At the wedding, Michael’s father Vito Corleone is immaculately attired in three-piece
formalwear and floral boutonniere, but for the remainder of the movie, Vito’s dress is earthy, tweedy, rustic -
befitting of a simple, elderly gentleman from the Sicilian countryside. Having grown up wealthy in New York and
attended a good college, Michael’s taste is more urbane. After his father has fallen victim to an assassination
attempt, he wears an expensive-looking brown overcoat while guarding his
injured dad’s hospital alongside impromptu security escort, Enzo the Baker. Subsequently, we discover that beneath
the coat, he’s sporting what his brother Sonny very accurately describes as a “nice Ivy League suit” — brown
corduroy sports coat and contrasting slacks, with a striped tie and Oxford cotton button-down shirt.
Michael’s dressed in much the same shirt and tie when whacking out the man
responsible for his father’s shooting, drug kingpin Sollozzo and his crooked cop muscle, McCluskey — but has swapped
the collegiate corduroy for a “strictly business” grey flannel three-piece suit. It’s a subtle change, but speaks
volumes about where he’s headed, straddling the middle ground between Ivy League legit professional and La Cosa
Nostra killer. Going into hiding in southern Italy when the heat’s on afterwards, Michael adopts the garb of the
Sicilian countryside: flat cap, laid-back
band-collar shirt and waistcoat, the pinstripe pattern of which hints at his city-boy origins.
For his marriage to doomed Sicilian beauty Apollonia Vitelli, Michael rightly eschews
a tux (it’s a daytime ceremony), instead donning a black double-breasted suit with white shirt, slim black tie and
white floral boutonniere. Following Apollonia’s car-bomb slaying and the brutal killing of his big brother Sonny,
Michael returns to America, marries Kay, has a couple of kids, and as heir apparent to the family business, begins
to feel the weight of the world on his shoulders, which are now almost exclusively clad in grey, businesslike
three-piece suits. Don Vito eases into retirement - and its obligatory uniform of comfortable cardigans - while
Michael (now frequently seen in that gangster staple, the homburg hat) prepares to wipe out the competition and
consolidate the Corleone family’spower.
This his soldiers do with ruthless efficiency as Michael professes to “renounce Satan
and all his works” while standing as godfather at his nephew’s baptism, looking thoroughly Mephistophelean in a grey
double-breasted suit and black-and-silver striped, smooth silk tie. He’s in the
same get-up, with the tie loosened and the jacket removed to reveal suspenders, at the film’s conclusion — wearing
shirtsleeves in his home office while his fully suited underlings come to pledge allegiance to the freshly-minted
‘capo dei capi’ of the Five Boroughs. The symbolism is potent indeed — as is so often the case, the most
dressed-down man in the room is also the most powerful.
But as stated at the start, this movie is not the portrait of a Mafioso. It’s the
story of a man who has responsibilities thrust upon him, is forced to change, adapt, compromise and do things he
doesn’t necessarily want to in order to take care of his family. You don’t need to be a Godfather to identify with
that. Just a dad.