When I first moved to the U.K., my wardrobe staples were jeans, hoodies and my Osiris skate shoes.
While I vouch for the comfort and practicality of this casual look, my closet has filled out substantially since I came to Britain.
British people have a very open mind when it comes to appearances. Many of the world’s trends start here and I now hardly notice some of the style choices I would have surely raised an eyebrow at while living in Canada.
This is especially true since I moved to London — one of Europe’s finest fashion capitals. London attracts all sorts of people — driven business types, inspired artists, immigrants seeking new opportunities and some of the wealthiest inheritors in the world. So it is no surprise that fashion in the capital reflects this anomalous union.
In a typical day in central London, you are likely to see an astounding array of trendy jumpsuits, 1950s fashion statement revivals, evening gowns, party dresses accompanied with nine-inch heels, smart trench coats, pinstripe suits, alligator-skin shoes, traditional African garb, burkas, headscarves and more.
It is like every country put forward a designer and dumped their latest projects into the city centre for one wild free-for-all. And it is fabulous.
How you dress yourself here matters as much as the words you speak — it is a medium of expression in which a huge number of people have faith. London boasts two massive fashion weeks every year, which are held in the stunning Somerset House.
It is the designs that stand out at London Fashion Week and grace the figures of celebrities at major events. Such was the case with the infamous hat Princess Beatrice wore to the Royal wedding. The controversial creation by Irish designer Philip Treacy sold on eBay weeks later for a jaw-dropping £81,100.
His design inspired many ladies who attended the Royal Ascot horseraces last week in the traditional five-day spectacle that boasts the year’s finest display of British pageantry. But his work is not done yet as this September’s London Fashion Week will continue to see the birth of new labels and the rise of new designers hot on Treacy’s trail.
It is from the streets of London that household designer names like Karen Millen and Vivienne Westwood came to be. It is because of the smorgasbord of fashion genius that High Street labels like Dorothy Perkins and French Connection (with its trademark acronym ‘FCUK’) rose up from the cobbles. It is as a result of successful British labels like Top Shop that celebrities like Kate Moss can design lines that are sought after all over the world.
Ultimately, it is why the British department store is so hugely popular. With designer names and High Street labels under one roof, department stores in Britain are a hit with residents and tourists alike. Marks & Spencer, NEXT, Debenhams, House of Fraser, John Lewis, Selfridges and Harrods all stand tall and majestic in London’s shopping districts. They all make their own statement with windows that stretch for metres and feature displays so detailed they require the work of specially-hired designers to create the perfect presentation.
British department stores tend to be housed in beautiful buildings — historic and majestic with multiple floors and Michelin-star restaurants at the top. They are full of sparkling watches worth more than most mortgages, beauty counters with pristine attendants, every respected name in fashion and every kind of accessory you can imagine. Not to mention gourmet food sections, children’s corners and pet sanctuaries. They are as much a tourist attraction as they are a shopping dream for both the rich and famous and the High Street regulars.
Yet while I am enchanted by designer creations and rendered in awe by department store displays, the British fashion I love best is much more affordable — and definitely more fun to discover.
London is home to some very unique markets and a day is well spent wandering up and down their stalls. They unite household antiques with vintage clothes and multicultural street performances with exotic food stands.
Camden, Notting Hill, Spitalfields, Petticoat Lane, Columbia Road, Brick Lane and Borough are all market districts that attract men and women, rich and poor, and every single race that resides in London. Most importantly, they make shopping an adventure in which you can barter for goods and feel fantastic about everything you take away.
Fashion in Britain is an experience and living in London has trained me to tell a story with every outfit. Fortunately as a journalist I am a sucker for a good story.
Brit Kennedy grew up in Red Deer and graduated from Lindsay Thurber Comprehensive High School. She attended university in Scotland and is now living and working in London, England.