Tweed Archive: Duke of Windsor Edition

Nicholas Storey, writing in the History of Men’s Fashion:

The tweed cap comes in many styles. They began as country headwear mainly worn by the working man until the extra fill cut cap was worn by the Duke of Windsor, when Prince of Wales, who favoured the Lock & Co turnbury style, which is also worn by the present Prince of Wales.

See also: The Duke of Windsor, Style Icon and previous Tweed Archive posts.

Fred Astaire, Style Icon

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I recently alluded to Fred Astaire as one of the all-time best-dressed men, together with the Duke of Windsor.

G. Bruce Boyer called Astaire the “master of casual elegance.” In 1957 GQ published a long interview with Astaire on his style and philosophy of dress. I’ve mined it for quotes (arranged by topic below) but there is much more to read at the GQ archive.

On tailoring:

He believes that his measure of male dress is basically British. “You have to give them credit. They have been very stable in their designing and tailoring. They hardly ever change.”

On buttons and vents:

…he feels that all coats should have the British side-vents: “quite deep, about seven inches.” He favors two-button jackets, although he used to be an addict of three-buttoners at the age of 20. “I only button one,” he says, “and I think it looks better that way.”

On the double-breasted jacket:

One of the present-day fashions that roils him is the prejudice against the double-breasted suit. “It’s incredible how they have maligned that garment,” Astaire declares. “Abroad, you will see three or four double-breasted suits to one single-breasted.” For instance, he points out, he prefers the double-breasted dinner jacket—”for one thing, you don’t have to wear a vest or that hideous invention, the cummerbund. And I can’t comprehend red evening ties or fluffy shirt fronts or that sort of thing.”

On handkerchiefs:

Handkerchiefs should be flipped out and folded into the pocket with an appearance of casualness, Astaire thinks. He does not like the square or folded style, nor the puff type that he describes “like a range of the Andes.” Once, on a TV show, Ed Sullivan came to him and begged him to put his coat kerchief in properly. Astaire obliged. “I think it set a new standard for Ed,” he said. “At least he was still wearing it that way when he appeared weeks later on the show.’

On shirt cuffs:

He prefers a well-made buttoned cuff to French cuffs. In fact he never uses cufflinks except for formal dress, when he generally wears ruby-and-diamond studs and links or sapphire-and-diamond combinations.

On ties:

He has what seems to him to be a “thousand ties” but in reality only between 50 and 100. He likes a full tie, not the narrow ones. “I always like to use the Windsor knot,” he says. As for the collars, he dislikes the tab and prefers the button-down and the wide-spread collar— braced by staves. “Once I used to wear bow ties,” he says somewhat wistfully, “with polka-dots, too, and enjoyed it, but I’ve got away from that.” He explains his aversion for the narrow tie with a smile: “I’m narrow enough myself, too narrow.” He points out that thinness seems to destroy an essential quality of dress, its style, by misuse in ties or lapels. “Look at the thin rolled lapels with the double-breasted suits—they are atrocities.”

In his own ties, he prefers a dark color and a very small pattern. He has only a couple of striped ties, emblematic of the clubs to which he belongs.

On jewelry:

His daily jewelry is severely limited to a single gold-seal ring and the simples tie accessories.

On belts:

In the way of belts, Astaire likes to use silk handkerchiefs—purely for utilitarian purposes rather than theatrical. He has a 31-inch waist and loses pounds when he is dancing. The resilient silk allows him to draw his pants right. “I used to use old neckties for the same purpose but the handkerchiefs are better.” At home he will use a belt, usually shoving the buckle to one side, “simply to get it out of the way.”

On pant cuffs:

His trousers are cuffed and inclined to be a little shorter than most—”I don’t want them slopping over onto my shoes.

On shoes:

In the shoe department, Astaire possesses perhaps 50 pairs of professional dancing shoes and more than 20 pairs of his own. “It’s really very economical to have that many,” he asserts. “I have shoes today that are as good as when I bought them 20 years ago—and I assure you I have worn them many times.” A few pairs are slightly large for his feet and Astaire wears two pairs of wool socks with them when he goes walking. All his shoes are custom-made in London.

As for style and color, he prefers suede as a material and the loafer design. Most of his shoes, exclusive of the formal ones, are dark brown. “I don’t have any evening pumps any more,” he says. “I used to wear them ‘way back. Now they’re out of style. They were fun to wear but I don’t see any chance of them coming back.”

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The Duke of Windsor, Style Icon

I love the late Duke of Windsor (1894-1972). Would that he could have remained King Edward VIII. In the Cantos, Ezra Pound called him a “fanatic for peace,” writing of “the three years peace we owe Windsor ’36-’39.” Edward presented a formidable obstacle to the bipartisan war party, which existed then as now. But in this fallen world no good deed goes unpunished so he was forced to abdicate in a coup d’état and smeared as a Nazi sympathizer (much like Charles Lindbergh in America) though he was nothing of the sort. In his memoir, A King’s Story, Edward wrote, “Intuitively I felt, that another great war in Europe was all too probable; and I saw all too clearly that it could only bring needless human suffering and a resurgent Bolshevism pouring into the vacuum of a ravaged and exhausted continent.” And so it did.

If Edward had remained on the throne we would still have the glorious Queen Elizabeth II (Edward had no children), but she might have kept her empire. Instead he lived out his days as the Duke of Windsor, in tactful exile, as a colonial governor and socialite. Looking back on his life in 1947, Edward wrote,

At 56 a man is not inclined to consider himself old. Yet, to a generation that takes for granted nuclear fission, radar, television, psychiatry, and God knows what else, somebody who was dandled on Queen Victoria’s knee must appear as an old fogey, a relic to be classed with square-rigged ships, kerosene lamps, and the Prince Albert coat. Indeed when I add up all that has overtaken mankind since my birth, I feel as if I have been travelling through history in a time machine.

It is a touching and rather wonderful passage from a man who was always the epitome of style. As Prince of Wales in the 1920s he was the idol of the youth—a sort of Wodehousian terror who eschewed formality, listened to jazz, spoke with an affected American accent, and dressed audaciously. He knew the rules of fashion inside and out and broke them like an expert. In my opinion the Duke of Windsor was the all-time best dressed man; he must certainly be counted among the top three, with Fred Astaire and Cary Grant.

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