the style of bertie wooster

The Style of Bertie Wooster

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.

Jeeves and Wooster

Jeeves and Wooster

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.

Bertie in White Tie with a white silk scarf

Bertie in White Tie with a white silk scarf

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.

A boutonniere distinguishes Bertie from his companions at the gentleman's club

A boutonniere distinguishes Bertie from his companions at the gentleman’s club

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.

Bertie wearing a collar bar

Bertie wearing a collar bar

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.

Albert strap is a unique touch to an outfit

Albert Strap is a unique touch to an outfit

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.

Brown in town

Brown in town

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.

Bertie in brown with the addition of a newsboy cap

Bertie in brown with the addition of a newsboy cap

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.

Bertie wearing a mustard yellow knit vest

Bertie wearing a mustard yellow knit vest

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.

Example of Bertie's wider cut trouser legs with a pair of brown wingtip Oxfords

Example of Bertie’s wider cut trouser legs with a pair of brown wingtip Oxfords

Bertie’s Fashion Faux Pas

A straw hat in the city

A straw hat in the city

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.

mess jacket to a formal dinner

Mess jacket to a formal dinner

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.

Summary
The Style of Bertie Wooster
Article Name
The Style of Bertie Wooster
Description
Take a closer look at Bertie Wooster's style approach; fashion faux pas and what you can learn from it.
Author
Publisher
Gentleman's Gazette LLC
Publisher Logo
17 replies
  1. Don says:

    Great style! In another direction, I recently saw on Netflix a documentary on Nat King Cole. I wasn’t real familiar with his career so I learned a lot. But his suits! I don’t believe I’ve ever seen such tailoring: the fit, the drape of the fabrics, the attention to detail. Granted he had an athletic type body that looked good anyway, but those suits! I’ve been familiar with the tailoring of the greats like Cary Grant, and the other movie types, as well as royalty, but Nat’s stuff was truly fabulous.
    Don

    Reply
  2. Ian Ridd says:

    Congratulations on an excellent and skilful article.
    Hugh Laurie had no difficulty in carrying the clothes well for the TV series: he is an old Etonian and rowed for Cambridge University in the Boat Race.

    Reply
  3. Meredith says:

    Thank you so much for this. I have always been a fan of Jeeves and Wooster, and Bertie’s style is top notch. This guide is great.

    Reply
  4. Rafael Castillo says:

    I’ve known about Jeeves and Wooster since before House. When watching that show I kept thinking he looked familiar. I may have seen a piece of Jeeves and Wooster on PBS way back when, but never actually saw the show. I’ll have to remedy that.

    Reply
  5. C. Kimberley-Blackstar says:

    l can never stop watching the TV series (I have all on DVD) or reading Woodhouses books (Sebastian Faulks tried to continue the Wooster franchise but was disappointing) as was the TV adaption of Blandings ! However, the TV series is amazing, their style & character as Jeeves continually rescues Bertie from his dramas. The clothing & sets are remarkable & makes you want to be a member of the Drones to experience that era & class firsthand

    Reply
  6. Chester says:

    I think Jeeves and Bertie wear their hats properly – hats should be parallel with the horizon, not perched on the back of the head – a mistaken idea of “jauntiness.”

    Bertie seldom wears double-breasted suits.

    The only men who wear double-breasted suits are the kind of men who shouldn’t – men who are short and fat.

    Prince Charles wears double-breasted suits – at times in funny colors – and I’ve seen him with the coat unbuttoned! Can anyone explain this?

    Reply
    • Peter B says:

      Surely you must know that men of all body types can wear double breasted suits if tailored correctly…
      And that’s a fact you’ll find elsewhere on this site.

      Cheers

      Reply
  7. Chris says:

    Great article. I always enjoy the TV series of Jeeves and Wooster and the excellent wardrobe is one of the reasons beside the great humor.

    Reply

Trackbacks & Pingbacks

  1. […] we examined the style of P.G. Wodehouse’s Bertie Wooster in the 1990s UK television series Jeeves and Wooster. As the show title suggests, Jeeves and […]

Leave a Reply

Want to join the discussion?
Feel free to contribute!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *