I have always admired the Prince of Wales’s dress sense. However the squalls of fashion may blow, he never wavers from the style he adopted about the time Harold Wilson was Prime Minister – far from groovy, even then. His overcoat, reportedly a mere 23 years old, appears to have been modelled on a trend last popular during the General Strike.
Not that he can otherwise have been much influenced by the taste of the then Prince of Wales: I once explored Edward VIII’s wardrobe, when it was owned by Mohamed Fayed, and the Palm Beach golfing trousers would have given Jeeves a fit. Instead, HRH evokes the heyday of Edward VII, another Prince of Wales who had to wait a long time for the throne. It is a look as comfortingly nostalgic as a White Star Line steamship or a Hispano-Suiza car.
But, as he tells the readers of this month’s Vogue, this is the look that will save the world. We should recycle our clothes, just as much as we do our bottles or newsprint. By this, he does not just mean asking one’s valet to pull down an Anderson and Sheppard suit that one hasn’t worn recently. No, you can re-purpose material that might otherwise have gone to waste. He himself has a pair of “totally indestructible” shoes made from leather salvaged from an 18th-century shipwreck.
Bless. I know people who do something similar in London, only with plastic bags: you see them pushing their possessions around in supermarket trolleys, mumbling to themselves. Admittedly, my favourite suit is made from tweed woven in the 1960s. Somewhat vivid in colour and check, a bolt of it had hung around at the back of Huntsman on Savile Row, never having sold. I’m not sure if that counts.
Still, I suspect that many men, if not women, will welcome the Prince’s views. Temperamentally averse to shopping, they are quite happy to put on whatever they find in the drawer. “Dad, you still wear that T-shirt!” chirruped my children, astounded by a photograph that must date back 30 years or so. It’s true. I also possess a good number of garments that came with bottle age already on them. According to one label inside a pocket, my morning coat was made in 1909: an age when men could be spherical and, it would seem, thermostatically controlled (the tailor who did the alterations was astounded by the weight of the cloth; I dread sunny weddings). My evening tails were made in the 1920s and my moth holes are a badge of honour.
The trouble with this sort of schmutter is that it isn’t around any more. When I was at Cambridge in the 1970s, a chap could equip himself with what some of us thought was a certain élan, by frequenting charity shops. The generation that could afford beautifully tailored, hand-stitched clothes was dying off and the attics were yielding up their sartorial treasures.
In Pimlico, there was a shop that specialised in selling them, Cornucopia, at the end of our street. My wife once bought an exquisitely embroidered Art Deco ballgown there. Alas, the emporium has closed. Hardly any woman in this country has been buying couture. Fewer and fewer Brits go to Savile Row. Even Sir Roy Strong, so stylish that his cast-offs can be seen in museums, now shops at Zara. Who wouldn’t?
There is a joy in parsimony. Excess makes us feel morally queasy. I suspect that this is the Prince’s real point. Wearing natural materials won’t help the planet: the Aral Sea has dried up because so much water has been abstracted to grow cotton. But they’re reassuringly expensive, and so more likely to be treated with reverence than the man-made equivalent.That provides a degree of spiritual comfort to go with the physical one – Telegraph