Cillian Murphy as Thomas “Tommy” Shelby, cunning Peaky Blinders gang leader and jaded WWI veteran
Gloucestershire, England, Fall 1919
Series: Peaky Blinders
Episodes: Episodes 1.03 – 1.05
Air Dates: September 26, 2013 – October 10, 2013
Directors: Otto Bathurst (Episode 1.03) & Tom Harper (Episode 1.04 & 1.05)
Creator: Steven Knight
Costume Designer: Stephanie Collie
Tailor: Keith Watson
While many will be celebrating their Irish heritage this week (whether it exists or not), fans of Peaky Blinders may be interested to know that tomorrow marks the beginning of the Cheltenham Festival, the prestigious annual four-day meeting in the National Hunt racing calendar that finds many of the best British and Irish-trained horses racing against the backdrop of the excited crowd’s “Cheltenham roar”.
The 1919 Cheltenham Festival was the setting of Tommy Shelby’s decidedly unromantic “first date” with Grace when he pimps her out to ruthless gangster Billy Kimber after a display of his own gang’s power. Luckily for Grace (or perhaps for Kimber, as Grace had just gotten her hand on her revolver), Tommy grows a conscience at the last second and bursts in with the charming words that every lady likes to hear on a date: “She may look good on the outside, but she’s a whore.”
During their ride back to Birmingham, a revolted Grace tosses the day’s events around while trying to make sense of it: “Start of the day, I was Lady Sarah of Connemara. By the end, I was a whore with the clap. You’re a fucking bastard offering me like that, but then you change your mind. Why did you change your mind, Thomas?”
What’d He Wear?
For his day at the races, Tommy Shelby wears a gray shadow-striped lightweight flannel three-piece suit. The shadow stripes appear to be a muted burgundy stripe and a thinner gray stripe a shade lighter than the rest of the suit. Also from venerable Savile Row tailor Keith Watson, this suit is tailored and styled exactly like his darker herringbone striped suit, right down to the cloth-covered buttons on the suit jacket and waistcoat.
This suit is clearly a big deal for Tommy, as we get a concentrated scene that focuses on each aspect of his outfit as we see him putting it on for the first time in the series. Interestingly, the two major times he wears it are for major business events superficially disguised as romantic occasions; he wears it for his Cheltenham “date” in the third episode that is actually just a power move against Billy Kimber, and he wears it in the next episode for John’s wedding that had been arranged specifically to bring peace between the Shelby and Lee clans.
Like the herringbone suit I mentioned earlier, this gray striped suit has a single-breasted jacket with notch lapels that roll over the top of the three cloth-covered buttons. Tommy pins his boutonnière for John’s wedding through the buttonhole stitched through his left lapel. Although the boutonnière is a rare bit of flash for that occasion, Tommy always keeps a white linen pocket square neatly folded into his jacket’s welted breast pocket. The jacket also has straight flapped hip pockets.
Tommy’s suit jacket has straight and padded shoulders, a shallow chest, and a pulled-in waist. The back is ventless and the sleeves extend down from roped heads on the shoulders to the two widely spaced cuff buttons, also covered in the same gray shadow-striped flannel cloth. It is, indeed, styled exactly like the herringbone suit (to the point where I borrowed much of my description from that post!), indicating that Tommy still feels comfortable in some variant of a uniform even after his traumatic war service in France.
The suit has a matching waistcoat (which we Americans just call a “vest”) with six cloth-covered buttons down the single-breasted front, leaving the lowest button undone over the notched bottom. Like his other suit, it has shawl lapels and two lower welt pockets.
Tommy’s pocketwatch – at least during the first season – is a gold Waltham open-faced railroad watch with Arabic numerals and a sub-dial at 6:00. He wears it in the left pocket of his waistcoat, attached on a gold link chain through the third buttonhole to a gold fob.
The suit trousers ditch the bell bottoms that the real Peaky Blinders were known to wear in real life, with costume designer Stephanie Collie instead opting for trousers with a straight leg and short break that almost certainly look better than the real gang’s trousers would have looked anyway. The flat front trousers rise high on the waist – another preference of Collie’s, but a historically accurate one! – with frogmouth front pockets and no back pockets. Although they can’t be seen in any of these scenes, Tommy almost definitely wears suspenders (braces) to hold up his trousers.
The trousers’ short break means getting a better look at Tommy’s black leather combat boots. The cap-toe half boots have nine eyelets for front lacing and resemble the U.S. Navy and Marine Corps’ “boondockers” issued during World War II. Tommy wears his boots with gray socks that rise high on his calf and continue the leg line of his gray striped trousers.
Tommy wears this suit in three different episodes, wearing a different shirt each time. All of the shirts are striped cotton dress shirts that are worn with attachable white club collars that come to a sharp point in the front; the collar is attached with a gold stud through the front and back of the shirt’s collar band.
Each of the three shirts have white plastic buttons down a front placket and single cuffs for links. Even though this is Tommy’s closest thing to a “dress suit”, he continues his first season habit of never wearing a necktie.
For the suit’s first appearance at the Cheltenham races in the third episode, Tommy wears a white and light gray striped shirt that he tends to wear through most of the first season. His cuff links are reddish discs with silver trim that connect the single cuffs on a silver chain-link.
In the next episode, at John’s wedding, Tommy wears a white shirt with thin purple pinstripes. The single cuffs are closed by a pair of shiny, all-silver oblong links. This was also the first shirt seen on the series when Tommy rides through Birmingham on his white horse in the first scene of the first episode.
For the suit’s blink-and-you’ll-miss-it appearance in the fifth episode, Tommy wears a white shirt with thin red pinstripes. Like the others, he can also be seen wearing this shirt with his dark gray striped herringbone suit.
On each sleeve of his shirt, Tommy wears a steel link-style garter.
While some men of the era may have opted for more formal headgear for these occasions, it would be foolish for Tommy Shelby to go anywhere without his “peaky blinder” – a brown and gray mixed barleycorn tweed newsboy cap with a razor stitched just above the cap’s peak. When not wearing the hat or using its peak to blind an enemy (that’s where the moniker comes from, folks), Tommy stuffs the cap into the right hip pocket of his suit jacket.
John’s wedding is set a little later in the series as the weather is growing chillier, so Tommy wears his black herringbone wool single-breasted overcoat. This three-button topcoat has large low-gorge notch lapels, large flapped hip pockets, roped sleeveheads, and a long single vent. Since Tommy almost never buttons his coat, the black silk lining is often seen as his coat flaps around in the wind.
Tommy appears to be wearing his same striped cotton henley undershirt, which has long sleeves and a four-button front bib with red stripes on the white ground.
On his left pinky, Tommy – as well as Arthur and John – wears a gold “belt” ring, as identified by a commentor on my first Peaky Blinders post. The belt is a choice motif for the Shelby brothers as it symbolizes “unbreakable strength of upholding loyalty” on its eternal loop, according to ArtOfMourning.com.
Another reminder of the Shelby brothers’ strength can be found under Tommy’s left armpit in the form of a dark brown leather shoulder holster for his large Webley .455 revolver.
For more about Peaky Blinders style at Clothes on Film, check out this page. As Collie told Clothes on Film: “These men probably only had maybe one or two suits, which is how we worked as well. Cillian has literally only got one or two suits throughout, but hopefully you don’t even notice that because you’re engrossed in the story. The clothes are there to be part of the story, but you don’t want anyone to go ‘oh, wow!’ when they see them. They can never be more important than what’s going on in the scene.”
Go Big or Go Home
With a major Irish celebration coming up this week, embrace Tommy Shelby’s drinking habits (and Cillian Murphy’s nationality) by getting yourself a bottle of Bushmills… known then as “Old Bushmills” as seen on the Shelby brothers’ frequently used bottles. As I noted in a previous post, Tommy also smokes Sweet Afton cigarettes, another Irish brand. Introduced in 1919 by P.J. Carroll & Co. (now a subsidiary of British American Tobacco), Sweet Aftons just made the cut of being correct for the show’s timeline.
To know me is to know that I have a special affinity for music of the 1920s, so I was delighted to hear three different familiar songs played when Tommy and Grace are dancing at the Cheltenham races in the third episode. Interestingly, a few of the recordings were made during the 1950s using original ’20s-style arrangements. There was a brief trend in the mid-1950s that found many old Tin Pan Alley standards re-recorded for hi-fi players, and many old bandleaders from the era like Paul Whiteman and Jean Goldkette found themselves back in the recording studio to recreate the sounds that had made them famous three decades earlier.
The first song heard during the Cheltenham party is “Cataract Rag” as performed by Ken Colyer’s Jazzmen (Link). Colyer was a British trumpeter devoted to New Orleans jazz who cut this track for his New Orleans to London and Back to the Delta album. The first lineup of the Jazzmen performing on his album were Chris Barber, Monty Sunshine, Ron Bowden, Lonnie Donegan, and Jim Bray; this lineup was only together in 1953 and 1954 before splitting up. “Cataract Rag” had been written four decades earlier, in 1914, by Robert Hampton.
“Either your left leg is stronger than your right or we’re making a getaway,” Grace notes when Tommy picks up his dancing pace during “Five Foot Two, Eyes of Blue”, here performed by Firehouse Five Plus Two (Link). While not published until 1925 and remembered as a standard of the “Roaring Twenties”, the song had actually been written more than a decade earlier, supposedly first penned by Percy Weinrich and Jack Mahoney in 1914. Firehouse Five Plus Two was a Dixieland workhorse throughout the 1950s, putting out album after album celebrating the first years of jazz and clearly having fun while they’re at it. I own several Firehouse Five Plus Two albums on vinyl, including The Firehouse Five Plus Two Story, Vol. 3, the 1955 album that contained this track. (Much to my neighbors’ chagrin, I actually use this recording as my alarm ringtone every morning before work.)
While Tommy’s beloved Grace does indeed have blue eyes, Annabelle Wallis’ statuesque height of 5’7″ prevents her from resembling the subject of the song.
Finally, the pace of the music slows as a recording of “Fascination” by Guy Lombardo and his Royal Canadians underscores Tommy and Kimber’s negotiations (Link). Originally written as “Fascination Waltz” by Fermo Dante Marchetti in 1904 (with words added the following year), the song wasn’t published until 1932 and attained its greatest popularity the next year when it was used in the film The House on 56th Street starring Kay Francis. Guy Lombardo’s version featured on Peaky Blinders was included on his 1959 album Dancing Room Only.
How to Get the Look
Tommy’s lighter gray striped flannel suit is just a variation of his everyday suit, but it’s an example of how a man can determine his own “uniform” of similarly styled and tailored suits to be worn depending on the occasion.
- Gray shadow-striped lightweight flannel three-piece tailored suit, consisting of:
- Single-breasted jacket with notch lapels, 3-roll-2 covered-button front, welted breast pocket, straight flapped hip pockets, 2 covered-button cuffs, and ventless back
- Single-breasted waistcoat with shawl lapels, 6 covered-button front, notched bottom, and welted hip pockets
- Flat front high-rise trousers with frogmouth front pockets, straight leg, and plain-hemmed short break bottoms
- White-and-gray striped cotton collarless shirt with front placket, white collar band, and single cuffs
- White detachable stiff club collar
- Silver and red disc cuff links
- Silver chain-link arm garters
- Black herringbone wool single-breasted topcoat with large notch lapels, 3-button front, flapped hip pockets, and long single vent
- Black leather 9-eyelet front-laced cap-toe “boondocker” half boots
- Gray tall socks
- White cotton long-sleeve henley undershirt with red-striped bib and 4-button front
- White cotton boxer shorts
- Gray & brown mixed barleycorn tweed newsboy cap
- Waltham gold railroad pocketwatch, worn on gold chain with fob
- Gold “belt” pinky ring
Do Yourself a Favor and…
Buy the first season or catch the first two seasons on Netflix!
Everyone’s a whore… we just sell different parts of ourselves.