King Charles, an unexpected bastion of British style

Impeccably tailored suits, an eye for jaunty accessories, a make-do-and-mend approach and a signature piece of jewellery make the royal a fashion icon

The then Prince of Wales on an official visit to Kaikoura, New Zealand in 2019. Getty Images
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In 2009, Esquire magazine named Prince Charles, as he was then known, the world’s best-dressed man – and that sartorial flair has not deserted him. Judging by commentary from industry insiders in the months since he acceded the throne and became King Charles III, he is still considered a British style icon.

The irony is that while he has a fastidious eye for detail and always looks very relaxed in his clothes, he believes that his fashion status is purely coincidental. At the launch reception of London Menswear Fashion Week at St James’s Palace in 2012, he described his style, in some respects, as timeless.

“I have lurched from being the best-dressed man to being the worst-dressed man,” he jested. “Meanwhile, I have gone on – like a stopped clock – and my time comes around every 25 years.”

Princes Charles and Diana, Princess of Wales attend a picnic in the desert near Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, in November 1986. Photo: Getty Images

The new king’s clothes and shoes are made by the best in the land. He is loyal to the brands he likes and invests in quality. His bespoke suits alternate between the light, soft-shouldered silhouettes of Anderson & Sheppard on London’s Old Burlington Street and the crisper three-piece cuts of Savile Row’s Gieves & Hawkes, a tailor that has held a royal warrant since 1809, and has suited sovereigns including George V and George VI, and now Charles III.

His preferred style is a classic double-breasted wide lapelled suit in either dark grey or navy blue, and he also looks more comfortable than most British men wearing khaki and taupe-coloured tailoring during the summer and on royal tours.

“In the years that I’ve known him, he’s always cared about his suits, always been obsessive about protocol and dress codes, and always made sure he dressed appropriately,” Dylan Jones, former editor-in-chief of British GQ, wrote in The Sunday Times in September last year.

“He was always on our annual best-dressed list as he was a genuine example of British style; not just a style that played well at home but, importantly, a style that played well internationally.”

Prince Charles and Princess Anne on safari in 1971. Photo: Getty Images

The monarch readily embraces local traditions while on his overseas trips, sometimes wearing different headgear, as well as full outfits, as seen on his visit in 2014 to Riyadh, where he donned traditional Saudi dress. There were printed tribal shirts for visits to West Africa and a 10-gallon hat and a dandy bolo tie playfully worn on a trip to Calgary in Canada in his younger years.

King Charles’s ceremonial dress is from Ede & Ravenscroft, also on the Row. His crisp shirts are made in nearby Jermyn Street by shirtmakers Turnbull & Asser and Emma Willis, while his shoes are handcrafted by Northampton shoemaker Crockett & Jones, although he has doled out royal warrants to fellow shoemakers such as Tricker’s and Benson & Clegg. His outerwear is from Burberry and Barbour (famed for the waxed coats that Charles wears while walking his Scottish estates or at Highgrove). Knitwear is, of course, Scottish cashmere by Johnstons of Elgin.

The royal on a tour of Wales in 1969. Photo: Getty Images

“Clothes hang well on him because he inherited his father’s rangy, wiry physique,” says Simon Mills, contributor to GQ. “It is a stealth wealth style of dressing that doesn’t pander to fashion trends but always looks effortlessly correct.”

Stephen Doig, men’s style editor, and assistant luxury editor of The Telegraph, says: “What stands out for me is that he actually enjoys clothes and takes a great deal of pleasure in them. It’s not purely functional, nor a chore with King Charles – note the detailed cufflinks, the perfectly corresponding pocket square and ties and the support of what he believes in, which is British-made.”

Doig points to the king’s subtle risk-taking in the form of pastel accessories (“I happen to know that he loves lilac”) and impactful checked suits. “He’s particular and considered in his approach, and educated in style a great deal more than most men.”

King Charles has expressed his enjoyment of pattern and colour, which he approaches with the mind of an aesthete, displaying a mastery of jaunty accessories. “I mind about detail and colour and things like that – and colour combinations,” he told British Vogue editor Edward Enninful in 2020.

He donned traditional Saudi dress during a visit to the kingdom. Photo: Fayez Nureldine / Pool

One experience of royal patrimony was recounted by Willis following a royal visit by the monarch to her Gloucester factory in 2020. She has thrived in the male-dominated world of shirt-making for 30 years and counts Benedict Cumberbatch and Daniel Craig among her clients. Her Jermyn Street shop is a stone’s throw from the king’s London residence, Clarence House, and she remembers being approached by one of his dressers about six years earlier, who said his highness would like to try one of her shirts.

“So, I went to Clarence House and measured his royal highness for the first time, and we’ve been making his shirts ever since,” says Willis. “One of the things we specialise in is very fine Swiss cotton and he loves lovely soft fabrics.”

Of course, the number of suits, military uniforms, white tie and ceremonial outfits required to perform his duties, as Prince of Wales and now as monarch, necessitates an army of valets to oversee his wardrobe changes, which often occur several times a day. And, according to a former royal butler, there is a member of staff in charge of keeping his shoelaces pressed.

An official portrait to mark the king's 60th birthday. Photo: Getty Images

This attention to detail is something those studying the king have often remarked on. The man who played him in two series of the The Crown, Josh O'Connor, says: “Whenever he gets out of a car he checks his cufflink, checks his pocket and then waves. It’s the same movement every time.”

At a time when fashion is moving towards more casual attire, the king’s elegant turn-out is a boost for the bespoke tailors on Savile Row and Jermyn Street, who are feeling the pressure. Gieves & Hawkes was put on the market after its owner, the Hong Kong-based Trinity, was put into administration in 2021, and was acquired in November by Mike Ashley’s Frasers Group.

The royal displays his experimental approach to accessories. Photo: Reuters

King Charles is devoted to beautifully handcrafted investment pieces and is always keen to fly the flag for the tailors he patronises, to publicise their craft. He embraces these traditionalists not because they epitomise luxury, but because their craftsmanship is, in his view, important. A few years ago, when the industry was facing a shortage of craftspeople, he helped establish a programme in traditional techniques for fashion students. Lest we forget, it was on Savile Row where Alexander McQueen first learnt his remarkable tailoring skills, as an apprentice.

King Charles told British Vogue editor Enninful in 2020: “Because I can find marvellous people who are brilliant makers of the things that I appreciate, and because of that, I try to keep them going for longer.”

Doig highlights how the monarch “passionately supports a make-do-and-mend approach that’s admirable, be it the suit he famously has patched on the side or the Barbour jacket mended time and time again. He conveys a message that’s singular to what he’s passionate about.”

This approach feeds in from his prophetic views on sustainability, which he was advocating long before the rest of the world caught on. In 2018, his interest in the circular apparel economy culminated in a partnership with the British Fashion Council to promote sustainability in the industry. Several years ago, King Charles also spearheaded the Campaign for Wool to bring the natural material back into fashion and help sheep farmers.

As a young man, the future king opted for a sportier style, whether looking raffish in a safari suit on royal tours or cutting a dashing look on the polo field in polo shirts, paired with white jodhpurs and, amusingly, a yellow sweatshirt emblazoned with the phrase “Happy Hermes”. Not the famed French brand, though, as it featured a drawing of Hermes, the British aircraft carrier.

One item, however, that the monarch is never without is his Welsh gold signet ring, which was inherited from the Duke of Windsor and apparently strikes an unexpected chord with Chinese students. Guy Burton, director of Hancocks, the bespoke and vintage jeweller in London’s Burlington Arcade, says:

“They love the traditional Britishness of it and arrive with photographs of King Charles with his signet ring and say they want one. It is extraordinary, the fashion model that he is. A style icon.”

Updated: April 30, 2023, 4:03 AM