There are few men’s accessories as classic, dapper and distinguished as the pocket watch.
Seeing those chains dangling from the vests of bad-ass style icons like Cillian Murphy’s Tommy Shelby in Peaky Blinders or Steve McQueen’s title character in The Thomas Crown Affair makes me want to strap on a waistcoat, throw on my pocket watch and stroll through some cobblestoned streets.
The problem is, while pocket watches may have been perfectly standard for gentlemen of earlier eras, today we live in a much more casual world.
The opportunity to wear a pocket watch rarely presents itself, and when it does, it’s hard not to feel like the watch is an anachronism—and unnecessary affectation that makes us look more like we’re playing dress-up than actually dressing up.
Further compounding the problem is the fact that, because modern gentlemen almost never get to wear them, today most of us don’t even know how to wear a pocket watch properly.
So even those of us who do want make a pocket watch work are never quite sure how to nail the look.
The good news is that wearing a pocket watch in the 21st century is possible and, when done right, can evoke the timeless style of past eras without looking like you’re playing dress-up.
In this post I’ll break down everything you need to know to wear a pocket watch with style, class, and a modern-day dose of Peaky Blinders bad-assery.
How to Wear a Pocket Watch
A Modern Guide to Wearing a Pocket Watch
( Without Looking Like a Peaky Blinders Cosplayer )
How to Wear a Pocket Watch with a Vest
(or “How to Wear a Pocket Watch with a Waistcoat,” if you’re fancy)
The most classic – and for my money, still the most stylish – way to wear a pocket watch is with a button-up vest (also known as a waistcoat).
When wearing a pocket watch with a vest, you have two primary styles to choose from: the Single Albert or the Double Albert.
Both are named for pocket-watch enthusiast and husband to Queen Victoria, Prince Albert.
And yes, I realize there’s another metallic accessory named for him as well, but I looked it up, and it turns out there’s no historical evidence that he ever had a piercing.
(On a side note, if you value your eyeballs, I strong, strongly suggest that you never Google the phrase “Prince Albert piercing.”)
The “Single” and “Double” aspects of the name refer to the number of chains that connect the pocket watch to the vest.
How to Wear a Single Albert Pocket Watch Chain
As you can probably surmise, the Single Albert includes just one chain that runs from the pocket watch to the vest.
You wear it by connecting it through the vest’s button hole using a T-bar pin, which is essentially a piece of T-shaped metal long enough to ensure that the chain doesn’t slip out through the hole.
It’s worth noting that many pocket watches don’t come with T-bar pins; they usually come with a chain that has a removable clasp on the end, which can be attached to a T-bar.
Fortunately, switching the watch to a new chain is easy, and you can buy chains that come with T-bars on Amazon.
How to Wear a Double Albert Pocket Watch Chain
The Double Albert, not surprisingly, involves piercing both the shaft and the tip of the… just kidding. (Also: gross.)
The Double Albert actually refers to two connected chains that extend from the button into both pockets.
You also need a T-bar pin to wear it, and it works the same way as the Single Albert, but in addition to the pocket watch chain there’s a second chain that extends from the button hole, which you’ll slip into your other pocket.
Usually this chain connects to another small token that’s about the same size and weight as the pocket watch, like a key chain or a small Swiss Army knife, which weighs down the chain and keeps it in the pocket.
What about that other dangling thing?
Ah yes, the “dangling thing.” Good question.
Some pocket watch chains in both the Single Albert and Double Albert styles come with an extra bit of chain, which sports a pendant and is meant to dangle in front of the buttons.
The pendant that dangles could feature a design, or could be left blank so you can have it engraved with the symbol or letters of your choice, like your initials, family crest or, of course, Spider-Man’s head.
(Yes, someone really did this. People are weird.)
How to Wear a Pocket Watch with Jeans
(a.k.a. How to Make the Pocket Watch and Vest Look Modern)
Now that you understand the two chain styles that are key to wearing a pocket watch with a vest, let’s discuss how to make them look appropriate for the 21st century.
In my opinion, wearing a pocket watch with jeans is the easiest (and quite possibly the sharpest) way to make a timeless accessory look modern.
What’s great about this look is that it actually does a few things simultaneously, all of which are dashing and dapper.
First, it immediately makes you look modern. Wearing a pocket watch with a suit is a great look (and below I’ll explain the keys to doing it with style), but because previous generations wore suits so often, the suit-and-pocket-watch combo can’t help but feel a little bit old school.
Jeans, on the other hand, are a thoroughly modern piece of menswear, so pairing your vest and pocket watch with a slim-fitting pair of denim immediately conveys modernity.
The other advantage to this look is that, while your jeans modernize your pocket watch, your pocket watch helps dress-up your jeans.
Denim is inherently more casual, but when done well and paired with the right other pieces, a good pair of jeans can still look sharp as hell.
And finishing off the look with a pocket watch adds an extra touch of class that can really help you stand out.
Here are a few tips to really nail the vest-jeans-pocket watch combo:
- Opt for jeans in both a slim fit and a darker wash; the combo will inherently make them look a little more dressed up.
- Choose a vest with some texture in it – think tweed or herringbone rather than silk – to evoke the Peaky Blinders era without going full cosplay.
- To finish off the look, pair it with some leather boots that have a chunky soul but a sleek toe shape, which perfectly complements the rugged-meets-refined look you’re going for (Thursday Boots Company’s “Captains” would work perfectly here).
How to Wear a Pocket Watch with a Suit
Step 1: Make it a 3-Piece Suit
The first thing you need to know about wearing a pocket watch with a suit is that a three-piece suit is pretty much mandatory.
I’ve seen guys try to wear a pocket watch with a two-piece suit by stringing the watch through the hole in their lapel down to their left pocket, but to me this look just doesn’t work.
Instead of looking dapper and sophisticated, wearing a pocket watch with a two-piece suit makes you look more like someone who desperately wants to be thought of as dapper and sophisticated, but actually isn’t.
Step 2: Keep the Suit Slim
Once you’ve got the right kind of suit for wearing a pocket watch, the next step is to make sure it fits properly.
The best way to wear a pocket watch without looking like you’ve dressed up as an old-timey gangster is to make sure your suit fits slim to your body.
The suits they wore in the early 20th century, when Peaky Blinders is set, were big and bulky, often billowing off of their bodies, where as today’s style tends to favor slimmer fits.
If you keep your suit fitting slim, then adding a pocket watch will look more like what it is – a dapper detail – and less like a part of your Great Gatsby Halloween costume.
Step 3: Don’t Overdo the Accessories
The fact that pocket watches are increasingly rare means that you make a real statement by sporting one.
But that statement is muddied if your suit is adorned with too many other accoutrements.
Wearing a pocket watch in your vest pocket and a tastefully folded pocket square in the breast pocket of your jacket makes a lot of sense.
But when you add accessories beyond that, you run the risk of looking like you’re wearing costume jewelry.
Better to keep it simple and understated, so your pocket watch can stand out and make the statement you want it to.
How to Wear a Pocket Watch without a Vest
I prioritized wearing a pocket watch with a vest above because, in my opinion, it’s the sharpest way to make the pocket watch work.
But that doesn’t mean it’s the only way.
There are a few ways to wear a pocket watch without a vest, whether you’re wearing a suit, jeans or any other get-up.
Option 1: Put the watch in your front pocket
Arguably the easiest way to wear a pocket watch, you clip the watch chain to your belt loop (or in the case of the photo here, the top of your pants) and throw the watch in your front pocket.
This leaves the chain dangling next to your hip, so you’ll want to opt for a chain that’s not too long.
When the watch is sitting in your pocket, the chain should hang no more than a couple inches below the pocket.
Option 2: Put the watch in your back pocket
In this variation, you clip the chain to the waist of your pants or the belt loop that’s closest to the zipper, as you do above.
But here, you put the watch in your back pocket, which runs the chain across your hip horizontally.
This creates more of a pun-rock look because the pocket watch could easily be mistaken for a chain wallet, which are popular with bikers, punks and other leather enthusiasts. (Some of whom, one has to assume, are also Prince Albert enthusiasts.)
Option 3: Put the watch in your front breast pocket
As mentioned above, I don’t love this look myself, but I can see the appeal.
In this variation you clip the chain through the slit in your lapel and then place the watch in your front pocket.
If you’re going to try this move, I recommend doing it the way that’s pictured here, where most of the chain is also in your pocket and very little of it is left visible. This makes the chain and pocket watch more subtle, which I think is classier.
The other option is to keep the entire chain out of the pocket and let it dangle in front of your chest, which reminds me of the accoutrements that adorn Royal wedding outfits.
It’s an appropriate look if you’re marrying the Duchess of York, but in my opinion a bit overblown if you’re dressing for work or your buddy’s wedding.
Four of The Best Pocket Watches to Buy Online
For those who are still in the market for a pocket watch (or potentially looking for another one), here are four timelessly stylish options available to buy online.
Nail (the Rest of) The Details
Wearing a Pocket Watch is a Nice Touch—But There are Many More
Now that you know how to wear a pocket watch properly, you’ll be able to give your accessories game an upgrade, which will give you a slight edge over other guys.
But the operative word there is “slight.”
Pocket watches are just one of many possible accessories, and accessories themselves are only one small part of your overall appearance.
If you really want to look sharp and stand out, you need to know how to optimize the other important aspects of your look.
The good news is that you don’t have to look far to find out which details are the most crucial.
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More Advice on Men’s Accessories from Irreverent Gent:
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- How to Wear a NATO Strap Watch
- The Best Smart Watches for Men
- The 7 Most Stylish Ways to Wear a Scarf for Men
- The 11 Best Warby Parker Sunglasses for Men
- In-Depth Undone Watches Review