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The Duke of Windsor’s tartan suit
The Duke of Windsor’s tartan suit

 

It’s a bit small for me, but I was very taken by this tartan evening suit, made for the Duke of Windsor in 1950 or 1951. As the eldest son of the British monarch (George V in his case) the Duke held the title of the Lord of the Isles and so was able to wear this MacDonald Lord of the Isles tartan. The suit jacket was made by Scholte of London, while the trousers, with zipped fly, were tailored by Harris of New York. The matching waistcoat was made by Hawes and Curtis. Who else but a menswear obsessive would involve three tailors on different sides of the Atlantic for an outfit

In the 1998 auction of the Duke’s wardrobe at Sotheby’s in New York, this ensemble, plus a green corduroy waistcoat and a couple of white pique highland-style dress waistcoats, sold to an anonymous buyer for $4,887 (the equivalent today would be about $6,900 or £4,500). It came under the hammer again on June 26 in the latest auction organised in London by vintage fashion specialist Kerry Taylor, who coincidentally handled the 1998 sale when she worked at Sotheby’s. (https://www.kerrytaylorauctions.com/)

The estimate this time for the suit, which has a 38in chest and a 29in waist, was £8,000-£12,000 (about $12,400-$18,600), but the best offer was only £4,500, so it was withdrawn from the sale. What does that say about the allure of the Duke, who died in 1972 shortly before his 78th birthday

Frustratingly, there seems to be no record of the mill that provided the MacDonald Lord of the Isles tartan. In the 1998 auction an aluminium box of about 75 swatches of the Duke’s suits, including evening suits and Highland dress, and 14 overcoat cloths, was unsold. Its whereabouts today are unknown to me. The cloth is widely available today from firms like D C Dalgleish of Selkirk (“The world’s last specialist mill weaving only authentic traditional quality tartans”) and Strathmore Woollen Company in Forfar (“One of Scotland’s most renowned suppliers of authentic tartan fabric and manufacturers of superior quality traditional Highland wear”).

The Duke of Windsor, previously Edward, Prince of Wales and, briefly, cheap stone island wear Edward VIII, was known as David to his family and friends. The title of Lord of the Isles is now held by Prince Charles as heir to the British monarch. I am not expecting him to be seen in a suit like his great-uncle David’s anytime soon.

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