Monday, April 25, 2016

A Fashion Recycling Tip from the Duke of Windsor

Love this golf ensemble on the Duke of Windsor, back when he was the Prince of Wales!

I just finished reading The Heart Has Its Reasons: The Memoirs of the Duchess of Windsor. I enjoyed it more than I thought I would for its retelling, straight from Wallis, about her upbringing and life and, of course, the events leading up to the abdication of King Edward VIII in 1936. I will admit I was hoping for a bit of description from her about her fabulous jewelry collection, but there was nothing about it in the book. Maybe she considered it too private to write about it, or thought it would be gauche. While she didn’t write about her jewels in her memoir, she did pen many interesting passages in which she analyzed the character of her husband, David, the former king. There was a paragraph that caught my attention that speaks to everything I love about well-made things and how they are used by a man of style:

Looking great in a double-breasted suit. The shoes seem to match!

“David had another attribute that I also envied. For some time after our marriage I was puzzled by the fact that while he was the acknowledged leader of men’s fashion, he rarely bought a new suit. To be sure, he had a dozen or so, most of which I vaguely remembered having seen before, although each time I saw what I thought was the same one, it was oddly different. I happened to mention this phenomenon to Mr. Carter one day. He replied, ‘There’s no mystery to this at all. Take, for instance, that tartan dinner suit His Royal Highness wore last night at dinner. According to the tailor’s marks on the inside pocket, it was made for his father in 1897. Now, I am happy to see the suit still looking so well, after being refitted to His Royal Highness, even though I never did hold with His late Majesty’s insistence on having his trousers creased on the sides.”

Pensive in a top hat and tipped jacket.

The Duke of Windsor was a dapper guy from the time he was a young man and certainly set the fashion tone for men in his day, but what I love knowing is that he reused suits made for his father, King George V, by having them altered to suit his purpose and taste. Talk about making secondhand first, royal style! This is such a great reminder as to why it’s important to buy (or thrift, or inherit) things that are well-crafted—they can serve you, and maybe the next generation too, for many, many years.

I am including a few photos of the Duke in his younger days that I found around the web and sure enough, he is great in every single one. His good looks, touched with melancholy, and the easy way he wore his clothes must have had a huge impact on men’s fashions of the time.

In the Prince of Wales check he made famous.

Whether he was in full regalia, as shown below, or more in tune with what a wealthy and privileged man of the day might wear, he really knew how to express his personal style through clothing and accessories.

In formal regalia.

With a high collar AND a double-breasted suit. Can anybody wear this today? (No.)

In 1919 on a tour of Canada. I love this picture of him, finally smiling!

Love this picture of Wallis and David.

Let me know if you have read Wallis’s book or what you thought of the way David dressed or how he recycled clothing belonging to his father. If you have ever had something originally belonging to a parent that you had remade to suit you, tell me all about it!

24 comments:

Josephine Chicatanyage said...

Sounds like an interesting book. I will check it out. My nephew had his fathers suits remodelled to fit him.

Suzanne Carillo said...

What an interesting tid bit.

bisous
Suzanne

GSL said...

I found Wallis far more interesting although she is the only non-political figure I've ever heard my mum and grandmother ever speak ill of as they referred to her as "that awful woman". David was a dimwitted candy ass.

Jill said...

Hi Josephine,

It is a very well-written book. I liked it a lot. I found all of the passages about her travel in China in the 1920s fascinating. xx

Jill said...

Hi Suzanne, there were several great paragraphs by Wallis about her husband's character. I thought they were some of the most interesting parts of the book. xx

Jill said...

Hi GSL, I don't know how "awful" Wallis was, but I do notice that people that never knew her certainly felt, and feel, entitled to say nasty things about her. Even the writers who cover her seem to despise her, Anne Sebba obviously hated her, and even Suzy Menkes seems to regard her with disdain, which makes me wonder why they would spend years of their life researching and writing about a woman they can't stand. It says a lot about their own characters! As to David, I don't think he was dim-witted at all. I haven't read enough about him yet to have a full opinion, but from what I understand right now, it sounds like his parents were terribly cold to him and all their children, and that he was a slightly melancholy man, which makes me wonder if he suffered from depression. If he did, it could have been exacerbated by the fact that he was isolated from society because he was next in line for the British throne. Wallis wrote some lovely things about his capacity for hope so maybe I will do a further post on what she had to say. xx

HappyFace313 said...

:-) I have the book in a box somewhere - we moved house after I found it on ebay years ago. So no, I haven't read it yet, but know I will, once I figure out where it is - stored very well :-)

However, the "Duke" had an amazing wardrobe!
I think I told you that I have the Sotheby's auction catalogs from 1997?
Here are a couple of quotes from the Information catalog:

"...ROYAL PANACHE
The Duke loved to experiment with colors and patterns. He mixed the improbable combinations of stripes with spots, tartans and checks, yet he possessed the elegance and style to carry it off with panache…."
"…In a world where men tend to look more and more alike he seems more than ever endowed with the capacity to look like no-one else…"

and one last and very touching caption about him:

"…In a bank of bevel-glanzed drawers of his bathroom are his collection of handkerchiefs and accessories. …. The majority (of handkerchiefs) bear the cypher of the Duke of Windsor, but among them are a few surviving pre-abdication examples which bear the cypher of King Edward VIII. Soft with age, covered with a delicate tracery of finely executed darns one example bearing a whiteworked Garder badge is almost transparent in places. How precious they must have been to him - preferring to have them repeatedly darned and repaired rather than part with them, realizing that those cyphers could never be embroidered for him again. These humble handkerchiefs are poignant souvenirs of a man who sacrificed Crown, Country, Empire - all for the woman he loved."

I'll levee you with that for today.
Big hug xo :-)

Jill said...

Hi Claudia, my mother has those auction catalogs too, I have checked them out more than once on visits to her house. Thank you for taking the time to add such a touching description about his handkerchiefs! Wow! The more I read about him the more I feel he was torn by so many different forces, all at the same time. It must've been awful for him in December 1936 and probably a long time afterward too. I have a lot of sympathy for him. xx

Coulda shoulda woulda said...

Anything Wallis is going to be controversial! Just as a sidebar, in the UK if you showed sympathy then you could kiss goodbye any chance of an honor called OBE or MBE etc BC the queen mother hated her with a vengeance. That sentiment is still there somewhat - she was the precursor to Camilla even though marriage should have solidified their position. The abdicator has a reputation over here - yes he was handsome- but...in any case, he is very stylish and and lucky the gene pool was stagnant back then for him to fit in his relatives clothes. My diverse gene poi wouldn't allow it!! X

Jill said...

Hi Naomi, glad to hear your take on it. I think of the Queen Mother so differently now than I did before I started reading about the family's history! It seems as though she was terribly vindictive and I believe she blamed Wallis & David for her husband's early death? Interesting she would blame them and not all those cigarettes he smoked. My favorite part in all this is that similar scandals have plagued the family since that time. How ironic that something similar would happen to her own daughter and grandson. xx

Coulda shoulda woulda said...

Jill karma runs deep. And guess what? Camilla is descended from the one of the mistresses of King Charles the second and Diana has blood of another of his mistresses who were also rivals! Plus they are distant cousins themselves. Soap opera...

Christine Martin said...

I read this book sometime ago and was really impressed with her. I learnt so much about her. As usual, the press got her wrong. I only keep books after I have read them if I think that they are special. Needless to say, I have kept this. Thank you for your article.

Stephanie said...

I look forward to reading this book, never would have without this review.

Also, I recycle a lot of my Mom's clothing and jewelry from her youth, my childhood. She's 75 now. Almost every day I wear something of hers, and often receive compliments. Some of the clothing she made! I love the feeling of wearing her story as part of mine.

hostess of the humble bungalow said...

That sounds like an interesting read...
I am fascinated with royalty...especially those two...Wallis certainly seems like she had power in that relationship and oh the lavish jewels...well they are amazing!

Jill said...

Hi again Naomi, I knew about Camilla's having blood ties to another royal mistress from WAY back in the day (wasn't that her opening line to Charles, something like, "How 'bout it?" Yowza!), but if I knew about Diana's bloodline connection I had forgotten. It is very soap opera-like, isn't it? It's hard not to feel sympathetic toward Wallis & David after reading her book. Or maybe that's just me, I can definitely be persuaded to see all sides of the story! xx

Jill said...

Hi Christine! Thank you for your comments. I agree with you, I think the press got her wrong and the UK press purposely did so. And the story then got rewritten (so to speak) by the branch of the family currently on the throne. I am glad to see those pictures later on, they must be from the 1970s, when Elizabeth II and Prince Philip and Prince Charles went to visit the Duke & Duchess when the Duke was ill. Maybe Elizabeth II had more empathy with them. I would love to know what SHE thought of all of this herself. Thank you for the nice compliment, I appreciate it. I didn't think a lot of people would see this post, let alone comment on it, so I do appreciate the kind thing you wrote! xx

Jill said...

Hi Stephanie, thank you for stopping by and thank you for the compliment! As for reading about Wallis, I would also recommend the Greg King bio of her, "The Duchess of Windsor: The Uncommon Life of Wallis Simpson." It is fantastic, probably my favorite so far, it is very balanced and I love the details of her travels in China. She was doing a lot of this alone and I think it shows how independent she was. Brave too. I also can't help but think that that was another connection she would've made with David since it sounds like he was on tour forever, one after another, for months at a time, after WWI, when he was a very young man. They probably compared travel notes! It seems that would've made her unique among the ladies he knew, who were probably far more sheltered than Wallis.

I love that you are wearing stuff straight from your mom and that you feel that you are adding some of her story to your own. What a gorgeous sentiment! xx

susan burpee said...

Love this post, Jill. And all the vintage photos. Just finished listening to one of Rhys Bowen's light mysteries in her Royal Spyness series on my i-pod. They are what keeps me on my exercise bike. Bowen writes of a distant cousin of the Queen and King in the 1930's who is impoverished and is a bit of sleuth. They are fun books. And David and Wallis are frequent background characters. I love to hear the narrator jump from upper crust English accents to Wallis' American drawl.

Jill said...

Hiya Hostess, I think you would like Wallis's book. Let me know if you read it! And I agree with you, it seems she had a lot of power in that relationship, although David did seem like he was pretty stubborn and Wallis talks in the book about how at times he could be forbiddingly formal. Hope to learn more about this as I keep reading about them. xx

Jill said...

Hi Susan, how are you?!? I hope all is well. This series sounds pretty interesting based on your description, I love books on tape. I am going to find out more about this writer! Thanks for the tip! xx

Hermesmerized™ the duchessofH said...

Hi Jill. I have read this book and many others on Wallis Simpson. I don't think she was unusual for a woman in her day, of seizing the opportunity to make a good, financially secure marriage? Although there are books that state she wasn't as happy to be the wife of an abdicated King; rather preferring to be mistress of a sitting King; I really question how many women really prefer a mistress role?

I think she did rather well for herself, and she was likely shrewd enough to know it, appreciate it, love her husband, and be grateful for the lifestyle he provided her.

Jill said...

Hi Duchess, thank you for your insightful comments. I agree with you all the way! It sounded like such a financially tough childhood for her, always wondering where the money was going to come from, or having to ask Uncle Sol for things that she wanted, that I think she knew she wanted to be free of that as an adult. xx

Kathy said...

While they are a fascinating couple, my big problem with the Duke and Duchess is they were supporters of Hitler. Had "David" not abdicated, how different Europe, England, and even the US might look today.

Jill said...

Hi Kathy, thanks for your comment but I completely disagree with you. They were not supporters of Hitler. Wallis's own account of meeting Hitler and some of the generals sounded like one of the most awkward meetings ever, uncomfortable from start to finish. I think the British press really wanted to help tear the Duke and Duchess down after his abdication and their subsequent marriage so I think so much of this "they were supporters of Hitler" propaganda stemmed from this impulse on their part. Maybe they were even directed to do so by the government. I also think a lot of "facts" about David and Wallis got to be rewritten by the family who inherited the throne after David gave it up.