The late Duke of Windsor was known for many things, including the abdication of throne and a country for the woman he loved, the twice divorced American Wallis Warfield Spencer Simpson. His sartorial sense, however, lives on in photographs taken of him from the time he was a teenager through to the end of his life. Short and not particularly handsome, he nevertheless was a popular subject of the paparazzi of the day and at one point the most photographed person in the world. The man knew how to dress and dress well. Interestingly, the Duke of Windsor not only the namesake for the famous Windsor knot, but lessons can be learned from his sartorial instincts. Today, I would like to point out five aspects in dress that should inspire you to incorporate into your outfits.
1. To Be Your Own Man
The first is to be your own man when it comes to choosing clothing. Be brave and experiment with your own style. When he was the Prince of Wales, the Duke was chastised by his father for wearing brown shoes with a navy suit. Others though started to emulate him and the look took off. He also abolished the frock coat at court and introduced the morning coat, he preferred soft collared shirts for evening wear and opted for grosgrain bow tie and silk facings when other wore plain satin.
A salesman might have told him that a short man should not wear big checks, but he chose these carefully and they looked wonderful on him. He wore ascots with polo shirts and routinely made it onto the best dressed list. There is a wonderful photograph of the Duke and Duchess of Windsor at a memorial service in England years after the abdication crisis. It was a frosty meeting with their family whom the Duke had not seen for many years. However, there they are in their sartorial splendor next to the traditional, yet boring clothing of the rest of the Royal Family. The Duke taught us that there is nothing wrong with standing out. Go now into your closet. If all you see are navy, charcoal and black, get out there and buy a glencheck suit or madras jacket. If your dress shoes are all black and tan, buy some spectators. Learn how to tie a bow tie. Heads turn and compliments only come when you are wearing something daring, something unique that announces your style. A clone is just that, a clone. Be yourself and enjoy being different from everyone else.
2. Buy the Classics First
Now that I have told you to be daring, I am now going to tell you to buy the classics first. The classics, by the way, are sometimes difficult to find because big box stores are selling the fashions of the day, not those things that will be worn in five years, much less ten years from today. You may have to go to independent stores, thrift shops, or a bespoke tailor if your budget stretches. Buy the two button charcoal suit from a haberdasher, and the camel hair jacket online and if you are on a budget from a local consignment shop. Harris tweed rarely wears out, so two or three owners may enjoy a jacket. Read the Gentleman’s Gazette and invest some money into men’s fashion books, they are well worth the investment. That way, you’ll learn what a classic is and then obtain it for your wardrobe. The Duke had all the classics and he had them all his life.
3. Quality First
This brings us to the third point we have learned from the Duke. He invested in clothing and wore some items for years on end. Buy the very best you can afford, and do not get trapped by salesmen who tell you that certain expensive brands are better made than a smaller label. Most of the time, they are not; do not just go for a “name.” The Duke certainly had some fine items from Savile Row, the Champs-Élysées, and New York but he also had suits made for him by tailors in the back streets of Paris. Examine the items for sale closely. If the retailer cannot explain how they are made, find another retailer. The dinner jacket that you buy today should last you for the rest of your life if you maintain your weight. The Duke owned his from the time he was twenty-one to his death in his early seventies.
4. Accessorize Yourself
Select your accessories and have lots of them. I myself have collected from my travels, shopping trips, and thrift shop hunts over one hundred ties. Even if a well made sport coat or a suit are too expensive for you, chances are you afford retail prices for those special socks, ties or bow ties that will transform your outfit. The Duke of Windsor had many cufflinks, often decorated with his initials. Moreover, he almost always wore interesting ties and contrasting socks in unusual patterns and colors.
Personally, I have dozens of pocket squares. I wear antique stickpins in all my ties and have over two hundred cufflinks. The point is I can wear the same suit twice in the same week, but if I wear it with very different ties, pocket squares, and shirts, nobody is any the wiser. Pay attention to your accessories. Make sure that ties and pocket squares coordinate but do not match. Nice cufflinks can really improve your overall look if the cuffs are the right size. Start collecting accessories and make your collecting a hobby. By the way, the most expensive set of cufflinks ever sold at auction belonged the whom? The Duke of Windsor of course. It was a set made by Cartier London that consisted of double sided cufflinks with e & W brilliant-, single- and carré-cut diamonds. On the back they were inscribed David 23/6/35, Wallis 19/6/35, both signed Cartier, London; and respectively: Hold Tight and: E 7/5/35. Estimated to bring £70,000 – 90,000, the set sold for stunning £115,250.
5. Take Care of Your Clothes
Finally, learn to take care of your clothes. To be honest, the Duke had a lot of help in this area. The man went into the Great War with his valet beside him. Most of us will never be so lucky to employ a Jeeves or a Mr. Bates. Yet most of us can learn how to store clothes and how to wash a shirt, hang it up to dry and iron it. Your endeavors will add many more months to your investment. Dry cleaners, often break shirt buttons, discolor a white shirt, and shrink collars. Take out the plastic collar stays and throw them away. Get yourself a set of metal stays in different lengths instead. They will last forever and keep your collars looking crisp and orderly. Pick up an inexpensive clothes steamer at the hardware store, so you don’t always have to hang your suits in the steamy bathroom. Do not put your suit in the closet the very day you have worn it. Hang it up on a wooden hanger or valet in your bedroom, steam out the wrinkles, and then return it to the closet the next day. Brush your clothes with a good quality brush, that is handmade so the bristles won’t come out. Spot clean immediately any little mishaps. Only when you cannot put back a crease in your trousers, your jacket is just not be the same again after a cleaning, a spot will not yield for you, or your suit is starting to emit some unpleasant odor should you take it to the cleaners. Polish your shoes regularly. One of the first things anyone notices about you are your shoes. You can own an expensive pair of shoes, but if the heels are worn, and the edges worn down, you might as well be wearing a $14.99 special from Payless. Go through your closet regularly and see what needs to be attended to. Here a local alterations tailor becomes your best friend. He will fix that hem, sew on a button or two, and take your trousers out a notch. He will also reline a jacket that still looks good on the outside and he will put in suspender buttons on your trousers so you can wear really braces. In short, pay daily attention to the condition of your clothes and you will have them for a very long time, even without a designated valet.
What do you find inspiring about the Duke of Windsor’s Clothes? Did you think he wore a Windsor knot or a four-in-hand with thick interlining? Let us know in the comments below.