Scumbag Swag, The Fashion In Uncut Gems

Uncut Gems (2019) ushers in the ubiquitous return of Soprano style.

Kristen Yoonsoo Kim

Adam Sandler in Uncut Gems.

The most ethereal cinematic moment of 2019 arrived unexpectedly: In the Safdie brothers’ Uncut Gems, which hit theaters in December, Howard “Howie” Ratner, a gambling jeweler played by Adam Sandler, has just shoved The Weeknd after finding the R&B star in a club bathroom with his own girlfriend, Julia, with whom he proceeds to have a screaming fit before riding away in a cab. Howard paces angrily around his usual stomping grounds—a cluster of jewelry stores in midtown Manhattan known as the Diamond District—while the New York night breeze flaps around his salmon-but-pinker dress shirt like a sail. Half unbuttoned and untucked, the shirt billows in the wind while Oneohtrix Point Never’s video game-like synths soundtrack the scene. It’s an oddly heart-wrenching scenario in a not-that-romantic context, and the outfit, though it lingers in my mind, is not even the most recognizable from a movie already deemed the fashion film of the year. (That, of course, would be the mustard-yellow polo under a leather jacket, its cut more blazer than motorcycle, that Howard wears for the first half-hour of the film.)

The sartorial craze surrounding Sandler as Howard started when set photos from Uncut Gems leaked in the fall of 2018. Gone were the days of the 2000s comedy icon’s signature large flannel shirts, loose cargo shorts, and ill-fitting suits in various Happy Madison productions (though these looks are arguably fashion statements of their own); here, he was blinged out with a blinding ring, Cartier glasses, and Ferragamo buckles not just on his waist, but also on his feet (via black leather loafers). The reinvention of Hollywood’s favorite goofball as machismo daddy is in large part thanks to stylist and costume designer Miyako Bellizzi (who also worked on the Safdies’ Good Time) and fashion anthropologist Mordechai Rubinstein, whom Josh Safdie has said “has the most encyclopedic brain of how personal style functions.” Vogue called it “schmuck style” but I’ve personally referred to it as “scumbag swag”—the ensemble of a man who’d swindle you and break your heart.

Set in 2012, Uncut Gems is neither a reflection of the cutting-edge of current fashion nor does it take place far enough in the past to make the full cycle of trend sentimentality. Yet the film hits a certain nostalgic spot, partially because the trademark uniform of the Diamond District has a particularly static aesthetic (if it weren’t for his 2012-era dated iPhone and dramatic evening at 1 OAK, parts of the film could easily be set in the late ’90s). And, Sandler’s wardrobe could just as easily belong in Balenciaga’s latest Spring 2020 menswear collection—with its dramatic bomber jackets and boxy shoulders—as it could in The Sopranos, which premiered 20 years before Uncut Gems’s release. Though The Sopranos, which ran on HBO from 1999 to 2007, has become unquestionable canon, often touted as the best TV show ever, it undoubtedly has had a resurgence in the past year or so—or at least everyone on my social media feeds seems to be either re-watching or discovering it for the first time. (I fall into the latter category.) The popular Instagram account, @sopranosstyle, chronicles the show’s unforgettable outfits, only further reinforcing its sartorial influence in the fashion world and its legacy. As promised in the bio, the account delivers “all the best looks from your favorite gaudy goombahs and stylish Italian stallions.” (Replace “Italian” with “Jewish” and you’ve got Sandler’s Howard.)

Watching The Sopranos now, many of the looks seem plucked from the streets of 2019 SoHo and the hypebeast circles that inhabit them: gaudy patterns, mafia-cut leather, heavy chains and indoor sunglasses. “Scumbag swag” is in full swing on the runway too (not just for Balenciaga, but also in Versace’s animal print-mixing menswear collection). In Uncut Gems, Howard’s wardrobe is part Tony Soprano (collared shirts and statement rings), part Christopher Moltisanti (leather jacket) and even a little bit Dr. Jennifer Melfi—Tony’s therapist and a fellow rimless glasses-wearer. Julia Fox, who plays Howard’s girlfriend, wears what could be taken off the back of Adriana La Cerva, Christopher’s girlfriend on the show, and shows off the same square-tip French acrylics that were Tony’s wife Carmela’s signature. The cinched long-sleeve crop top and reptilian high-waisted pants in which she appears at the aforementioned club are an unmistakable nod to the black long-sleeve crop top and snakeskin pants worn by Adriana (both characters have their hair up and accessorize with hoop earrings, of course).

Iterations of this style can also be found in other buzzed-about films from this year: in Martin Scorsese’s mobster flick The Irishman (though Joe Pesci’s press conference looks or, better yet, Robert De Niro’s behind-the-scenes platforms, have been stealing the spotlight), and in the oversized hoops and plush furs of Hustlers, which also helped ignite aughts nostalgia. Uncut Gems, with its borderline-gaudiness (take the triple Ferragamo buckles), has arrived right at the 20-year mark of celebrating the beginning of this century—a typical course for returning trends. If The Sopranos were to get the reboot treatment now, set in contemporary times—God forbid—it wouldn’t look so different, sartorially, from the original.