While the weather in England may be dull at the best of times, English style is anything but. When it comes to style, the Brits have it in spades, even if it is a bit quirky to the outsider. If post-Olympic fever has you champing at the bit to find your own sense of British style on this side of the pond, here are five key pointers.
1. Mix and match
Remember when you used to get dressed as a kid and just threw on the first thing that came out of your closet or drawers? Sometimes when I’m on the tube in the morning or riding my bike to work (when it isn’t raining), I still find myself marvelling at how British women effortlessly throw together an ensemble that I would never dream of. Somehow they manage to pull off mixing and matching florals and stripes, clashing colours and textures — think Topshop, telling us to “Go Grunge” in 2012. Basically, if you’re going to dress like a Brit, don’t even think about matching your handbag and shoes.
2. Layers are your best friend
Ahh, the British summer: grey skies, drizzle and the occasional gale-force wind. OK, it’s not that bad all the time — Mondays are usually bright and sunny. If you’re in Blighty, you’d better be prepared for four seasons in one day (or hour), and you’d best get acquainted with the art of layering. Some mornings, I leave my house and think that I must be a fool for wearing a leather jacket with a cardigan underneath and boots when it’s summertime. But by lunch hour, the sky has usually darkened and the wind has picked up, reassuring me that my instincts served me well.
3. The Alexa Chung
Some Canadians might think of Kate Middleton as the embodiment of British style, with her timeless and effortless elegance. They wouldn’t be far off the mark: Harper’s Bazaar put her at the top of its style list in 2011. But according to the British public, Alexa Chung, who won the British Fashion Award’s Style Icon crown for the last two years in a row, comes out on top. From hopelessly romantic to rock-chic tomboy, Chung is an ambassadress for Chanel (her favourite) and a muse for other fashion labels from Britain and beyond including Stella McCartney, Christopher Kane, Balenciaga, Miu Miu, Mary Katrantzou, Carven, YSL and Louis Vuitton. Good news for you (and me): though many of us can’t afford to bankroll couture labels as part of our everyday wardrobe, creating Chung’s look doesn’t have to cost all of the tea in London.
4. Beehives, cat eyes and ’50s kitsch
Revived by the late-and-great Amy Winehouse, the beehive, cat eyes and ’50s kitsch is a style trend that has stuck around in London — particularly Camden, North London, where Winehouse lived, loved and sang. Winehouse was once quoted as describing her style as, “I dress like an old, Jewish black man.” What she was trying to describe was her trademark late-1950s style of leopard print peddle pushers, and tops that barely contained her bosom. Months before she died, she launched an eponymous fashion label with her favourite British designer, Fred Perry. While the iconic British street fashion label is not one that many people would immediately equate with Winehouse’s retro style, the girl somehow looked like she was born to wear a polo T with a checked collar.
Britain is home to numerous famous festivals known the world over, including Glastonbury, Isle of Wight and Reading. Festivals are so ingrained in British culture that the festival ‘look’ is pretty much acceptable to wear year-round. To start, get yourself a pair of Hunter Wellies. If you’re a traditionalist, opt for green or blue; if you’re feeling girly, Hunter also makes lilac and pink ones. Next, the poncho: also a classic festival item, preferably with a Navajo print. If ponchos aren’t your thing, opt for a chunky cardi. And just in case you forgot today’s style tip #2, wear something on top that is waterproof. Keeping with the classic British theme, a wax jacket is your best friend. Or if you’re more of a trendy type, then an anorak from Primark or your favourite high street shop will do just fine. Then again, just throw on whatever comes to mind when you are feeling festive and then you’ll capture the true style of a Brit.
Sarah Lysecki is a freelance journalist based in London, UK, where she has written for Cosmetic News Weekly and Cosmetics International. She has also contributed to Economist Intelligence Unit, ITBusiness.ca, and Foodnetwork.ca. She is currently in a very happy relationship with a dandy of an English gent.