Royal Warrant holders and tailors to the Royal Household, Henry Poole, have had a busy week when we speak to them – much of the red coated livery on show at the wedding of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle is created and maintained by the company. And this royal connection is nothing new. ‘In 1860, the fashionable Prince Bertie, Victoria’s heir, made Henry Poole his chief tailor, and our clothes have been been iconic ever since,’ says current Managing Director, Simon Cundey. Royalty aside, the firm has amassed an impressively broad fan base since its humble beginnings as a military attire specialist in Shropshire. ‘Charles Dickens, Irving Berlin and Charles de Gaulle were fans,’ suggests Cundey. He neglects to mention other Poole fans, such as King George the V, King George the VI, Queen Elizabeth II and many a European and Middle Eastern Prince. Who better then to explain the sartorial snakes and ladders of Royal Ascot to us than a tailor who has been dressing royals and celebrities for the event for decades.
‘It is better to be over-dressed than under dressed for Ascot,’ suggests Cundey. A grey morning suit is the epitome of Ascot men’s style for the team at Henry Poole (and morning dress is of course compulsory in the Royal Enclosure). Although morning suits can be something of a uniform, there is space for sartorial manoeuvring, even if the men still draw the short straw when their options are compared to hats available to the ladies. Morning dress can come in different cloths and finishes, with a relatively modern development being black coats with grey pinstripe trousers, something Cundey explains became fashionable following Queen Victoria’s periods of mourning. A black coat is also more useful, of course, as it can be used for funerals, weddings and other events. But black doesn’t have to set a sombre tone; Cundey also thinks it’smore fun than the traditional grey. ‘Black is far more photogenic than the grey, especially when you mix it with a colourful waistcoat; it’s much better for Ascot,’ he says.
Photo credit: Ascot Racecourse
And Cundey has a few suggestions on the waistcoat front, as you would imagine. ‘Double breasted is very fashionable at the moment,’ he says, ‘but there are also Marcella white slips and there are lots of interesting elements, such as piping. The waistcoat you choose can really frame the suit.’ So be creative.
But beware, waistcoats are easy to get wrong, says our Savile Row guru. ‘Balance is where the biggest mistakes are made,’ he suggests. ‘The classic problem is a short waistcoat and a hip cut trouser. It really is the worst when you can see a customer’s shirt between the two.’ And how to avoid this faux pas? ‘Braced-top trousers cut higher into the waist rather than the hip give you a longer leg and are far more comfortable during the day. You then traditionally pair this with a five buttoned waistcoat, with the bottom button left undone.’ No sign of a mid-riff at Henry Poole…
And what other accessories might you employ to jazz up your ensemble? Cundey suggests a brushed silk top hat, from Locks, white gloves, and a nice pair of Oxfords. ‘Be careful of too much brogueing and never wear patent shoes – that is totally wrong!’ he warns.
Essentially, if you want to blend in seamlessly with the horse trainers and owners who have been attending the event since they were old enough to sip a flute of champagne, then you better do your research. And, if you forget everything else, remember this - you will never get as good a fit from a hired suit as one from Savile Row tailor, such as Henry Poole.