Mens’ style – Group Captain Peter Townsend

I am hooked on the Netflix series The Crown, which I find a marvellous accompaniment to my knitting project (the Lore jumper for my MANSWAP). I more or less know the story so it doesn’t matter too much if I lose concentration. But when I look up I see glorious 1940s/1950s vintage outfits of the highest quality, English countryside and castles, world events, and the wonderful soap opera that is the British Royal Family. A series that cost $100m to make is something, and the crowd scenes and major re-enactments are sophisticated and convincing. The actors are generally first class and I would heartily recommend the series.

The Crown
Creating the outfits for the Crown (Vogue)

The sub plot which has fascinated me the most has been the Group Captain Peter Townsend and Princess Margaret story (I had previously found the Bertie and Mrs Simpson vignette, the more compelling tale). I remember my mother going on about how Princess Margaret should have married her first true love rather than the unsuitable Antony Armstrong Jones. While in the series the attraction of GCPT is obvious (16 years older, a decorated pilot, funny, sexy and caring) HRH was also one of the most desirable women in the country. The series shows not just the difficulty with the issue of divorce in royal circles in the 1950s. It also examines the issue of snobbery (Peter? That Peter?) about marrying a man who was effectively a servant, the eventual unwillingness of Margaret to give up her title and income to marry him, and his discomfort, mirroring that of the Duke of Edinburgh, in being essentially subordinate to a woman.

Anyway, despite being well acted, you have to look at the original photographs of Townsend to see how suave his was, and how excellent his style. I love his look and have suggested to Gus that there are aspects of his style that might appeal to him. Let’s look first at his most formal garments.This morning suit would have a tail coat a light coloured waistcoat and would have been worn in the Royal Enclosure at Ascot. The way he had tied his tie with a tight knot and made it stand proud shows his interest in fashion and his appearance.

PKT 2337-160464 GROUP CAPTAIN PETER TOWNSEND Princess Margaret (right) watches finish of the Queen Anne Stakes at Ascot Racecourses with her friend. Group Captain Peter Townsend is in the background.
At the races (Princess Margaret out of shot)

 

The first picture shows a lovely jacket/tie/shirt combination. Stripes, spots and peaked lapels. Subtle, but with a twist. The second and third photos are him in 1955 just before Princess Margaret ended their relationship. The caption from the newspaper refers to his “light check sports suit”, a term that interested me as Gus’s jacket is called a Sports jacket. I think it might be a Prince of Wales (or Glen) check fabric. The trousers are voluminous, probably caused by front pleats, and feature turn ups. His shirt and tie are light – possibly white and light blue – with a white pocket handkerchief. He is carrying a “brown leather jerkin and two books”.

Let’s have a look at his casual wardrobe. This lovely jumper (probably light grey or beige) was used, with beige jodhpurs, for horse riding, and also for country walks. Next we have him in Plus Fours – shorter trousers worn for country pursuits such as golf, shooting and walking by the upper classes. The idea of the style is that the flappy ends of your trousers stay out of the wet. Usually tailored in tweed or similar fabrics they would be worn with a sports jacket, shirt and tie, thick knee socks and sturdy outdoor shoes.Also look at the macintosh – it is probably a Burberry or similar. In the last picture he is older and married to Marie-Luce Jamagne, a young, wealthy Belgian woman, half his age and with a similar look to Princess Margaret. And finally GCPT in sunnies.

Now I am not proposing to make these items for Gus – far from it. I just offer them up as inspiration pictures of a man who knows how to dress and feels comfortable in his clothes. If you watch the old Pathe newsreels of the scandal you will see him in motion, walking along comfortably in his suits and jerseys. No one would seriously wear plus fours or tailored jodhpurs today. Modern stretch fabrics make sportswear comfortable and easy to clean. Very full Oxford bags (pleated trousers) look ridiculous to our eyes and would have probably required braces to hold them up. But the stylish Morning Suit, the cabled cashmere sweater and the raincoat could all be worn today.

GCPT is now one of my male style icons. If you are thinking why does she like this snobby, upper class English style – the answer is that it is the very best that we Brits can do in clothing terms. These sort of outfits are absolute classics, beautifully tailored by dedicated and highly skilled craftspeople (weavers of cloth and tailors), and they look elegant and sexy on a confident man. What do you think?

18 Responses

  1. I have been enjoying watching The Crown and find the clothing fabulous. You can see in those photos why HRH fell for the officer.

  2. I haven’t seen The Crown, but those dresses are divine. Your mum’s comments about Princess Margaret and Peter Townsend were echoed in my family every time she was indiscreet in later life. When I saw your post title I was reminded of that.

    Stand by for for a resurgence of 50s fashion, you could be ahead of a trend here Kate.

  3. The good thing about clothes of that epoch was that they were generally made with natural fibres, harder to launder, but so much longer lasting. Fashionwise, clothes were ‘grown up’, there was a clear distinction between childrenswear and adult clothing, and exhibitionism didn’t feature as it does now. The availability of cheaper fabric and mass manufacturing, as well as the increased focus on youth has given us a much greater turnover in clothing, instead of an emphasis on a few good pieces.

  4. I agree with Jay…the quality and timelessness are still adored and longed for today. Even though we did not follow British fashion until the 60’s and Twiggy, the 50’s Hollywood styles from designer Edith Head and others were the standard for everyone wanting to look cool and powerful.The term “Old Hollywood” denotes an era of glamor when stars walked the red carpet were so well groomed and dressed perfectly…not to shock with all their parts on display. Gus is so lucky to have a mom so dedicated to getting it right!

  5. I love these men’s clothes, Kate (especially the raincoats (like the second one, too, worn with the polo neck)). Suave. Coincidentally, friends of mine mentioned last weekend that they had been watching the series in a marathon and enjoyed the Princess Margaret story line. As one of about twelve people in the western world without a Netflix subscription I won’t be watching, but I am sure I would enjoy the clothes and the drama.

  6. Beautifully made garments of the highest quality fabrics and tailoring on a handsome and confident man…..what’s not to love!

  7. Joyce Latham

    I have watched the series in almost one sitting…must have been two or three…I really enjoyed it. I remember pausing the movie to get a closer look at the details of the clothing. Some of her dress bust darts I thought were outrageous, and wasn’tthere a bit of repeat in the style of her dresses?Another fabulous post Kate. Thanks for sharing these photographs as well. Your son will be learning lots about fashion through your project together . I am too.
    Have a great day
    Joyce from Sudbury

    • So glad you enjoyed the series. We tend to space these “box sets” out by only watching one (or sometimes half of one) just before we go to sleep.

  8. Thank you for another fascinating post Kate.

    As a child I adored Princess Margaret because she was beautiful and wonderfully dressed. She came to open the new college in a small town in the north where my mum worked, I think in 1957, and we were entranced. I didn’t understand any of the stuff about her affairs – children were told nothing about such things. At school one day we had to write about something we’d read in the news and I chose to write about her wedding dress (fabulous), describing it in detail. I was soundly taken to task for writing about something so frivolous! But I think this was when I was first interested in clothes despite having to wear hand-me -downs and make them last for years. By the 60s fashion became much more available to the masses, and there was such a feeling of revolution in the air as we shook off those stilted values of our parents’ generation.

    I’m looking forward to seeing the results of your SWAP, your son is a very lucky young man.

  9. I think Peter might have had a lucky escape . Margaret certainly dint lead a happy life .Maybe Peter might have made a difference but in the end it’s upto us isn’t it ?
    Love the the clothes though . I have a great pair of plus fours made for my FIL who wore them to play golf . Hard to take them seriously now though .

  10. Regrettably I don’t have Netflix but my daughter has been raving about this series. I may have to go to her and binge watch it. The clothing of that period is so good for both men and women – but a little too ‘precise’ perhaps?

    • Yes I know what you mean. I expect as it was made to measure it was generally pretty comfortable to wear. In some scenes the Queen is in a sensible skirt, a jersey and a head scarf, and you can’t help think she might have prefered to be a country wife.

  11. I hope this series comes to Netflix in Australia. As to GCPT’s clothing, it’s wonderful, but not practical for an Australian summer and would be borderline in winter. I loved the post though, as he was from an era when clothes were beautifully tailored from magnificent fabric, probably all British.

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