Skip to content

Regal style: The British Royal Family and Savile Row

This summer’s Platinum Jubilee celebrations mark an extraordinary record of service by Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II.

 For 70 years she has been simultaneously the actual and the symbolic figurehead of the British monarchy, a unique institution that is fascinating to, and the envy of, many people across the world.

Dege & Skinner joins millions of others in sending sincere and grateful congratulations to Her Majesty as she reaches this unique milestone having celebrated her 96th birthday on 21 April this year.

The pageantry, processions and parties around the Platinum Jubilee remind us that the British Royal Family has been representative of the best in dress and appearance for centuries.

From ceremonial attire to military and naval uniforms, to everyday “working” clothing, and on to outfits for sport and leisure, the British Royals’ tradition with the finest clothing is an intriguing and inspiring story.

From earliest times monarchs set national standards and mores of dress. Beyond simply protecting the wearer, clothes communicated who held sovereign and political power and who led the social organisation of the period.

The wardrobe choices of the British Royal Family have reflected the culture of the nation. With the advent of photography in the mid-19th century the British Royals became the most-observed family in the world and subsequently the most inspiring.

Royal Influence

Queen Victoria (1819-1901) – the United Kingdom’s longest-reigning monarch before Queen Elizabeth II – famously ruled for 63 years over “an empire on which the sun never set”.

Victoria seen here with the future Edward VII, George V and Edward VIII, in around 1900. George (left) is in a frock coat, which he favoured over a lounge suit until his death in 1936, a few decades after it had fallen out of fashion.

The global influence from London was unique.


His sartorial innovations appeared early. In a photographic image from 1864, the 23-year-old Prince Albert Edward – his family called him Bertie – is seen with his wife, the Danish Princess Alexandra (1844-1925), who was known as Alix, and their first-born, Prince Albert (1864-1892), who was called Eddy and died young at 28.

Bertie is wearing an early example of his own creation, the modern lounge suit. The informal single-breasted jacket, the waistcoat or vest, and the trousers are in the same dark cloth. The modern era of menswear had arrived.

By a happy coincidence here at Dege & Skinner we can trace our tailoring lineage back to just one year later – 1865 – when Jacob Dege, a successful journeyman tailor from Germany, opened a business in Conduit Street at the west end of Savile Row, having been in England for 10 years.

See for the story behind our 157 year old family business.

The Row and the district immediately adjacent to it had become known for its fine clothes makers in the early decades of the 1800s. At the age of 17, in 1858, the Prince of Wales was awarded an allowance of £500 (which equates to more than £65,000 in today’s terms), mainly to buy his own clothes. His parents, however, already had misgivings about their heir.

Queen Victoria’s consort and Bertie’s father, Prince Albert (1819-1861), complained in a letter to a family member: “Unfortunately (Bertie) takes no interest in anything but clothes, and again clothes. Even when out shooting, he is more occupied with his trousers than with the game.”

In a letter to her son, Victoria (probably guided by Albert), advised him: “…we do expect that you will never wear anything extravagant or slang, not because we don’t like it, but because it would prove a want of self-respect and be an offence against decency, leading as it has often done before in others to an indifference to what is morally wrong.”

To modern eyes it seems astonishing that a short fat man as Bertie became could be seen as an exemplar of fine dressing. Yet before World War I and its aftermath saw the fall of 13 European monarchies, princes and kings were still regarded by most people as fathers of their nations, supreme rulers of their far-flung empires, and leaders in setting standards of taste and decorum.

Royal men were at the apex in male-dominated societies and their clothes on every occasion reflected their unique status, power and influence. Only after the Second World War did the royals’ role as tastemakers and style setters decline.

James Laver (1899-1975) was a pioneering fashion historian who has been described as “the man in England who made the study of costume respectable”. He suggested that the choice of costume or clothing was dominated by three main influences:

  • Hierarchical Principle, that is dressing to indicate one’s position in society
  • Utility Principle, meaning dressing for warmth and comfort
  • Seduction Principle, that is dressing to attract the opposite sex.

In all three areas Bertie the Prince of Wales’ choices lent plenty of weight (no pun intended!) to Laver’s theory.

His German father Prince Albert ensured Bertie had a lonely childhood with only adult tutors for company for much of the time. Albert’s own taste in clothes was mainly for the correct and the sombre. With hindsight, one can view Bertie’s own extraordinary obsession with dressing well and dressing more comfortably (by the standards of the time) as a reaction to Albert and Victoria’s oppressive parenting.

If Victoria and Albert’s own conservative views were a reaction to the flamboyance and debauchery of the preceding Regency era of the early 1800s, they were not embraced by Bertie, who soon showed a strong predilection for fine dining, fast living, lots of sport and lots of female company.

The 19-year-old prince’s liaison with an actress called Nellie Clifden in 1861 while he was serving with the Grenadier Guards in Ireland provoked a scandal. Victoria blamed Albert’s premature death, aged 42, shortly afterwards, on the stress Bertie had created although Albert had typhoid fever and possibly a bowel problem.

After the Prince of Wales married Alexandra on 10 March 1863 he was granted an income of about £100,000 (around £14 million in today’s values). As his mother did not regard him as fit for any senior role within her household, he lived the life of a privileged international playboy.

As the prince was dressed by Savile Row from his late teenage years, anyone else from the UK and overseas who wished to dress in the correct “Royal” manner also found a tailor or tailors in the vicinity.

Although he despised vulgarity and was a stickler for correctness in uniform and formal dress, Edward VII’s lasting legacy was to promote the concept of practical elegance. One of his early innovations was to have the tails removed from his formal evening dress to create what we now regard as the dinner jacket or tuxedo.

Bertie was busy restyling his sporting clothes too. With game shooting one of his passions, he endorsed what we now know as the Norfolk jacket, the belt, vertical pleats and action back of which combined comfort and practicality.

As a specialist in hunting and country clothes from its early years, Dege & Skinner was inspired to create its own version of a Norfolk jacket, known prosaically as the Phitwell®, which is still in demand today.

For every pastime, whether riding, yachting, golfing or attending the races, Bertie required distinct outfits, which often were tailored suits in boldly-patterned cloths. Undermining the fiction that a tailored suit is dull, boring or predictable, the variety of Bertie’s wardrobe as seen in contemporary photographs is astonishing,

As his mother became a virtual recluse after Albert’s death, the prince made official visits as far away as Egypt and India and was a frequent visitor to Europe, with France especially a favourite destination. He represented the most powerful family of the most powerful country in the world and his influence on men’s wear globally was unrivalled.

As his namesake grandson, King Edward VIII, later the Duke of Windsor, wrote: “He was a good friend of Savile Row, consolidating the position of London as the international sartorial shrine for men.”

By the time Victoria came to the throne in 1837 London, specifically the area around Savile Row, was regarded universally as the location of the most-skilled tailors.

In the latter decades of the 19th century craftsmen like Jacob Dege carefully perused the newspapers and society magazines to keep abreast of latest style choices of Bertie and his set.

Simplifying Dress Codes

Although he could change outfits up to six times a day, Bertie also wanted to simplify contemporary dress codes. At Sandringham, his estate in Norfolk, male guests had been expected to wear morning suit as their first outfit, then change to hunting clothes for riding, followed by morning suit for afternoon refreshments before putting on evening dress for dinner.

Bertie let it be known that just two outfits – shooting tweeds for the day and evening dress for dinner – would suffice.

Bertie’s desire for comfortable formal clothes is so well exemplified by this smart ensemble in 1898. His trousers have no crease and the bottom button on his waistcoat is left undone. He wears it well.

Among his other innovations were creases at the sides of trousers rather than down the front, turn-ups on trousers to protect the hems from muddy ground, leaving the bottom button of a waistcoat or vest unfastened (allegedly after he had eased his waistcoat following one of his typically gargantuan meals), choosing tweeds for race meetings (although not Royal Ascot, which still requires morning dress to this day).

A playboy prince, Bertie surrounded himself with a fashionable, if racy, bunch of friends.


Here he complements his splendid reefer jacket with a Homburg, which he brought back from one of his regular trips to the German spa town.

He made the hat popular after visiting a felt-hat factory in the German town of Homburg, close to the French border in Saarland.

Derby Winner

Horseracing was indeed the sport of kings as far as Edward VII was concerned. His horse Persimmon won the Derby in 1896 (when he was Prince of Wales). By coincidence, our current Managing Director's great grandfather drew a picture of Persimmon, the only archive piece held of Arthur Dege & Skinner.

In 1909 his horse Minoru also won the Epsom Downs Classic.

His photograph looks as though it was taken at a winter meeting, judging by the overcoats, but given the vagaries of the British weather it might have been in June.

From the 1860s until his death in 1910, Bertie was probably the most photographed man on earth. His coronation in 1902 was the first British one to be filmed and photographed. The development of better education and what we would now call mass communication made the public appearances of the British Royal Family literally public property. They were certainly obsessively followed at home and overseas.

If we remember King Edward VII mainly for his day and evening wear and the outfits he wore for his various leisure pursuits, his son King George V (1865-1936) is best remembered for his passionate love for uniforms.

The Tailor & Cutter

A likeness of a 17-year-old Prince George (later George V) was cheekily used by the British weekly trade paper The Tailor & Cutter in this illustration for winter coats for 1891-92. The T&C regularly used images of British and European royalty in this way as they were the sartorial trendsetters of the era.

Royal Navy

Prince George in a Captain's uniform around 1901, by which time he was heir to the throne. Born in 1865, George served in the Royal Navy from 1877 to 1892 when his older brother Prince Eddy died unexpectedly.

As King George V, he retained a passionate love of uniforms, especially his naval ones.

Under Laver’s three principles, military and naval uniforms fall very much into the Hierarchical Principle. The last British king ostensibly to lead an army on the field of war was King George II (1683-1760) at the Battle of Dettingen in Bavaria on 27 June 1743 during the War of the Austrian Succession.

Even though an elderly Scottish general, John Dalrymple, the 2nd Earl of Stair (1673-1747), had operational control of the British, Hanoverian and Austrian troops who triumphed over the French, Dettingen is remembered as the last time a reigning British monarch led troops in combat.

In recognition of the vital role of the British infantry in the victory, Dettingen is the name of one of the training companies at the Royal Military Academy Sandhurst, a venue that Dege & Skinner has been serving for decades.

The 19th century was the high-water mark for the complexity of the uniforms of the British Army, which numbered dozens of regiments and corps that each developed its distinct uniforms.

Especially for the officers, there was not just one uniform, but several variations for different occasions – mess dress differed from active service wear. Top tailors like J Dege were expected to be fully cognisant of every last detail of each uniform as every element had a practical purpose or a symbolic meaning.

While the oldest son of the monarch was groomed for kingship, other male offspring usually were destined for a career in the navy – the Senior Service – or the army.

When he married the Danish Princess May of Teck (1867-1953), later Queen Mary, on 6 July 1893 the future George V wore the uniform of a captain in the Royal Navy. He had joined the service as a 12-year-old cadet on the training shop HMS Britannia.

As the second son of Bertie and Alexandra, he was the “spare” but he became the heir in January 1892 after the unexpected death of his older brother Eddy.

George’s progress in the Royal Navy saw him require the uniforms of a Cadet, Midshipman, Sub-Lieutenant, Lieutenant, Commander, Captain, Rear-Admiral, Vice-Admiral, Admiral and Admiral of the Fleet.

Additionally, some of his other military appointments required him to wear the uniform of the Colonel-in-Chief of the Royal Fusiliers (City of London Regiment), the Colonel-in-Chief of the Royal Marine Forces, an Honorary Colonel of the 4th County of London Yeomanry Regiment (King’s Colonials), the Colonel-in-Chief of the Royal Welsh Fusiliers, and the Colonel-in-Chief of the Queen’s Own Cameron Highlanders.

George V was also a Field Marshal of the British Army. As a modern monarch we also was appointed Colonel-in-Chief of the Royal Flying Corps and subsequently Chief of the Royal Air Force.

His uniform tailors will have been kept busy.

Although his usual reputation is of a somewhat boring man interested only in uniforms, shooting game birds, and stamp collecting, George was king across three tumultuous decades from 1910 to 1936.

Perhaps most beneficially for Savile Row, he and May produced four healthy sons as well as a daughter, Mary (1897-1965). A fifth boy, Prince John (1905-1919), died aged 13 after a severe epileptic seizure.

David, the Prince of Wales, who was briefly Edward VIII and subsequently the Duke of Windsor (1894-1972), is the best-remembered (and most controversial) of George V’s sons, but his brothers Albert or Bertie, the Duke of York and later King George VI (1895-1952), and George, the Duke of Kent (1902-1942), also left their mark on the menswear landscape.

Brothers In Style

In 1937 the British weekly trade paper The Tailor & Cutter saluted the individual styles of the four royal brothers who were sons of King George V.

By this time, David (b 1894) had abdicated as King Edward VIII.

He was succeeded as King George VI by his brother Albert (b 1895).

Duke of Gloucester

The other brother, Henry, Duke of Gloucester (1900-1974), is the least-known of the pack, he joined the 10th Royal Hussars and was Governor-General of Australia in 1945-1947.

The Duke of Gloucester and the Duke of Kent had sons who carried on their stylish traditions to the modern era.

In childhood photographs the young princes are often seen in sailor suits. Their father George V ordered that the pockets of these garments were sewn up to prevent the boys slouching.

Like his grandfather and namesake, the man who for 11 months was Edward VIII had a fractious relationship with his father. Like Edward VII, Edward VIII railed against the conventions of the royal family and expressed himself very energetically through his dress.

Royal Naval College

The future King Edward VIII, whose given names were Edward Albert Christian George Andrew Patrick David, was born on 23 June 1894. It was a tradition for young princes to wear naval uniforms as children. David, as his family called him, started at the Royal Naval College, Osborne in 1907. Two years later he transferred to the Royal Naval College, Dartmouth and he served as a midshipman for three months on the battleship HMS Hindustan in 1910.

Dege & Skinner retains a close comradeship with the British naval tradition as our current Managing Director William Skinner was educated at Pangbourne Nautical College, as it was known at that time.

The height requirement for Grenadier Guards in 1914 was to be 6 feet tall (1.83m) but even though he was only 5ft 6ins (1.7m) Prince Edward joined as an ensign in June 1914.


To celebrate his 42nd birthday on 23 June 1936, The Tailor & Cutter put King Edward VIII on its front cover in his uniform of colonel-in-chief of the Seaforth Highlanders. The regiment’s Gaelic motto Cuidich 'n Righ means Aid the King in English.

The front cover highlights The Royal Family’s genuine love for Highland dress, which dates back to George IV (1762-1830) and continues to this day.

On a very simple level, the Prince of Wales clearly liked dressing up. He had a full wardrobe of uniforms ranging from the cadet’s kit from the Royal Naval College, Osborne, which he attended from the age of 13, to the Lieutenant’s kit he wore when he joined 1st Battalion Grenadier Guards in November 1914 to the dress uniform he wore when Governor of the Bahamas (1940-1945).

In a somewhat disingenuous memoir, A Family Album, published in 1960, the Duke offered some thoughts on his sartorial approach. Like Edward VII, he was a superb embodiment of British style, albeit with a younger, more individual attitude.

Even though he travelled with no fewer than 40 tin trunks to carry his huge selection of clothes, which in 1960 included 55 lounge suits, 15 evening suits and three formal suits (all with two pairs of trousers), he claimed not to be obsessed with his dress.

Prince of Wales

As Prince of Wales, the future King Edward VIII made many official tours and public engagements. He was a very popular figure and his style was copied voraciously.

“Let it not be assumed that clothes have ever been a fetish of mine,” he wrote. “Rather I have become, by force of circumstances and upbringing, clothes-conscious. My position as Prince of Wales dictated that I should always be well and suitably dressed for every conceivable occasion.”

“It was not of course until after the First World War that it became possible for a man to display anything like an individual taste in dress,” he wrote. “All my life I had been fretting against those constriction of dress which reflected my family’s world of rigid social convention.”


Two-tone loafers and a wide-brimmed hat were typically individualistic touches from the Duke of Windsor in the post-World War II period.

During the 1920s and 1930s he was photographed even more often than his grandfather had been.

The Prince of Wales noted that the 1914-18 conflict had been a social watershed after which change in many aspects of life, including dress, became possible.

Bright & Bold

The Duke of Windsor famously was fond of bright and bold tweeds. Fortunately for him, but maybe less so for his tailor, The Duke of Windsor's figure barely changed during his adult life and this suit in a windowpane check was seen in several photographs taken over a few decades. It is believed to have been a lichen green colour with a lilac overcheck.

A neat, short man at 5ft 6ins (1.7m), the prince was fond of mixing strong colours and clashing patterns. He popularised the double-breasted suit as a daytime option for gentlemen. Seeking to “dress soft”, he liked unlined suit jackets and sport coats.


For casualwear, he enjoyed wearing colourful Fair Isle sweaters.

“My taste for tweeds was matched by a taste for woollens – for sweaters of all kinds,” the Duke of Windsor wrote.

He acknowledged his choices had led to “a softening-up of the severities of masculine attire”.

This 1925 oil painting by John Saint-Helier Lander of the then-Prince of Wales was reproduced in The Illustrated London News and immediately made Fair Isle knitwear fashionable.

When golfing, the prince revived plus-fours and for eveningwear he preferred midnight blue to black as it looked better in the photographs of the day.

So closely was his wardrobe monitored that in September 1935 the menswear industry was fascinated to learn he had been seen in Cannes wearing both trousers and shorts with a zipper rather than a button fly.

George V was very unimpressed by this uncouth aberration.

Morning Dress

Despite his love of flamboyant outfits, the Duke of Windsor also knew how to dress correctly when required. This was the morning coat and trousers he wore (with a different waistcoat) to his wedding to Wallis Simpson at the Château de Candé, near Tours, France on 3 June 1937.

The king’s youngest son, George, Duke of Kent, matched his oldest brother in the style stakes. He developed with his Savile Row tailor a slightly roomier drape-cut double-breasted jacket that became known as “the Kent”.

In 1934 George married the chic Princess Marina of Greece and Denmark (1906-1968) and the pair became the most stylish couple in London society before World War II.

The duke died in a plane crash in Scotland while serving in the Royal Air Force in 1942, the last British Royal to die on active service. His younger son, Prince Michael of Kent, who was only seven weeks old at the time, has carried on the family tradition of dressing confidently and obviously enjoying his clothes.

King George VI, who succeeded to the throne after his older brother’s abdication in 1936, has never enjoyed a reputation as a menswear innovator but the Queen’s beloved father never looks anything but superbly turned out in any photograph.

He was neat and trim and always dressed appropriately for the occasion – the true mark of a gentleman. These characteristics also epitomised the Queen’s husband of 73 years, Prince Philip (1921-2021). Brought up in the classic naval tradition, the Duke of Edinburgh relied on the classic good looks of Savile Row and never looked anything but immaculate and comfortable in everything he wore.

The Queen’s heir Prince Charles (born 1948) was a late developer in the style stakes. The menswear trade was desperate for him to reproduce the style leadership of the two previous Princes of Wales but it took him until the late 1980s to find a look – typically a suit with a classic drape DB jacket, rather like his great-uncle the Duke of Kent – with which he felt good and looked good.

Younger Princes

Princes William and Harry have rarely attracted the attention of fashion watchers but maintaining at least one family tradition, both have served in the British armed forces. Appropriately, therefore, each wore military uniform for his wedding outfit.

On 19 May 2018 Prince Harry wore a uniform frock coat of his cavalry regiment, The Blues & Royals, which traces its heritage back to 1650. The superb garment was made here at Dege & Skinner, drawing on our century and a half’s expertise in crafting military uniforms.

For more on Price Harry’s wedding outfit, see

Happily, we can expect quite a few displays of ceremonial dress, fine uniforms and exquisite bespoke clothing during the Queen’s Platinum Jubilee events. It is set to be a memorable – and well-dressed – celebration.

God Save The Queen.

Share this Story