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Suits So Good, They Make a Case For Monarchy

The British king is perhaps the most central figure in the current royal showdown. Once considering himself the “most misunderstood man of modern times,” according to the royal biographer Hugo Vickers, Charles III seems eternally shoehorned, caught between England’s longest reigning, and arguably best loved, monarch and two scrappy brothers — the heir and the spare — straight out of “Succession.”

Will things settle by next May, when Charles finally accedes to the throne and dons the Imperial State Crown (current being refitted for him), or will the English monarch remain an unwitting foil for his family’s internecine antics, central to the drama and yet seemingly extraneous to its mechanics, a rumpled and genial septuagenarian flanked by a cast of ambitious scene stealers?

Certainly that is the Charles depicted in Season 5 of “The Crown,” which replays an era some consider a dark episode in the life of England’s royals, and others as the inevitable wind-down of a brand well past its use-by date. Over the course of the 10-episode season, three of the Queen’s four children see their relationships implode, Windsor Castle catches fire, Princess Diana goes public with her marital woes and a leaked phone conversation between Charles and his mistress enters posterity as “Tampongate.”

Dominic West portrays Charles as a paragon for brow-knitted emotion, which is often overlooked by everyone else except for one aspect. A minor point it may be, but in a world of image and symbolism, it is still worth noting that in every shot and every scene of “The Crown,” the future king of England is instructively and enviably well dressed.

In real life King Charles III is also a suit, if you love that beleaguered outfit. It’s rare that suits have looked so appealing as they do in the Peter Morgan soap on Netflix. This is especially the Savile Row rendition of this classic formula, a jacket paired up with matching trousers and vest.

Although farseeing as an environmentalist, Charles is no one’s idea of a thought leader or innovator. This is also true of his style. Unlike his great-uncle — the Prince of Wales, later Edward VII, and later still the Duke of Windsor — who freely flouted conventions (he wore checks, plaids and bright colors, sometimes simultaneously), Charles is no dandy. He was once observed in his garden in France, the historian Frances Donaldson wrote, “wearing crimson trousers one day with a light blue shirt and red-and-white shoes.”

Charles prefers to stick with the basics, unlike his great-uncle who introduced the backless tuxedo vest, the Windsor knot for neckties and the fist-sized Windsor tie. Yet he’s a clotheshorse in his own conventional and reassuring way, the sartorial equivalent of “Received Pronunciation,” the accent long considered the more prestigious form of spoken British English, though seldom heard much anymore.

In creating the wardrobe for “The Crown,” Amy Roberts, the costume designer, leaned into anachronism. She embraced the fuddy-duddy in composing an onscreen wardrobe that is stolid in the way Queen Elizabeth’s was, engineered to convey substance and continuity, although without the practical demands of outfitting a tiny woman who, without bright colors and large hats, was hard to pick out in a crowd.

Charles is often seen with a necktie, just as he was in his earlier years. He wears suits made for him by the Savile Row tailors Anderson & Sheppard, almost invariably double-breasted and with the double-vented skirt originated by another storied London tailor, Frederick Scholte, in the early 20th century. The new king is known for his use of classic elements, which contrasts with his sons’ slick suits and open neck shirts.

From Anderson & Sheppard, Charles also orders his morning dress suits, the vests worn with button-on strips of white cotton Marcella, a detail so retro it harks back to a 19th-century fashion of simultaneously wearing vests in contrasting colors.

Will “The Crown” send guys racing to haberdasheries and tailors to button up again? It’s unlikely. It’s unlikely, but it is a good example of what a suit can do, especially for men who struggle to design a new work uniform.

“I always think about how easy your life is in a suit,” Ms. Roberts said by telephone from London. Among other things, they lessen the anxiety that is a signal feature of Prince Charles’s character, at least as he is portrayed by Mr. West. “How lovely to get up, put on a shirt, a fabulous suit, a pair of shoes and off you go,” she said.

Recent runways show that designers are generally in agreement. Whether it is the severely tailored coats and jackets Kim Jones integrated into his most recent Dior Men show — set against the pyramids of Giza in Egypt — the strict suits Prada showed in Milan in June, or the soft suits that labels once renowned for streetwear (Amiri, Fear of God, Aimé Leon Dore) have increasingly featured, there is good reason to think that, by looking backward, “The Crown” may be auguring shifts in the future of men’s wear.

This is at least the sentiment of some Savile Row residents, where the hoodie years have given way to a boom for suiting according to Campbell Carey (creative director of Huntsman tailoring firm, founded 1849).

“These period dramas have done a great service to the suit,” Mr. Carey said. “They’ve shown how good heavier weight clothes with drape can look.” Whether dressed in subtly checked suits, safari outfits (reminiscent of those that Robert Rabensteiner, a stylist who may be among the chicest men on the planet, commissions from Charvet in Paris) or dinner jackets with high armholes, softly roped shoulders and nipped waists, the Prince Charles of “The Crown” looks easeful, correct and even commanding. Although we tend to forget, suits can have that effect.

“The pandemic gave people time to look at their wardrobes again and think about how to reinvent themselves in the work world,” said Mr. Carey of Huntsman, where suits now account for 60 percent of overall sales. “Whoever says the suit is dead is talking rubbish.”

Remember the new British king, and all those who would have his job.

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