Sunday, April 27, 2014

History's Runway: The Duke of Windsor’s Suit, 1940

Lounge Suit
The Victoria & Albert Museum

I will say that the Duke of Windsor (once the Prince of Wales, and once, for a few months, King Edward VIII) was good for one thing—he did influence men’s fashions for the positive and reintroduced color and pattern to a gentleman’s style. Now, that’s not quite as important as what he should have been doing as King, but I’m glad he didn’t stay on the throne, because he had, or so I believe, some questionable allegiances which might have proven rather disastrous during the Second World War.

And, so, let’s ignore all of that for a moment and examine this nifty suit which is displayed on an appropriately creepy mannequin. This is an example of the sort of “lounge suit” which dominated men's fashion from the 1920s onwards.

The “lounge suit” was worn in lieu of the more formal attire which dominated events for decades. By the 1940s, men were wearing lounge suits with a v-neck pullover sweater in place of a waistcoat. This was a trend that was popularized by the pesky Duke of Windsor. And, actually, it’s a look of which I remain a proponent. Until that point, pullovers were mostly the stuff og informal events and sporting occasions.

This rather loud suit was worn by HRH The Duke of Windsor who chose Wallis Simpson over England (despite his protestations to the contrary) and who traded matters of state for matters of fashion—becoming known internationally as the leader of men's fashion. He had a lot of his grandfather, King Edward VII, in him. He liked a good time and preferred informal fashion over the stiff formality of dress that was considered proper during the reign of his great-grandmother, Queen Victoria. The Duke was a patron of the most celebrated London and New York tailors and showed his love of whimsy and adventure by wearing bright colors, strong textures and bold patterns.

This particular suit was only worn a few times by the Duke who eventually gave it to famed photographer and bon vivant Sir Cecil Beaton, who was amassing a collection of fashionable dress for his 1971 exhibition--Fashion: An Anthology. From there, the suit (and many others) came to the Victoria & Albert Museum. I don’t suspect the the Duke’s great-grandmother would have been amused.

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