How King Charles Became A Stealth Style Icon

From exceptional tailoring to his off-duty Balmoral look, King Charles displays a discerningly dapper wardrobe

King Charles style

by Jonathan Heaf |
Updated on

FromLogan Roy’s warmongering scowl gift-wrapped in Brunello Cucinelli nine-ply cashmere to Rishi Sunak’s scuffed Prada slip-ons and Leonardo DiCaprio’s pap-proof baseball cap, there is one thing that binds the male figures at the very centre of our societal onion: they all care about what they wear.

Forget what style commentators say about the super elite wanting to wear ‘quiet luxury’ so their vast wealth goes under the radar, unchecked. A perfectly cut, black-as- a-barrel-of-crude-oil sweater from The Row is only ‘quiet’ to those who don’t know what they’re gawping at. To their (extremely rich; sartorially astute) peers, that brand of non- branded sweater is as loud as me or you walking into Gail’s in Crouch End with a Louis Vuitton monogrammed surfboard under our arm.

I suspect His Royal Dandiness might send me to the tower for even suggesting it, but King Charles III is no different. Over the years and decades, in fact, ever since he felt the keen gaze of a photographer’s lens and thus the power of a well-posed shot on a tabloid’s front page, the one-time playboy prince has managed to dupe pretty much everyone into thinking his pioneering, gregarious fashion sense is pure serendipity. In reality, it’s less emperor’s new clothes and more fashionable Midas touch.
Of course, HM is well-rehearsed at batting away any such flattery. Whenever he’s asked about being fashionable – either as a special ambassador for London Collections: Men back in 2012, or again when interviewed by British Vogue editor-in-chief Edward Enninful more recently – he shrugs it off. ‘I’m a stopped clock when it comes to style,’ he mutters in that voice that still seems to sound like Hugh Grant talking through a snorkel. ‘I’m fashionable once every 25 years.’

‘Poppycock!’ As his caravan of staff might hiss behind Charlie’s back. As someone who cares about the power and influence of one’s personal style, to say Charles’s aesthetic prowess, his eye for detail and colour-matching is anything but well-drilled is woefully underestimating his ambition and sartorial abilities.

Take that infamous shot of him in a ski outfit on the slopes from 1980, all fitted, belted navy jumpsuit with black zips over a canary yellow roll-neck sweater that serves as the perfect backdrop to accentuate a smart little kerchief pulled taught. He looks like he stepped straight out of a Slim Aarons photograph. Accessorised with black leather gloves and a pair of oversized aviators with cocoa-brown graduated lenses, only Robert Redford himself could look more quintessentially of the era. What Charles lacks in natural swagger he makes up for with a diligence bordering on unbridled narcissism.

What began, however, as the ability to put together a complete outfit has, in his later years, pivoted to a more useful magisterial superpower: clothing choices that serve to telegraph not only his personality, but also a strongly held belief system. It’s well-known that Charles has hundreds of suits kept in vast mahogany wardrobes, many of which have been worn and re-worn over a number of decades. This isn’t mere thriftiness – many of his suits are made bespoke at considerable expense by Anderson & Sheppard or Gieves & Hawkes on Savile Row, as are his shirts from Turnbull & Asser and his shoes at Mayfair specialist John Lobb – but illustrates his forthright stance about the damage being done to the environment by the fashion industry. It’s fashion as a protest banner and, whisper it, almost a little punk. In a world full of the fashion flock queuing to purchase the latest T-shirt drop, what’s more anti- establishment than not following the herd? Even the morning suit he wore to Meghan and Harry’s wedding was rumoured to be something he already owned and upcycled. The King was wearing ‘archive’ long before #OldCeline was, well, old Céline.

Of course, when looking through these old photographs of the King it’s the sheer variety that really knocks you out; how for every function, every highland romp, every ceremonial ribbon cut in the rain and hand shaken over a soggy sandwich there’s an outfit to match. An outfit so well assembled, with all the accoutrements perfectly in place – the silver tie pins, cufflinks, starched epaulettes, bush hats, tab collars, safari jackets and well-worn belts. It’s little wonder such perfection can be achieved only by a man with five valets. Well, that and a King’s ransom.

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