The third season of HBO’s The Sopranos first aired in the spring of 2001. It’s best remembered for “Pine Barrens” and the introduction of Ralph Cifaretto, a quintessential prick portrayed by Joe Pantoliano. But it also brought a smaller moment that eventually turned into an obsession in some corners of the internet.
In the middle of “Fortunate Son,” the season’s third episode, Carmella Soprano travels into the city to visit her daughter, Meadow, at Columbia University. Tagging along is her son, A.J., played by Robert Iler. The sequence centers on Meadow telling her mom about Tony Soprano’s racist comments to her Black Jewish boyfriend, Noah Tannenbaum, but fans of a certain age have since latched on to one specific detail in the scene: A.J.’s maroon Slipknot windbreaker. Weird, but I get it.
The show had already established that A.J. was a fan of the Des Moines–based metal band. Beyond their emotionally pummeling music, the nine-piece band was famous for their nightmare-inducing masks, prison-style jumpsuits they wore as uniforms, and the numbers they used to identify themselves when they were trying to hide their real identities. A.J. rocked one of their T-shirts in Season 2 and also blasted the song “Eyeless” from the group’s 1999 self-titled debut as he tried to make sense of a poem by “asshole Robert Frost” in the second episode of Season 3. Though he also wore merch from the group’s Roadrunner Records labelmates Coal Chamber and Machine Head, it was clear that A.J. was a certified Maggot.
In recent years, The Sopranos has become a streaming favorite and a pandemic binge among those who missed the show when it came out, or who savor new details during complete rewatches. Beyond the boost of turn-of-the-millennium nostalgia, the show offers black-hearted humor in the face of impending doom. It also reveals the source code that so many shows have subsequently copied for the past two decades. For first-time viewers, it can be like listening to Liz Phair or the Notorious B.I.G. for the first time. They’ve taken particular delight in A.J.’s music fandom, with the maroon windbreaker becoming a particular fixation. It appears all over social media posts that pay tribute to the show. Unfortunately, the jacket has long been hard to find for those hoping to re-create the look, and can sell for a few hundred dollars when it does pop up on vintage clothing sites. Then this summer, Slipknot announced they would reissue some of their classic merch, including the windbreaker. Now available for preorder, it will ship later this month. Maybe all hope isn’t gone.
Below is the tale of how the Slipknot windbreaker became a part of The Sopranos history, as told by both those who were there and those who have preserved its legacy. These interviews have been edited and condensed for clarity.
M. Shawn “Clown” Crahan (cofounder/percussionist, Slipknot): We’re a band, but I always felt we were a culture. We were designing our own culture from the beginning, separating ourselves immediately from anything anybody thought we should or could be.
Juliet Polcsa (costume designer, The Sopranos): I wanted to convey that [A.J. Soprano] was a normal suburban kid. We began shooting Season 1 in 1998, so A.J. was a reflection of kids his age in that time period. Along with the production designer and set decorator, I wanted to give Robert Iler a bedroom and wardrobe that he felt was true to his character. Robert himself was into metal bands at the time, so it kind of took off from there.
Crahan: I’ve always more or less done all of the merch. Of course, there’s always suggestions that come in. There’s just a lot of what I call tactical work when it comes to Slipknot merch, because there’s a precedent that I expect with our presentation and our brand. We had the bar code, the tribal “S,” the logo, we had the nine-point star. We had slogans, if you will, which really are our rules, like “Fuck It All,” “Don’t Ever Judge Me,” “People = Shit,” things like that. There were a handful of things that we knew that if they were being used, they couldn’t be used incorrectly. Mix and match them in as many combos as you can and it’s probably going to be accepted.
Robert Iler (A.J. Soprano, The Sopranos): I never actually had any say [over the wardrobe] nor did I really care until I started showing up to set skateboarding with, like, Pantera shirts on and Slipknot shirts on. Then [Sopranos creator] David Chase just took note. The next thing I know I’m wearing a Pantera shirt or a Slipknot shirt [on the show]. When we weren’t filming, I would be going to concerts, or I started a band with my friends. That was my whole life then.
Elisa Susini (creator, AJ Soprano’s Nu-Metal Shirts Twitter account): Nothing encapsulates late ’90s/early 2000s nu metal quite like a windbreaker. Bands like Deftones, Korn, Linkin Park used to wear them on stage and fans proudly wore them as some kind of uniform.
Crahan: The windbreaker is just based off of something we did ourselves. The windbreaker is a very important jacket to Slipknot. We made our very own windbreakers before we were signed to separate ourselves from the local music scene. They were our organization’s identification pieces. So we made them special and only band members had them. They were this really, really, really dark blue with white print—bar code was on the back, Slipknot on the front, tribal “S” on one sleeve and our number on the other.
Iler: I had [the Slipknot windbreaker] in burgundy, I had it in black. I had both of those and I’d wear them for sure.
Crahan: I can remember really wanting to take a chance on the maroon idea because my high school was a private high school. I thought it was kinda ironic. Our color was maroon and here I had the ability to make a maroon jacket.
season 03, episode 03: AJ visits Meadow at her dorm and he's busting out a 1999 burgundy Slipknot windbreaker. GOD TIER NU METAL. pic.twitter.com/l6ZunGO4RS— AJ Soprano's nu-metal shirts (@ajsopranoshirts) January 5, 2019
Polcsa: A.J. was really my only character that could pull off a band T-shirt. Actually in fairness, I did put Meadow in a T-shirt from a New Jersey band called The Churchills [note: also in “Fortunate Son”]. But that was shameless promotion on my part; the band are friends of mine!
Iler: [Roadrunner] sent me my own Slipknot jumpsuit. I’m like, “I should wear this [on the show].” They were like, “Hmm, maybe not. You can take that home.”
Polcsa: I think we got some merchandise from the band or record company. There was a Slipknot windbreaker in the package. I liked the color. A.J. needed a jacket. It was that simple! What I do for costumes on a series is develop closets for all my characters. When a need for a certain type of wardrobe comes up in a script for a character’s costume change, you go to their closet and pull something out. That windbreaker was in his closet just waiting for an episode.
Crahan: The truth is I was not interested in The Sopranos. Why? No. 1: Because it was a brand-new show, so I did not give a fuck, nor did I want to talk to anyone about it because why are we being associated with something that may not work? No. 2: I definitely didn’t want to be associated with it if other bands on the label were going to be involved in it, because I want our band to be separate from all bands. No. 3: We’re Slipknot, we don’t need anything. Now that’s who I was, and that’s how it went down. I was presented the opportunity to have possibly some merch, maybe a hat, maybe a jacket, maybe a poster, maybe some music [on the show]. We fought for music because that’s what we were. I remember finally going, I love all the actors in the show, so I went off of that, but I refused to watch it.
Iler: In 1999, somebody from Roadrunner records heard that I was a Slipknot fan and they invited us to come see Slipknot at the Roxy. To get into the Roxy, you had to be 16 or 18, I’m not really sure. We showed up, me and my best friend at the time, Rex, and we’re standing outside in our Slipknot shirts. The security was like, “Sorry, you guys can’t come in. You’re clearly not old enough.” And Shawn, who is the Clown in Slipknot, came out and he said to the bouncer, “Listen, this is my son. If he’s not coming in, we’re not playing.” And instantly the guy just opened the rope was like, yep, come on in.
They took us backstage. We were hanging out with all of them. It was the craziest experience, to this day. I’ve met, like, Al Pacino and Christopher Walken, and that has to be the most starstruck I ever was just because it was all of them at once and how they were treating us was the greatest I’ve ever been treated by any famous person.
They were hanging out with us and then 20 minutes before they had to go on, they were like, “We got to get ready,” and they’re punching each other and doing all this crazy stuff. And they’re all in their jumpsuits and the masks. And they’re like, “Someone’s going to take you to where you should stand.” They put us on the side of the stage, and it wasn’t like a thousand people who won contests or whoever’s cousins. It was me and my best friend standing on the side of the stage, and that was it. I was like, man, this was the greatest night of my life. Nothing will ever be this cool ever again.
Crahan: Let’s fast-forward, like 17 years in the future. The Clown and his wife watch Breaking Bad. Breaking Bad changes my life because it’s a 57-and-a-half-hour movie. I go right into The Sopranos. I never watched one episode my whole life. I watched it from the beginning to the end. I’m being totally honest with you, I had forgotten that we were in there remotely in any way. And when those things popped out, I was just generally happy and joyful. Back then I had to make decisions that quite honestly could have been forever, and that was one that I did that worked out, because I’m a huge fan of [the show].
Iler: Actually at a [different] Slipknot concert, I threw my rib tip out, which is something I guess that happens. Twice a year I have to go to the chiropractor because I throw out my rib tip again. And I’m always like, oh man, that was from the Slipknot concert.
Emilia Petrarca (fashion news writer, The Cut; creator, Every Outfit on The Sopranos Instagram account): I came to [The Sopranos] late in life. I started watching it when I made the account, which was two or three years ago. I was watching it for the first time and I just kept pausing the show to take screenshots of what they were wearing for my own personal folder on my desktop. I was just so in awe of them. There’s a million episodes, so I kept building up this little folder. There’s that account, Every Outfit on Sex & the City. I was just like, no one has ever really documented the outfits on [The Sopranos] before and they’re so good, so I figured why not just throw them all up on Instagram and see what happens. It’s just slowly been building from there.
Iler: I started a podcast [Pajama Pants] last year with [Jamie-Lynn Sigler], who played my sister on The Sopranos. Before that I had no social media. I mean, I did like six or seven years ago, right when it came out, and I was just, like, this isn’t for me, so I deleted it all. Then because of this podcast that we’re doing, we got an Instagram for the podcast and people started sending us stuff. I saw one thing was like Tony Soprano’s wardrobe, and another thing was the band shirts that [A.J.] wore. And then people are writing in emails asking about Slipknot and all this stuff.
Susini: I’m just a big Sopranos fan and I love music. At the end of 2018 I decided to start a Twitter account to archive and document all the nu-metal/nu-metal-adjacent moments from the show (merch, posters, music). It’s a hard job but someone’s got to do it.
Petrarca: The followers on the account are way more experts than I am. I will post something and within seconds people will be saying the lines that come before and after and during the scene. They know what episode and season it is. I have it pretty organized on my desktop, but I’m just consistently impressed by the deep, deep knowledge of Sopranos fans.
Susini: [I started watching] in 2012, when I was 23. I remember when the show was on air, but I’m glad I didn’t watch it at the time because I was younger and I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t have appreciated it as much. [I was] born and raised in Italy, in Tuscany to be precise. Unfortunately the show never had a big following here because it was misunderstood at the time, people thought that it denigrated Italians, and they never realized that the show had nothing to do with Italy. But the people I know who have watched it, love it.
Petrarca: Adriana comes to mind as the most obviously stylish. She just looks great all the time. She looks really hot. Because she’s young, she’s not afraid of really loud prints and awesome jewelry. She has lots of attitude too, so she has fun with her clothes that stand out. But I love them all. I love Carm’s wardrobe, all of her tracksuits are incredible. Tony Soprano’s shirts, his polos and button-ups. One of my favorites are these short-sleeve mock neck shirts that he wears. Paulie also wears them. My dad used to have them. They’re such a middle-aged man garment. And Paulie when he tucks his tank tops into his sweatpants. Meadow with her tank top over a T-shirt, which is very ’90s teen. Christopher is also super suave.
Susini: And then we have A.J. He was the most accurately dressed character. His style was spot on for the 1999 to 2002 era.
Petrarca: [A.J.’s] not someone we get to know super well. Because of his personality, he’s like, leave me alone. So his T-shirts actually do a lot of the talking for him. One of the first screenshots I ever took was when he wears that Marilyn Manson T-shirt and he’s eating a plate of spaghetti. With the rest of Sopranos style, you don’t get the emo young person vibe. To me he was such an amazing collision of worlds.
Iler: There was some rumor that I was in a Marilyn Manson video 20 years ago. Somehow it even ended up on my IMDB and maybe my Wikipedia, I don’t even know, but that was not me.
Susini: Before it was reissued, [the Slipknot windbreaker] was pretty rare. I’d say [it was selling online for] between $200 and $300. There was also a black version as well, which was a little less rare, but the maroon one is more iconic and it’s the jacket everyone wants.
Crahan: The way it goes down is I’m presented scenarios. I’m presented ideas and the ideas either feel relevant or the ideas don’t feel relevant. If they’re relevant, I approve it because it’s what I feel is natural at the time.
Susini: Everyone was looking for [the windbreakers] and was asking me how and where to get them. To help them, I started asking around and I got in touch with someone from the Slipknot camp, but I wasn’t the only one doing it. I think the windbreaker was released this summer because so many young people have rediscovered The Sopranos during the pandemic and have been very vocal about their love for that windbreaker.
Crahan: Some people aren’t into reissues because it takes away from when it was original, but you sort of have a responsibility to recognize the past if it can resurface in a fresh way that’s real.
Susini: Slipknot has a very precise place in history. They are the edgy music for rebellious teenagers, they express emotions that you’re supposed to grow out of when you become an adult, but it isn’t just that. There is some sort of anger that never leaves you, even when you grow up. And you can see that in The Sopranos. Tony’s parents are responsible for the type of adult Tony has become, and with A.J. you can see that his struggles with life are a direct result of his upbringing and biological predisposition.
Crahan: If you’re in this game of making music professionally, you can’t just rely on the art. There’s a business behind the art. There’s an art behind the business. They go together. So if you’re doing things right and you’re staying relevant, you have to remember that every year there’s a kid turning 14 in his or her freshman year. And at that time they are imprinted with some revelation of a hard-rock band. I’m 20-plus years into it and I’m relevant. I understand that I can put out this maroon jacket now and it’s gonna mean the same thing to the 14-year-old who has found our band because of where they’re at culturally and where they want to be in their lives. It’s going to be gravitated towards every year because every year there’s going to be that kid looking for it.
Susini: It’s A.J. the character that people relate to the most because we were all A.J. at some point in our lives. He was young, confused, he was dealing with depression, and he was into heavy music. Everything about the character is relatable.
Petrarca: What makes The Sopranos style so great is that it’s reflective of real people and the way that they dress. Unlike Sex & the City and unlike Mad Men, where it’s so much of a costume, what draws people to The Sopranos style is the fact that they know someone who dresses like that, or they themselves dress like that, or they can dress like that if they want to. You don’t need a tutu or a designer suit to dress like a Sopranos character. They’re representative of people who exist in real life.
Polcsa: As A.J. aged, Robert aged, and fashion and pop culture evolved. What we did was try to stay current. As his character became older by the end of the show, his wardrobe reflected an older, wiser young adult. He wasn’t a rebellious teen anymore.
Iler: Now [all my Slipknot merch is] gone. I watched a documentary about being a minimalist and I got my whole life down to two bags. I lived in Vegas for a little bit, now I’m living in L.A. doing the podcast. I have black T-shirts and black sweatpants and that’s all. I got invited to a wedding a couple of months ago. I’m like, I can’t even go. I would have to go get like a suit in the times of COVID, it’s not happening.
Eric Ducker is a writer and editor in Los Angeles.