Suits So Good They Make a Case for Monarchy
Amid the current royal throw-down being played out in the media sphere, the figure least central to the drama is, of all things, the British king. Once considering himself the “most misunderstood man of modern times,” according to the royal biographer Hugo Vickers, Charles III seems eternally shoehorned, caught between England’s longest reigning, and arguably best loved, monarch and two scrappy brothers — the heir and the spare — straight out of “Succession.”
Will things settle by next May, when Charles finally accedes to the throne and dons the Imperial State Crown (currently being refitted for him), or will the English monarch remain an unwitting foil for his family’s internecine antics, central to the drama and yet seemingly extraneous to its mechanics, a rumpled and genial septuagenarian flanked by a cast of ambitious scene stealers?
Certainly that is the Charles depicted in Season 5 of “The Crown,” which replays an era some consider a dark episode in the life of England’s royals, and others as the inevitable wind-down of a brand well past its use-by date. Over the course of the 10-episode season, three of the Queen’s four children see their relationships implode, Windsor Castle catches fire, Princess Diana goes public with her marital woes and a leaked phone conversation between Charles and his mistress enters posterity as “Tampongate.”
Through it all, Charles, as portrayed by Dominic West, is a paragon of brow-knitted pathos, eclipsed by almost everyone around him except in one single regard. A minor point it may be, but in a world of image and symbolism, it is still worth noting that in every shot and every scene of “The Crown,” the future king of England is instructively and enviably well dressed.
So, too, is King Charles III in real life, if you are a fan of that beleaguered uniform, the suit. Suits have seldom looked as appealing as they do in the Peter Morgan soap opera on Netflix, particularly the classic Savile Row interpretation of this venerable formula of a jacket paired with matching trousers and vest.
The Return of ‘The Crown’
The hit drama’s fifth season premiered on Netflix on Nov. 9.
Although farseeing as an environmentalist, Charles is no one’s idea of a thought leader or innovator. This is equally true of his style. Unlike his great-uncle — the Prince of Wales, later Edward VII, and later still the Duke of Windsor — who freely flouted conventions (he wore checks, plaids and bright colors, sometimes simultaneously), Charles is no dandy. He was once observed in his garden in France, the historian Frances Donaldson wrote, “wearing crimson trousers one day with a light blue shirt and red-and-white shoes.”
Also unlike his great-uncle, who popularized suede dress shoes, introduced the backless tuxedo vest and the fist-sized Windsor knot for neckties, Charles is content to stick to the basics. Yet he’s a clotheshorse in his own conventional and reassuring way, the sartorial equivalent of “Received Pronunciation,” the accent long considered the more prestigious form of spoken British English, though seldom heard much anymore.
In creating the wardrobe for “The Crown,” Amy Roberts, the costume designer, leaned into anachronism. She embraced the fuddy-duddy in composing an onscreen wardrobe that is stolid in the way Queen Elizabeth’s was, engineered to convey substance and continuity, although without the practical demands of outfitting a tiny woman who, without bright colors and large hats, was hard to pick out in a crowd.
Today, as in every earlier phase of his life, Charles is seldom spotted without a necktie. He wears suits made for him by the Savile Row tailors Anderson & Sheppard, almost invariably double-breasted and with the double-vented skirt originated by another storied London tailor, Frederick Scholte, in the early 20th century. It is with an assemblage of classic elements that the new king makes his style statement, a sharp contrast with his two sons in their slick suits and open-neck shirts and vaguely dorky turtlenecks.
From Anderson & Sheppard, Charles also orders his morning dress suits, the vests worn with button-on strips of white cotton Marcella, a detail so retro it harks back to a 19th-century fashion of simultaneously wearing vests in contrasting colors.
Will “The Crown” send guys racing to haberdasheries and tailors to button up again? It’s unlikely. Yet, particularly as men struggle to devise a new work uniform, the show is a primer in all that a suit can do.
“I always think about how easy your life is in a suit,” Ms. Roberts said by telephone from London. Among other things, they lessen the anxiety that is a signal feature of Prince Charles’s character, at least as he is portrayed by Mr. West. “How lovely to get up, put on a shirt, a fabulous suit, a pair of shoes and off you go,” she said.
As any survey of recent runways will attest, designers tend to agree. Whether it is the severely tailored coats and jackets Kim Jones integrated into his most recent Dior Men show — set against the pyramids of Giza in Egypt — the strict suits Prada showed in Milan in June, or the soft suits that labels once renowned for streetwear (Amiri, Fear of God, Aimé Leon Dore) have increasingly featured, there is good reason to think that, by looking backward, “The Crown” may be auguring shifts in the future of men’s wear.
That at least is the sentiment among some on Savile Row, where the hoodie years are giving way to a boom in suiting, according to Campbell Carey, the creative director of that whippersnapper tailoring firm Huntsman, founded in 1849.
“These period dramas have done a great service to the suit,” Mr. Carey said. “They’ve shown how good heavier weight clothes with drape can look.” Whether dressed in subtly checked suits, safari outfits (reminiscent of those that Robert Rabensteiner, a stylist who may be among the chicest men on the planet, commissions from Charvet in Paris) or dinner jackets with high armholes, softly roped shoulders and nipped waists, the Prince Charles of “The Crown” looks easeful, correct and even commanding. Suits, though we tend to forget it, have the power to produce that effect.
“The pandemic gave people time to look at their wardrobes again and think about how to reinvent themselves in the work world,” said Mr. Carey of Huntsman, where suits now account for 60 percent of overall sales. “Whoever says the suit is dead is talking rubbish.”
Memo to the new British king and to those who would have his job.