Today, the Duke of Windsor remains a figure of indelible disgrace: the man who plunged the monarchy into crisis by choosing love for another man’s wife over duty and the Crown.
Even the kindest estimates would place his legacy as “complex.” Edward was described by his Prime Minister Stanley Baldwin as “half child, half genius… as if two or three cells of his brain had remained completely undeveloped.”
However, there was a time when, as Prince of Wales, the heir to the throne was the most glamorous man on the planet, one of the most elegant and perhaps the most photographed.
As Ingrid Seward explains in her new book about Charles and his mother, the late queen, Edward was handsome, athletic and popular.
When in France… Edward VIII wears a beret and correspondent’s shoes while at Le Bourget Airport, Paris. He note the hems of the pants.
Prince Hirohito and Edward VIII wearing their fours for a round of golf, during their official visit to Japan, August 12, 1926.
Prince of Wales photographed in jodhpurs at a point-to-point meeting in 1912
As a young man, Edward tirelessly toured the British and toured the British Empire, meeting large crowds of people eager to shake his hand.
On a visit to Cape Town in 1922, Seward writes, his right wrist became swollen and painful from shaking his hand so much and the prince resorted to using his left hand.
Clothes were important to Edward and, of course, an important part of the job.
Even today, guests of royal palaces may be surprised by the number of times their hosts change clothes in a day.
As Seward explains, the prince carried 40 large trunks of clothing when traveling abroad to accommodate the numerous functions he would attend, each numbered and with its contents listed.
“Edward’s valet, Jack Crisp, organized all the necessary items three days in advance, along with the medals and decorations to be worn,” he writes in My Mother and I – The Inside Story of The King And Our Late Queen .
‘Edward’s father, King George V, was very strict about correct dress and would examine press photographs of his children’s clothing for any detail he considered incorrect.
“If I found something wrong, I would correct it and reprimand it.”
“With her movie star looks she became the most photographed celebrity of her time and the press reported every detail of her clothing,” he writes.
In 1924, Men’s Wear Review magazine reported that “the average young man in America is more interested in the clothes of the Prince of Wales than in any other individual in the world.”
‘An interest in changing fashion became a lifelong passion for Edward.
However, often rebellious, Edward preferred to dress more casually than had been the norm, much to his father’s “intense annoyance.”
Among other innovations, Seward explains, he popularized plus fours for golf, cuffed pants, and jodhpurs for horseback riding.
“He popularized the tuxedo, instead of one with a tailcoat, and owned one in dark navy blue with black silk-trimmed cuffs, something very unusual in those days.
Touring America in 1924, where it was said that the average young man was more interested in the Prince of Wales’s clothes than any other individual on earth.
Edward in a more traditional Derby Day outfit, 1926, in a colorized photo from The Sphere
Prince Edward at the Royal Naval College, Osborne, Isle of Wight, with his father George V. George was a stickler for correct dress and would scrutinize press photographs of his children and criticize their clothing.
The future King Edward VIII photographed in theatrical costume in 1911
King George V and his son the Prince of Wales in 1928
The Duke of Windsor helped popularize cuffed trousers. Here, he is photographed in 1946.
He is also credited with popularizing, and perhaps helping to invent, the Windsor knot, a tie knot that is wider and more symmetrical than the standard “four in hand” style.
Edward, an enthusiastic socializer and party animal, was remembered in a popular song of the time which contained the lyrics:
“I danced with a man who danced with a girl who danced with the Prince of Wales.”
Meanwhile, George V remained resolutely unmoved and once wrote to his eldest son:
—I heard that they saw you at a dance last night without gloves. “Don’t let this happen again.”