Peaky Blinders_Cillian Murphy hat top_Image credit Tiger Aspect Productions © 2013 Lord Christopher Laverty. All rights reserved.

Dress like a Peaky Blinder

Let’s get this straight: Peaky Blinders is not Boardwalk Empire. It’s a post World War I gangster drama, during roughly the same time period (1919 as opposed to the early 20’s), it’s gritty, features loyal yet warring brothers, is as cool as ice chips and doesn’t pull any punches. However Boardwalk Empire is set in the attractive seaside landscape of Atlantic City, USA, while Peaky Blinders is set in Birmingham. The whole palette is different too. Boardwalk is colourful and vibrant, Peaky is dark and dingy. Evidently this extends to the clothes. You wouldn’t have got far walking around Birmingham in an orange silk shirt and camel coat; this was tweed and flannel country, about as sunny as a coal pit. This does not change the fact that everyone in the show still looks incredible, especially the gents. Best of all this isn’t a difficult style to recreate now, and not one that will make you feel ridiculous sipping warm bitter in your local pub either.

Costume designer Stephanie Collie keeps everything as accessible as possible. Although the Peaky Blinders gang did exist (so called because they hid razor blades in their caps), this isn’t a history lesson or social realism, it’s a Hollywood movie spread out across six episodes. Collie even admitted that “(with Peaky Blinders) we did want to create a look that would then translate into autumn and winter ranges this year.” You are invited to dress like a Peaky Blinder. Being as the show airs during the autumn adopting the Peaky look can be a natural progression and relatively cheap. You can buy everything you’ll need from the high street. And this is how we are approaching our shopping guide; not big name high fashion outlets but the kind of stores you can nip into on a Saturday afternoon. Click the blue links below for product suggestions:

Peaky Blinders_Cillian Murphy mid_Image credit Tiger Aspect Productions

Cillian Murphy as unofficial head of the Peaky Blinders, Thomas Shelby. Thomas rarely wears pinstripes, preferring his staple herringbone tweed. If you want to try the pinstripe look take into account the insubstantial weight of most modern off the peg suits and shop mid-late 1960s vintage (a fairly close approximation) instead.

Again, stepping away from Boardwalk Empire most of the characters in Peaky Blinders dress very similar, with only minor details to set them apart. For example Arthur Shelby (Paul Anderson) is the only person to wear a bow tie, while Thomas Shelby’s (Cillian Murphy) hat is in the ‘Gatsby’ newsboy style, seemingly slightly bigger than those around him. For the purposes of this recreation it is best to concentrate on Thomas; he is, after all, the main man. He always wears a 3 piece herringbone tweed suit with the only exceptions being a grey pinstripe for special occasions such as a trip to Cheltenham races or a wedding and possibly a flannel once or twice. The cut in Peaky Blinders is historically accurate, though perhaps leaner through the legs (the real Blinders wore bell bottoms), chest and shoulders. This gives off a contemporary vibe without resorting to low waist trousers that look about as masculine as a straw bonnet. Tweed suits are not that easy to find on the high street; sports jackets are, but here you need everything to match like a utility garment – think shipyards not Shoreditch. Topman do some fine tweed style suits, 3 piece at around £215.00. Beyond the high street, far more expensive though also more substantial are Victor Valentine for £400.00. Further down the trough ASOS have a brilliant value 3 button fastening (like Tommy’s), 3 piece grey herringbone tweed for just £125.00 all in. You get what you pay for as it’s a wool/poly mix, but – wooden buttons apart (which can be swapped) – this is real bargain.

In 1919 Tommy wears a detachable stiff collar shirt. Soon the attached soft collar would become popular, though for now the Roaring Twenties are a long way off. This is a look you’ll want to emulate not copy. To begin with detachable collar shirts are not that easy to come by, especially on the high street. Moreover they were never that comfortable. The intention was to keep your neck and posture as straight as possible, the detachable element only came in to play for washing; this way a gentleman could keep his shirt going all week if he changed his collar every day. Thankfully the basic style is straightforward enough to imitate now. The ‘club’ (rounded collar) angle is the most important factor, followed by a contrast colour front, and you can always steam press with spray starch to add stiffness. Tommy tends to wear white collar and fine light blue, wine or grey pinstripes, and just a couple of times plain blue. These shirts are ten a penny in shops such as Next for less than £25. Montague Burton’s £32.00 bib shirt is a novel idea. It’s not accurate to the show but echoes the Peaky feel. If you must go proper stiff collar try Darcy’s online. They have some lovely overhead shirts too.

Victor tweeds suits_main

Tweed suits by Victor Valentine. It has to be 3 piece to be a Peaky Blinder, and if you can find a waistcoat with a lapel (no notch) then all the better.

Tommy does sport a distinctive gold collar stud, which is only there to keep his collar in place. Obviously if the collar is not detachable you won’t need one. However they do make a nice semi formal touch if, like Tommy, you prefer to leave your necktie at home. It’s one way of stamping individuality that doesn’t involve brightly coloured socks. It’s unlikely you will find a shirt with an attached collar stud on the high street, so you’ll need to order one from an online stockist for around £3.00, or perhaps try the haberdashery in Hobbycraft. Then either replace the top button yourself or befriend someone with sewing skills. As far as the shirt’s fit is concerned, keep it slim to avoid gathering while leaving enough room to breathe. Don’t bother with cufflinks either, on top of everything else they’ll scream affectation.

Boots and shoes are tricky because it can be difficult to buy anything reasonably priced these days that doesn’t have a god awful logo on the side, or soles so chunky they look like corrective footwear. Tommy wears black front laced leather half boots. Boots were actually seen as more conservative after the War with many younger men choosing comfortable shoes instead. However, in this context boots give off a tougher, more working class vibe. There are plenty of boots to choose from on the high street that ape the Peaky Blinders. Being as this style of footwear was repeated in the 1960s you can even afford to be a dandy about it. Schuh sell a robust black Hudson boot for £125.00, but if you feel like shouting a bit Jeffrey West have recently added a Cuban-sole studded Chelsea boot to their collection for £200.00. The Blinders wear their trousers at the ankle with no visible break, though this is vastly different to skinny Hoxton ankle grazers which just look ridiculous. Trousers don’t really need any break at all. Watch a film where you admire the suits; it is almost given there will be no bunch at the ankle.

Peaky Blinders_Hudson boots

These black leather hobnail boots by Hudson are perfect. Dare you risk the shaven back and sides haircut too? It is a bit TOWIE but does suit the overall vibe.

A further troublesome issue is the Peaky hat. Now, anyone can throw on a baseball cap, or even an Olly Murs trilby for a few drinks in a riverside bar, but to wear a tweed cap with a tweed suit and club collar shirt takes commitment. Oddly though you’ll probably not look as conspicuous as you think. Wear this ensemble with confidence and it’s everyone else who will think they’ve got it wrong. Tommy’s newsboy hat is currently ‘on trend’ for men and women. If this thought fills you with dread just go for an ordinary flat cap – it’s less plump and missing the top button. Topman and M&S sell some decent variations, nothing too old school tweedy, just a plain grey herringbone. Also Tommy’s cap has a crisp barleycorn finish, which will be a lucky find on the high street. Expect to pay around £20.00 or less. To really treat yourself try Yorkshire based Kempadoo-Millar, they make some lovely ones (not cheap, mind).

Another accessory worn by the Peaky Blinders are braces, or suspenders to our American friends. Unless you’re wearing vintage or buying a tailored suit it’s unlikely there will be braces buttons in the waistband, so that means going for clip-ons instead. Nothing wrong with 4 strap clip-on braces, despite what the snobs claim; they are comfortable and vastly improve how your trousers hang. That said, combined with tweed suit and cap you might be verging on dress up. Try the whole outfit first and buy them last.

M&S flat cap_main

Tommy wears a newsboy cap, easily identifiable by the fabric button on top. However any decent flat cap will do in this instance, just so long as it’s tweed. If you can start smoking too that will complete the effect.

The finishing touches to your ensemble should include a pocket square and pocket watch. Go for a linen square as silk is too fancy. Regarding the watch it’s a judgement call. Tommy only wears his pocket watch for special occasions, such as meeting Police Chief Campbell (Sam Neil) in a posh restaurant. If he had a wristwatch, which weren’t in common usage at the time, he’d probably be wearing that instead. Also leave your overstuffed wallet at home. The Peaky Blinders deal in cash so that credit card will just have to sit in your top pocket. Finally as winter draws in you will be needing an overcoat. Buying a black wool three quarter length coat on the high street is not as straightforward as you might think, there always seems to be some Velcro attached or fussy extra buttons that you don’t need. This Crombie style version from Moss is a smart buy. It’s full length, unadorned, and at £59.00 a real bargain. Remember to size up if necessary as this coat has got to fit over your tweed suit without appearing tight. The idea is to envelope your body then swish back and forth like The Long Riders, not fasten you in like a hipster Sherlock Holmes.

If you’re taking Peaky style seriously don’t forget the Henley undershirt, which should be a staple in your wardrobe anyway. H&M sell a close example for just £13. Remember as smart, fun and comfortable as the Peaky look is, it’s most important you don’t go too far. Peaky Blinders style is totally wearable now providing the odd concession is made (leave the razor at home). Even in the show the Blinders don’t stand out much from everyone else. Their clothes are better quality and sharper, yet post WWI Birmingham is no catwalk. The Blinders manage to be noticed without ever betraying their roots. “I don’t pay for suits” mutters Tommy. This is his attitude to clothes; he wears what he needs to wear, his boots, his uniform, his hat. Everything else is just fashion.

Peaky Blinders is currently showing Thursdays at 9 pm on BBC 2.

© 2013 – 2014, Lord Christopher Laverty.

  • Andrew G Mooney

    hey, thanks for this, it’s bostin, but: “You won’t get far walking around Birmingham in an orange silk shirt and camel coat; it’s tweed and flannel country,” Actually, by law, everyone in Brum is forced to wear nothing by acryllic tracksuits and trainers from Matalan. The police issue on the spot fines if anyone’s caught wearing Dries Van Noten. Except in The Bull Ring, of course. I wonder if Selfridges will run with this theme? regards.

    • http://www.clothesonfilm.com/ Chris Laverty

      Actually this is an excellent point. I’d hastily (and sloppily) written that sentence to imply it’s how people dress in Birmingham NOW not then. I’ll re-word and say thank you.

  • Andrew G Mooney

    I was only teasing! In fact now and then the footie fans wear pink/orange silk shirts or golfing attire, then they get their razors out if anyone’s daft enough to think that’s “gay, or stuff. In Brum in the 70s you’d get your head kicked in for wearing an earring-ask George O’Dowd and Martin Degville. LOL! Now in some pubs you can get your head kicked in if you don’t have 2 and loads of tattoos. Cultural evolution, hey? Really enjoyed your article, but it all sounds a bit ‘high maintenance’ for yer average Brummie bloke. I’ll watch the city with interest to see if this look kicks off. it would be a lulz-fest if your article turned into a fashion meme for herd culture and everyone was wearing this look in a few weeks.

    • http://www.clothesonfilm.com/ Chris Laverty

      Yeah, I’ve got a feeling the look might only really take off in London, or at least it will work its way out from there. I live in York myself and think I could push this as far as the tweed suit and shirt. The cap wouldn’t wash unless I was walking a sheepdog at the same time.

  • Ella
  • https://twitter.com/dnwilliams dnwilliams

    I was interested in this show, and missed the first ep, I’ll definitely have to get caught up. The production seems pretty great top to bottom, and the clothes are definitely no small part of the appeal. Excellent write up, and thanks for thinking of us poor kids with the ASOS link.

    • http://www.clothesonfilm.com/ Chris Laverty

      No problem. Actually for the money you can’t go wrong with that ASOS suit.

  • bcsibley

    Just wanted to say thank you for the above – I’ve been considering a Boardwalk Empire look for the winter months for the past couple of years but have been put off by the flashiness. Peaky Blinders’ look hits the nail on the head for me – I’ve just purchased a charcoal fleck wool 3-piece from Topman and am waiting on other bits and pieces coming through in the post. This article was invaluable at me being able to source everything so thank you for taking the time to research! I live in London myself and will keep a look out for others who’ve adopted similar looks! Thanks again.

    • http://www.clothesonfilm.com/ Chris Laverty

      Thanks so much, I really appreciate you saying that. I’ve been trying the Peaky look myself, although minus cap and waistcoat. Still a bit warm for tweed but I’m loving it!

    • bcsibley

      Time to dust off the tweed and houndstooth again! Temp should drop just enough by the end of September to justify layering up…

  • bcsibley

    No worries, as I said, thank you for the tips! I’ve just spent 2 hours trying to find shirts similar to the Shelbys’ cuts but it’s proving v v difficult. Seems hard to find combo of constrast white club collar with subtle shirt pinstripes. Might have to be a compromise somewhere along the line! Girfriend has offered to sort out top buttons with Hobbycraft gold replacements – all systems go! Glad to see it looks good but yes you’re right, probably give it another 3/4 weeks until totally ditching lighter jackets.

    • http://www.clothesonfilm.com/ Chris Laverty

      My shirt was actually custom made from a few months ago (before I knew about Peaky). Tom Shelby’s is not the easiest colour combination to find. I could suggest a few more places on the net but I think it’s important to try on first, if at all possible. I’ve not got as far as the top button myself, though I’d love to see how it turns out. Please feel free to post a pic when you complete the look.

    • bcsibley

      As requested! Thanks again for the article – it took me long enough to find everything even after your hard work so god knows how long it would’ve taken without!

    • http://www.clothesonfilm.com/ Chris Laverty

      You are absolutely nailing it! Totally wearable. I like the shoes, they stop the look from being too cosplay. I’ll send this to Stephaine Collie.

    • bcsibley

      Thank you! That was the idea, bit of colour helps I think. Please do pass on my thanks to Stephanie for absolutely nailing the look in the programme!

  • Gregor Scott

    HI, thanks for this. the links are great. i have always liked the more traditional styles, and now i am obsessed with the show i have a an idea of how to try and pull off the look. i must admit i may look a little out of place in my home town hahaha. Going for the 1920s undercut as well.

    • http://www.clothesonfilm.com/ Chris Laverty

      Oh I wish I could puff off the undercut. As for the clothes, it’s best to start simple. Get the tweed and go from there.

  • Mick63

    Get a better pair of boots than those shown in this article. Better approximations can be found here: http://www.hudsonshoes.com/smyth-black.html

    • http://www.clothesonfilm.com/ Chris Laverty

      Nice. Thanks for your help.

    • Mick63

      My pleasure – in fact I think these are slightly better, and cheaper (well to my eyes at least).

      http://www.hudsonshoes.com/swathmore-coal.html

    • http://www.clothesonfilm.com/ Chris Laverty

      I think I prefer the soles on the first pair, but saying that I wouldn’t say no to either.

  • Mick63

    As to the hat, this is a pretty good match: http://www.ebay.co.uk/itm/400575607651?var=670140577124&ssPageName=STRK:MEWAX:IT&_trksid=p3984.m1423.l2649

    I’m enjoying the series as I was born and lived within about a five-minute walk from Watery Lane and the Garrison pub (the pub being on Garrison Lane) – the setting for Peaky Blinders. Mum still lives just around the corner from it.

  • Mick63
  • Mark Gardner

    excellent comments and excellent drama. Have enjoyed reading all the aspects of the history and production techniques. I lived in a terraced 2up-2down cottage of the era for 21 years too! (although I had it in top notch condition!) and can feel the vibe!

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