When we think of menswear and the Wooster name, Nick may come to mind, but another Wooster represented dandy style nearly a century earlier—P.G. Wodehouse’s literary creation, Bertie.
A decade before he headlined the American medical procedural House, actor Hugh Laurie played Bertie (alongside the inimitable Stephen Fry) in Jeeves and Wooster, a television adaptation of Wodehouse’s works. The UK serial ran for twenty-three episodes from 1990-1993 and is well worth watching, not just for its top-shelf comedy but for the wardrobe of Bertie Wooster, which provides an outstanding visual introduction to the classic British style of the Golden Age.
The central character in P.G. Wodehouse’s novels and short stories, Bertram Wilberforce Wooster is a wealthy, charmingly clueless man-child who gets himself embroiled in a variety of schemes, from which he needs to be rescued by his wise valet, Jeeves. Like Baudelaire’s definition of the dandy, Bertie “has no occupation in life but to chase along the highway of happiness,” his wealth allowing him to amass a considerable wardrobe that reflects his personal style and sartorial originality, often to the chagrin of the more conservatively dressed Jeeves.
In both the stories and the television series, Bertie’s clothing features prominently. The first episode opens with a hungover Bertie in court, dressed in white tie and white silk scarf from a dinner party the night before. This scene immediately establishes two themes that are consistently represented by Bertie’s style: his use of accessories and his (usual) care in dressing to fit the situation.
Accessories Make the Difference
1. Leather Gloves Lend Variety
Though all his associates from the Drones club in London are also well tailored, Bertie always wears something that makes him stand out, and that something is the accessories he chooses, like a walking stick and a variety of coordinating hat and leather glove pairings, the latter of which can easily be put into effect today.
Bertie actually uses three techniques for combining gloves with his suits. He matches blue gloves to his blue pinstripe suit, chooses tonality when he wears taupe gloves with a gray suit, and goes with a complementary color when pairing reddish-brown gloves with another gray suit. You can find a range of leather glove colors to accomplish these looks at Fort Belvedere, and our Men’s Leather Gloves Guide provides a number of styling options.
2. Boutonnieres Add Personality
Equally evident are Bertie’s boutonnieres. Whereas his friends go about with lapel buttonholes unadorned, Bertie favors a single red or white rose bud purchased each morning from a flower seller outside his flat. Because he only wears a plain white pocket square in a restrained triangular or puff fold, the presence of a boutonniere never seems excessive. Finding a properly cut flower and maintaining it can be difficult for those who actually do need to work, so a high-quality replica flower, like those sold by Fort Belvedere, makes for a more practical alternative.
3. Collar Accessories: Bars, Pins, and Clips
Bertie’s signature accessories, however, are likely his collar bar and collar pin, which he wears with narrow-point-collar shirts that frame an ample selection of neckties. Either sort of accessory would be even more eye-catching today. A bar with a screw-on end cap does require a shirt with collar holes designed to accommodate it, which are rare but available, yet a collar pin or clip like those sold by Fort Belvedere can achieve the same look with most point-collar shirts. View our Collar Pin and Bar Guide video for further ideas on these overlooked accessories.
4. The Albert Strap: An Original Accessory
The most unique accessory worn in the series is definitely a brown leather “Albert strap” that sometimes hangs from Bertie’s lapel buttonhole into the breast pocket of his sport coat in place of a boutonniere. Originally used by WWI soldiers to hold a pocket watch attached to the end of the strap, it soon became part of a gentleman’s country wardrobe.
These days, the #menswear movement has revitalized lapel chains for more urban settings, though Bertie wears his pocket watch dangling from a waistcoat chain while in London. An Albert strap, which is made by one supplier in the UK and can also be found on eBay and Etsy, makes for a more casual equivalent that few others will have. Be sure to attach a (preferably vintage) pocket watch for more authentic and utilitarian touch.
Dressing for the Occasion: Town and Country
Wearing a watch strap as opposed to a chain is one example of Bertie’s overall attention to dressing for the environment. As a whole, Jeeves and Wooster provide some of the best visual representations of this essential practice, especially changing one’s wardrobe for the city or country.
City Wardrobe: Formal and Gray
As suggested in the images above, Bertie’s London attire is dominated by solid gray, with an occasional charcoal or navy pinstripe in the rotation. It has been said that an urban color palette emphasizing gray developed as a response to the presence of soot, something that is still familiar to those who ride the London Tube. Bertie’s gray suits are double-breasted (6 x 2), and whether he wears a single or double-breasted jacket, his waistcoats are double breasted with peak lapels, all appropriately formal and restrained. Yet, in a characteristic nod to originality, Bertie can be seen wearing brown shoes with his city suits, defying the customary “no brown in town” rule for footwear. Contemporary standards are more relaxed, even in London (unless you are in the banking industry), so brown shoes now are acceptable in town, especially with blue suits.
Country Wardrobe: Informal and Brown
In the country, dirt is brown and so is Bertie’s wardrobe. The formality of the double-breasted suit gives way to single-breasted tweeds and various sport coat and trouser combinations. Waistcoats are also single breasted though they tend to be replaced with knit sweater vests; colors and patterns both multiply. Continuing with the casual trend, collar bars are no longer worn in the country, and brimmed hats are often supplanted by soft newsboy caps. Neckties remain de rigueur though they now display bolder patterns, including large plaids that reinforce the traditional glen checks and houndstooth of Bertie’s jackets.
Sweaters likewise show extensive patterning, and Bertie seems to favor yellow or mustard for his knitwear. This is sometimes too daring for the conservative Jeeves, who compares one to the costume of a stage performer. However, the mustard hues Bertie selects do complement the other earth tones he wears while counteracting the drabness of otherwise wearing so much brown. Today, we can follow this lead with a larger selection knit colors for odd vests.
Whether city or country, Bertie’s tailoring reflects a full-cut style–definitely not “slim fit”; trousers are pleated and legs are cut wide with cuffs or turn-ups and a full break that is longer than the norm today. Materials from the 1930s also tended to be heavier–no Super 150s here. Because actor Hugh Laurie is young and lean in the role, the fit of his clothes add necessary heft to his build; so, Bertie’s clothes are not only appropriate to his setting but to his physique.
Bertie’s Fashion Faux Pas
It should be noted that Bertie’s style choices are not always tasteful or correct. The first time we see him preparing to embark on a trip to the countryside, he asserts that he intends to wear his gray city suit, to which Jeeves proposes he wear a brown Harris tweed instead. Bertie insists, but in the next scene, he is, in fact, wearing the tweed, having bowed to Jeeves’ better judgment.
On other occasions, though, he refuses Jeeves’ advice, most notably when he wears a straw boater’s hat with a charcoal gray suit in the city and when he infamously puts on a cropped white “mess jacket” to attend a formal dinner.
While these instances contribute to the general humor of the series and books, they also specifically poke fun at non-British fashions. Bertie boasts of having obtained his mess jacket in Cannes, prompting a comment from Jeeves about “Continental” style, and Bertie’s impetus to wear unusual hats (and a long fur coat!) in town arises from a trip to New York. The message we can take from this, especially in the wake of Brexit, may be that one should neither be chauvinistic in one’s style choices nor too “over the top” (envision Pitti Peacocks). The admirer of classic men’s style in a contemporary world can aim for a middle ground. For all its shortcomings, the relaxation of dress codes has enabled greater originality and flexibility today, though we still need to heed our inner Jeeves.