Gentlemen of Style: The Kingpins of Peaky Blinders

Gentlemen of Style: The Kingpins of Peaky Blinders

Like a rough sea, Peaky Blinders captures the audience in its crashing waves and drowns you in the grittiness of post-war England. This isn’t your typical crime drama. There are no flashy suits and silk shirts. This is Birmingham, the heart of England’s industrial revolution and home to a series of famous gangs in both fact and fiction. Like any part of organized crime, once you end up in its grasp, there is no climbing your way out from beneath its treachery.

The monochromatic men of Peaky Blinders with touches of color throughout

The monochromatic men of Peaky Blinders with touches of color throughout

Peaky Blinders, a gang that’s feared and yet revered by its community, led by the nefarious Thomas Shelby, those around him almost have a limerence towards him and yet they fear him all the while. There’s a poise about Shelby, a subtle confidence that lurks beneath his tweed and flannel attire designed for Britain’s inclement weather and the harsh circumstances of the 1920s. While stateside Mafiosi were known for their panache and as bold sartorialists, Shelby’s insipid blend of monochromatic apparel hits a home run because of its timeless appeal and because he uses clothing to showcase his authority over the struggling community in a way that makes you loathe him while revering at the same time.

The Real Peaky Blinders

The show, based loosely on true accounts, focuses on the lives of Birmingham’s & London’s criminal underground where a subculture of violent miscreants known as Peaky Blinders and Sloggers controlled much of Birmingham’s economy. A common street gang, these hoodlums were known for their vicious attacks and use of melee weapons. Believed to originally be a single gang and later a generic term for youth in the area, they were known for their style which included the peaked flat caps, ties, and bell-bottoms. They often used brass buttons on their jackets and just as today’s gangs are known for their colors, the Peaky Blinders became identifiable for their style in the slums of Birmingham, although in the  TV show they also appear in London.

Tommy Shelby in a navy pinstripe suit with black overcoat

Tommy Shelby in a navy pinstripe suit with black overcoat

The Show’s Version

A gritty epic set in 1919’s Birmingham, England, Peaky Blinders follows the lives of its members and its enterprising and pugnacious leader Thomas Shelby.

Known for their violence, the gang attracts the attention of Chief Inspector Chester Campbell, an investigator with the Royal Irish Constabulary, who is sent from Belfast to clean up the streets of Birmingham. Currently filming its third season, Peaky Blinders has received critical acclaim and is one show we think you’ll thoroughly enjoy because the music of the series paired with the unique aesthetics are second to none.

A pop of color in the tie is all you need to take the outfit from drab to fab

A pop of color in the tie is all you need to take the outfit from drab to fab

Thomas Shelby

Tommy Shelby, played by Cillian Murphy, is about as violent as they come. Known as a stylish, yet muted kingpin, he rules Peaky Blinders with an iron fist and a sophisticated charm that makes the eponymous gangster a hero to some and a savage monster to all.

With an incessant desire to move up in the world and the community, Shelby was a soldier in the First World War, which drastically altered his demeanor and temperament. Known for being a cheerier bloke before his service, any kindness exhibited before his tour was quickly overshadowed by a disillusioned and determined objective to become the most feared boss in England’s underworld.

A classic British style thats timeless and elegantly casual

Anti Savile Row Establishment style that’s timeless and elegantly casual

Known for his uniquely dapper style, he wears a lot of tweed in the city, mostly as a three piece suit or without a coat but a waistcoat, but only occasionally with a tie knot. Nevertheless, he stands out against the rags of the men who live in the impecunious slums of Birmingham. The only addition of color is perhaps a pastel tie or striped shirt, which he always wears with a white detachable collar. His sleek undercut hair style is extreme, yet they are popular even today.

Shelby isn’t alone, however. His brothers and comrades in arms are equally dapper, albeit not always as stylish as their patriarch. It’s this sartorial element in the show that helps to capture the authenticity of what was once an actual organization known for its fashionable members.

Although set in Britain their style is not at all related to the one of an English gentleman. They mixed rougher, heavier wool suits with single cuff, detachable collar suits which were more typically worn for business. However, this quirky mix underlines works so well because the Shelbys are no gentleman. Instead, they are gangsters who want to use their clothing to underline their status in the community while they want to separate themselves from the traditional upper-class establishment.

a bolder bengal stripe on the shirt adds panache to a simple outfit

A bolder bengal stripe on the shirt with detachable collar is traditionally the wrong choice for his kind of suit, but it works for him


How To Dress Like Peaky Blinders

Dressing like Shelby or any other member of his faction is far easier than some of the bolder suits and outfits worn by other Gentlemen of Style we’ve covered like Harvey Specter, Hannibal and even the cast of Downton Abbey.

Although Downton Abbey’s wardrobe is relatively uniform, the benefit of replicating Shelby’s style is that it is far more appropriate for modern daily life. While the Crawley’s wear white and black tie throughout much of the show, today a gentleman can easily get away with British countryside clothing at the office or cocktail party when he would be dressed inappropriately in a tailcoat or tuxedo. As far as daily wear goes, the influential styles of Peaky Blinders is much simpler to pull off due to its British sense of uniformity but also, it’s versatility for various codes of dress.

Tweed Cap

Although Shelby works towards reaching the upper echelons of society, he still opts to wear the newsboy and flat caps that were known as a working man’s hat. Today, these hats remain quite stylish and are worn year round in various colors, styles and materials. Hence, the first hallmark of a Shelby is the tweed cap either in herringbone Harris tweed or a grey Donegal tweed that has a razor blade attached to the front left so it can be conveniently used as a weapon with the right hand. If you’d try to do that, chances are you’d probably cut your hands. Therefore, skip the blade but tweed caps are definitely a must.


Classic British countryside apparel on all the men in Peaky Blinders

Classic British countryside apparel on all the men in Peaky Blinders

Color Spectrum & Patterns

Forget having to coordinate colors, Peaky Blinders is all about monochrome attire. Grey three-piece suits and black overcoats are the norm. For a touch of color, a muted orange tie or the use of a pocket square with a pop of color is about as fashion-forward as any of the male characters get. The benefit of this uniformity is that men with limited style experience can adopt this attire and use it as a stepping stone to build a more advanced wardrobe.

Vintage stripes, houndstooth, and thick glen checks are exactly the patterns you want for your Peaky Blinder inspired outfits. The spinning of yarns wasn’t as advanced in the 1920’s and hence the fabrics were much thicker and the patterns more unusual and coarser. You cannot replicate that look with modern cloth unless you go with tweed.

A classic look for Shelby he adds a casualness by forgoing the tie

A classic look for Shelby he adds a casualness by forgoing the tie

Tweed Suits and Slacks

Your best bet to recreate the look is to invest in a vintage three piece suit with slim lapels, narrow cut shoulders and slim trousers are exactly what you want to clone Thomas Shelby’s look. Also, make sure to go with a seasoned pocket watch and watch chain in brass. Stay clear from contemporary fabrics because they are too lightweight, and they lack the type of drape you see in the show. If vintage is not an option for you, a custom made version in tweed is pretty much your only option.

The muted bengal pinstriped shirt adds subtle panache to the outfit

The muted Bengal pinstriped shirt adds subtle panache to the outfit

The Suits

First and foremost, the 3-piece herringbone or Donegal tweed suit is the first outfit worth adopting. You can find new ones fairly easily, but since they’re so popular in British country attire, it’s also remarkably simple to find well-made vintage suits on eBay and in thrift stores.  The cost savings of buying vintage tweed is huge, and you can use the money you saved to purchase other items that can add to the collection. Teh problem is, contemporary cuts are very different from the Peaky Blinders, and while most people on the street will not see the difference, every connoisseur can spot the deviations in cut and style immediately.

Peaky Blinders

Peaky Blinders

You can wear it with matching pants or move into a separate and wear the jacket as combination. To add a touch of creativity to an otherwise dull suiting, opt for an odd vest.

Shelby in a pinstriped shirt with a detachable stiff collar

Shelby in a pinstriped shirt with a detachable stiff collar

Most of the suits seen on the show are made by Keith Watson. Formerly a tailor on Savile Row in the 60s, he’s well known for his traditional cutting techniques. However, any decent tailor and even MTM companies should easily be able to make you a tweed suit that resembles this classic 1920s country look.

The Classic Shirts

As far as shirts go, you sometimes see a white dress shirt with single cuffs for cufflinks and a stiff, starched, white  detachable collar. However, you can see the shelbys more often in all sorts of striped shirts. Although difficult to find these days, British legal outfitters still carry these fancy striped shirts for detachable collars, and since it is such a unique item, you definitely have to get one of those.  A shirt with an attached collar simply has a very different look and won’t suffice.

The Overcoat

Tommy Shelby loves to wear a black single breasted overcoat made of heavy wool cloth, black velvet collar, and peaked lapels. It’s similar to a chesterfield, but it lacks the notched lapels. Stylistically, this city overcoat does not work at all with a tweed suit, but Shelby is a villain who has no class, and his combinations are a reflection of that. If you want to exude a similar style, then go for it. Otherwise, maybe a covert coat is the better choice for real life outfits.

The Boots

A pair of black above ankle length captoe oxford style boots in black with leather soles are an absolute must for a Peaky Blinders outfit. Make sure they are not spit polished but rugged with some patina and a bit of dirt if you want to recreate the authentic look.

Shelby in a muted outfit with textural components like the grenadine tie and satin lapel on his topcoat

Shelby in a muted outfit with textural components like the grenadine tie and satin lapel on his topcoat

Cillian Murphy in his quintessential oversized newsboy cap

Cillian Murphy in his quintessential oversized newsboy cap

Ties & Bow Ties

Arthur sometimes wears finely printed bow ties made of English silk and at times, Tommy wears a tie. Even though it is Peaky Blinders style to wear three-piece suit without neckwear, it will always make you look amateurish to do so. Therefore, try to avoid that look and get yourself a nice tie or bow tie.

Arthur - Tommy Shelbys older brother who is more reckless than smart

Arthur – Tommy Shelbys older brother who is more reckless than smart


Peaky Blinders and its leader Tommy Shelby are not the kind of men worth idolizing. The fact is they weren’t gentlemen. They were ruffians who did whatever it took to get ahead, regardless of the law. Why they are undoubtedly cool, their sense of style exudes the lack of knowledge, and they utilize their clothes to show the world that they made it without realizing their faux-pas.

Nevertheless, they are much better dressed than the average man on the street today, and although we do not recommend to wear three-piece suits without neckwear, Peaky Blinders is definitely worth watching.

This article was written by Sven Raphael Schneider and J.A. Shapira

If you like this piece, make sure to check out our other TV-series and movie clothes reviews.

Gentlemen of Style: The Kingpins of Peaky Blinders
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Gentlemen of Style: The Kingpins of Peaky Blinders
The ultimate guide to the fashion in the hit television show Peaky Blinders and How To Dress Like Them with Tweed Suits.
Gentleman's Gazette
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19 replies
  1. Hal says:

    As a slight correction/clarification, the real Peaky Blinders were an exclusively Birmingham street gang. They had no connection to London. In the Tv series, they expand their operations and come into contact with the London underworld but they are still Brummies and wouldn’t have thanked you for calling them Londoners, I imagine.

    As to clothes they are very good. They tred a clever line between a proper vintage look and something you could wear today. When the first series came out, there was an article on Clothes on Film (still out there if you want to look it up) called ‘Dress Like a Peaky Blinder’. The costume designer is quoted as saying they were trying to get a look that fitted its just pre-1920s setting but would also fit into contemporary menswear. The AW 13 look was heavy on tweed and shared a not dissimilar slim cut look (though the vintage look remained rather better than the too short jackets and too low waisted current versions of the look tend to have.)

    • Sven Raphael Schneider says:

      Hal, I watched all the seasons and they are in London a lot. I amended the article so it makes more sense. I am familiar with the Clothes on Film, but in my experience costume designers often get it wrong especially in terms of historical accuracy, even though British shows are usually infintely better than American shows.

  2. Don Bell says:

    Interesting, but you make it seem as if the actors chose their own clothes. I’m pretty sure there is a costume designer who has labored long and hard to make these looks a reality, including hiring Keith Watson to tailor the clothes. Credit where credit is due, please.

    • Christine says:

      Good point. Here is an interview with the costume designer. I find it confusing that she claims “I would never want to use anything that’s historically wrong,” and then goes on to detail all the things she changed in order to “heighten” the look (the convicts’ haircuts particularly irked me–convict haircuts were imposed by prison authorities; they weren’t considered stylish). But she does give a good overview of how the decisions were made, and what she was going for.

    • Sven Raphael Schneider says:

      Of course, the actors did not decide on what to wear. In this day an age, that is never the case as far as I know. I do not know for certain that Keith Watson tailored everything, hence I make no such claims. Do you know if he tailored all the clothes or what clothes he tailored exactly?

  3. Christine says:

    I gave up on the “Peaky Blinders” tv series, partly because the inaccurate haircuts and collars-without-ties drove me crazy. I tend to prefer historical accuracy to modern stylishness. But the real Peaky Blinders gang did not operate during the 1920s–they began in the late 1880s, but had faded away before 1914. The razor-blade-in-cap story is apparently urban lore, since razor blades were expensive, and the logistics of fighting with a bladed cap are difficult.
    The photo gallery connected with this article shows what some real Peaky Blinders members were wearing in 1904.—fact-5912820

    • Kenneth Wang says:

      Each to his or her own, but I would like to point out that the undercut was indeed a popular hairstyle for working class boys and men during the Edwardian era (1920’s, about). The predecessor was Curtained hair, kept in place with pomade, worn by rugby players who needed style but also an actively oriented hairstyle. As similar sports sports were popular with young men, the hairstyle became widespread as well. From the turn of the century until the 1920’s, the haircut evolved into something like Peaky Blinders’ Arthur’s hairstyle: short sides and back, maybe faded, with a long top slicked back instead of parted. These men were not the pinnacle of cultured society so there should be some disparity between their style and what we nostalgically remember, the more traditional flattened, shiny side-part. I am a young man and have an undercut myself, that I maintain by shaving the sides and back periodically with a straight razor, and have gotten many complements from all types of people. It can be worn more formally with the sides longer and faded, or with more flair with the side length very short and disconnected from a top starting at 15 cm long at front and gradually stepping down to 8 cm long in back, which I normally do. For more formal occasions such as giving orchestral concerts with black tie dress code, I can leave the sides out longer by abstaining from shaving myself and going to a proper stylist. Overall I would like to say it is an excellent, versatile option for both the stylish young man and the new hipster.

    • V.Mann says:

      Peaky Blinders didn’t wear Newsboy caps (with a button on top) they wore flat cloth caps as worn by the working class male in England (white collar workers wore bowlers) The Peaky Blinders gang were known to dress every day in their Sunday best clothes and shoes, men’s outfits generally saved by the working class to wear on Sundays

  4. Shaun Morris-Armitage says:

    A couple of points if I may: in furtherance to Hal’s comment; Birmingham is about 120 miles from London which is a long distance in the UK and was a good few hours journey in the 1920’s.
    Secondly I am informed that the name ‘Peaky Blinders’ comes from the gang’s habit of having a razor blade in the peak of their caps which could then be used as a weapon to blind your opponents

  5. John W says:

    If these people or the Gazette’s hero Capone had any style, it was indulged with money gained from murder, extortion and the like. They cannot be described as Gentlemen of Style.
    I didn’t watch the series. Is there supposed to be a reference to bell-bottoms in the article? (Fifth line after The Real P B)

    • Sven Raphael Schneider says:

      John, if you read our articles you will find that we neither call Capone nor Peaky Blinders as our hero. In fact we specifically write claim:”Peaky Blinders and its leader Tommy Shelby are not the kind of men worth idolizing”

      Maybe you should watch the series 😉

  6. Arnold S. says:

    Thank you for this article!
    Question: I often watch such movies / series of around this time. A lot of men with high detacheable collars do not wear their ties all the way up, with as a result the button or collar pin is visable. Not tucking your tie neatly all the way up into your collar would be considered sloppy today. However, was it the idea back in these days?
    Thanks and regards, Arnold

    • Hal says:

      I suspect that the answer might be that the collars were very heavily starched. A lot of vintage detachable collars are so stiff that they barely move. With certain collar designs, this can make it hard to get the tie knot up as high as you always can with a softer collar. I’m not sure there was ever a time that having a knot at half mast was a sought after look but doubtless I’ll be corrected if wrong.

    • Sven Raphael Schneider says:

      Hal raises some good points. Also, a starched collar has a smooth sufarce which allows the tie to slip down more easily. On top of that, the collar were often very high, which cause the tie to slip. If you look at old photos you can often see that. Personally, I don’t like the look and I prefer my tie knots all the way up.

  7. Noah says:

    Sven I am a young man learning about fashion and would like to know what books I should read about style? Particularly I am interested in the 1930’s fashion, such as Clark Gable, Fred Astaire, and Cary Grant.

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