`Stuffed-shirt' royals urged to dress down

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The Independent Online
LINED UP shoulder-to-shoulder outside Clarence House last week for the Queen Mother's 98th birthday celebrations, the male members of the Royal Family looked very much like a bunch of nightclub bouncers.

In their big, boxy, double-breasted suits, had there been any trouble they could easily have shouldered their way into the crowd to sort it out. While most British men hung up their double-breasted jackets at the beginning of the decade, the royal silhouette remains wide and square.

These days fashion designers are sticking almost exclusively to the single breast; those who dress at Prada, Paul Smith and Gucci wouldn't be seen dead in anything else. Double-breasted, says Peter Howarth, editor of Esquire magazine, spells a hangover from the Eighties; file alongside stripey shirts and City wide boys in Porsches. "It's a very conservative look," he says. "The Eighties look stemmed from the Forties and Fifties, very big and boxy. Nineties tailoring harks back to the Sixties, the mod look - slim trousers and waisted jackets."

Savile Row tailors such as Gieves & Hawkes and Anderson & Sheppard, both favoured by Prince Charles, continue to turn out beautifully constructed if rather old-fashioned bespoke double-breasters. It is partly, says Peter Howarth, a question of class. "With a very few exceptions, the upper classes are fantastically conservative. Moving away from the wing collar took them about 100 years. If you go to Savile Row you will find tailors making the same suits that your father or grandfather would have worn. Fashion is about changing and taking risks, while conservatism is all about maintaining the status quo."

Outside Clarence House last week, another royal foible was on show: white shoes, for all the women from the Queen Mother down to her great- granddaughters. Other signature touches include bright colours, elevating mid-heel court shoes, strings of pearls, and always, but always, a handbag. There is no specific dress code, says Ingrid Seward of Majesty magazine, but "the older members of the Royal Family are considerate when they are `on duty'; they will wear hats that leave their faces visible. They like bright colours and would never wear black, as it is the colour of mourning".

Those white shoes come from Rayne and the handbags from Launer. The Queen favours the Hardy Amies and John Anderson labels, while the Queen Mother also likes John Anderson and has recently been using a private dressmaker in north London. "Her style hasn't changed in the last 30 years, so anyone who is deft and skilled can make her clothes," says Ingrid Seward.

She agrees that the royals may lag a bit in the fashion stakes, but this, she says, is because "their clothes are so beautifully kept, they don't wear out. It is reassuring in a fast-moving world - there is some semblance of sameness, and the British people like that. Anyway, Prince Charles is always fantastically well-dressed - I wouldn't be at all surprised to see him in a single-breasted suit".

As for the Princesses Beatrice and Eugenie, in their often identical frocks and sun dresses, white ankle socks and sandals, they could easily be well-behaved little girls from the Fifties. "Traditional clothes for children are not fashion-orientated," says Barbara Barnes, former nanny to Princes William and Harry, who now runs Young England, a children's clothes shop. "We don't have styles. We have clothes which are classics. It's not long skirts one year and short the next." The children she dresses, she says, "have been brought up to expect to dress in a certain way for occasions". For a formal occasion for a little girl, she suggests "a very nice smocked dress and a cardigan", and shorts and blazer for a little boy.

However, Mary Spillane, head of CMB Image Consultants, believes it is time for the Royal Family to loosen up sartorially. "It is particularly sad to see the imposition of this uniform on the younger generation. There are plenty of ways for the boys to look modern and well-dressed and not feel like dorks," she says. "And it must be even more painful for Beatrice and Eugenie. Girls that age want to look older, not younger, and they also want to make their own individual statements so they are suffering from a double whammy of embarrassment."

She would like to see Prince William in a casual khaki suit with no tie, and she thinks Prince Charles should be looking towards some of the younger British designers. "He is a wonderful symbol of Savile Row tailoring and that should never change. But the potential is in the casual look - he should abandon the blazers and grey flannels. A Paul Smith suit would suit Charles so well, as would Jasper Conran or Nicole Farhi. He could look very proper and appropriately dressed without looking like a stuffed shirt."