King Charles III, formerly The Prince of Wales, who ascended to the throne in September of this year and who celebrates his birthday today, 14 November, has lived a life of constant public scrutiny. Whether it be for his marriages, his political activity, or simply because he was born in the public eye as the future monarch of the United Kingdom, Charles III has always been one of the most famous people in the world.
As a result, he has also long been a subject of high-minded debate, malicious gossip, and everything in between. Somewhere on this spectrum — generally somewhere on the nicer end, I would venture — have been discussions of his sense of style. Charles has reigned as the monarch of menswear for far longer than he has as the King of the UK, although by his own account reviews of his dress sense over the years have been mixed. Speaking at the London Collections: Men fashion week at St James’s Palace in 2012, he joked that ‘I have lurched from being the best-dressed man to being the worst-dressed man’ when it was suggested that he might be a style icon, adding: ‘Meanwhile, I have gone on — like a stopped clock — and my time comes around every 25 years.’
A sense of constancy has certainly been an abiding theme in Charles’ wardrobe and it’s one that perfectly mirrors the same quality embodied by the monarchy at large. Royalists often make the case for the stability and continuity offered by the royal family in the context of Britain’s tumultuous political landscape; so too Charles III’s wardrobe can be seen as acting like a bulwark against fashion trends of the last half a century. He may be a newly-crowned king, but he is an old hand at dressing the part.
Examples of this consistency abide. Charles has been wearing the exact same slimmer style of necktie for seemingly as long as he’s been able to tie his signature tight four-in-hand knot. The same goes for his go-to double-breasted jackets, a style he has worn since at least the 1980s and of which he has become perhaps the world’s most famous proponent. Then there are his coats, which got a lot of press a few years ago. The story goes that he only wears two of them and has done so since the late 1980s, both of them DBs with peaked lapels made by Anderson & Sheppard, one in camel and the other in tweed. He is also said to have a tweed coat that once belonged to his grandfather, George VI, and a ‘totally indestructible’ pair of shoes made from leather salvaged from an 18th-century shipwreck in Plymouth Sound. Then there are all of those fraying jumpers, the patched jackets, and the selvedge bits of tailoring he is occasionally pictured wearing. As the former Prince of Wales told Vogue in 2020, ‘I’m one of those people who hate throwing anything away. Hence, I’d rather have them maintained, even patched if necessary, than to abandon them.’
He goes on to say in that same interview that ‘I can’t bear any waste […] I’d much rather find another use. Which is why I’ve been going on for so long about the need for a circular economy, rather than a linear one where you just make, take and throw away – which is a tragedy, because inevitably we over-exploit natural resources that are rapidly depleting.’ Indeed, the King’s approach to his wardrobe perfectly dovetails with his well-known concerns and campaigning regarding sustainability. To this end, he has, inter alia, been a patron and founder of The Campaign for Wool and in 2020 even launched his own fashion collection in collaboration with Yoox Net-a-Porter comprising an eighteen-piece capsule of sustainable garments.
Then there are the well-known sources of his own clothing: suits from Anderson & Sheppard, Gieves & Hawkes, Ede & Ravenscroft, or Benson & Clegg; shoes from John Lobb, Tricker’s, and Crockett & Jones; shirts from Turnbull & Asser; knitwear from Johnstons of Elgin, hats from Lock & Co; and outerwear by Barbour and Burberry. His list of Royal Warrant holders reads, as you would expect, like a who’s-who of British manufacturing and craftsmanship. In this respect, ‘Charles is a total inspiration. His taste is impeccable, almost always in double-breasted jackets, looking resplendent but totally at ease with a tie and pocket square,’ says John Harrison, the creative director of Gieves & Hawkes. ‘He’s also done more than anyone in the public eye to promote the idea of bespoke garments and handmade shoes being investments, to last forever with proper care and the odd repair or patch-up. He makes us all want to dress like a better man.’
In this regard, while Charles has served as an example to his followers, he too fits into a line of sartorial succession. From his father, Prince Philip, he inherited his broad shoulders and rangy physicality — the ideal frame for his impressive collection of Savile Row suits — and a general interest in clothing he shares with his trendsetting great-uncle Edward, Duke of Windsor and former Prince of Wales, whose life and livery were as much a source of fascination for the public of the 1920s and ’30s as Charles’ is today, if not considerably more so.
Lest it seems as though the King has always merely followed tradition, however, like his famous great-uncle, a youthful Charles also regularly displayed a sense of fun and hints of experimentation. Think of the safari jackets he often wore in warmer climes, the jaunty neckerchiefs he donned on skiing trips, or the array of headgear he’s gamefully consented to wearing on various visits around the globe. A personal favourite is the oft-reproduced image of him at the Guards Polo Club in Windsor wearing a chambray shirt collar casually sticking out of a yellow Hermès sweater featuring a cartoon print — a perfect synthesis of prosperity and sprezzatura.
In more recent decades in the leadup to his claiming the throne, King Charles has stuck more and more to his hallmark suit-and-tie combination, with necktie, pocket square, and cuff links always perfectly in place. As GQ recently described his look, ‘neither fashionable nor unfashionable, but always effortlessly correct and on point’. This much has always been true — a clear and consummate demonstration of discernment and taste. We might all strive for as much even as our preferences and style of dress change over time. Prior to his ascension, Charles III was the longest-serving heir to the British throne; his service to the realm of menswear will doubtless prove even longer.