LONDON – Talk about being overshadowed.
The fashion world, and beyond, has gone fairly berserk over Kate Middleton as people try to predict the style of her wedding dress, but Prince William's fashion choices for their April 29 nuptials at Westminster Abbey have received scant attention.
Perhaps that's only fitting. The bride's always the center of attention at a wedding — and this is no ordinary wedding. Middleton has a virtually unlimited budget and can choose from among Britain's finest designers. No wonder people care.
But William's sartorial choices matter too — the wedding photos will likely last through the ages, reprinted time and time again to mark important occasions, like his coronation as king.
Most experts expect William, a highly trained air force helicopter rescue pilot, to wear a custom-made, ceremonial military uniform, as his father Prince Charles did when he wed Lady Diana Spencer in 1981.
William could also choose a morning suit with tails, as is customary at posh British weddings, but as a serving officer whose family has long ties to the military, this is seen as unlikely.
"There is a very long tradition of British royal men serving in the military and wearing military uniforms," said Patrick Grant, owner of Norton & Sons on London's storied Savile Row. "To me a morning coat is fine but not terrifically interesting when you could wear something that is really spectacular and exhibits levels of craftsmanship that thankfully still exist in Britain. It has so much more pomp."
Britain's finest tailoring houses have a long history of crafting ceremonial uniforms that effortlessly convey grace and authority.
"This is not your everyday wear, this is what you take out for momentous occasions," Grant said. "It's fantastic looking, over and above almost anything else men wear in the Western world. I don't suppose there's any chance of William outshining his bride, but after all he is our future king and he has an important role to play in this wedding."
He thinks it likely William will choose a dark uniform with extensive gold detailing.
The choice of a uniform over civilian clothes would also reinforce William's preferred image as a dutiful military man, not a party boy with a permanent table at London's best nightclubs.
Robert Johnston, associate editor of the British edition of GQ, said William is seen as a "reasonably elegant" dresser — although innately conservative in his clothing choices — who would look terrific in a custom-made uniform. He said British military wear matches the finest French couture.
"The beauty of the workmanship is breathtaking," he said. "I describe British military tailoring as the very best menswear in the world."
He said Gieves & Hawkes, a firm known for its splendid military wear that has long ties to the royals, would likely get the assignment if William seeks a ceremonial uniform.
Executives at Gieves & Hawkes refused to comment on whether an outfit has been ordered. The company did make the formal suit William wore on his 18th birthday, and has made clothes for Michael Jackson, Muhammad Ali, Sean Connery and other stars.
The company's flagship Savile Row store has dozens of rare uniforms squirreled away along with ledger books cataloguing military wear dating back to the 1770s. Richard Lawson, a master fabric cutter, said techniques remain largely unchanged — and it still takes far longer to construct a uniform than a conventional suit, because of all the extra work.
"The key difference is the regulations on where the braiding and decoration has to go," he said. "By far the greatest hours have to go into the hand embroidery on the collars, all the lacing and all of the braiding is what really separates it, making it more glamorous. It's all done by hand. And the work is done with real gold. Actually pushing the needle through with the gold is an amazing skill."
It takes five or six specialists with different skills to work together to make a ceremonial uniform — and far more than the roughly 60 hours needed to make a suit, he said.
If William does go the military route, he will have relatively few ways to individualize his look. Fashionistas will be paying attention to his shoes, his socks and his choice of a watch. Some expect him to wear a slim Jaeger-LeCoultre timepiece as a homage to his grandmother, Queen Elizabeth II, who wore one at her coronation in 1953.
"Small details will be important," said Tara Nash-King, founder of the online clothing retail site Chic and Seek. "I think he'll wear cufflinks that his father has given him, and a Jaeger watch, they're really beautiful, quite understated but impeccable quality, and bespoke shoes, probably John Lobb or Church's."
Both shoe firms are English institutions known for the quality of their custom-made shoes. Bespoke shoes from John Lobb, located a few doors down from St. James's Palace, start at about 2,600 pounds ($4,100). They've long been favored by generations of royals — and by the late Frank Sinatra, too.
Don't look for Ferragamos — just as Middleton is duty bound to choose a British designer, William is unlikely to stray beyond the British Isles for his accessories, although a Swiss watch is to be expected.
"I feel he should be supporting British establishments," said Nash-King, who said William would be "on trend" if he goes military at the ceremony. And she predicts he'll be wearing red silk socks at the altar, "to pick up the red on his uniform."
One thing William won't have to worry about if he goes the military route is pleasing his bride.
She likes the way he looks in uniform — if you can believe the royal lip readers who deciphered her filmed comments when she watched him receive his wings in the air force three years ago.
"I love the uniform," she appears to say on camera in a clip that seems to have found a permanent place on YouTube. "It's so, so sexy."