at the heart of british style

London calling 

london-bridge-night

Reposting “At The Heart Of British Style” again because it’s London Fashion Week! And I’m thinking about tweed even though I’m sitting in New York, half-naked, in 80 degree heat in September. And I just love the word “twee.” 

Stella

Stella McCarthy

This post was written by my friend, Esther, from Style & Conversation. Esther lives in London, so I asked her to help me out with a post, when I realized that my knowledge of British fashion was limited to two stereotypes: tweeds and fascinators. 

copycat blow dries

I’m standing outside a London underground station waiting to meet a friend, the sun is shining and finally coats have been replaced with lighter layers. My friend sends me a text, she is running late and so I head to a nearby café to wait, and to people watch.

It’s rare that any of us get a moment to just sit in today’s busy world so I relish the chance to let the minutes pass by along with the rushing crowd. I am – as always – maddened by the volume of black leggings and questionable footwear on display, along with the array of blondes with their copycat blow dries, intentionally messy in an effort to emulate Kate Moss, and an equally unoriginal sense of style. In this vibrant city you can be anyone you want to be and yet far too many insist on being a bad replica of someone else.

But then there are the looks that not only catch my eye but will remain in my mind for weeks to come; the tall, slender woman in her early 50s, her white cotton shirt crisp and tucked into a flowing linen skirt of blue and white stripes, the hem falling just below the knee.

tweed skirts

Sparkly gold ankle socks complement the thin, clinking bangles stacked high on her arm and everything is pulled together with brown brogues and a beautiful Mulberry handbag, probably an investment purchase, well-loved but obviously used repeatedly throughout the years.

Then there’s the young woman in a brown, tweed skirt.

Her caramel-colored silk blouse flutters gently in the breeze and she has paired this ensemble with short, studded leather boots and a denim blazer, which makes her look edgy rather than too earthy or twee. She strides along with confidence, catches me looking at her and replies with a stunning smile, outlined by bold, red lips.

To me, these women are the epitome of British style;

craftsmanship

a representation of the eclectic mix of old and new, traditional and modern and sometimes eccentric, their choice of fabrics, textures and tailoring flying the flag for British history – which is regularly the case, even when the clothes in question are punk, or even political. You only need to look at Vivienne Westwood’s designs for evidence of this.

And whilst we may not have the daunting insouciance of French style or the sexiness of the Italians, I feel that the ‘scruffy’ label bestowed on the British is a little unfair, even if a quick walk through a small town or the streets of London throws up little evidence to prove otherwise, at least initially.

But when you know what you’re looking for and where to find it, you will discover that British style is classic and timeless – whilst at times also slightly off kilter (Lulu Guinness’ homage to Pop Art in the shape of a ‘lips’ clutch remains the brand’s statement accessory) – but always underpinned with at least a nod to craftsmanship, think back to that second woman and her denim blazer, rather than the usual cropped jacket.

lulu

Lulu Guinness

savile row

Attending a talk recently on the late Alexander McQueen, best known for his shocking and at times macabre collections, you can see fine tailoring demonstrated throughout his designs; the choice and cut of cloth, the stitching, all paying tribute to his initial training on Savile Row where he would have been guided by the vast experience of his older colleagues. This is what sets Britain apart.

We recognize our history in fabric and cut, our famous English gardens evidenced in floral, summer dresses and our penchant for cashmere and tweed go beyond the need for warmth in our inclement weather and become part of our memories, items that we wear repeatedly.

We understand how wearing tartan can speak to our private idea of self or binds us to something bigger than we are as individuals.

VivienneVivienne Westwood

If our tailoring could live through the Eighties when it fell out of fashion, then I believe that it will rise again; that beyond the wonders of modern technology is a world where precision craft skills matter, where there’s an enthusiasm for natural materials and an enduring love of texture. And in a time where trends move too fast, produced to be simply thrown away – the clothing equivalent of a cheeseburger and fries – I will always want to be part of history and the small world within this island nation where attention to detail remains something to be valued.

Thank you, Esther.

Anita

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5 Comments

  • Haralee says:

    I love the pictures! Gorgeous!!

  • Anne-Marie says:

    My perception of British fashion – at least what it’s been in the last 25 years – is that it’s beautifully progressive while giving a respective nod to the values of yesteryears. I’m a fan. Thanks for illustrating the beautiful qualities of British couture.

    • Anita Irlen says:

      Anne-Marie,

      That’s why I’ve come to see. All in all I find the Brits ahead of us in many things, not at all the uncultured brutes other Europeans sometimes make them out to be!

  • Anita, how lovely to return from vacation to find my article here! I’m so honoured that you asked me to write this guest post so thank you again…although I think your last line was the best bit!

    Looking forward to showing you some British style up close and personal in the fall (I hope!) and I will email you tomorrow. Esther xx

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