Savile Row isn't a place I've had much occasion to visit until now. A street of huge sartorial and historical significance, no doubt; but one which is very much for the gentlemen. Gentlemen of considerable means. It's most famous for being the home of bespoke tailoring, with most of the longest-established tailors in England having their headquarters there. In times gone by, commissioning a bespoke suit from a Savile Row tailor was an even more exclusive affair than it is today. You had to know someone, who probably had to know someone, who would be willing to make an introduction or recommendation to the tailor of your choice.
Henry Poole was (purportedly) the first tailor to open on the Row, when he added a new entrance to his father's shop, which was technically situated on Burlington Street. Other tailors soon flocked there, with many having never left.
Both as Prince of Wales and later as King, Edward was a dedicated clothes-horse. As with his food, cigars, sports, cars and women, he adored fine tailoring and was never less than perfectly turned-out. He and his entourage made Savile Row properly fashionable for the first time, and his favourite tailor of the many inhabiting that Mayfair strip was the aforementioned Henry Poole. And, as well as that Royal Warrant (and many in the proceeding years), Henry Poole & Co has another, very significant claim to fame: they are the original designers and creators of the Tuxedo... actually for Edward when he was the Prince of Wales.
Click to read!
Prince Bertie commissioned Henry Poole in 1860 to make him a short evening coat in the standard midnight blue silk of the time's longer formal eveningwear, something that had never been done before. Legend has it that 26 years later, a Mr James Brown Potter, native New Yorker and dashing gent with a beautiful wife, was invited to dinner at Sandringham. Potter ordered a short evening jacket in the same style as the Prince, and, when he returned to New York and attended the highly fashionable Tuxedo Club, the style took off and was ever more referred to as a Tuxedo. The above booklet from Henry Poole does slightly question this apocryphal story, since the Club's actual founders were Poole customers at the time of the original commission... but it makes for an interesting anecdote nonetheless.
But the short evening jacket is not the only sartorial flourish made famous by His Royalness. The origin of the custom for chaps leaving the bottom button of their waistcoats undone is often attributed to Edward. Two theories abound: one that his fondness for fine food and good living, and the resultant expanding waistline, was to blame. And the other is that as a chap who was far more obsessed with his clothing, even than most fashion-devoted ladies today, he used to change his whole outfit up to six times a day; and would forget to do up the bottom button. Looking at these theories objectively, neither makes much sense - he had so many garments made, they would have fitted him like a glove, despite his er... stately embonpoint... and his valet would never have allowed him to leave his room without being fully buttoned. Not only that, but many, many pictures survive of Edward fully fastened. Either way, though, it was a craze that caught on, and endures to this day.
The above photo, snapped with the kind permission of Anthony Rowland at Henry Poole, also explains the story behind Prince of Wales Check cloth - originally adopted by the Seafield family, and later favoured by Bertie, who adapted it and added a coloured overcheck.
Anyway, I know you're all DYING to know how *I* dressed while on this little excursion to the spiritual home of gentleman's tailoring, so I shan't keep you in suspense any longer.
Spring has very much sprung in London (for the time being, at any rate) so I was plenty warm enough in my Heyday trousers, white vintage-inspired blouse from H&M in the mists of time, and my pinky peach hand-knitted 40s bolero. White plimsolls (very impractical), carefully curated bangles and a miniature bottle of King's Ginger (of course), finished it off. Do please go and visit the KGL site today, as it's just been relaunched after a mini-facelift, and I think that, much like its namesake, it's looking really smart.
Soon going to be time for summery, gingery drinks, and I really can't wait! For now, why not try KGL with a drop of tonic - refreshing and warming!
Thank you to Mr Rowland at Henry Poole for letting me chat all things Bertie with him.
I leave you with my new mode of transportation... I wish.