If there’s one person who regularly gets a lot of love in the male-style blogosphere it’s the late Edward Duke of Windsor. His unique way with the cloth was truly trend-setting. In fact it’s hard to think of another twentieth-century figure who had a greater impact on classic menswear. I’ve cited him before a few times, but I now regret doing so. Allow me to explain why…
However well Edward may have dressed I’ve found it increasingly hard to separate his clothing from his deeds. The fact that he had a string of affairs with married women is not really my concern. It’s impossible to really know how or why these relationships started and, like the French, I think that matters of the heart should remain private. What I can’t ignore, however, is that he was a bigoted Nazi sympathiser: he visited Hitler (and gave full Nazi salutes during his sojourn); he passed on confidential information to Germany – an act which, at the time, was nothing short of treason; he indulged the friends of high-ranking German officials while serving as Governor of the Bahamas during WWII; he openly admitted to one journalist that he thought it would be “tragic for the world” if Hitler was overthrown; and he even tried to get President Roosevelt to force peace with Germany which would, he hoped, lead to him being installed as the puppet king of a Nazi-controlled Britain.
The more I read, the more Edward strikes me as a racist, narrow minded and somewhat slow-witted bore with no regard for democracy. His abdication was an immense stroke of luck for both Britain and the world.
As with anything, I suppose, the more you discover about certain individuals and groups, the more difficult it can be to justify any kind of admiration for them. Why is it socially acceptable to like Edward’s clothing but not the trench coats of the Third Reich? If the Nazi party had been nothing more than a little-known, benign entity with very snazzy uniforms, would today’s designers be openly drawing on them for inspiration, and would fashion bloggers be posting photos of von Ribbentrop in one of his many Savile Row suits?
It seems to me that style is, in a way, linked to our perception of good and evil. Few us think “fascist traitor” when we see photos of Edward – the passing of time has sufficiently dimmed the memory of his Nazi leanings. I think it’s safe to say that this will never happen with von Ribbentrop, and for good reason, but the British aristocracy came off quite lightly considering its often pro-Hitler leanings. Recently declassified files reveal that a great number of them were members of the “Right Club”. This club’s logo included the initials “P.J.”, or “Perish Judah”, which probably tells you all you need to know about it.
So admire the Duke of Windsor’s style if you must, but don’t admire the man.