Better get your ties on, because it’s time to talk about Gangster Squad.
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For those of you who know me well, you’ll know that my view on suits during my youth was limited to James Bond and Barney Stinson, both of which are rather boring style icons. It was only until around 2013 where things began to jumpstart my interest in vintage (and by extension classic menswear): Dapper Day, The Great Gatsby, and Gangster Squad. Oh boy, how formative they were; if the former two created my dandy side, it was GS that actually made me look for the more rugged, lived-in, vintage aesthetic.
Now GS (as I will affectionately call it), like The Great Gatsby, is not a good film. It is, however, a guilty pleasure of mine, filled with marginally okay vintage style (better that Gatsby), cheesy meme-able dialogue, a Zimmer-clone score, and a some generic action. I fucking love GS.
Set in 1949, it dramatizes the response of the LAPD to Mickey Cohen (played by Sean Penn) and his gang. Tired of the corruption and crime, Chief Parker (Nick Nolte) creates a covert group of cops to combat Cohen under the radar, rules be damned. Nick named “The Gangster Squad”, Sgt. O’Mara (Josh Brolin) leads a rag tag group of good cops to fight guerilla warfare against Cohen and his “El Dorado Trust”. things are further complicated when one of the cops, Jerry Wooters (Ryan Gosling) falls for Grace Faraday, one of Cohen’s girls.
There’s that whole “based on true events” caption at the beginning of the film, but you just know that this film isn’t all too accurate. One glaring example was that Cohen is arrested in the film after a huge fight the GS; in reality, he was convicted of tax evasion and died of stomach cancer. If you can’t already tell, the movie is far more action packed and “fun” than the real life story!
Now the costuming in this film isn’t too bad. That’s mainly because the designers approached it more as a “period piece” instead of the modern-ish retelling a-la Gatsby. was the costume designer, who has worked on films ranging from Indiana Jones & The Kingdom of the Crystal Skull (an underrated film tbh) to True Grit and La La Land. There are a few interviews that should give you some info on her approach: Esquire, Yahoo UK, Celebuzz.
In general, they took a lot of inspiration from actual vintage style. In her interviews Mary Zophres points out her use of the broad shoulders, wide legs, short ties, and fedoras in order to evoke period correct style. She does say that they used a few true vintage pieces, but most of the pieces worn in the film were custom made and mass produced (for stunts). Zophres also states that while they looked at true vintage photos and Mickey Cohen’s expansive closet (he owned a haberdashery), the costuming team decided to go in a different direction.
Zophres also made the interesting choice to diffrentiate styles of the GS and Mickey Cohen/Gangsters. For the villains, she wanted them to appear more “stylish”, so they’re almost always in double breasted pinstripe suits, long collars, and bolder ties. The cops on the other hand have a more utilitarian approach, perhaps to evoke their military roots. The titular Gangster Squad wear non-flashy single breasted jackets, striped/checked ties, and prefer earth tones overall. Both parties wear fedoras, though Cohen’s gang typically opt for dressier ones while the GS wear more grounded, western-esque ones.
Some of the outfits do fall into legitimate costume territory. Hell, there’s even a guy wearing an all black suit, black shirt, black fedora, and a contrasting white tie/hatband; it’s like straight out of Party City. You can see that some of the suits are a bit baggy and that despite the trousers having proper rise, the actors aren’t wearing them as high as they should be. Also, if we’re being picky (which we usually are) the SB jacket lapels are shaped a bit oddly for the period. But overall, it’s not super terrible. In fact, it’s pretty damn good for being a period action flick. In particular, the sportshirts are done extremely nicely.
It’s definitely miles ahead of Live By Night, which is a fashion abomination (and perhaps a future subject for this series).
Before we look deep into the film’s outfits, let’s look at the menswear in the late 1940s and early 1950’s. Suits during this time were broader than the decades that preceded it, giving way to the masculine, “bold look” that would define the first half of the 1950s. Shoulder pads became excessive, lapels widened, button stances got lower (a very important detail), and hollywood waist/pleated trousers became the norm. Basically, everything got bigger.
Spearpoint collars were still being worn, though regular point collars (that lacked the spearpoint’s trademark curve) were growing in popularity. Plain shirts were soon replacing stripes. And most interestingly, ties were going through some drastic changes. Obviously foulards and stripes were common, but the new fad was the bolder, more abstract designed ones, also called “swing ties”. These worked best with the plain shirts, which maybe why they were seldom worn with striped ones. Later on, designs got more vertical, drawing the eye up through the elongated silhouette of the 1950’s “bold look”.
Casual wear (or sportswear) was really taking off during this time. If men weren’t wearing dress shirts and ties, they were wearing the sport shirt, noted for its wide, flat laying collar that lacked a neckband. Worn with slacks or jeans, they were the catchall shirt; some guys even wore them with sportcoats for a slightly more formal look.
With that said, short jackets were also common for the time, worn with tees, sportshirts, or dress shirts + ties. They varied in design and material throughout the years, but they provided the basis for that RL windbreaker that you typically see in streetwear now.
Sometimes I forget how cartoonish actual vintage style can be. Just look at that insanely bold suit on Mickey “Mouse” Cohen.
I’m not super versed in American crime history, so I can’t talk much about “Mistah Cohen”, one of the biggest gangsters in LA’s history. I do know from reading the Gangster Squad book years ago, that in addition to his crime family, he was a haberdasher and had an affinity for clothing. You can kinda tell his style by looking at some of his pictures: wide brimmed fedoras, high rise hollywood waist trousers, grey DB suits in a bold cut, and wild swing ties. Overall, it’s pretty much what you’d expect from a well dressed guy in the late 1940s to mid 1950s .
The film actually does a great job with Mickey Cohen, opting for a rather subdued look instead of the full “zoot suit” method.
In a majority of his scenes, Cohen wears DB suits, usually unfastened to show his idgaf attitude. True to both historical style and the real life guy, GS’s Cohen wears long spearpoint collars, though it could also be a stealthy reference to the Goodfellas collar. It actually makes Cohen look pretty cool and contrasts him among the other characters, like the cops and his fellow gangsters. Unfortunately, there aren’t many scenes with a full body shot of his suit, but it seems to be cut fairly well, without the huge shoulder padding that we can see on the real life Cohen.
It’s hard to see in most screencaps, but Mickey does wear some two-tone shoes. They aren’t in the typical captoe or wingtip configuration and are instead more like a 1950s/60s blucher style.
One thing in particular that I liked was the use of fairly standard geometric ties. I’m probably remembering incorrectly, but this may be one of the reason I started to like geometric ties (dots and foulards included). This, along with the fairly conservative suit helps Cohen not look like he’s wearing a costume. Sure, the long spearpoint collar (it has be at least 4″) is weird, but it’s not too weird. It fits in with the period of the film (1949, instead of the 1950’s when he was actually arrested).
He doesn’t really deviate from this “uniform”, with a few suits changing in color and adding his grey fedora from time to time.
See, Mickey Cohen actually doesn’t look that bad! It’s a bit plain, with just a plain suit, white shirt, and patterned tie, but its fine. Not everyone has to be in a striped shirt + patterned tie.
Also props to the costumers for giving him a suit that has a great width on the buttons. Most modern DB jackets tend to have a narrow width which isn’t really period accurate. The wide set buttons emphasize the bold, draped cut of the suit and accented well by the lapels.
In the final scene, where Cohen get his ass kicked by O’Mara, we can get a better look at some of his details. First of, this might be the first time he wears are more dated tie: a vertical geometric motif swing tie.
I’m glad that his trousers are high rise, but they made the odd choice of giving him really large belt loops. While I’m sure that I’ve seen similar true vintage ones, they were definitely not this wide (if they were, it was typically westernwear). Also, I’m pretty sure that Cohen would’ve worn pleats, but flat fronts are okay too. The thin suspenders are a great touch, as this width and the Y-shaped fasteners make things look a bit more uniquely old school (as they are uncommon details on modern suspenders).
The one thing I don’t like about his attire (and by extension, the costuming of the whole film) is how matchy-matchy everything is. Sure, he wears a dark colored suit and red tie once or twice in the film, but his most iconic ones is when he wears a grey fedora, suit, and tie all in the same shade. It becomes more apparent that it’s a costume.
The coolest part of Cohen’s wardrobe was seeing his lounge wear/pajamas, a piece of clothing you seldom see in period films (or any for that matter). Mickey typically wears a matching set, which definitely alludes to his affluent life. The first time we see him in it, its when he’s surveying the damage done to his baby, the El Dorado Trust. The shirt is done particularly well, with a wide, drooping loop collar, a nice monogram, and a decorative sewed knot detail on the right side. I actually really like it and would love to find vintage ones with details like this; it makes them look more interesting than just a plain “1950’s dad” one.
The Gangster Squad
Like I said earlier, the “good guys” were dressed in a way to contrast the sharp, double breasted suits of Mickey Cohen and his gang. I think that’s a pretty smart move, similar to how in the show Suits (which I have only seen one episode from), the experienced Harvey Specter wears suits with wide/sharp peak lapels to contrast Michael’s standard notch lapels, which lends an air of novice. Who coulda thunk that costuming could tell so much about a character?
Slubby, “normal” 3-button, single breasted suits are the uniform of choice for the Gangster Squad. The earth tones (browns, greys) bring a sense of militaria to the Squad, which I’m sure is the point, as these veterans are waging guerrilla warfare on Cohen’s gang. These are just regular good guys who are fighting for the “soul of Los Angeles”.
They don’t got time for DB suits and spectator shoes.
Sgt. O’Mara (played by Thanos himself), is the leader of the group and wears perhaps the most
boring grounded attire. I’m pretty sure that he wears the exact same suit and shirt during the entire film. It does look pretty plain, but what stood out to me most was the peculiar tannish-pink shirt O’Mara wore. The reasoning finally hit me later: it’s most likely a subtle reference to the “pinks and greens” uniform worn by the Army during WWII. You’ll also note that Sarge’s shirt collar is a modest in size, being a relatively standard point collar rather than the exaggerated spearpoints worn by the gangsters.
Sarge’s fedora is actually quite nice. Wide brim, tall crown, with a good pinch ensures that it looks classic, akin to what Cody Wellema does for a lot of his more vintage-inclined clients. It refrains from being too Indiana Jones-y and defintiely doesn’t look too much like costume, like the ones worn in the 70’s Gatsby film or Live by Night. The latter gets the shape horridly wrong.
The main thing that O’Mara does change is his striped ties. They’re almost always the same simple style: brown, with a contrasting green or red diagonal stripe. They aren’t exactly the preppy rep stripes we’ve come to know from Ivy-trad or Drake’s, but they’re still nice to see. In fact, I ended up buying a few vintage, earth-toned striped ties just because of this movie!
Up next we have the “sheep in wolf’s clothing”, Jerry Wooters played by Ryan Gosling, the actor with dynamic range. Now Jerry is an interesting case, because he’s a bit different from the other cops. He has some contacts in the underworld (and by that I mean he’s only seen talking to one guy who doesn’t do anything bad) and has idgaf, laid back attitude. This is clearly shown in the first outfit we see him in.
Contrasting the more formal (and somber) Sarge, Wooters wears a more coloful separates combo consisting of another “pinks” shirt (in a sportshirt style), light brown jacket, and RAF blue trousers. If you look closely, you’ll find that the trousers have a hollywood waist/dropped loops. With the thick belt and lack of pleats, the effect is lessened, but it’s nice to see that the costumers took did that extra detail.
Again, the design of sportshirts in this movie are done remarkably well. Like with the ties, seeing Wooters in these is what lead me to start collecting them. He doesn’t do the runaway collar, but that’s perfectly fine; it looks pretty good worn under a sportcoat without that little idiosyncrasy.
I will say that his fedoras are not nearly as good as O’Mara’s. They seem to be a bit streamlined and a bit too modern/tacky. They also seem to be a bit more casual/western influenced by having a slimmer ribbon.
Oddly enough, when he clocks out for the day he switches from loop collars and sport coats to three piece suits.
For full suiting, Wooters is decidedly a bit more gangster-ish. He wears double breasted suits, perhaps due to the fact that we don’t know where his loyalties lie. That might not be an accurate statement, as his biggest issue is apathy rather than a real inclination to crime. Again, it could also be simply because his best friend Jack Whalen is also a gangster and is a member of the Dragna family. He doesn’t change into the single breasted earth-tone suits/sportcoats until after he makes his decision to join the Gangster Squad.
Like Mickey Cohen, Wooters’ sartorial attire is all about matching which I definitely hate. The suits and hat are all the exact same shade, which makes him look like a color blocking costume. He also shares the gangster’s affinity for spearpoint collars, though his is not nearly as long or pointed as Cohen’s.
Lastly, Wooters likes to keep things fashionable with his ties. All of his ties (even after switching firmly to the good guys) feature some bold 1940s-50s designs. It’s a bit all over the place, as the first one we see is a slim floral motif one (worn with his green pinstripe suit) while later one it’s a more straight forward swing tie. Slimmer ties were more common in the late 50’s, so it’s a bit odd.
I’ve gotta say this might be one of the most horrible outfits of the film: a red sportshirt under a grey waistcoat (presumably from a 3PC suit)? Hell no. Harsh color combos like this are definite costume territory. Even if it was worn back in the day, it’s still not good. It’s like he went to prom with a girl who was wore a red dress and insisted that he match.
Despite being super matchy-matchy, the cut of his suits isn’t too bad. The shoulders aren’t overly padded (which might be a mistake for period accuracy, but it’s fine for this contemporary film), the peak lapels are nice and wide, and the buttons are spaced adequately for the period. It’s also cool to notice that while the button stance is low (par for the course in 40s-50s suits), the suit is cut well, which prevents it from looking like an 80s-90s suit. I personally prefer earlier cut suits due to the higher button stance (which I think is more flattering on everyone), but that’s jut me.
I rather like his style when he’s not in a suit. It’s definitely relaxed but much more accessible in an almost Bryceland’s way, as Ethan Newton and Kenji Cheung tend to wear sportshirts, western fedoras, and high rise trousers in a contemporary way. There may or may not be some old embarrassing pictures of me trying to emulate this look.
In the picture above, you can also see the weird notch shape that is present across all the SB jackets. The notch line opening doesn’t follow the lapel/collar line, which results in a fishmouth style of lapel that is a bit jarring to the time period. These changes are always present in film costuming, as they try to make modern (or simply unique) updates to period clothing so that it isn’t too serious or dated. Unfortunately, it just ends up looking weird to vintage and menswear enthusiasts.
I think that seeing Jerry’s separates outfit (specifically the one he wears when he meets Emma Stone at Clifton’s Cafeteria) was one of the reasons why I wanted 30s-40s houndstooth tweed jackets. He wears them expertly and it never looks too dated apart from the tie. I personally would’ve had a darker trouser for more contrast, but perhaps the muted combination puts him firmly in the Gangster Squad camp.
The cloth looks passable, though it appears to be more of a wool-silk mix, similar to what you’d see in an 80s-90s movie. The costumers did say that they used vintage fabric, but anything before the 2000s is considered vintage now.
In one scene, Wooters wears a plaid wool short jacket. I’m used to calling these “mackinaws”” as that was the catchall term used for similarly designed buffalo plaid jackets (though the most common color was red). I wish we got to see more of how it looked, but as far as I can see, it’s a blue/grey plaid with a zip front and twin breast pockets. It’s probably based on these 1950’s designs, as older ones tended to follow peacoat designs.
Here we can see the full effect of Ryan’s attire. You can see that the sportshirt is probably the best part of his outfit. The fedora still has that odd shape; I’m certain it’s the taper of the crown, which makes it look a bit too short angular, something that results in him looking more like a Goorin Bros. sales associate rather than say a staffer at Bryceland’s.
The trousers are high rise with dropped loops, but the lack of pleats makes for a weird block look at the crotch. I always tend to prefer pleats on high rise since it makes that part look more interesting and less uniform. The trousers are extremely baggy and seem to have more in common with a pair of 90s chinos rather than the clean cut vintage trousers you see in illustrations and photographs. It’s most likely due to the thinner material (it doesn’t drape well) and a too-long length.
Robert Patrick plays Max Kennard, a cop who looks like he came straight out of the wild west. This isn’t just limited to his wide cowboy hat; the waistcoat, long mac, and holster give him an updated gunslinger vibe. If there was a dieselpunk cowboy, it would be Kennard.
It’s cool to see the costumers give him that cowboy/sheriff look by using what are largely normal pieces of menswear. He still wears regular dress shirts and vintage ties instead of snap shirts and bolos, so it’s technically wearable, though I wouldn’t ever wear what he does.
The rest of the characters (Navidad and Harris, played by Michael Peña and Anthony Mackie respectively) don’t really have much personal style other than the regular brown, grey, and burgundy color schemes that define their sartorial style. I did notice that Navidad prefers a belt while Harris wears suspenders.
Even if its not particularly interesting, it still accomplishes that “vintage look” without delving deep into costume territory.
I really liked Con Keeler’s style. Giovanni Ribisci played the veteran intelligence officer, who helps bug Cohen’s house and often deals with shutting off alarms.
When we first see him, he’s in a quintessential 40s/50s dad outfit: bakelite frames, slacks, and a fun short sleeve sport shirt worn over a white crewneck undershirt. It’s definite summer vibes.
Keeler has a preference in ties, opting for diagonally checked ones. It contrasts Wooter’s bold designs, O’Mara’s stripes, and the geometrics worn by Harris and Navidad. Spencer and I used to like ties like these and while we own a few, I actually find them hard to wear considering my preference for striped shirts and patterned jackets.
Keeler also gets to show off a cool gabardine short jacket,which he wears a few times in the film. It definitely adds to that dad vibe he has, as it’s very similar to the wind breakers worn in the 90s. Unlike those 90s ones, this one has a wide collar and a chest zip pocket. You can see Spencer wear a similar one in this old Inspiration LA post.
Gab short jackets are cool if you like a more casual take on the 1940s/50s aesthetic that doesn’t require a sportcoat.
The picnic scene is a cool one because it shows a lot of great casual wear. And by that I mean just sportshirts and slacks, which was the “sportswear” of the time. Funnily enough, the only ones not in sportshirts are Kennard (who perpetually looks like a cowboy) and the Sarge who simply wears a dress shirt sans tie. Aside from them, everything looks particularly period accurate in a natural way.
Even though Wooters looks great, it just looks like Ryan Gosling put on his regular clothes. It could be the slightly more modern shape of the sun glasses, but its really just the power of classic clothing (and that includes the fedora, which falls into the silverbelly category of my article). Back in the day, I kept going back to this screencap just to get me to buy more sportshirts and obtain a more casual fedora. And you guys should know that I succeeded.
You’ll probably see similar looks from me and the Gooch Brothers (and other friends) during the whole summer.
Now I have a love/hate relationship with the style of Cohen’s gang in the film. Obviously, the double breasted suits are more interesting than the single breasted ones worn by the Gangster Squad. Obviously, this is done on purpose by the costuming dept. to separate the two groups. You’ll also notice that the baddies’ suits have more patterns (pinstripes specifically) and much more fashion-y ties.
Only a few guys really stand out to me while the others tend to almost look like Party City kits.
The first gangster we see is actually one of the better dressed ones, outside of Cohen. He wears a brown pinstripe double breasted suit, spearpoint shirt, and a fun swing tie. It’s super 1940’s and doesn’t look too weird; it probably helps that he just has that “vintage look”.
I don’t have a picture of it here, but he also wore spectator shoes.
Man, there are so many things that inspired me from this film! I was intrigued by his suspenders, which were so different than the normal ones we normally see. The back was the most interesting part; instead of the typical Y-fork at the back, these braces actually have two separate lines of elastic for each button. Wild stuff!
I mentioned this back during Cohen’s break down, but its worth mentioning as this character was the first person chronologically to be seen wearing them in the film.
Now, like I said, only a few gangsters actually have good style. The others leave much to be desired. You can see in the picture above that they go full “gangster costume” by having them wear dark suits with dark shirts and a bold tie. I’m sure that a few guys did it back in the day, but to me, it just seems like a dumb 90s gangster flick rather than straight period clothing.
Please refrain from doing this if you’re interested in wearing vintage clothing (or even inspired style) in the modern day.
Wrevock (the “killer”, named by Jack Whalen) is perhaps the absolute worst dressed in the film. With his black pinstripe suit, black shirt, white tie/pocket square, and matching wide brimmed fedora, he is literally the poster child for a cheap halloween gangster costume. With the scarred eye, a towering figure, and bloody death, his film presence is almost completely comical.
Burbank police chief Elmer Jackson gets a small scene, where he threatens Sarge and more specifically, Harris, calling him “boy” in a demeaning and racially charged manner. I think it’s interesting that in this scene, they have Elmer wear a panama hat and bowtie, making him look a bit like a racist Southern plantation owner. A pretty neat costuming detail!
Jack Whalen is Dragna’s ace and Jerry’s friend. Even though he’s technically a gangster (who fixes races), he doesn’t do anything explicity bad and helps out Jerry and Grace a few times. As such, he’s dressed pretty similarly to Wooters except that he was in a single breasted suit the whole film. You can see that he also shares Wooter’s affinity for slim, bold ties.
He also gets to wear a nice sport shirt near the end of the film when he decides to help the cops hide Grace, perhaps mirroring Wooters’ casual style. Again, I’ve gotta hand it to the costuming department in making these casual shirts. Even though they’re new and made today, they look pretty damn close to vintage ones.
There’s not a lot of focus on non-cop/gangsters in the film, but you can still find nuggets of good style! One in particular is Con Keeler’s son. I swear, this kid has the coolest stuff, from his plaid sport shirts and vintage sweaters to his wide legged denim with flannel lining. I could definitely see Pink Ployd wearing all of this.
Lastly, we have a zoot suit, worn by a heroin dealer that Harris appre-hands. Now, true vintage zoot suits were exaggerated, but this one looks like it was straight out of The Mask. This probably because of the suit’s yellow color and the fact that the cloth looks very smooth. Add in the black shirt and wild swing tie and you get more of an 90s caricature. The funny thing is that this character is the only one in a zoot suit at the club; the next time we see him, he’s in a normal suit. Perhaps it was simply a night life outfit for him instead of the cultural rebellion it actually was.
Okay, I know this movie is silly and couldn’t tell what vibe it wanted; it would’ve been so much better if it embraced the silliness and was more like The Nice Guys (which also has Ryan Gosling), instead of trying to be…whatever it ended up being. But I love it. It’s such dumb fun with a snappy faux-vintage dialogue, Ryan Gosling’s whiney voice, and gratuitous violence (that isn’t even that gorey).
The style, as you can see, isn’t all too bad. It’s not on Downton Abbey or Imitation Game level, but it’s not as horrible as it could have been (I’m looking at you, Live By Night), save for a few characters like Wrevock. I’m sure you can see how this defined the young Ethan’s style, way back in 2013. Above all, I think the casual style is pretty on point, with all the high rise trousers and sportshirts. I’m telling you, that Wooters BBQ look is pretty damn good and will probably define a few of my summer looks.
It was pretty fun getting to look back at this dumb/fun film and I heavily recommend it to you guys if you feel like having a laugh with your friends. Alcohol may or may not be necessary.
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Always a pleasure,
Street x Sprezza
If you enjoyed this movie, might I recommend Bugsy Malone, or Johnny Dangerously? Both are on the decidedly less serious side of the spectrum, the former is a children’s musical starring Michael Jackson, Scott Baio, and Jodie Foster, amongst others with wonderful musical scenes and highly amusing if campy music and dialogue, the latter, stars Michael Keaton and a whole slew of other wonderful largely character actors who you may recall from other late 80s to early 90s camp and comedy films. I highly recommend both of them for amusement. The bizarre mobsters are over the top good fun and laughable. The entire movie is a send up and take off on the 1920s and 1930s James Cagney and Humphrey Bogart mobster films with overtones of Edward G. Robinson here and there.
By the by, for a sincere and outstanding mobster film with exceptional costuming which I know that you will love and appreciate and with exceptional acting to boot, might I suggest Key Largo? It is imminently quotable, and re-watchable. I have been watching it regularly (3-5 times yearly) since I was about 9. I’m 33 now, so you have some idea…..It stars Humphrey Bogart, Lauren Bacall, Edward G. Robinson (my mother met him back in the 60s watching the Beatles at the Hollywood Bowl, and she said that he was just as much of a callous creep as his on screen gangster roles), and Lionel Barrymore (Drew Barrymore’s grandfather). The performances are all tight and Perfect! The cinematography is exceptional and I hope that you will enjoy it. The costuming, as I said, while full of tropes and stereotypes of the time is Iconic. I particularly like the necktie worn by E.G. R. I forget the maker, they are referenced in one of the Flusser books, and his Beautiful slim line Western Detailed belt, which a mime of is being sold through the Armoury at present, and which I made for myself years ago via Tandy (same exact buckle BTW), and caramel hand dyed (by me) museum finished vegetally tanned calf skin with a beveled edge and a keeper and belt tip.