below.
Michael Corleone’s suits are instrumental in portraying the character’s rise to power. His plain look and brown, or lighter-colored suits, at the start of the film reflect his disconnect from his father’s clandestine operation and the gangster lifestyle. But as the film progresses, we see Michael in darker, expensive attire (those fantastic three-piece suits), signifying his transition into a life of crime and corruption.
The felt homburg hat became a staple of Godfather fashion. Perhaps it’s no mistake that the hat’s characteristic center dent is known as a “gutter crown,” signifying the negative reputation of mobsters. (Coppola had reservations about accepting directorial duties for The Godfather, because he didn’t want to glorify the violence associated with the mafia and Italians in general. Coppola’s family hails from Southern Italy, too.) Michael’s hat brought the homburg back into style for a time. To this day, the homburg is known as “the Godfather hat.”
A lot has been written about the use of orange in The Godfather, including the use of the fruit, to suggest that death is imminent. Here, Gianni Russo’s Carlo wears orange before being attacked by James Caan’s Sonny Corleone.
In the case of Diane Keaton’s Kay, orange is used as a way to separate her from the criminal underworld she becomes embroiled in. Kay is an outsider — not only because she’s not Italian, but because she’s a woman. And outsiders are not to be trusted in this world.
Johnstone wanted to portray the Don as he was: a straightforward and simple man. She altered the Don’s outfit with slight touches like a shirt with an awkwardly large collar, a tie knotted backwards so the label was peeking out, and a belt worn below the loops. Brando’s own fashion suggestions were also important in shaping his character’s personality.
The long, double-breasted, wool overcoat that Brando’s Vito Corleone and Michael wear has been associated with mobsters since the 1920s. Michael’s is more luxe than his father’s, symbolizing a transfer of power from old to new.