Throughout history, fashions were primarily set by royalty and a few lucky members of high society. The royalty started fashion trends and their subjects followed their lead, grovelling to seek favour. Royalty were also more widely seen than anyone else before film created movie stars.
As far as menswear is concerned, former kings and princes set the trends. The last people to be majorly influential in menswear are the pre-Second-World-War British royalty. Our tailored clothing still follows the trends they set.
We have King Edward VII during his time as the Prince of Wales to thank for the the popularity of the check that still bears his title well over a century later. He also started the trend of leaving the bottom waistcoat button open because he was too large to fasten it, and now we wear it open as a custom. Many British tailors cut their waistcoats so the bottom button and buttonhole don’t line up, so like in the case of Edward VII we are not physically able to fasten that button without straining the garment.
After Edward VII died, a new Prince of Wales under the reign of George V—who later became Edward VIII and then the Duke of Windsor—popularised new fashions. For evening wear he replaced black tailcoats and dinner jackets with midnight blue. For black tie he introduced the soft shirt with a turn-down collar and a pleated front to replace stiff wing-collar shirt. He drew attention to the drape-cut suit.
These two royals are responsible for popularising many of the tailored looks that James Bond wears over the course of the series.
During the time that Edward VIII was the Prince of Wales, cinema took off and became the new place for people to observe fashions. The next major change in the way men wore clothes would not come until the 1960s, but with the rise of film movie stars had effectively replaced royalty and high society as the arbiters of menswear in the 1930s. They’ve held this position for almost a century, and this blog shows that their position as the primary menswear influencers holds strong almost a century later.
Since James Bond first appeared on the silver screen in 1962, he has been the most consistent place for men to look for style inspiration for six decades. Plenty of others stylishly influential characters and actors have come and gone during this time, but Bond still holds strong. Like a king or queen, he has thus far reigned over men’s fashion for the length a monarch would hold a throne. In fact, Ian Fleming started writing his first Bond story Casino Royale in February 1952, the same month Elizabeth II became Bond’s queen, but Bond’s reign over fashion would not have started until he first appeared on screen a decade later.
Bond is essentially the king of English fashion. He has upheld traditional English modes of style throughout his existence. The tailored suit, the necktie, the dinner jacket and many more styles that he is known for wearing have been kept alive through Bond. Apart from classic menswear enthusiasts, Bond has kept the excitement of these English garments alive for a more mainstream audience around the world who may not have as much of an interest in dressing up or dressing in the tailored tradition.
I’m not using the term ‘fashion royalty’ in the title of this article in the usual sense. Bond is a character, not a leader of the fashion industry, but his fashions have been copied by many individuals and many clothing brands in the same kind of way kings and princes used to influence menswear.
Today, the British monarchy does not hold the place in menswear that it once had. Prince Philip has always been well turned out, but few have paid attention to his clothes.
Prince Charles, like Princes of Wales before him, garners the most attention of the male royalty for his style. He’s always well-dressed, but he not particularly influential in terms of menswear today. His style is an extension of the previous Prince of Wales (the Duke of Windsor), just with an extra row of buttons on his double-breasted suit jackets and considerably smaller tie knots. He has not introduced anything to fashion.
Prince William lets his wife have all the fashion attention. Kate Middleton has the largest fashion influence of any member of the British royal family and is one of the most influential people in the world regarding fashion. Her sister Pippa and Prince Harry’s wife Megan are also inspiring in their fashions.
Men in the royal family don’t have this power, nor do they make much of an attempt to draw attention to their clothes. They’re not wearing anything remotely unusual. While their outfits are well put-together, there’s little that makes an impression to the average man. There’s not much that separates them from any other well-dressed man of the past century.
The men in the British royal family, or any other royal family for that matter, are not the most visible icons to the men of the world. Today it’s the celebrities on film who have the widest reach. We admire the people we watch on screen, whether its for their personalities, their glamourous lifestyles or their characters who we connect with. They’re the people we seek to emulate more than anyone else we don’t know. There’s no doubt that James Bond and the actors who have played him have been amongst the most significant of these cinematic influencers. With Bond being the world representative for traditional English style, he deserves the crown for leading the world of menswear.