From naval uniforms to Savile Row: exploring Gieves & Hawkes

Images and words by Liz Seabrook

Week 40
DEFENSE

Walking into no. 1 Savile Row is a unique experience. Home to Gieves & Hawkes, the former townhouse has an enormous private dressing room feel, with walls bearing the images of famous wearers, who look self-assuredly down at customers, and mannequins that display other notable attire. It’s almost unthinkable that any other establishment could own this property on this historic street. Before the companies merged in 1974, they both had their hand in outfitting various royal and military personnel. Hawkes began his trade as a velvet cap maker to George III, while Gieves specialised in naval uniforms. Today Gieves and Hawkes are still making uniforms for the British military along with uniforms for a number of other countries – some significantly more gilded than others.

We met with Matthew Crocker, head of the brand’s military department, to talk about five significant historic pieces.

1920s Postillion’s Coatee

This intricately detailed garment is a postillion’s coatee, which was supplied under the warrant of George V in the 1920’s. It would have been worn by one of the outriders in the Royal Procession every day at Royal Ascot. The armholes on this jacket are of particular interest as, unlike in modern tailoring, they come up tight to the armpit with more room in front and behind the shoulder. This allowed the wearer to whip his horse without ruining the lining of his jacket. The pattern is still worn today.

Royal Navy Reefer Jacket

In the mid-nineteenth century, Gieves became the preferred tailor to cadets and officers. Originally belonging to Lord Fraser, this Royal Navy Reefer jacket bears the wartime rank of admiral of the fleet – a title that was retired by NATO in 1995.

1950s RAF Bondsman’s Master’s Coat

Made by Gieves during the 1950’s, this RAF bondsman’s master’s long coat belonged to Wing Commander Albert Sims OBE. At the formation of the RAF in 1918, Gieves were made early suppliers; the mid blue cloth that has become the signature colour of the air force was in fact bought on the cheap from an ousted Russian Tsar.

1988 Michael Jackson’s Bad tour jacket

Made for Michael Jackson’s 1988 Bad Tour, this military inspired jacket is synonymous with the King of Pop. It was modelled on a now obsolete privy councillor court dress coat.

Her Majesty’s Ceremonial Bodyguard Uniform

Hawkes has been dressing Her Majesty’s Ceremonial Bodyguard – the Honourable Corps of Gentleman at Arms, since 1913, and continues to dress them for every duty at modern ceremonies.

NB. Gieves is pronounced with a hard ‘g’, unlike the butler.