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:
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.
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.
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.
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, Christopher Laverty.