Duke of Windsor

(1894-1972). The romantic Duke of Windsor, who for a few months was Edward VIII, King of England, was the most elegant man of the 20th century. On the other hand, it was the Celts, the ancient inhabitants of Britain, invented the “bracae,” or trousers, while the ancient Romans still wore the modest “subligatulae,” a kind of underpants of no elegance at all and useless as protection against the cold. This tells a lot about the aptitude of Englishmen when it comes to setting fashions for the rest of the world. With this kind of background, English and Anglophile men’s fashion became the most classic and self-assured anywhere. By way of argument, it could also be said that England gave birth to movements and “anti-fashions” which periodically upended the normal laws of elegance, in a kind of short circuit that already glittered in the time of the Regency, when the splendid life of London high society was able to produce a character like George “Beau” Brummel and then immediately mythologize him, to the point that Balzac would define him as “an exceptional man, a prince, and a patriarch of fashion.” Possessing the charisma needed in order to invent rules of fashion, with originality, a spirit of independence, and restraint, Brummel, though not an aristocrat, was able to shine in a society that considered fashion to be the province of the aristocracy. His life, his deeds, and his words gave weight and dignity to the search for refinement and elegance, justifying frivolity and vanity (the implied principles of fashion) and creating a relationship of elective affinity between fashion and culture. Not by accident, Brummel and other celebrated dandies such as Byron, Wilde, Beardsley, and Bearbohm were great poets and artists. With these precedents (and despite D’Annunzio and the creations of Armani), the most elegant man of the century had to be an Englishman. The Duke of Windsor, then: what was the source of his elegance? Well, it is appropriate to say that elegance is a gift, one of many bestowed by the gods in ways that may seem unfair, in the same way that someone may be handsome, intelligent, or charming. There are no recipes; elegance is a sort of grace, an inner security which makes you feel comfortable in your clothes. The Duke of Windsor had this grace, this security, at a maximum level. His most celebrated inventions were the dinner jacket (in Italy and France it is called smoking), made in a fabric called “midnight blue,” a very dark blue color that under artificial light appears blacker than black, and was worn for the first time in 1920; the Windsor knot, a perfectly triangular large tie knot that was very popular in the 1950s but worn so badly that the Duke repudiated it; and the Windsor collar, with wide, short points, to which the Duke was faithful for his entire life and which is still very popular in Italy, especially in Milan. The Duke of Windsor was the first to regularly wear brown shoes and to wear them in different shades as well. Until that time, in the 1920s, a gentleman would own only very boring black shoes, as brown was meant only for the working class. His unexpected, atypical, creative use of color was surprising: the Duke was the first, long before American preppies, to popularize bright pink and pastel trousers, which, because of the above-mentioned divine injustice, looked wonderful on him. For the preppies, on the other hand, it was a disaster. Which is to say that for the elegance of one it is often necessary to sacrifice the many.