In the UK we were used to period dramas in the Jane Austen or Charles Dickens vein. But Nothing prepared the UK for the arrival of the BBC’s Peaky Blinders in 2014. Fronted by the obscenely telegenic Cillian Murphy as Tommy Shelby, the story picks up the gang in 1919 after they had returned from serving in the Great War.
Poverty wasn’t an option for the Shelbys, so they set about controlling their home city of Birmingham through organised crime. But alongside the violence and danger, there’s also a thread of family ties, loyalty and respect running through the show, which made it even more appealing as a drama.
The Peaky Blinders were in fact a real-life gang. Some declare their name came from the claim that they hid blades in their caps; others say the name was because they wore the peak over one eye. Either way, they were a feared and powerful force in Birmingham around the turn of the century. The main diversion between the show and the real thing is the timing – by 1920, the real Peaky Blinders had all but fizzled out, replaced by other, larger gangs. In this article, we’ll be referring to the iconic TV show.
Style in every frame
Conjure up the show in your mind, though, and you’ll inevitably think of Peaky Blinders fashion. Respect is gained from looking the part, and in 1920s industrial Birmingham, your threads marked you out just as much as they do today. If you know the show well, you’ll recognise the tweed, be it in overcoats, caps, waistcoats or trousers, along with pocket watches and silk scarves, all rounded off with a short back and sides and a floppy or greased-back fringe.
The look captured the imagination among men, and inspired a renewed sense of pride in our appearance. It’s a masculine look, but carries a measured flamboyance, especially when taken out of the context of the period. And that’s the whole point. These were lads from the street, born with nothing, who had served king and country and weren’t going to go back to what was expected of them. Sure, they had to show a sense of refinement and enjoy the trappings of their ill-gotten gains, but push it too far and they could risk losing the respect of their community – and draw the attention of the authorities.
So, the Peaky Blinders look is all about fine fabrics, comfort, modest silhouettes and professionalism, but with a sprinkling of refined glamour. If you’re looking to interpret the look for yourself, that’s your starting point. The important thing is that it isn’t cosplay – if you’re going to a Peaky Blinders convention, then fine – hover your thumb over the pause button and nail that look down to the last stitch. For the rest of us, we’re looking at the elements that make the style iconic, and building from there. In other words, we’re asking – how would the Peaky Blinders dress if they were around today?
You mean business, and you’re going to look dapper in the process. So the suit is your number one essential when it comes to Peaky Blinders clothing style. We’re talking understated glamour here. It’s a look that today might be considered a little “countrified” – shooting party chic, if you like. In the urban setting, it brings grandeur that’s earthy, not deluded.
Although greys are perfectly fine, a little colour, particularly green, will put you bang on point. Consider the Dane Green Tweed Suit, for example. This three-piece is beautifully tailored to fit quite closely, the single-breasted jacket coming with visible black detailing behind the lapels that raises the bar. The waistcoat continues the motif, while the workmanlike trousers complete the silhouette smartly.
You can go lighter and maintain the style, with a Peaky Blinders suit that’s perhaps more apt for an informal event, but will certainly bring you respect in a business meeting. A tweed herringbone tan suit has an overall less buttoned-up style, bringing summertime freshness or a compliment to the autumnal palette. The herringbone stitching is the real star, though, getting more impressive as you view it more closely.
Following the theme of interpreting, rather than copying, the Peaky Blinders look, you can wear separates that demonstrate a healthy dose of glamour. Mix with a contrasting suit, with or without a waistcoat, and you’ve got a look that’s fun and informal, perfect for weddings or race day. Try blue herringbone pants, vintage checks or grey houndstooth trousers if you’re aiming to mix business with pleasure.
If it’s party season, you can up the ante with your dashing red velvet trousers – guaranteed to turn heads – or if you want colour but not quite turned up to 11, a similar pair in blue. For the ultimate in glam, through, reach for the paisley. A darker shade is easy to mix, suiting any colour of shirt and shoes; but let’s face it, if you’re going to do it, you may as well go all in and show up in maroon paisley velvet chinos. Tommy would approve.
The final essential is a good overcoat. This is probably where the biggest diversion from the original comes, as the long, knee-length coats that were fashionable in the 1920s are in hibernation at the moment, no doubt waiting for a return. For a new Peaky Blinders coat style, the modern overcoat is slim, smart and jacket-like, but no less stylish for that. It’s more than an extra layer for the outdoors – it’s an extension of the dapper look that you’ve created underneath it.
In general, the idea is to keep it above the knees, a few inches longer than your regular suit jacket. It’ll bulk up your torso but the key is to maintain the slender silhouette you've been working on, so make sure it fits snugly over your shirt, waistcoat and jacket.
Shoes and accessories
Shoes are an opportunity to show you mean business, so always go for quality. In this case, quality usually means understated, polished and close fitting, so look for brogues or a semi-brogue look for the feet. The look will allow some smart boots, such as Chelsea boots, but keep an eye on the narrowness of your trousers’ ankles, as the boots should certainly creep up the insides.
Finally, it’s the accessories, and here’s where you bring your personalisation to proceedings. Again, we’re not looking at role-play here, so perhaps avoid pocket watches and floppy caps, although a contemporary cap will finish off the look perfectly if you’re a hat-wearer. As for the silk ties and scarves, tie pins and a pocket square or handkerchief – go all in. These are the flecks of personality that matter in your look.
That pretty much rounds it off, and serves as a guide for achieving the Peaky Blinders look. It’s both fun and formal, and brings a smart glamour to your life. We love its modern masculinity and it marks you out from the high street shoppers. Just remember what year it is, and interpret accordingly.