LONDON — In a climate-controlled room at Kensington Palace, Edward VIII’s Savile Row bespoke cotton drill safari suit, with detachable sleeves and adjustable trouser lengths, sits folded in a special storage box, not far from the “baby presentation dress,” with a matching silk bonnet, worn by the future King George IV.
An ostrich feather cap, with little holes for jewels, that belonged to Henry VIII is yet another item in the 12,000-piece archive of royal and court dress that’s housed between Kensington Palace and Hampton Court Palace and offers a richly textured timeline of British history.
How about Prince Harry’s gray J. Crew suit? Will the outfit he wore for his Oprah interview in March make its way into the archive? What about the velvet green Reiss jacket that Prince William wore to the Earthshot Prize in November? And where will Prince Charles’ soft and roomy Anderson & Sheppard suits end up? And his patterned ties and pocket handkerchiefs?
Given the snazzy wardrobes of their ancestors, Charles and his two sons are under sartorial pressure as the heir moves closer to the throne, and further into the public eye. They also have to compete with the famously natty Prince Philip, who died in April, a few months short of his 100th birthday.
The Duke of Edinburgh was famous for his fine dress, and attention to detail, whether he was wearing his favorite Kent & Haste tailored suits, spread-collar shirts and straight-edge pocket square for everyday business; a khaki hunting jacket and flat cap for carriage driving at Windsor, or the glittery, gold braided naval regalia for formal occasions.
Ralph Lauren described Philip’s style as “a quiet kind of elegance, understated and unfashionably fashionable. His timeless sophistication made him the epitome of a true gentleman.” Thom Browne referred to it as “effortless and sophisticated,” while Tommy Hilfiger noted that the late prince’s sense of dress was “very respectful of others, which is more important than anything one could ever wear.”
Charles and his sons just don’t have that old world charm, and ferocious attention to detail, that Philip possessed even in his last years of failing health. The three royal scions take different approaches to dress, and whether or not they happen to be chic, they remain trendsetters because of who they are.
Tailors up and down Savile Row say their customers are already asking for morning coats like the ones that Charles and his sons wore to Philip’s funeral at Windsor Castle earlier this year.
“Prince Philip’s was a big changing point. It was the first time in a long time that the family wore civilian clothing — classic morning coats – rather than military attire,” said Simon Cundey, managing director of Henry Poole & Co., the Savile Row tailor that dressed the likes of William Randolph Hearst and Winston Churchill, and that recently made actor Jason Momoa’s suit for the “Dune” premiere.
Cundey predicted his clients will take inspiration from the funeral, and will be asking for similar morning coats to wear to Ascot next year.
Campbell Carey, head cutter and creative director of Huntsman, said many of his clients already see Prince Charles as a “benchmark” and “tastemaker,” especially when it comes to his morning coat. He said they’re also asking for the quarter-inch braiding on the edges of the lapel and collar, and the narrow, starched “slip” of white fabric that breaks the line between the waistcoat and the shirt.
The tailors said Prince Charles and his sons are among the many celebrity dressers inspiring their customers. And while Charles, William and Harry may not have the star power of, say, Daniel Craig in his pink velvet tuxedo at the “No Time to Die” premiere, or the natty-looking actors in “The Crown,” “Peaky Blinders” or the “Kingsman” film series, they remain lodestars of style.
It isn’t only the Savile Row customer that Charles, in particular, inspires. Catherine Hayward, the former fashion director of Esquire U.K. and a freelance stylist, said the prince has been a regular on the magazine’s Best Dressed list for years.
In September 2017, Esquire did five separate covers of Charles for the Style issue, using images from his younger days with the headline: “The Charles files: A celebration of the ever changing, never changing style of the Prince of Wales.”
“He’s known for being dapper, he’s very detail-oriented and he revs things up with his shirts and ties — he can be quite experimental,” said Hayward. In November, during a trip to Jordan and Egypt, Charles mixed up stripes and geometric patterns on his ties and pocket handkerchiefs, and wore lots of pastels.
Even for engagements on home turf, Charles has been looking sleek in pinstripes and patterned silks.
At COP26 last month, he tucked a handkerchief with a bold, graphic circle pattern into the pocket of his light gray suit. That might have been a bid to impress Stella McCartney, who took the future king to see her sustainable fashion installation at the Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum during the international summit.
Although their styles may differ, Prince Charles and McCartney are kindred spirits when it comes to sustainability, organic farming and the circular economy. Those concerns have long impacted the royal’s wardrobe choices, and may even add to his allure.
“He has been a pioneer of re-wearing — and has an archive of clothes that he’s been wearing for years. He wears them to death,” said Hayward, pointing out that the morning coat Charles wore to Philip’s funeral in April was the same one he donned for Meghan and Harry’s wedding in 2018.
Some, however, would argue there is room for improvement in Charles’ wardrobe.
“Charles was once by far the best dressed – and was voted that by WWD,” said Ingrid Seward, editor in chief of Majesty Magazine. “He is very stylish but has gone a bit over the top with his ‘old clothes look’ and just looks ridiculous with patched shoes and baggy, striped double-breasted suits. Also, his hair is far too long to my mind. He has lost the edge he always once had.”
Seward added that she still loves Charles’ silk pocket handkerchiefs. “I hated the way Philip wore them straight across,” she said.
Beagy Zielinski, the creative director, celebrity fashion stylist and a founding member of the Fashion Minority Alliance, described Charles as “impeccably tailored, dapper, not afraid to dabble in trends.” Ideally, though, she’d like to see him “in a different suit cut, maybe a more straight, with a slightly slimmer trouser would be a bit more modern and form-flattering.”
She also believes that Prince Philip set the style tone for the family, “and always dressed quite cool and effortlessly stylish, almost Bond-esque in his heyday. I think the newer generation is more focused on appearing approachable and ‘normal’ than fashionable, and I think that is fitting for the times we are in,” Zielinski said.
Yet the royal men can only go so far, and have to dress within the parameters of their profession and make those around them feel at ease. They also have to pay for everything themselves, and avoid making any major statements — or the British tabloids would pillory them.
“There is so much that’s off-limits, and as a royal, you are really dressing for your role, and for continuity,” said Andrew Groves, professor of fashion design at the University of Westminster and the director of the Westminster Menswear Archive, which he established in 2016.
He noted that Philip most certainly dressed for his role in life. “He was not the star, the Queen was, and he also belonged to that bygone era when men were outfitted for specific occasions, like sports, business and the military.”
Groves added that royals generally have a shared sartorial language, and the aim is to dress in a way that is “inoffensive.”
“Prince Charles doesn’t have to dress any way to ‘impress.’ He is already impressive, powerful and puts everyone else at ease with his style,” said Groves, adding that the prince dresses in a very British manner, “like he saw the tailor yesterday. It’s quiet, not shout-y and only you, as the wearer, know how well your clothes are made.”
Observers believe that Princes William and Harry are still finding their feet style-wise, and are very much in tune with their Millennial peers — they don’t wear ties unless they absolutely have to, they embrace the high street — and there isn’t a pocket handkerchief in sight.
They’re also shouting loudly about the hot topics of the day — and dressing in step with their various causes.
Prince William made headlines in November when he showed up to the inaugural Earthshot Prize dressed in a forest green velvet jacket and black rollneck sweater. The jacket was from the high street retailer Reiss, a go-to brand for his wife, the Duchess of Cambridge.
Prince William is the man behind the Earthshot Prize, which will be awarded by the Royal Foundation to five winners each year for their contributions to environmentalism. Each winner receives a grant of 1 million pounds to continue their environmental work.
The jacket said a lot about where William might be headed sartorially: He’s unafraid to break the rules with a rollneck sweater instead of a tie, and he’s careful about spending money (although he does also favor Tom Sweeney, and those suits aren’t exactly cheap). He also displayed a sense of fun by wearing the color green, in a nod to the Earth, and diverging from his usual palette of khaki, blue and white.
Zielinski, who described William’s style as “casual and approachable,” said she’d like to see the prince add a few other colors. “A hunter green or a bordeaux now and then would be refreshing,” she said.
Hayward believes that, moving forward, the younger royals will be conscious of not drawing too much attention to themselves given that Charles wants to see a slimmed-down royal family that’s not too much of a burden on the U.K.’s finances.
Indeed, they’re under pressure — from themselves — and from the British press every single time they stand in front of the mirror to get dressed. Hayward said the press will be asking ,”‘Have they worn it before? Is it upcyclable? How much money did they spend? Did the money come from the public purse?’ It’s tricky, and they have to tick all the boxes,” she said.
And what about Harry?
All eyes are on how his style will evolve now that he’s severed professional ties with the royal family: He can no longer wear his military uniforms, and has ceased to be a working royal attending official events. Plus, he now lives in the hot clime of southern California, which means he’ll need to swap his tweeds and flannels for linens and super-120 wools.
While he’s still trying to find his style, he’s emerged as a great recycler, just like the other men in his family. The light gray J. Crew suit he wore for the Oprah interview earlier this year remains a firm favorite, while his brown suede Oxford and Derby lace-up shoes have become something of a signature.
When he can, Harry strips off his tie, preferring an open-neck white shirt and jacket in light or dark blue. And if he’s really feeling casual, he accessorizes with a woven or webbed belt.
Some would even argue that he’s Philip’s style heir.
“Harry is closest to the modern version of Prince Philip: cool, stylishly down to earth. In a way, he has always been more relaxed in his approach to dressing, but now it is more considered and complements that of his wife, who hit the ground running in a wardrobe most can only dream of,” Zielinski said.
She added now that Harry is living in California, she’d love to see him add more color, and maybe even slip on a pair of trainers every once in a while. “Harry now has the most potential for some fashion moments, so it will be interesting to see how this develops, and whether this will be reflective of his activism, or more akin to the Edward and Wallis route.”
Zielinski was referring to Edward VIII, later the Duke of Windsor, who abdicated the throne in 1936 and married the American double divorcée Wallis Simpson. Although the two lived in exile and were estranged from the royal family, they had fabulous wardrobes, and were the toast of the town, in Paris, the South of France, Germany and the Bahamas.
Jason Basmajian, the former chief creative officer of Gieves & Hawkes, which holds a number of royal warrants, having initially supplied royal military uniforms hundreds of years ago, would agree with Zielinski about Prince Harry.
Basmajian believes that Harry and Philip have so much in common, including their “outsider” status.
Although Philip was loyal to Queen Elizabeth, he was also independent-minded, stubborn and a force for change within the family. He’d had a tough upbringing and while distinguished in his naval career, was (relatively) penniless when he married Princess Elizabeth.
“They’re both guy’s guys, sporty and military veterans with an explorer’s, adventurer’s spirit. If you look at their pictures as babies, they even looked alike. Like Prince Philip, Harry is a little bit of the rogue royal, and he polarizes people.”
He believes that Harry’s style has “sharpened up” considerably over the years, pointing to the velvet dinner jacket the young royal wore to the evening soirée following his wedding. “He and Meghan were so chic — they looked like a Hollywood couple,” Basmajian said.
“Harry’s style is casual-classic and effortless. It will be interesting to see how that vocabulary will evolve in the years to come.”
And speaking of years to come: Don’t forget Prince George. While he’s only 8, the world will be watching closely as the third in line to the British throne moves into his teens and 20s and no doubt sets a style all his own.