An American’s Take on London Street Fashion
Simply riding the Tube or walking the London streets displays the chic, diverse style of Londoners, turning the pavement into a runway for casually observing the city’s fashion. As an American college student from Clemson University and a native of Orlando, Florida, I’ve taken note of the fashion habits of Londoners while watching the wave of streetwalkers each day, mentally comparing the students and young professionals’ fashion choices to the fashions I am used to in the States. First of all, young Londoners treat fashion as a fact of life, a daily ritual to take part in, while the average American sees fashion trends as optional or reserved for certain occasions—such as going downtown at night or to a party. Thus, outside of stylish fashion hubs like New York, the average American person on the street is not trendy or fashion forward. From watching the generation of London youth on the streets of Shoreditch and Regent Street, I’ve noticed Londoners dress in a variety of styles but always have one thing in common: they are chic. Even compared to New York, London fashion has its own unique history that creates the style flavour that permeates the city. For example, the vestiges of British punk culture left its mark on London fashion, manifested in leather jackets, piercings, and combat boots worn tastefully on a daily basis. Additionally, reworked versions of British classics can still be seen on the streets, including trendy jumpers, tights worn under shorts, funky structured coats, and brightly patterned pants. In general, classic black pieces are a mainstay for any Londoner’s style and neutrals dominate the colour palette of the street, whereas Americans tend toward bright colours. This neutral palette is a sign of high fashion, since fashion designers themselves tend to wear dark, flattering colours, showing that London is truly a fashion capital.
Unlike what is often found in America, individuality is equal in importance to chicness. In American youth, conformity often rules the style senses of the young, who wear ensembles exactly as seen in the stores or magazines. While fashion trends are common in London, the trends are always accompanied by the wearer’s sense of self and mixed and matched to fit their own tastes, whether their personality is punk, prep, athletic, feminine, or edgy. For example, I’ve daily seen different women wearing a new trend of pants called “culottes,” which are trousers that reach past the knee and create a skirt-like silhouette. Female Londoners wear these pants dressed up and dressed down, and depending on their fashion taste wear the culottes with sneakers, ballet flats, or heels, as well as long sleeve fitted sweaters, casual ribbed shirts, or funky asymmetrical neckline blouses. I have yet to see anyone on the streets of Orlando wearing culottes, and I am gathering that women in London are more sensitive and equipped to adopt changing fashion trends.
As far as the fashion of twenty-somethings in America, style changes astronomically as students graduate from college and start working around 22 years old. At my university, students can be seen going to class wearing outfits they could have worn as pyjamas or exercise clothes: large t-shirts, leggings, athletic shorts, and usually tennis shoes or some type of sandals. Then, when American students graduate, they give away most of their accumulated t-shirts and build a new wardrobe of dresses, work-appropriate shoes, blazers, and pencil skirts. This is certainly not the case for London students, who likely do not own mass quantities of t-shirts as American students do, and instead “dress up” for class. Whether they wear high-waist jeans and a fitted top, a calf length dress, or a patterned blouse, Londoners are already dressing more professionally at university than the American college student.
Moreover, the British have learned to mix utility with fashion, something that America lacks. Often, trendy American women’s fashions—maxi skirts, sky-high heels, tight-fitted skirts—are not practical and wouldn’t be worn on public transportation such as the Tube or a bike. In America, cars are the dominant transportation, meaning that walking is not common with working class Americans. Thus, weather is not a factor, and many women buy uncomfortable heels or dresses since they will be sitting at their desk all day instead of walking. This is something that needs change in women’s fashion, especially for the health of American feet. Also, with a place as unexpectedly rainy as London, clothing must be sustainable under the elements as well—another reason black and dark colours make sense, in addition to their inherent and universal chic factor. The average Londoner is not flashy, shying away from over-the-top fashions and preferring simpler styles and assimilated trends accentuated with a nice sense of form and balance that works for everyday life. However, the truly fashion-forward Londoner will always add their own flair: a pair of torn jeans, a pair of 60’s style round-rimmed sunglasses, or perhaps a pair of worn Converse. With a fashion buffet like this so readily available to observe in London, this American will be a little sad to return to a land of plain t-shirts—no matter how comfortable a t-shirt may be.