The King Modernizes The Coronation, A Teeny Bit. Or Maybe A Lot.

In a nod to the optics, a modern-minded King Charles has—we are told—decided to dress things down for his coronation.

The king might have insisted on a facsimile of his mother’s epic coronation ceremony 70 years ago. After all, who could blame him? He’s been waiting in the wings for quite a while. At her coronation, Elizabeth was 27; Charles is pushing 75.

But things were very different then. In 1953, the great and the good—civilian or military—who crammed into Westminster Abbey were survivors of a world war, still a very recent scar on the British psyche. Food rationing that had kept the nation on starvation-adjacent diets for well over a decade didn’t fully end until 1954, a year later. Things were grim for ordinary Brits. The coronation, however, was a stark and welcome contrast, ushering in a new mood, dubbed by the pundits "the New Elizabethan Age."

The attendant razzamatazz was an explosion of creativity, color and spectacle that employed many of the country’s leading contemporary artists and musicians as well as an army of tailors. Mostly, it was a moment of optimism and forward-looking, even as it dredged up an almost medieval mysticism for the coronation itself. Still, in grimy, starving Britain, it was a jab in the arm and a monumental knees-up in which all, one way or another, could take part. 70 years later, mired in post-Brexit shambles, many Brits might argue that there’s no place for this kind of thing—for others, a good knees-up is just what is called for right now. And bugger the expense.

Fittingly for such spectacle, the king —it was widely reported—would be wearing his full Royal Navy Admiral’s ceremonial day dress uniform; the same one he wore to the queen’s funeral back in September. This consists of a dark navy tailcoat with white collar facings, a lot of gold trim and buttons, plus the many decorations. And a sword.
Photo by Getty Images.

Although the design of naval dress uniforms has evolved over the years, this rig would not be unrecognizable to Captain Bligh or Admiral Lord Nelson back in the 18th Century. Neither would it be out of place in Westminster Abbey. King Charles’ uniform was made by Malcolm Plews, a veteran bespoke tailor who has worked on Savile Row since he was in his teens and has carried the king’s royal warrant for his military uniforms for many years. It’s Plews’s job to keep such a uniform going for years, mending here, letting the seams in and out and keeping everything ship-shape, as it were.

But in a last-minute surprise, (one never reveals one’s sources) it appears that the only item the king will be wearing from his navy uniform is the trousers. Which rather begs the question: with what else? Certainly, Turnbull and Asser—the famed Jermyn Street shirtmaker—has made for the king a simple white undershirt embroidered on collar and cuffs with oak leaves and acorns. Just that? It remains to be seen. But an equally low-key tip, the king’s shoes will be flat leather evening pumps made a year ago by one of his favorite bespoke London shoemakers, Gaziano Girling. The firm will temporarily repurpose them substituting two jeweled emblems from the Royal Family’s collection for the existing satin bows.

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The idea presents itself here that with such clothes, Charles may actually arrive symbolically—emphatically—as a regular human being in shirt, trousers and shoes (okay, maybe under a cloak) and emerge, after the ceremony, crowned orbed and sceptered, as the very image of a divinely appointed monarch. Which is in effect what the coronation rite is all about, whatever your view may be these days of the divine right of kings.

If this coronation feels a little different, a little more real-world, that won’t likely include the coronation rite itself, which will feature the king donning a full-length “supertunica” made from cloth of gold—literally woven from silk yarns wrapped in gold and silver. The supertunica was first mentioned as a thing in 1382. No, really. The king’s was originally made for his great-grandfather King George V’s coronation in 1911. Charles will also wear the “Imperial Mantle,” a floor-length cloak made for his 4th great grand Uncle, George IV, in 1821, as well as a single white glove on his right hand, worn by his grandfather George VI for one of the key moments of the rite of Coronation. You could almost call it upcycling, something the King has championed since his youth. But he has also championed British makers and artisans throughout his life—from shoemakers to shirtmakers to tailors who have kept him well-dressed and regularly reupholstered.

Prior to the coronation, the official portraits released by Buckingham Palace show the King lounging in a more contemporary mode in a mid-blue wool pinstriped suit made by his favorite civilian tailor, Anderson and Sheppard. On his wrist is his yellow gold Toric Chronograph made in 2003 by leading Swiss brand Parmigiani Fleurier.


In the end, what the King wears will probably—to us, at least—be less distinguishable from the royal togs of his forebears than the guest list from his mother’s, cut from 8,251 in 1953 to just 2000 this time. And it’s the diversity of that guest list—and what they are wearing—that may strike us as Charles’ most modernizing, egalitarian touch. Alongside other royals and world leaders, there will be 850 community helpers, indigenous leaders from Amazonia and Canada, and 400 children selected from youth programs across the nation, leaving scores of aristocrats watching it unfold—like us—on the telly with their ermines and coronets still hung up in the closet.

FromEsquire US

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Nick Sullivan
Nick Sullivan is Creative Director at Esquire, where he served as Fashion Director from 2004 until 2019. Prior to that, he relocated from London with his young family to Boerum Hill, Brooklyn. He has styled and art directed countless fashion and cover stories for both Esquire and Big Black Book (which he helped found in 2006) in exotic, uncomfortable, and occasionally unfeasibly cold locations. He also writes extensively about men's style, accessories, and watches. He describes his style as elegantly disheveled.
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