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Swellboy on… George VI’s lapels

The king’s stammer was noticeable, but his peculiar sartorial foible was more so

Swellboy on… George VI’s lapels

Image: Brijesh Patel

March 05 2011
Nick Foulkes

Given the recent excitement surrounding The King’s Speech, I have been pondering how I might ride the coat-tails of this passing bandwagon, and it was while mixing this very metaphor that I hit upon my scheme. I have been amazed not so much by his coat-tails, but rather by the breadth of the lapels on George VI’s overcoat

I think the mistake that we have all been guilty of is focusing on the King’s speech impediment, when it is of course a sartorial foible that should have held our attention. This came home to me while watching one of the many documentaries rushed out to capitalise on the success of the film – I forget whether it was The Real King’s Speech, Stammering Sovereigns, Muttering Monarchs or the predictable When Real-Life Royals Fluff Their Lines.

Until then I had adhered to the orthodox opinion that Edward VIII rather trumped his brother when it came to matters of style. Granted, there is a very nice windowpane-checked tweed sports jacket worn by King George VI while riding a bicycle (it looks like a good 21oz Cheviot to me). But on the whole the Duke of Windsor steals the show when it comes to: evening wear (that inimitable needlecord dinner jacket); shooting near Alsace (a pair of epic checked trousers); modelling for Vogue (an inspiring navy blue suit with a teal blue windowpane over-check); attending a barbecue in Havana (crisp white guayabera-style shirt with fabulous spread collar); I could go on, but I think you get the picture.

I can imagine how this effortless supremacy in matters sartorial must have been a constant reproach to George VI as he had to step up and take over the British Empire; in addition to his own speech impediment, he had to deal with brother’s effortless stylishness. Happily it appears that someone – who knows, maybe his wife – identified a chink in the Duke of Windsor’s wardrobe and felt that here was something that George VI could do better; or, if not better, then certainly bigger. It is the only theory I can advance to explain the impressive peaked lapels that I spotted on the king’s double-breasted overcoat. The other name for them is wing lapels and seldom has this been more apt; these were magnificently confident, Condor-like enhancements to an otherwise relatively straightforward double-breasted overcoat. Almost touching his shoulders, these splendid spinnakers arced across the royal poitrine in a way that was almost moving.

I am sure that following the Oscar success of The King’s Speech, Harvey Weinstein is looking around for a sequel in order to reunite his stellar cast. I can already see Colin Firth pacing nervously up and down, swearing wildly as his tailor fits him for the coat, the internal agony of whether he can carry off these feats of sartorial engineering etched on his expressive features, Helena Bonham Carter providing discreet encouragement.

Accordingly I am happy to present my services as screenwriter and sartorial adviser for The Madness of King George’s Lapels – the Academy Award for best costume is in the (garment) bag.