5 Style Lessons We Can Learn from Francis Ford Coppola’s Characters

From Marlon Brando’s gangster gear to Martin Sheen’s military wear, take a style cue from one of Coppola’s film characters this season

April 12, 2021 10:49 am
Director Francis Ford Coppola relaxes on the set of "The Godfather," 1974
Director Francis Ford Coppola relaxes on the set of "The Godfather," 1974

As the recipient of five Academy Awards, six Golden Globes, two Palmes d’Or and a BAFTA, it’s safe to say that Francis Ford Coppola knows a thing or two about cinema. First acquiring success through the release of his fantasy film, Finian’s Rainbow, in 1968, Coppola’s five-decade career (and counting) has seen him branch into pretty much every movie genre: crime, drama, horror, romance, you name it — and such a range of fictional settings means that, from a style point of view, his films are a leading point of call for menswear lessons.

The most obvious point of reference is, of course, The Godfather: Coppola’s esteemed film series which elevated tailored ensembles to an entirely new level thanks to Marlon Brando, Al Pacino and Robert De Niro (more on that shortly). But in fact, tailoring is the least of Coppola’s on-screen style capabilities, as one look through his archives confirms that his male protagonists don everything from formalwear to outerwear to military gear to double denim. In short, his films incidentally tick every essential section of a masculine wardrobe, and most importantly, they make a case for how to carry clothing with serious pizazz.   

So we’ve delved into the aforementioned topic of style on his screen. Herewith, five of his best-dressed characters and the key items to steal from their wardrobes…

Marlon Brando in The Godfather
Marlon Brando in The Godfather

Marlon Brando’s spearpoint shirt in The Godfather (1972)

First thing’s first: The Godfather. Arguably Coppola’s most celebrated film, the 1972 crime drama took its influence from Mario Puzo’s 1969 novel of the same name, but Coppola brought a vision to it that unveiled some of the greatest tailoring cinema has ever seen. Most obviously, through, the Godfather himself: Vito Corleone, played by Marlon Brando. A round of applause for every garment he wears is deserved, but praise in particular goes to his crisp white, spearpoint collar shirts: sharp, structured and assertive. This is the swiftest way to amplify a well-crafted suit, and for a touch of Corleone pizazz, make sure a patterned tie sits at the centre. 

Martin Sheen on the set of the film Apocalypse Now
Martin Sheen on the set of the film Apocalypse Now
Getty/Broadway & Sons

Martin Sheen’s military gear in Apocalypse Now (1979)

Style may have not been a priority for Martin Sheen in Apocalypse Now, but that’s not to say his clothing was bad. Quite the opposite, in fact. Being thrown into the middle of a war zone meant that camouflage was his main look, and Sheen’s roughed up way of wearing his gear resulted in an unintentionally stylish case for military attire. The standout item has got to be his woodland shirt, which, in a booming summer environment (hopefully the case for us this year), is best partnered with straight-cut white jeans and suede desert boots. Just make sure to leave it a little loose and unbuttoned for maximum Sheen effect. 

Gene Hackman on the set of The Conversation
Gene Hackman on the set of The Conversation

Gene Hackman’s car coat in The Conversation (1974)

Coppola’s cinematic 1974 hit was The Conversation, a mystery thriller that follows surveillance agent Harry Caul (played by Gene Hackman) on the tail of a young couple through San Francisco. It’s well worth a watch for Coppola’s masterful delve into technology and paranoia, but also for Gene Hackman’s classic detective wardrobe. Leather oxfords, twill tailored trousers and button-down shirts are sealed with a beige, single-breasted car coat — the most effortless piece of outerwear to turn to, regardless of the season and year. And with that timelessness in mind, there’s only one brand to buy it from (new or old): Burberry.

Robert De Niro in The Godfather
Robert De Niro in The Godfather
Getty/Edward Sexton

Robert De Niro’s flamboyant tailoring in The Godfather Part II (1974)

The release of The Godfather in 1972 was so successful that Coppola immediately jumped onto a sequel, and just two years later, his leading gangsters were back to serve some serious scandals in style. Al Pacino stood at the center of the Corleone empire, but our wardrobe shoutout from this one has got to go to Robert De Niro for his immaculate, flamboyant suits. Just look at those curved peak lapels in the scene above for proof. Similar to the kind you see by the likes of Edward Sexton, a touch of verve in your tailoring will ensure some serious fun post-pandemic (just as long as it’s legal; leave the criminality to Coppola’s characters).

Rob Lowe, Thomas C. Howell, Patrick Swayze, and Tom Cruise on the set of The Outsiders
Getty/Mr Porter

Everyman Americana in The Outsiders (1983)

And on a final note, The Outsiders. It’s difficult to choose one single character from Coppola’s 1983 teen drama because its central gang of boys (officially known as the “Greasers”) are united by a shared approach to style — casual, kicked around in and dominated by one texture in particular: denim. As an easy signifier of American fashion, each character embraces the fabric in jean form, and it’s partnered with a multitude of other classic garments: from leather jackets to plaid shirts to crew neck tees and denim waistcoats. Brawls aside, this one is sure to change your mind on the double denim dilemma, and if you’re anything like us, you’ll be embracing it all summer long. 

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