I read lots of fashion and dressmaking blogs and I have noticed that the styles that are worn in the UK, US and Australasia seem different. I am not sure what it is, but when you look at a photograph you almost always know if the wearer is “local”. In fact when I was organising a shopping trip to Hackney in East London I started scanning through Instagram looking for photos of people who were in England, preferably London so I could invite them. What was I looking for? Sometimes clues like countryside or background, but there are other tell tale clues.
What are the essential differences between nations or cultures in terms of how they dress? Obviously weather is important. Every part of the US is to the South of Britain, and in most parts of the US and Australia the longer days and sunny weather creates many more opportunities to wear shorts, dresses and casual sporty clothes. The UK with its generally dull, damp and often chilly climate tends to require coats, jackets, long trousers and thick tights and shoes. But of course there is something else too.
When, back in the 1970s, I had a couple of American “pen pals” or “pen friends” as we called them, they would send me a school or college photograph which was unlike anything I had ever seen. Taken by a professional photographer, their hair was impossibly glossy and apparently blow dried (at the time my hair was washed with some economy lemon product and dried in front of the fire), wearing a little pink lipstick, with pressed clothes, a smudgy blue or mauve background and amazing teeth. Our school pictures – wearing horrible uniforms, often spotty with gappy teeth and terrible haircuts, – would not cross the Atlantic.
I thought I would set a quiz. Can you tell me whether pictures A or B in each section are from the UK or the US. And what was the give away for you?
Firstly here are the students – bearing in mind that certainly in the UK (and I assume in the US too) we have very large numbers of overseas students, so this may not be fair. Which is taken in the UK and which is the US?
Let’s have a look at some working men and women. But first, listen to an American friend who now lives here to give me his opinion. He said
“British people like worn clothes, whereas Americans prefer new. Not just worn, but ideally a bit crumpled, not too sleek, and ideally mismatched. They do actually wear tweed, and pink shirts which I never saw in the US. Having a very nice suit that looks like you slept in it the night before is perfect, with bonus points if the tie and the shirt subtly clash.”
Now look at the picture and decide which is the City and which is Wall Street, A or B?
How about the mothers – Moms or Mums? Both groups are sitting in the park with their littlies. How do you know which country they come from they are from?
My friend continued.
“Of course different parts of the country have their own codes, and different classes and political views have their preferences. But there is a much stronger emphasis in the US on youth culture, college sports. warmer weather helps. We do like labels. Additionally the silicon valley look is that of an average electrical engineering student. I would say the UK is more formal with fewer jeans and less dress down Friday.You seldom will see a London in a coat that is brighter than black. Seriously, almost all overcoats are black. Several times I have walked into town wearing Khakis and have noticed that I am the only person wearing light-coloured trousers. Everyone else is wearing dark blue or black trousers – often denim, but never anything lighter than navy. “
Of course globalisation means we are all buying, eating and wearing the same products and the same global brands. My husband likes the Preppy Ralph Loren look, but toned down with an old Barbour. The now fashionable notion in the UK of buying local, and celebrating our own special products is a reaction to McDonalds on every corner. The One year One outfit project is really strong on the idea of only using what is local to you. Here is a great piece by English Girl at home on what UK products you can buy in the UK.
Finally can you tell the old folks/senior citizens apart? Although the clothes are very similar there is something detectable here. Is it the hair? You tell me.