As one of the fashion capitals of the world, London hails some of the most stylish streets. Everywhere you look there are men and women dressed to impress in the latest threads direct from the catwalk, paving the way for fashion-lovers everywhere. However, while trends are constantly changing, there’s an underlying essence maintained in the city’s fashion scene that makes it quintessentially British. While Paris fashion has an air of refinement and sophistication, London fashion has an air of grit and edge. While Paris has claim to the cute tweed jacket and kitten heels, London has claim to the cool leather jacket and Dr. Marten boots. This grit is entwined in our history and indeed our souls, but how can we capture it in our own outfits?
Origins of London style
Before we can master London’s unique style, we need to understand where it comes from and why it defines our beloved city. London itself, being the epicentre of the industrialised world, is historically known for being slightly gritty, with old brick buildings, cobblestone streets, smoking factories and often grey skies. A Londoner’s sense of style is therefore very much a reflection of the city’s own obscured demeanour that defined it through the early 20th century. It was during these years, as the city industrialised, that fashion found its way to the forefront of the country’s culture.
Of course, London’s style pioneers didn’t base their looks solely on the perception of the city’s appearance; they were influenced by a subsequent cultural attitude. We leapt from Victorian Britain to rock n’ roll within 50 years as fashion-forward folk enjoyed finding new fads to follow. Some of these folk are famously, or infamously, known as the mods and rockers – and although they had their clear differences, there’s one thing they had in common: they rejected the establishment.
All of a sudden, fashion was about breaking the rules, and by the 70s and 80s there were khaki parkers, ripped denim, mohawks and – you guessed it – leather jackets and Dr. Marten boots. Although these eras of fashion soon passed, a thirst for the alternative, for the rebellious, and for the grit that those times brought has never been lost.
London’s Style Inspiration
The attitude that defined these revolutionary eras was led by the pioneers of pop culture – artists, designers and musicians. Mods were heavily influenced by soul, R&B and blues bands like The Kinks, The Animals and The Small Faces, who took a collegiate approach to the conservative British fashion of older generations. Tailored herringbone suits, turtlenecks, polo shirts and Chelsea boots were given a modern uplift by both males and females, bringing the idea of androgyny to the forefront of British culture, which still thrives today.
The rockers on the other hand looked to very different role models for their style inspiration. It began with Elvis Presley, then The Beatles, and then The Who until the term ‘rock n’ roll’ took on a whole new meaning when punk bands like The Cure, The Clash and Sex Pistols came onto the scene. Before we knew it, British pop culture had taken a gritty, more rebellious turn, which became forever ingrained in the Londoner’s sense of style.
This is all thanks to Dame Vivienne Westwood, a designer who invented the Sex Pistols’ and other punk bands’ image. She is now thought of as an institution of British design, turning conservatism, patriotism and royalism on its head with statement-led anti-establishment fashion. This was followed by Alexander McQueen who, to this date, is the country’s most influential design icon. He took representations of traditional British fashion and gave them a dark romantic twist. Thus, the grunge era was born – yet another take on that sense of grit that defined the country in the 20th century.
Although all these subcultures – mods, rockers, teddy boys, new romantics, punks and grunge – introduced fashions have come and gone, they instilled the underlying gritty essence that Londoners continue to draw their sense of style from today.
Update your wardrobe instantly
If you want to capture the London style, there are a few staple items that can instantly inject some British grit into your wardrobe. Remember to keep it relaxed with an edgy take on tradition and an added bit of rock n’ roll.