The History Behind the Prince of Wales Check

Prince of Wales Check

To understand how deep a life a history springs, we look to how it impacts the present. And so, if we wish to understand the impression made by Prince of Wales check, we need only to glance idly through the racks of a contemporary fashion emporium to measure the dent.

Ah, there’s that distinctive hallowed pattern on that impossibly fine McQueen trench. And there it is again, cleverly utilised on that Balenciaga ankle boot. On the tie rack we note that Tom Ford has created a delightful little range of ties that transfer the traditional grey to blue … and look how wonderfully Calvin Klein has worked it into a cosy and winter-ready blazer…

The catwalk, of both mens and women’s fashion weeks from New York, London, Paris and Milan, present to us acid green polo necks calmed and tempered by the storied checks, whilst torn jeans are paired with oversized suit jackets that hang with bohemian abandon from the slender bodied youthlings watching on. Unbuttoned Prada jackets flail along the runway looking like the model may have raided both her elderly grandfathers and her cherubic cousins wardrobes - wisely and with undeniable chic.

Dunhill and Paul Smith, meanwhile, use it exactly how you would imagine they would; elegantly, timelessly, but, and it’s this that gives us the current temperature of Prince of Wales check, it is used unsparingly by the hottest, most ‘now’ and cutting edge fashion labels of the moment: Vetements, Off-White and MSGM.

The History

Prince of Wales check is the immortal cloth. It maintains and endures. It has done so since the pattern we know today was devised by (can you guess?) the Prince of Wales (ah, but which one?) known to posterity as Edward VII.

Let’s take leave from our imagined emporium and catwalk amalgamation for the corse grounds of the Scottish Highlands, for this is where Ed 7 was fond of unloading ammunition at unsuspecting feathery things.

One winter, so the story goes, and quite possibly with a plump and had-it-coming-anyway grouse in his sights, our Ed was seen in a Glen Urquhart check that, on closer inspection, was definitely not the Glen Urquhart check devised as the Seafield estate’s signature tweed a century or so before. It had been altered.

No one much cared. But it did, we imagine, look very elegant out on the hunt.

Prince Edward VII Check Pattern

Edward VII

Leap forward along the bloodline by a generation or two and perceptions begin to shift.

Perhaps it was his reputation as being the most finely dressed individual of the era, but for reasons that we’ll credit squarely to the zeitgeist, those that had the privilege to know Edward’s grandson, Edward VIII, noted he too liked to parade about the place in his altered Urquhart check.

Lots of people now cared. So much so that popular history has decided to associate the pattern with grandson, not grandfather.

I personally like to picture a flock of adoring hangers-on groping at Edward junior’s fine checked jacket whilst passing by his grandfather, in the exact same jacket but on his lonesome and imagining his grandson’s face on every duck that his shotgun pulls down plummeting from the sky.

Edward VIII

Edward VIII

Actually, despite that playful image of son unfairly eclipsing father, that reverie, can you believe, wouldn’t have been entirely accurate. I know. One of the almost limitless historical impossibilities I conjured just now in that fantasy would be: grandad and grandson’s jacket wouldn’t have been exactly the same. Here’s why:

An authentic Glen Urquhart was black or grey. Ed 7, in an act of remarkable dash and daring, changed this to … brown and cream.

Eventually, and obviously feeling emboldened by what must have been the first puck rock move in fashion history, he refined the squares into the more petite sizing we see mostly on the cloth today. Ed 8, in what may have been an act to discredit my now infamous grandson/grandfather hunting scene, decided to add overchecks in red and blue.

Which brings us neatly back to today. We now refer anything that adds colour to the original irregular grey/black pattern of four dark and four light stripes Prince of Wales check.

And didn’t that subtle Edwards VIII embellishment echo through the decades impressively?

The exemplar of effortless cool himself, Steve McQueen, in what has been referred to as the most stylish film ever made, wears a Prince of Wales check suit with such an easy style it would be perfectly acceptable to feel insulted.

Steve McQueen Suit

James Bond has found himself pursuing villains across the globe fully decked out in it. In no less than three guises. Roger Moore looked splendid with his flash-of-red blazer as seen at the top of this post. Sean Connery kept it simplistic and unfussy whilst Daniel Craig’s best-worn rendering was kept for the premiere of Casino Royale. He also went to the impressively committed lengths of matching his actual eyeballs with his tie. That’s why he’s James Bond and we aren’t.

Daniel Craig Prince of Wales CheckImage Source:

In this writers opinion though, if we are to borrow from that slightly peculiar trend known as Who Wore It Better, we’d have to plump for, with a little hesitation and not inconsiderable thought, Carry Grant. Of course Grant could look iconic in a pair of Reebok Classics and an apron, but look, would you, at the photograph below.

Cary Grant

How many of us have in the past, or will in the future, have hoped that our suits allow us to project that same full-beam urbane magnificence? You want a whisky with Grant in that suit. You want him to regale to you his best anecdote down to the last nanoscopic detail.

When he insists that the tires were already bald when you lent him the car, you believe him.

Can there be another cloth that ensures season-on-season fashionability, be it tailored, high-end, high street or fit for the hunting ground like Prince of Wales check? Is there another cloth so relentlessly beloved of the highest fashion houses, who perpetually re-jig and realign those chequered charms?

Carry Grant says no. You believe him.