Is there an English style? What we see, in our towns and cities, is women in leggings and baggy jumpers and men in shapeless jackets and jeans. What we imagine is pinstripes and bowlers, tweed skirts and cosy woolies, Wellington boots and a Barbour.
We don’t grow cotton or linen in the UK, and its too cold for silk worms, but we have 23m sheep. Our primary fabric is wool, despite a significant and varied textile industry. Yorkshire is the county (and Huddersfield in particular) which produced the foremost fabric for men’s suiting for a least a couple of centuries. They use 2-ply yarns in the warp and weft (which makes the cloth strong) and are finished with the English “pressed finish” which produces a very flat, “hard” finish, adding to the durability of the cloth. The Saville Row suit is a particular style and fit and one which is quite different to both European and American styles. At its most formal the English suit includes a waist coat, a top hat, and tails.
In addition England is famous for its tweeds. These are the sporty version of wool, woven with a twisted yarn, often with a heathery look. It is great to see this beautiful fabric celebrated with the annual Tweed Run (on bicycles) through the streets of London. The flat cap, often worn by country dwellers of all classes, is often made in tweed.
For keen dressmakers there is always Linton Tweeds, which are famous for being used by Coco Chanel. If bought online these are good value, and there are many wonderful colourways and effects.
And then there is knitting wool, and the long tradition of English women knitting. For their men. For their babies. And for themselves. The twin set and pearls look is seen as an upper crust English look. I love a nice cashmere twin set, and the kind of look worn by Miss Moneypenny in the James Bond films.
Another very English component is the leather Brogue shoe, made in Northampton. Suitable for men and women – the punching which allowed the water to escape originally as men plodded across boggy landscapes.
I am from Lancashire and used to wear clogs in celebration of my roots. These were originally worn by men and women in the factories to keep their feet out of the water. Mine were red, and laced up and I felt invincible walking along in them. The noise they make on the pavement give out a “don’t mess with me” message – and I felt they kept me safe. There is a charming article on clogs by Gitika Partington, who has kindly supplied the photograph.
Also the English are known for their sheepskin coats, riding boots, their Pittard leather gloves from Yeovil, and high quality handbags.
Do you like English style? Do you ever adopt it?