Wallis, The Duchess of Windsor's Fashion and Style

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Sep 15, 2009
United States
A mod gave me permission to start this thread. So, here it is! :D

Regardless of whether people love her her or loathe her, it seems to be agreed upon that she was always chic.

She gets the most praise for her style during the 1930s-1940s, but one period I feel is underrated is the 1960s-1970s. She had no business looking that good, that elegant, that FABULOUS in those funky, offbeat 60s-70s fashions but she made them work for her.
The Duchess knew she wasn't a classic beauty, so she made up for it in an impeccable style that could worthy (in the eyes of the press and public) of a king's love and ultimate sacrifice. But her style came at a price. During WWII, the Windsors were sent to Bahamas so not to let their Nazi sympathies interfere with the war effort. The Duchess would take a cruise up to New York just to get her hair done at a time when all Britons (and Americans) were subject to rationing.
To requote myself:

"Regardless of whether people love her her or loathe her, it seems to be agreed upon that she was always chic."

I have discussed what I think of the Duchess personally elsewhere on the forum. Since this topic is about her fashion and not her political views or money-spending ways, I'm sticking to talking about her fashion.

Oy, I have to go as the mods for clarification the on the copyright rules otherwise I would post pics myself. (I've read the rules several times but am still confused on what is allowed and not.) Anyway, The Windsor Style by Suzy Menkes has a good evolution of her fashion throughout the decades.

The quirkiness of her fashion is what always fascinates me. For all the hard, preppy compactness of her fashion, she always found some way to add a witty, fun element. Like that Schiaparelli lobster dress. That lobster is HUGE! But she made it look elegant.
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Sigh - yes, she was fashionable and chic. But I hope - even while we certainly will be keeping her support for the Nazis, and her husband's treachery during WWII, away from the remainder this thread - I'd like to state that I hope it will never, never be glossed over in people's minds. Yom HaShoah.
Seriously, people. Seriously. The real world is complex, and full of shades of grey. One can appreciate and celebrate T.S. Eliot for practically inventing Modernist poetry but still be able to disdain him for being a racist. One can appreciate D. W. Griffith's Birth of a Nation for pushing Hollywood movie-making boundaries in the silent era, while still adhoring the movie itself for being a piece of KKK propapanda.

I find it insulting that if one admires and her unique, one of a kind fashion sense and style that one is somehow "gloss[ing]" over Wallis's racism and spendthrift ways. No, I'm appreciating that she treated fashion as art. My esteem of her fashion sense does NOT mean I'm trivializing or giving her a pass on her racism. And I find it beyond ridiculous that I'm even typing these two paragraphs. Shades of grey, that's all I'm saying. I choose not to address her character here in the *fashion* forum because I'm discussing her *fashion* not her personal beliefs. (I bring it up because, as hated as Diana is on this forum, her fashion threads aren't turned into character studies. They stay on the topic of fashion, not her eating disorder, not her relationship with Charles, not how she felt about Camilla, etc. I've only browsed a few other of the fashion threads, but they do a remarkable job of staying on the topic of fashion and style too without straying into character studies.)

To get back to fashion and style, here are some quotes from The Windsor Style about Wallis's fashion sense:

"Wallis Simpson's recipe of absolute simplicity with a dash of with started way, way back when she was plain--very plain--Bessiewallis Warfield of Baltimore, and speared her hair with a peacook blue feather above a conventional evening gown; or earlier still, when at her first adolescent party she insisted on substituting a red sash for the a blue one a white party frock." (98)

I find this quote interesting because all throughout the fashion chapter of TWS, it's mentioned that Wallis's fashion sense was something she had to work at. However, this paragraph seems to contradict that: that she was always chic.

"' I never saw her in a blouse and skirt in the country,' says Givenchy. 'I remember her in a pearl grey suit with a white blouse and a good brooch on the lapel." (106)

"'She was chic but never casual,' says the Vicomtess de Ribes. 'Other American society women like Babe Paley could be chic in blue jeans. The Duchess was from a different generation.'" (109)

This is the part that most draws me to her style. That she was always so formal. Then, again, I long for the days when people dressed up. I love sportswear, but think it's a watered down version of formal dressing.

20+ years after her death and she is still influencing fashion:

John Galliano's Dior show winks at the Duchess of Windsor - National Fashion | Examiner.com

(Yes, I have already noted the irony. :cool:)
As the Duchess of Windsor's fabulous outfits go under the hammer, we reveal the secrets of Wallis's wardrobe | Mail Online

by Liz Jones, 5 March 2011

"What I love most of all is the envelope handbag in black crocodile. Its clasp is engraved with a ‘W’ and an ‘S’, with the numbers ‘30 x 1934’ alongside, denoting the date October 30, 1934. This bag was given to Wallis Simpson by the besotted Edward VIII — but the precise significance of the date — two years before he abdicated the throne to marry her — has never been identified. The label inside says ‘Dior’. Inside, in a tiny crocodile pouch, is a comb.

While I sit, with the relics of an incredible life scattered around me in a huge, freezing warehouse in South London, where Wallis’s outfits have been gathered for auction, I breathe in that slightly musty smell of clothes that have not been worn for decades, and it seems the world has not changed at all, not really.

I peer inside a Louis Vuitton vanity case. It’s like new, with a faux tortoiseshell label with that celebrated name and address etched upon it: The Duchess of Windsor (as she became), 4, Route du Champ d’Entrainement.

Everything around me is classic, most items haven’t dated, except perhaps the sweater made from ocelot fur. Ah, and the shoes. They all have a chunky, low heel."
Ah, and the shoes. They all have a chunky, low heel.

Now, that surprises me. I always thought she wore kitten heels. Plus, clunky heels are always describes as sensible and not stylish, so I'm even more surprised that she was able to get away with them. Then again, she was always so well dressed, that probably no one paid attention to her feet! (I imagine shoe fashion has changed as well.)
Kitten heels were much more 60's and I assume that Wallis thought, that she didn't want to follow this trend. In the late 50's kitten heels were primarily for young teenagers, who were too young to wear high heels.

Kitten heel - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Chunky heels were very much In in the 30's and 40's :) Also it is unclear to me, if this is really all of her wardrobe or just a part of it?
Thanks for the info about the heels! :D

I hope the Victoria and Albert Museum and the Costume Institute at the Met are able to acquire some pieces of her wardrobe.
He was on the small side, and pictures I've seen of them together suggest that she was his height (which perhaps was normal for a woman) or taller.

How did her height compare with the "Duke of Windsor"? If she was tall, that could be a partial explanation.
Any good pictures of Wallis' apparently fantastic style? Whenever I think of her fashion I think of that horrible wedding dress she wore. Looking at promos for the new movie about Madonna she did apparently have some fantastic style in everything she wore, I just haven't seen much of it on the actual woman.
I always admired Wallis Simpsons style, especially her taste in jewelry.
I love the way she dressed it seemed to suit her. I also wish people dressed more elegant today I understand the need for comfort but still being pulled together and looking like you care would be nice. I absolutely love her cross bracelet.
I always admired Wallis Simpsons style, especially her taste in jewelry.

I second that!

She had an unique and elegant style. And her jewels of course... :wub: No matter what you can say about her, but a great taste she had.
Yes, I agree she had fabulous jewelry!!!
The only jewelry I recall is her engagement ring. I wonder how she became so fashion savvy, most people today have stylist and/or have spent years researching and comparing.
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