One Sunday last March, John Junior Gotti—having recently dodged racketeering and kidnapping charges for the second time, thanks to a mistrial—strode into a Long Island church clad in a plush velour tracksuit emblazoned with stripes the colors of the Italian flag. When his fellow worshippers rubbernecked, Junior seethed, apoplectic about being unable to say his Hail Marys anonymously. Yeah, it’s hard to see how the congregation recognized the former head of the Gambino crime family and son of John Jr. as a reputed mobster. The man might as well have been wearing a fedora and toting a tommy gun.
If Gotti—who claims he hasn’t been involved in the Mafia since 1999 and tries doggedly to convince the public that he’s now as criminally active as the Dalai Lama—wants to be treated like any other 42-year-old guy taking communion with his daughter, then perhaps he should stop dressing like Big Pussy. Even before The Sopranos made the sweat-suit-wearing mafioso an American caricature on par with the Marlboro Man, the mobster–dressed–as–50 Cent stereotype had taken hold. In 1986, Luciano Liggio, a Corleone kingpin, stood trial in Italy wearing, unlike his suited codefendants, a blue tracksuit and white sneakers. Given the connotations, for Junior Gotti to vehemently assert his estrangement from La Cosa Nostra and then putter around town in its unofficial team uniform is like an ax-murder suspect making a bloody apron his signature accessory.
“As an attorney, you try to manage your client’s image,” says Jami Floyd, former defense lawyer and anchor of Court TV’s Best Defense. “But you can’t control what they do on the weekends.” On the other hand, Floyd points out, Gotti fils is so indelibly associated with the mob that trussing him up in khakis and an oxford for his forays outside the courthouse wouldn’t exactly vanquish the specter of the Gambino family. “It was the same thing with Michael Jackson,” she says. “People thought he was a freak. What he wore wouldn’t have made much of a difference. The tracksuit isn’t necessarily affecting his defense. But it just isn’t flattering.”
Indeed, never mind that the athletic attire undermines Junior’s claim to a shakedown-free existence—it’s plain unsightly. His father, who earned the nickname the Dapper Don, among others, was known for dressing in $2,000 Brioni suits and custom-made shoes. “John was a classic gangster,” says Eddie Hayes, a high-profile New York lawyer who has defended purported mafiosi. “He wore his topcoat around his shoulders and everything.”
And while, like his son’s comfy getup, the Dapper Don’s sartorial flare didn’t exactly downplay his intimacy with organized crime, at least it made him look powerful. Junior’s fuzzy ensemble makes him look vulnerable, like he’s a few years away from having soft foods airplaned into his mouth.
“I guess it’s the suburban-mobster style,” Hayes says. “But it takes the fun out of it. What’s the point of being a gangster if you don’t dress up?”