The Crown -- Alex Jennings as the Duke of Windsor

I've been covering some clothing from a few films that I think serve as good examples of subtly updated yet still classic menswear. But here I'm going to take a critical look at the past with the Netflix-produced series The Crown. The series portrays the first few years of the rule of Elizabeth II, current Queen of the United Kingdom. The Crown's costume designer, Michele Clapton, is perhaps best known for her work on the popular HBO series Game of Thrones.

Alex Jennings portrays the infamous Duke of Windsor in The Crown. Costumes designed by Michele Clapton.

Like many historical dramas it has a few inaccuracies, often for the sake of expedience. One of these is something that most people will not notice. The men's costuming is generally adequate, but one character's costumes were rather different from what the real-life person wore in some respects. That is Edward, Duke of Windsor, the former and oft-reviled King who abdicated in one of the biggest royal scandals of the 20th century. Shortly after, George VI would inherit the throne but pass away just over 15 years later. Edward would return to grieve with the rest of the royal family in a bitter reunion, which is depicted in Episode 3, "Windsor".

In a flashback to 1936, then-King Edward VIII prepares to make his public abdication announcement.

The Duke as portrayed here wears a narrow Windsor-knotted tie. It is a common misconception that he invented this tie knot, let alone wore it himself. Edward elaborates in A Family Album:
The so-called ‘Windsor knot,’ was I believe regulation wear for G.I.s during the war, when American college boys adopted it too. But in fact I was in no way responsible for this. The knot to which the Americans gave my name was a double knot in a narrow tie- a “Slim Jim” as it is sometimes called.
He had bespoke ties made by Hawes & Curtis, specially requesting them with a thicker interlining, making the knot bigger as a result. The smaller end was often worn longer than the wide end, tucked into his belted trousers. This added to the bulk of the knot and much of the time they were worn without a dimple. Either way, he used a four-in-hand knot as most men did back then and the "Windsor knot" is a misnomer. Furthermore, in 1952, the wider ties of the previous decades were still around and commonly worn, including by Edward himself. The narrow ties that characterized much of the 1960s would only become widespread later on in the 1950s. This mistake is also seen on other men throughout the series. The Duke of Windsor continued wearing wider ties with a large four-in-hand knot for the rest of his life. Though he did innovate and popularize many fashions himself, he did not appear to follow fashion's whims of varying lapel and tie blade widths.

The next thing that caught my attention was their interpretation of one of Edward's double breasted suits. Though at first glance it looks the same, closer inspection reveals some differences. As presented in The Crown, this navy suit has a four button front with one to button at the bottom and vestigial buttonholes in the lapels. The top two buttons are noticeably spaced further apart, proving them as not meant to be used. Some double breasted jackets have indeed been made this way, mirroring the single breasted three-roll-two style, though they seem to be rare. This isn't quite what the Duke wore in reality, though. His suits were actually four button with two to button, he simply fastened the bottom only and let the lapels roll down to it for a more rakish look. I suspect the costume department saw a few pictures and mistook the upper half of the coat being pulled apart slightly for widely spaced buttons. Furthermore, the jackets appear to have a higher, more modern button stance and closer fit than Edward preferred. A fuller cut would have not only been more faithful, but made Alex Jennings appear a little closer to Edward's actual height of 5'7. He is 6'2 and very much appears so.

The lack of shirt cuff showing is also inaccurate to his dressing habits.

Edward VIII bespoke all his tailored clothing from Frederick Scholte, whose house style was defined by a softly tailored drape cut and minimal shoulder padding. Because of this, the lapels can look like they were tailored to roll to the bottom in some photos. Edward was hardly alone in doing this. Other celebrities of the time such as Cary Grant would sometimes relax their softly constructed double breasted jackets by only fastening the bottom. Six buttons, two to close was and still is the most common double breasted style, but he likely wore the four button, two to close style because it worked a better for his height and physique. The construction of the replica suits is not too accurate, as they appear stiffer with roped sleeveheads. Scholte and his disciples actually used a rounded, natural sleevehead which aligned with the Duke's philosophy of dress soft. Notably, the chalk striped suit in the opening of "Windsor" and the checked suit in "Smoke and Mirrors" are a little more accurate since they are cut as four button, two to close. However, due to the construction, the unfastened top button does not let the lapel to roll down gracefully as the real life equivalent did.

Edward VIII in 1951, likely the above costume's inspiration.

At one point, Edward dons his double breasted dinner suit (tuxedo) to meet with Winston Churchill. In his lifetime, he only seemed to wear dinner suits which had four buttons with one to close (a common double breasted dinner jacket closure back then) and two buttons with one to close, both having peak lapels. The former style is what is depicted in this episode. While the general details are correct, he uncharacteristically wears plain black instead of midnight blue, something he innovated himself decades before. The purpose was not just to look darker and richer than black under artificial light, but for details like pockets and buttons to be more visible when photographed.

Wearing black tie attire in 1957. The way his spread collar appears in this photo may have been mistaken for a wing collar.

More noticeable, and incorrect, is how the character played by Alex Jennings wears a wing collar and stiff fronted shirt with this dinner suit. Edward had, decades ago, started rebelling against what was prescribed for black tie by wearing pleated front, spread collar shirts instead to relax standards. You can thank him for this more comfortable innovation. Up until then, the rules for shirts had basically been the same as for white tie. I believe this is another case where the details of certain photographs were misinterpreted. In any case, he was hardly the only person to wear soft shirts with a dinner suit. By 1952, it was already established as the British standard and many Americans, among others, had also picked up on it.

The Duke of Windsor meets with the Prime Minister. In reality, the wing collar was the exact opposite of what Edward wore with black tie. The imperial collar worn by John Lithgow is in character for Churchill, who was still rather old-fashioned.

However, Jennings also wears the stiff fronted shirt with detachable wing collar for white tie, which is correct to both prescribed white tie rules and the actual person. What can perhaps be chalked up to sizing error is that his waistcoat is at least two inches too long for the full dress coat. It should go no further than the points of the coat and this is a rule that his bespoke evening dress followed in reality. Considering that the other men's waists are properly dressed, it is a regrettable oversight. Interestingly, the Duke innovated backless white tie waistcoats, which are the only kind that can still be found today. Thus, the one worn by Jennings is likely a backless model with the neck strap not fastened high enough. While difficult to tell in the lighting provided, it would not surprise me that his full dress evening suit is also black rather than the midnight blue of the genuine article.

The coat may simply be too short for Alex Jennings as well.

Episode 5, "Smoke and Mirrors", introduces the Duke in a bold windowpane two button suit, another style he frequently wore. Once again, the shoulders and construction are not quite right, but it appears overall more correct than the double breasted suits. The buttons are placed higher, much like on the real suit, but here he fastens the top button only. The coats he had made were indeed two button with high fastening, but both buttons were meant to fasten as was the trend in his youth. Despite being long out of fashion, he continued wearing this style well into maturity and even began unfastening the top button so the lapels could roll to the bottom -- similar to his approach in wearing double breasted suits. The replica, on the other hand, appears to have the slight cutaway below the top button we associate with two button suits of the last 80 or so years. It is a good attempt.

The modern two button style has the side effect of leaving some shirt exposed below the top button.

One might assume the matching checked shirt and tie were fictional, yet there is a photo where the real Duke wears just such a thing. It is a rare, sartorial low point for him and perhaps telling that there are no other pictures of him wearing this combination.

Wallis Simpson and Edward VIII in sporting attire, 1946.

The real windowpane suit, complete with a stylish D-ring belt.

He is seen wearing braces (suspenders) while in shirtsleeves later the same episode. This is also incorrect. The real-life Edward specifically had trousers made by other tailors -- Forster & Son then later H. Harris -- preferring them "American style" with belts as he didn't care for Frederick Scholte's typically English cut of trouser. Scholte only made trousers meant for braces, which have a high fishtail back. While Edward certainly did not have belt loops on his formal attire, he nonetheless had his evening and morning trousers tailored outside of Scholte's shop. Instead of braces, they were held up with a tight-fitting girdle which the trouser waistband hooked into. It's safe to say that the Duke simply disliked braces altogether.

Edward writes to his wife, Wallis Simpson.

At the very least, they got his shirts, pocket squares, and sportswear generally correct. Edward helped popularize the spread collar shirt, which is considered the default "English" style to this day. His pocket squares, as shown in The Crown, were almost always puffed or tucked in nonchalantly to show a single point. He also had a fondness for short sleeved or polo shirts which were sometimes worn with a day cravat. The rope belt is also quite accurate to a few photos of him in Palm Beach, though I'm not certain where this fashion originated.

This outfit seems generally accurate to his sportswear.

Of course, while the real-life Edward VIII was a trend setter and overall stylish person, he is hardly one to follow in personal behaviour. Americans may be more sympathetic to his abdication and the reasons for it, but his Nazi-sympathizing activities and racism do not endear him to many, understandably. Leaving out the first detail is arguably a bigger oversight in The Crown than how he was costumed, especially as it ostracized him even further from the royal family than before. He may have innovated much of the menswear we now take for granted, but for better or worse he was still human.

What do you think of Edward VIII's style sense or how Alex Jennings' costuming in this series?

Copyright Disclaimer: All photographs are used in this post under fair use for the purposes of education, comment and critique, consistent with 17 USC §107. The Crown screencaps taken by kissthemgoodbye.net.

Comments

  1. Interesting. The costume designer really should have done more research! I realize the series didn't center around him, but still. Good job pointing out the flaws.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks, though it wasn't necessarily my intention to take Clapton to task. She did a wonderful job in other aspects of the series' costuming. I tried to give the benefit of the doubt considering series are generally lower budget and more quickly produced than feature-length productions, especially on Netflix. It may not even be her but someone who worked under her.

      However, I hope if there is a series or movie centred around the Duke himself that they will pay closer attention, considering the way he innovated menswear in the 20th century. I'd be happy to provide them notes!

      Delete

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