Tuesday, May 22, 2018

What the Groom Wore: Prince Harry's Frock Coat

Tuesday, May 22, 2018
Susan reporting,

Like millions of other people willing to get up extra early on a Saturday morning, Loretta and I have been enthralled by this week's royal wedding of Ms. Meghan Markle and His Royal Highness Prince Henry of Wales. One thing that fascinated us the most was the dashing dark uniform that Prince Harry chose to wear to his wedding.

The long coat is described as a frock coat, and is particular to the Household Cavalry, which is formed of two regiments - The Life Guards and The Blues and Royals - while another version with slightly different cuffs is also worn by the Foot Guards. (The style of the knee-length frock coat evolved from men's 19thc fashion, with additional inspiration from the Ottomans.) It was worn in "Undress" instead of Full Dress, most likely because the choice of Windsor Castle made the wedding a less formal affair. This was not a state occasion, nor will Harry be king. Harry's brother William, Duke of Cambridge, wore the same uniform for the ceremony, and miniature adaptations were created for the bride's page boys.

Both brothers' uniforms were created by traditional military tailors Dege & Skinner on Savile Row, and were said to have taken over 100 hours to stitch and tailor by hand. Details are everything, even in a seemingly monochrome coat: the intricate interwoven braid on the sleeves (which was barely visible on television) took a single skilled craftsman over a week to create. The frock coat's primary fabric is doeskin, a fine satin-weave woolen cloth, and the lining is silk.

The frock coat is closed with hidden hooks instead of buttons. Many Americans were perplexed by what they saw as "ribbon bows" on the front of the jacket. This is instead a braiding made of black mohair, and is unique to the Household Cavalry and the Life Guards. While the braid loops appear to fasten to the olivets (the toggle-style buttons on the far sides of the chest), they are purely decorative.

The illustrations, right, are from Dress Regulations for Officers of the Army 1900, and show the approved pattern of the Frock Coat of the Household Cavalry. The illustrations show the details of the frock coat that weren't visible in the wedding broadcast (click on the image to enlarge.)

While the very dark navy color made for a striking contrast to Meghan's bright white gown, it's not simply a style choice, but a uniform that Harry has earned the right to wear. He served as a Captain in The Blues and Royals, and after retiring from active duty in 2015, he received the honorary military title of Major from the Queen, as signified by the crown on his shoulder. According to Kensington Palace, he also requested and received express permission from the Queen to wear the uniform on his wedding day.

Rumor has it that the Queen also bestowed a certain leniency to Harry in another way. Officers in the Army are required to be clean-shaven, and there was speculation that Harry would shave away his now-familiar beard for the wedding. The fact that he didn't suggests that the Queen gave him special permission to keep the whiskers.

One more detail: did you notice that both brothers wore silver spurs as members of the cavalry?

Many thanks to historian, author, and historic paint consultant Patrick Baty for his always-excellent assistance with this blog post. 

Upper left: Neil Hall/Pool/Reuters
Lower left: PA/UK Images

4 comments:

MrsC (Maryanne) said...

Thank you so much! I'm over the frock, but the frock COAT has been a source of much interest!

Connie said...

I don’t usually pay attention to men’s fashion. This blog made me stop and read. Very informative.
Connie Unangst

Susan Holloway Scott said...

Thanks to Lucie Whitmore for sharing a c1914 women's garment influenced by military frock coats, with tabs of braid as a decorative element: https://twitter.com/LucieWhitmore/status/998152790815006720

KarenAnne said...

Thanks! I was puzzled by those "ribbon bows."

I saw a mention of lace in one article and I guess that is the braid.

Glad to read that doeskin is not from deer. I was grizzling away about poor animals.

I have to say, I do not think this is a very attractive uniform.

 
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