"Whenever I go into a restaurant, I order both a chicken and an egg to see which comes first"

Saturday, July 6, 2013

Prince Charles’ Patched Suit

The British press is all in a tizzy about the patch on Prince Charles’ suit:

Make do and mend: a patch has been spotted beneath a pocket of one of the Prince of Wales's double-breasted suits

In an editorial (7.6.13) The Telegraph says:

One of the Queen’s finest qualities – perplexing to those obsessed with the notion that she is a drain on the nation’s finances – is her unaffected sense of thrift. She switches off lights that others leave burning and regards a two-bar electric fire as adequate heating for the Audience Room at Buckingham Palace. The Prince of Wales has something of the same impulse when it comes to mending his clothes. Earlier this year he appeared on Countryfile wearing a jacket so extravagantly patched that it resembled a quilt rather than clothing. Now a patch has been spotted beneath a pocket of one of his double-breasted suits.

Prince Charles always looks great in his exquisitely tailored double-breasted suits, gold cufflinks, simple blue tie, and white shirt.  He is definitively, uncompromisingly English – conservative, unassuming, and elegant.  The rest of Britain can look frumpy, wear turbans, or shave their heads; but Bonnie Prince Charles hasn’t given in an inch to fashion and the times.

Not only that, the charming little patch on the otherwise perfect suit is a symbol of Anglo-Saxon thrift – the same thrift and practicality which gave us sensible shoes, cars with no fins, simple food, and quiet, self-assured sophistication.  We could always count on English probity, good taste, parsimony, and a quiet, understated elegance.  It is so refreshingly old-fashioned, so reserved but so perfectly confident.  English style has always provided a breath of fresh, country air.  

I lived in a small New England community of old monied Anglo Saxons who pursued the old English ideal. Harris Tweed jackets were never retired but patched with suede.  Cars were old, serviceable, and as practical and style-less as they were.  A little flaking paint was a sign of patrician indifference to image; beat-up, comfortable shoes told of miles of walking on wooded lanes, and frayed scarfs were a symbol of bracing late Fall days in the garden.

My parents, like many first generation immigrants, tried as hard as they could to mimic the crusty old WASPs on Lincoln Street, but always fell short.  My father dressed impeccably, but his suits were more John Gotti than Charles Tudor.

My mother couldn’t give up her Coupe de Ville no matter how I tried to get her to tone down and buy something not so guinea:

It never worked.  My father and mother, hard as they tried, were as far from the rumpled sophistication of our neighbors as anyone could get.

They never gave up trying, however, and bought all my clothes at J. Press and Brooks Brothers.  My mother was a great social scanner, and took notes on what the WASP children were wearing as they walked past our house to the Country Day School up the road.  I became an Italianate clone of the Booths, the Porters, the Greys, and the Strawbridges – Oxford shirts, rep ties, khaki pants, Docksiders, and Bass Weejun loafers.

All my parents training worked, however.  My clothes are still simple, conservative, and well-worn.  My cars are beat-up Toyotas.  My house uncluttered and classic.  No tchotchkes, no knick-knacks, no doilies, and no wall-to-wall carpets.  I cringe at the excesses of Potomac and its McMansions, the bling and fling of the nouveau 90 ft.yachts on the Georgetown Waterfront.  I feel at home in Spring Valley with its classic colonial brick houses, wide, manicured lawns, and restrained Jaguars and Mercedes in the driveway.

I can only imagine what the Queen and her Consort must think of America, reflecting on its garish displays of wealth. “Oh, Phillip”, she must say, “What on earth have we done?”

The old English way is to keep one’s own counsel, never to brag or show enthusiasm or exuberance. “Hard cheese, Old Boy” is preferred to hugs and sobbing commiseration. The chest-thumping, strutting, and end zone dances of our athletes must make poor Prince Phillip wretch.  He fondly remembers the 1924 Olympics and the patriotic simplicity of Eric Liddell and the British team.

So, I was very happy to see the patch on the royal suit.  My immediate and typical American response that rose up before I could swallow it back down was, “Are you kidding? He can afford 100 suits like that”; but my childhood training kicked in, and as I sipped my tea, stroked my Spaniel, and looked out at our English garden said, “Good for you, Charlie”.

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