The Duke of Windsor is famous for the fashion innovations he made in the 1920s and 1930s during his years as the Prince of Wales, most of which still carry on strongly today some 90 years later. No member of British royalty has had such an impact on menswear since. James Bond’s creator Ian Fleming, however, was no fan of the Duke of Windsor, more for who he was than his style.
Many people in the United Kingdom were not fond of this man—once called King Edward VIII—for a number of reasons. He was not seen as loyal to Britain, for he chose to irresponsibly abdicate the throne to instead marry the twice-divorced Wallis Simpson. Even worse, the Duke of Windsor visited Nazi Germany in 1937, leading people to believe during World War II that his sympathies were with the Nazis rather than the Allies. Edward lived his life after King exiled in France, being physically as well as spiritually removed from Britain. It’s no surprise that someone who fought for Britain during World War II would dislike the Duke of Windsor.
Ian Fleming hinted at his dislike for the Duke of Windsor with the now-famous line in From Russia with Love about the Windsor knot:
Bond mistrusted anyone who tied his tie with a Windsor knot. It showed too much vanity. It was often the mark of a cad. Bond decided to forget his prejudice.
This prejudice against men who wear the Windsor knot stems from a mistrust of for whom the Windsor knot is named. Edward actually did not wear a Windsor knot but instead wore ties with thick interlinings that could make a large knot tied in the four-in-hand manner. Still, people have since associated the knot with Edward. The Windsor knot may possibly have been named after the Duke of Windsor because it created a larger knot like the ones he preferred. Edward wrote of the knot in his 1960 book, A Family Album: “The so-called ‘Windsor knot,’ was I believe regulation wear for G.I.s during the war, when American college boys adopted it too. But in fact I was in no way responsible for this. The knot to which the Americans gave my name was a double knot in a narrow tie- a “Slim Jim” as it is sometimes called.” Nevertheless, he is still often mistakenly credited for inventing it and wearing it.
Edward’s tailor, Frederick Scholte, developed the relaxed and full ‘English drape cut’, which the Savile Row tailoring firm Anderson & Sheppard adopted. Fleming referenced Anderson & Sheppard in his description of Count Lippe’s clothes in Thunderball:
He was an athletic-looking six foot, dressed in the sort of casually well-cut beige herring-bone tweed that suggests Anderson and Sheppard. He wore a white silk shirt and a dark red polka-dot tie, and the soft dark brown V-necked sweater looked like vicuna. Bond summed him up as a good-looking bastard who got all the women he wanted and probably lived on them—and lived well…
In mentioning Anderson & Sheppard and thus the drape cut, Fleming is loosely making a comparison of the SPECTRE operative Count Lippe to the Duke of Windsor.
Edward is well known for his contributions to fashion during his time as Prince of Wales, whether those contributions are his own inventions or just garments he popularised. Even Ian Fleming and James Bond of the films embraced some of Edward’s fashion innovations.
Ian Fleming did not specify enough details of the literary James Bond’s clothes to be able to compare his clothes to Edward’s. Generally, the literary Bond did not share much sartorially with Edward. One thing we know that Fleming shared in common with Edward was a fondness for wearing belts with his suits. In the 1950s, braces were suits were still very common, but neither Ian Fleming nor Edward cared for braces. Edward wrote in A Family Album:
I never had a pair of trousers made by Scholte. I disliked his cut of them; they were made, as English trousers usually are, to be worn with braces high above the waist. So, preferring as I did to wear a belt rather than braces with trousers, in the American style, I invariably had them made by another tailor.
Fleming copied this style of trousers, though they had become more mainstream in Britain by this time.
More of Edward’s influence on James Bond can be seen in the films. Edward made many innovations in black tie during the 1920s and 1930s that James Bond adopted. Midnight blue for evening wear was his invention. This started with white tie but soon made its way to black tie. The notes for Edward’s midnight blue evening dress at New York City’s Metropolitan Museum of Art describe part of the reason for Edward’s choice of midnight blue over pure black:
In the 1920s, the Duke of Windsor, then Prince of Wales, introduced the midnight blue evening suit as an alternative to the conventional black evening suit. He was motivated by a desire not only to soften men’s formal wear, but also to augment his sartorial standing in the popular press. As he explained in A Family Album, “I was in fact ‘produced’ as a leader of fashion, with the clothiers as my showmen and the world as my audience. The middle-man in this process was the photographer, employed not only by the Press but by the trade, whose task it was to photograph me on every possible occasion, public or private, with an especial eye for what I happened to be wearing.” The Prince of Wales understood the photogenic possibilities of midnight blue in black and white. Unlike black, midnight blue allowed for the recognition of such subtle tailoring details as lapels, buttons, and pockets.
James Bond favoured this colour for his dinner suits, which can be seen in the first film Dr. No as well as in many others since. Apart from the reasons of photography, the colour is famously said to look “blacker than black” under artificial light. It does, however, look blue in sunlight, which is still a concern some people have when wearing midnight blue during evening events in the summer time when the sun is out past 6 pm. But in black-and-white photography it will always look black while still being able to show more definition.
Bond also favoured the kind of soft dress shirt that Edward invented, according to Alan Flusser in Clothes and the Man, in the 1930s, which made the stiff shirt obsolete for black tie long before James Bond appeared on screen in 1962. This shirt has a soft turn-down collar instead of a stiff wing collar, soft double cuffs instead of stiff single cuffs, and a soft pleated front instead of a stiff boiled front.
According to Gentleman’s Gazette, grosgrain silk facings instead of satin silk for evening wear was another of Edward’s innovations. Costume designer Lindy Hemming was a fan of grosgrain silk and dressed James Bond in Brioni dinner jackets with grosgrain silk facings in Tomorrow Never Dies, The World Is Not Enough, Die Another Day and Casino Royale. Daniel Craig’s ivory Tom Ford dinner jacket in Spectre also has grosgrain facings, though facings on an ivory dinner jacket were not done during the time of the Duke of Windsor.
Sean Connery’s, George Lazenby’s, Roger Moore’s and Daniel Craig’s Bonds all wear suit trousers that have various self-supporting systems. Edward was actually one of the first to wear trousers with a self-supporting system. New York City’s Metropolitan Museum of Art has one of Edward’s morning suits with such a pair of trousers, which they described:
While he had his jackets made by Frederick Scholte, he had his trousers tailored by Forster & Son … To avoid the necessity of wearing either a belt or braces to support his morning trousers, Forster devised an internal elasticized girdle, which fastened at the center front with a series of adjustable hooks and bars. To prevent gaping, two vertically positioned trouser hooks were set on either side and hooked over the tight fitting girdle.
Though Edward’s grandfather Edward VII was the first to wear a suit in a Glen Urquhart check suit, Edward VIII is responsible for the glen check suit’s modern popularity from when he wore them often as the Prince of Wales. James Bond is a big fan of the glen check suit, and Sean Connery wears five over the course of his six Bond films. George Lazenby, Pierce Brosnan and Daniel Craig also wear glen check suits in their Bond films.
Alan Flusser also attributes the tab collar to Edward when he was the Prince of Wales. Though the tab collar is generally too fussy for James Bond and has become more of an American style since its origins in Britain almost a century ago, costume designer Jany Temime established it as a Bond style when she dressed Daniel Craig in them throughout 2012’s Skyfall.
James Bond and Edward both shared a hatter, James Lock & Co. Lock takes credit for providing Sean Connery’s brown trilby the first Bond film Dr. No.
Despite James Bond’s creator not being a fan of Edward, the character is unable to avoid many of the fashions started and popularised by Edward. Thankfully, James Bond did not copy all of Edward’s fashion innovations. James Bond has yet to wear brown suede shoes with city suits, saving them for casual use and country sports coats. James Bond has also never worn the two styles of suits that Edward is known for wearing. He never wears a button two show two double-breasted suit with a lapel that rolls down to the bottom button, and he never wears a button two suit with a high stance that is cut for both buttons to fasten. And none of James Bond’s suits, even the fullest-cut of Connery’s, had the level of drape that the Duke of Windsor encouraged his tailor to give his suits.