Few shows have had quite the impact on menswear as Peaky Blinders. When it first aired in 2013, it almost single-handedly brought back the baker boy cap and now the likes of David Beckham and Ryan Reynolds are regularly seen sporting them. The former’s own brand, Kent & Curwen, even produced a Peaky Blinders capsule collection.
The antics of the Shelby clan have certainly helped focus everyone’s minds on 1920s men’s fashion, but, as we approach the centenary of those heady, not to say Roaring days, all the signs are that the shapes, drapes and exuberance of that era are making a comeback in men’s fashion, from boxy double-breasted jackets to high-waisted trousers via pinstripes and windowpane checks.
Have we reached a hundred year cycle, where the styles of a century ago are suddenly at the apex of fashion? Perhaps not quite, but a new appreciation of 1920s fashion is being felt by brands from New York to Naples.
What Is 1920s Men’s Fashion?
“The Jazz Age was the first time that men shook off their uniforms and started to have a bit of fun with what they wore,” says Christopher Modoo, creative director of Kit Blake, whose line of tailoring separates – peak-lapel tuxedo jackets, pleated trousers, shawl-collar waistcoats – is at the forefront of the contemporary brands riffing on ’20s styles and cuts.
“What we saw in that decade was the birth of classic menswear. There was a sense of modernity and sophistication in wider society – from Art Deco to new technology – which expressed itself in the fuller shapes, the slightly more exaggerated cuts, and the tweeds and checks.
Black tie was born as a softer, dressed-down version of formal white tie; the lounge suit was slowly becoming acceptable for business; and you saw the beginnings of international travel, with the birth of resort style and driving fashion. There was a playfulness there that links directly to the new formality in menswear today.”
The Great Gatsby, 1974
Indeed, after what seems like decades of nipped-in this, flat-fronted that, and skinny everything else, ’20s styles – looser, wide-legged, formal but fun, put-together but peppy – are as big a breath of fresh air as they were the first time round.
“The overly-tailored skinny suit is dated and uncomfortable,” says Modoo. “Fuller cuts are more grown-up and refined. They also allow the cloths, particularly the rich flannels, to drape in the way they should.” Whether you’re going full Great Gatsby, or casual Shelby, it’s time to Roar again.
How To Get The 1920s Look Today
The Three-Piece Suit
What set ’20s suits apart were the use of a high-buttoning, sometimes lapelled waistcoat – all the better to set off the club collar shirt and vivid tie – and the hard-wearing but raffish materials, with tweeds, flannels and corduroys coming into their own. The jackets were cut slightly shorter but fuller, and the trousers were invariably pleated and cuffed. Patterns were distinctive, with plaids, checks and chalkstripes all making their presence felt.
Then, as now, this was a look to sport at the club or the cabaret. Soho tailor Mark Powell’s louche three-pieces put ’20s styles through a modern gangster-geezer blender, while Ralph Lauren can always be relied upon to channel some elegiac Gatsby glamour.
Ralph Lauren Purple Label
The ’20s penchant for mixing up tailoring separates, along with colour, fabric and pattern, leant toward the improv end of the Jazz Age, but is finding favour again in an era when the suit-as-uniform has fallen out of favour, but people want a more put-together alternative to luxe-sportswear tyranny that works equally well for laid-back work or serious play.
“Our whole line is built around tailoring for people who don’t want to be over-tailored,” says Christopher Modoo at Kit Blake, whose own look mixes and creatively mismatches – double-breasted windowpane-check blazer, contrast check waistcoat, grey flannel trousers – to winning effect.
The ’20s wasn’t really a casual decade – witness Scott Fitzgerald, on the Cote d’Azur, decked out in a tweed jacket and matching plus-fours along with his Breton stripe shirt – but modern variations on ’20s themes accentuate the louche while still keeping things sharp.
Try wearing a pair of high-waisted, pleated trousers – Rubinacci’s versions come in corduroy and flannel – with a shawl cardigan, or robust knit, referencing the era’s more generous lines.
Anderson & Sheppard’s knitwear comes in a ’20s-friendly range of rich colours, from purple to dark green, and you could even add a finishing-touch the outfit with a banded-collar chambray shirt from Kent & Curwen’s Peaky Blinders collection for the full crime-family-scion-dresses-down homage.
Key 1920s Pieces
The Right Blazer
Rules for the ’20s-referencing blazer: it should be double-breasted; it should button fairly low, accentuating the insouciant slouch; and the lapels should be just-brushing-the-shoulder generous. The French tailoring house Husbands has been refining this style for some time – and their navy blazer comes with speakeasy-ready shiny buttons – while Gucci’s checked selection revels in ’20s pattern recognition.
“Pleated, fuller-cut trousers were more comfortable than the side-creased, flat-fronted style they replaced in the ’20s, and there was a sense of modernity to them that chimed with all the other innovations happening at the time,” says Christopher Modoo. With his Kit Blake trousers – featuring bold pleats and side cinchers, and coming in the requisite checks and flannels – modernity can be modern all over again.
A Formal Shirt
Because so little of the shirt was visible under the predominant ’20s styles of high-buttoning waistcoats and double-breasted jackets, it had to stand out.
Pin-collar shirts became popular, adding some hardware and making the tie pop (Tom Ford does a snazzy update of the style), as did club-collars with contrast bodies, enabling you to get yet more patterning into your outfit (the Italian brand G Inglese has various rakish iterations on offer).
A Jazzy Tie
Again, forget your subtle knitted weaves or subdued grenadines – the ’20s tie made a bold, go-big-or-go-home statement. Art Deco-inspired patterns were everywhere, and paisleys made their first flourishes alongside the graphic checks and plaids. Mark Powell has a nice selection of vintage ties boasting all manner of swirls and whorls, while Richard James’ oscillating and vortexing versions are suitably mesmerising.
Statement trainers won’t cut it here – to anchor a ’20s-inspired outfit, you need a solid shoe or boot. Tasselled loafers or two-tone Art Deco-inspired spectator Oxfords add some bebop flair (try Cheaney’s suede loafers or New & Lingwood’s white-and-chestnut spectators), or, alternatively, invest in some reassuringly heavily-grained and chunkily-soled Derbies (Church’s are as weighty as you could wish) or a pair of leather/tweed button boots from J Fitzpatrick to up the dandy ante.
A Classic Watch
Give your wrist a rest. No self-respecting ’20s three-piece suit was seen without a watch chain dangling from its waistcoat – and pulling out a pocket watch is a far classier flourish than fumbling for a smartphone. For full period immersion you could go for a vintage piece by the likes of Tissot, IWC, Patek Philippe, or Omega; alternatively, the Scottish firm Dalvey produce a range of “Hunter” pocket watches that are well worth bagging.
The ’20s-inspired accessory list is fulsome: cufflinks, collar bars, tie pins, braces (of the buttoning kind, of course – clip-ons were the product of a subsequent, less exacting century), and hats. If you want to take the ’20s homage to its logical conclusion, a fedora never goes amiss (particularly if it’s from Rubinacci).
And if you’re lacking that perfect newsboy or flat cap in the run-up to the next Peaky Blinders festival, then Lock & Co’s herringbone version might even leave Tommy Shelby standing in the style stakes.