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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.