The Bollywood Moustache


From the earliest days of his sporting youth, Edward VII began causing sartorial ripples in the royal household. Having obeyed his most Victorian of parents stringent of dress codes by his later teens he began to plough his own furrow, causing his father Prince Albert to remark "Unfortunately he takes no interest in anything but clothes. Even when out shooting he is more occupied with his trousers than with the game." The Prince’s pre-occupation with clothes is all the more remarkable considering the austerity of the dress of his parents, and the almost singularly bad taste of his father, who, according to Thomas Carlyle, was remarkable for his 'loose greyish clothes' and had a habit of wearing for shooting a black velvet jacket and long scarlet boots, much to the amusement of accompanying British gentry.

Queen Victoria was most disturbed by what she thought was the Prince's effeminate sense of style and dress, and once wrote to him instructing him to give up wearing slippers and his loose long jacket, and to part his hair in a less girlish and effeminate way. But despite the Queen and Prince Albert's protestations, Bertie was far less dandiacal in his dress than many in the Royal circle of George IV's reign, although his influence on men's fashion was equally as great.

Edward VII favoured formal clothes, dressing in starched collars and shirts and elegant, well cut and fitted clothes, and was a terrific patron of Savile Row, very much cementing London's position as the world fashion capital for men. And he was not averse to uniform, though not as keen as his great pal Kaiser Wilhelm. He was most fastidious in his dress, always in well-polished boots, crisp spats and the white slips that he wore beneath his waistcoats. He took to wearing the bottom button of his waistcoat undone, an affectation which Edward VIII believed to have originally been done by mistake, but however it came about it was to create a style which lasts to this day. He got into the habit of visiting Marienbad incognito, travelling as the Duke of Lancaster, to take the waters there, but the disguise was a thin one and the tailors from all across the European continent would flock there to take surreptitious photographs and copious notes of his clothing and styles. The German Chancellor Prince von Bulow described the Prince as the 'uncontested arbiter elegantiarium'.

Edward popularised many styles that remain in menswear to this day. He liked to wear, on less formal occasions, a double-breasted 'reefer' jacket, originally of naval origin and popular for yachting, the ancestor of today's double-breasted suit jacket and of course the Blazer. He also introduced the central crease to trousers, which until that time had always been worn uncreased, giving them the faintly scruffy look familiar from Victorian photographs. One story of the origin of this crease goes that he had fallen from his horse and was taken to a nearby cottage to rest while his clothes had been dried and pressed. The overwhelmed cottager had pressed his trousers with a crease at the side, a look that the King enjoyed and henceforth followed. He was a great hat lover, and despite wearing the top hat for all London functions helped popularise the bowler, in many different colours, despite strong opposition from some quarters. He also brought the Homburg hat from Germany, wearing it first for race meetings.

The King was also a great fancier of tweed, and took great delight in sporting colourful country clothes. His sturdy legs not being entirely flattered by traditional breeches, he favoured the newly-introduced knickerbocker breeches, which rather than tapering to the knee were cut looser and bagged over it, thus siring the plus four of the modern era. He wore bold checks with brightly coloured stockings and large capes in matching tweed (on occasion with matching tweed gaiters). He was a great believer in dressing in a terrific mixture of checks, stripes, colours and other patterns. A French newspaper once described him as wearing "a green cap, a brown overcoat, a pink necktie, grey shoes, white gloves and knee breeches". Taken up by his Grandson Edward VIII, this became the archetype for English style that dominated the early part of the 20th century.

Edward was also an ardent outfit changer; he believed in having a different one for every occasion and would think nothing of swapping his clothes as many as four or five times during the day. He was a true believer in the maxim that a man should always be well and suitably dressed. In the words of Prince von Bulow, "in the country in which unquestionably the gentlemen dressed best, he was the best-dressed gentleman".