Edward's relaxed style had a profound influence on men's fashion


May 23, 1991|By Dallas Morning News

When Edward VIII abdicated in 1936, forsaking the British throne to marry Baltimore native and divorcee Wallis Warfield Simpson, he pretty much --ed his potential for contributing to international affairs.

But to fashion history buffs, the man who subsequently became known as the Duke of Windsor will be remembered for what he contributed to men's style in the 20th century.

"The duke has had the most profound influence on men's fashion since Beau Brummel," says designer and author Alan Flusser.

Edward was responsible for popularizing glen plaid suits, large-knot ties, double-breasted dinner jackets, the Panama hat, the snap-brim felt hat, checked tweeds, the Grenadier Guard's tie (broad red and blue stripes, still a popular pattern), spread-collar shirts and much more.

Biographer Frances Donaldson writes that Edward's interest inclothes was "far deeper than a mere desire to dress himself up. His personal tastes were for informal clothes and he liked bright colors and large patterns. Some people thought his taste was very vulgar and first among those to whom it made little appeal was [his father]."

Criticism at home did not stop the dapper duke from developing a relaxed, informal style of his own.

He traveled widely, especially while Prince of Wales. And at each stop, he seemed to leave a new fashion statement behind. If the British press scoffed, the American press gushed, following him everywhere, describing his clothes and referring to the duke as "the arbiter of fashion."

Windsor tales from those highly publicized trips are still circulating:

* One year he wore his suede bucks to Meadowbrook Country Club in Long Island to play golf; the next year, 30 other men were wearing similar shoes at the club.

NB * In the '20s, he toured South American cattle ranches. He woreknickers, which actually made the headlines.

* Once, he sported a hand-knitted Fair Isle pullover for a round ogolf at St. Andrews in Scotland. The sweater scored a hole-in-one with the public. As a result, legend has it, the dying economy of that Shetland isle was revived.

During another of his many visits to the United States the prince wore the tab collar. The style was quickly embraced by Ivy Leaguers.

* Argyle socks became a hit with American men in 1934, whethe duke wore his fancy hosiery with tweed trousers to the States.

In his day, the Windsor look even crept into the funny pages. The snap-brim hat the duke made popular became a trademark of cartoon detective Dick Tracy.

Today, designers and manufacturers of clothing still acknowledge the Windsor influence.

Windsor style has inspired designers Ralph Lauren, Giorgio Armani, Alexander Julian, Bill Blass and Mr. Flusser.

Edward's tailors deserve some of the credit -- especially Frederick Scholte, who in the 1930s got the idea for the drape suit from the overcoat of the British Guard.

Hollywood giants of the era imitated the drape and other duke-inspired styles on and off the set. Among those stars were Cary Grant,Gary Cooper, Douglas Fairbanks Jr., David Niven and even Fred Astaire.

What people saw when they watched this slight, charming Oxford-educated man was a softer, more colorful approach to dressing. He wore plaids, with checks and striped ties and argyle socks.

Rather than starched shirts, the duke preferred soft, pleated-front formal shirts paired with double-breasted jackets.

"He took formality and relaxed it. He had a tremendous imagination -- to the horror of the aristocracy," says Mr. Flusser. "He was not considered best-dressed by his peers. But his look inspired designers."

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