Those sharply dressed 1920s gangsters on Boardwalk Empire (HBO TV Show) and now Peaky Blinders are the envy of men’s fashion hounds and period costume admirers alike. If only I had the same budget as the costume designers who make custom wool suiting and hand tailored clothing for each actor. Alas I don’t have that budget and I’m guessing you don’t either. Fear not! You can get the classic 1920s men’s gangster clothing look with some carefully chosen modern suits and accessories.
1920s Gangster Men’s Fashion Suit
The best male dresser on Boardwalk Empire goes to the character Nucky Thompson. He is a style icon for all that wealth and prosperity could afford you in 1920. He and most of his associates were fond of striped wool suits. They were not quite pin stripes as they were wider and more pronounced. Today wide stripes are called chalk stripes or shadow stripes. Blue stripes, grey stripes and brown stripes were equally popular. The suits buttoned up with 3 or 4 single breasted and double breasted suit jackets. The buttons came up quite high on the jacket and gave way to wide peak lapels. Suits always had a matching high V neck vest and flat front trousers with narrow legs in the early 20s and wide legs by the end of the decade. The pants came down to the ankles, which is very short by today’s standards. Read more 1920s mens suits.
Tip: Find a striped suit that fits you a bit on the small size (the early 1920s suits were very well tailored with no extra room for unrefined movement) or the opposite, wide fit suit for a late 20s gangster. Pinstripe suits will work if you can’t find the wider 1/4 inch stripes. You can also wear colorful windowpane or plaid suits. Avoid black suits. The men on Boardwalk Empire wore many of colorful suits and so can you.
Hopefully, the suit you choose has a matching vest. If not then do your best to find one in the same color or shade. With all the changes to vests over the years, modern vests do quite well for a 1920’s look. You could even skip the vest if you keep your suit jacket buttoned all the way up. If you go without a jacket then you will certainly need to wear a vest. Shop here for 1920s style mens vests.
Peaky Blinders characters also wore striped suits for the upper classes (the bosses) and neutral browns, tans, greys, and tweeds for the lower classes aka the muscle men. Men with money could afford a matching three piece suit. Poor men/working men wore second-hand clothes that didn’t always match. A similar shade of vest but not matching was often worn or none at all. Clothes did not fit too well (usually looser) and were not very colorful. Thomas Shelby also frequently wore shirtwithoutut an attached collar. Caps were worn instead of expensive felt hats. Learn more about Peaky Blinders outfits here.
1920 Men’s Shirts
Most men in the early 1920s were wearing colorful dress shirts with club collars or round collars. They were usually detachable white collars that were washed separately and buttoned on a small round collar shirt (similar to a Mandarin style shirt.) Shirt collars were either lined in stiff material or left unlined. The unlined, cloth collars, could look a bit unruly so to keep them looking good with a tie bar. Nucky’s was custom made for the show but you can find one at formal men’s stores or a local vintage /antique store.
has an excellent tutorial on how to turn an attached collar dress shirt into a detachable collar dress shirt.
If you can’t find a club collar shirt you can either make one by cutting off the points on a standard dress shirt or just wearing a point collar dress shirt instead. Pointed collar shirts became common in 1922. 1920s collars, were long point, often called classic or straight collars today. The current trend for wide spread collars was briefly popular in the late 1920s.
The other element of the 1920s shirt, besides the contrasting white collar, was the contrasting white french cuffs. These thick white cuffs came with button holes for a pair of snazzy cuff links. If you wear a standard dress shirt and want to wear cuff links simply poke a hole where the cuff button normally is.
The best part about 1920s shirts were the vivid color choices. White was boring. Pastels yellows, blues, greens and even pink solids were common as well as a mix of these colors in 1/4 inch stripes. Bold and clashing with ties and suits was the way to go! Shirts always had white cuffs and collars until the late 20s when all solid color shirts became popular. Have fun choosing your shirt color!
Shop here for 1920s style men’s shirts
1920 Men’s Neckties and Bow Ties
The other pop of collar was a man’s necktie and pocket square (handkerchief.) Neckties came in standard long silk ties or festive fluffy bow ties. I say fluffy bow ties because they are shorter and fatter then today’s pre-tied bow ties. Get a self tied bow tie and learn to tie it yourself for a more authentic 1920’s look. Both neckties and bow ties were full of color and often clashed with shirts and suits. Small dots and thick stripes were two favorite bow tie and necktie patterns. In the early 20’s paisley print ties were all the rage. Be bold, be daring, show off your style with more color. Learn about the history of 1920’s mens ties.
Shop for 1920s style ties here.
1920 Men’s Hats and Shoes
Occasionally you see a Boardwalk Empire man wearing a hat. Popular hats of the time were the Homburg, the Bowler or Derby, the Fedora and for summer the straw Boater or Panama hat. Lower classes, working classes and casual sporty outfits required an 8 panel cap instead, sometimes called a Newsboy or Gatsby cap. Peaky Blinders gang almost always wore a cap instead of a felt hat, reflecting their social status. You can read all about 1920’s men’s hats styles here.
Men’s iconic shoes of the 1920s were two toned, brown and white, spectator shoes. These were best with casual suits and sport clothes. In the opening credits, you see Nucky wearing dark two tone wingtip shoes- a sign of his class and fashion-forwardness. Get those exact shoes here.
The more common dress shoe was the cap toe oxford in brown or black. Shoes featured the simple cap toe without all the fussy wingtip detailing that came in by the 1930s. In the summer white Nubuck shoes were worn with white or ivory suits. Occasionally two tone grey and white and even black and white shoes were seen.
Lace up boots were still worn by working classes and some older gentlement but if you were a high class gangster you wore spats. Learn the history of mens shoes and spats here.
Shop for shoes on 1920’s mens shoes page.
More Gangster Clothing Ideas:
Nucky Thompson and his gang of gangster are not the only styles you can emulate. Click on the photo above or here for more ideas on creating a 1920s men’s look.
Now that you know what to look for you can raid your closet, head to the thrift store, or look at all of the new 1920s style men’s clothes I have found online for you. Here are some basics to get you started. Use the 1920s menu above for more men’s 1920s clothing options: