January 31, 2023

What identifies us as ‘British’ in the world of fashion?

When it comes to food, the ‘Best of British’ would always be fish and chips, bangers and mash; our traditional dishes that have been devoured for generations. In film you can’t dispute ‘Bridget Jones’, ‘Love Actually’ and ‘Notting Hill’, to name a few. Our films are pinpointed by the U.S regarding our dry sense of humour and ‘posh totty’ accents. But what about the ‘Best of British’ in the fashion world? In Contemporary Britain, can you really say we have a signature look that defines our culture? Compared to the styles that used to pervade London during the 1980’s, fashion appears to have tumbled rapidly, producing a more conformist generation.

The Godmother of fashion, Vivienne Westwood, wants a fashion rebellion. In 2012 London fashion week, Westwood radically criticised the designs that were parading the runway. Unimpressed by Contemporary clothes on display, she blasted them as a bunch of ‘disposable c***’. Note that many of the designers who were displaying their collections ranged from ‘Mulberry’ to ‘Paul Smith’. If Westwood could see a fault with some of the most famous designs in the country, then her comments were most definitely aimed at the rest of us average folk, hitting the high street in search of our bargains.  However, as fashion royalty, I guess she does have the right to speak out about the way our style is in decline. When promoting her range, ‘Red Label’, in the middle of fashion week, Vivien emphasized how it was her collection that captured what we would associate as ‘British fashion’. ‘They’ve got all this influence from other places but they still look British’. Her collection was full of harsh tailoring, her trademark fabrics, tartan and checks, long Edwardian trench coats and bowler hats. These looks obviously mirrored the characteristics of the 1980’s British punk movement, when Vivien was at the height of her reign in the fashion world.

Think the ‘Sex Pistols’, Dr. Martin boots and studded leather and the British punk era would rapidly spring to mind. Noted as a fashion renaissance, it was a period of rebellion. Drastic fashion pieces were worn to reflect an array of ideologies such as individualism, protests and boycotts. Given the radicalism of the era, the daring clothes, consisting of safety pins, controversial t-shirts with logos such as the swastika reflected social anger and intensity. These pieces were perceived as more artistic as the majority of the time they were worn as a form of self-expression, reflecting people’s outlook on the world. Therefore, clothes were as significant as literature or visual art. Similar to painters and writers, civilians could be seen as artists, creating their own individual pieces attempting to make a difference by expressing socio-political messages.

Fast-Forward to 2012 and in likeness to Vivienne; it’s fair to say that such radical fashion statements don’t really permeate the streets today. Not that I support the claim that clothes look like ‘disposable c***’, just that the individualism so evident in the 80’s seems to have vanished. To an extent, yes people do dress individually. Obviously we don’t walk around in identical outfits, but we seem to have fallen into a state of playing it safe with clothes and if anyone does stray of the conformist waggon we tend to stare in bewilderment. As a democracy, Britain takes pride in freedom of speech, but this shouldn’t only be incorporated politically/socially. We should try the other end of the spectrum; embracing the nation’s liberalism though fashion.

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