When Issue 41 of The Rake magazine hit newsstands a couple of weeks ago, it threw the spotlight on Prince Charles again. But the immediate focus wasn’t on his involvement in public life or the content of the letters to government ministers that have plagued the front pages over recent months, rather, it was how the Prince was dressed which drew attention.
Cutting a regal picture on the cover of the bimonthly men’s magazine, The Prince of Wales is pictured wearing the regimental dress of the Toronto Scottish Regiment (Queen Elizabeth The Queen Mother’s Own). The image, originally taken in 2012 at Clarence House, highlights the part of Charles that is rarely emphasised: his sense of style.
When one talks about the royals and fashion, it’s easy to jump to the female members of the family. More often than not, the ladies are scrutinised the most – perhaps none more so than the young Duchess of Cambridge. In some ways, it’s easier to speak about the royal ladies’ outfits as, after all, there’s much more to them. Fascinators and hats at race meets; tiaras and jewels at State Banquets; dresses, coats and shoes on a daily basis.
For the men, however, it’s more difficult. Aside from the ceremonial occasions where we catch a glimpse of regimental or service dress, it’s just a suit, tie and well-shined shoes.
But is that it? If you were to head back through the years and look at the archives, generations of royal gentlemen have shown a penchant for fine tailoring and, above all, looking good. King Edward VII and later King Edward VIII, both of whom held the Prince of Wales title, are key examples of royal sartorial excellence. As for the modern-day holder, Charles has found that fashion has always been an area where he can inject a bit of his flair. An area where his subtle flourishes tell us about the personality of the man who will one day reign as King.
Charles’ style has evolved over the years. Back in the late 1960s, the classic two-button, single-breasted suit with their notch lapels made regular appearances along with the semi-spread shirt collars that are still one of the Prince’s favourites today. There’s no doubt that these earlier looks were influenced heavily by his father, The Duke of Edinburgh who embodies the classic frame of mind when it comes to royal men’s fashion: militaristic formality.
His attitude is, in some ways, a very straightforward one; one that shows the Duke knows what works best for him and shows everybody he doesn’t care for any of the fancy bits. Hence why you’re unlikely to find, Prince Philip sporting a colourful pocket square or a flamboyant tie.
As time has gone on, Charles has broken free of those sartorial chains, and his suits (whilst still immaculately tailored) cut a much softer figure today. It seems he’s taken inspiration from an unlikely source too – like his love of the double-breasted jacket, which he wears to nearly all of his engagements nowadays, shows.
It was, in fact, Prince Charles’s grand-uncle the Duke of Windsor who ushered in this particular trend. The former King did away with the stuffy formalities of royal dressing and lightened things up a bit. In most pictures of the Duke today, he’s often wearing a double-breasted jacket. He was particularly keen to bring about suits that were comfortable to wear – a far cry from some of the military uniforms which, although very impressive to look at, are often a nightmare for the wearer.
The materials are incredibly warm and don’t lend themselves to any form of movement. The Duke of Windsor preferred the lighter materials favoured by the Dutch and, as such, most of the suits he wore were tailored by Frederick Scholte. Scholte went on to train Per Anderson, who was one-half of the Savile Row legend, Anderson and Sheppard, who, perhaps not surprisingly, count Prince Charles amongst their regular clients.
Although Prince Charles has cut a very fine figure, that’s not to say he’s not suffered some questionable sartorial choices.
The 1980s, in particular, weren’t very fashionable for the Prince. It was something that Peter York, social commentator and co-author of the Sloane Ranger, told The Telegraph back in January: “Prince Charles was absolutely not fashionable in the 80s. Absolutely none of his contemporaries dressed like that. That generation were wearing all sorts of fashion, so now, of course, Charles looks rather smart and singular.” Indeed, in an era which was famous for its experimental fashion, it does raise a smile when you see the Prince wearing a lot of beige, combined with a pair of oversized sunglasses and the loafers which, now, look as if they belong in a charity shop.
As York has pointed out before, Charles is still quite a traditional dresser but his determination to forego the modern varieties is arguably what makes him a style icon today. “He wears things other people don’t wear – relatively light colours and pale and mid-greys that are quite dandified in their own way,” York says. “But there’s nothing arch about it. It does require a fair amount of resources to keep it going, but I don’t know anybody of his age who does that look.”
For most of us today, the variety is in the details. We might wear button down shirts, have our lapels cut slightly slimmer or forego pleats in our trousers. None of these things apply to Charles but, having topped the ‘Best Dressed Men in Britain’ list in Esquire magazine in 2009 and placing on GQ‘s equivalent in 2012, maybe that’s not necessarily a bad thing.
When it comes to key wardrobe staples, many men have their favourites. A company which cuts shirts just the way they like them or a cobbler whose shoes are slightly more comfortable than the others. It’s what keeps customers faithful and coming back for more and, so, it’s no surprise then that Prince Charles is exactly the same.
Since the early 1980s, Charles has been a Granter of Royal Warrants – an honour which was bestowed unto him by his mother. Those who are lucky enough to receive a Royal Warrant will testify that it means much more than the coat of arms which goes onto their packaging; for most, it symbolises a trust between supplier and the Royal Household.
There are 19 companies which have an association with Charles’s wardrobe. Anderson & Sheppard and Gieves & Hawkes, both of which are on London’s Savile Row, have the honour of being tailors to the Prince, alongside Frank Hall which specialises in riding apparel and is based in Market Harborough, Leicestershire.
The former is a particular favourite and has years of experience with fine-tuning their garments to Charles’ needs. The Prince, ever the conservator, likes his clothes made to last and able to withstand the daily pressures of royal engagements. The materials, which are sourced from British mills, are cut in his trademark classic style, with the sleeves and shoulders being sewn in by hand.
It’s easy to see, however, that trust runs in the family. Many of Charles’s Warrant Holders also provide their services to The Queen and The Duke of Edinburgh, clearly showing that fatherly influence has had a big impact. John Lobb, another of the Charles’s favourites, provide both Princes with their shoes and boots and Prince Philip initially introduced Charles to Turnbull and Asser, who continue to make his shirts today.
As styles evolve and trends come and go, Prince Charles has maintained his very simple and classic outlook on fashion. Indeed, at the launch of London Collections: Men in 2012, he admitted that the attention to his fashion sense confuses him: ‘”I have lurched from being the best-dressed man to being the worst-dressed man. I don’t know why – presumably it sells publications. Meanwhile I have gone on, like a stopped clock – and my time comes around every 25 years.”
But many men today are now looking back at the elegant and traditional way of dressing and Prince Charles, as a life-long ambassador for British craft and materials, has become a flag-bearer for true gentlemen’s fashion across the globe.
For more information on Royal Warrants and to search for companies who have been awarded them, visit the Royal Warrant Holder’s Association website.
Photo Credits: Andy Gott and Boston Public Library via Flickr and Allan warren (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0) or GFDL (https://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html)], via Wikimedia Commons.
Featured Image: UK in Spain (UKTI Reception Seville)