We are enamored with British fashion. Face it. In its history, the US has borrowed elbow patches and bell bottoms, sixties sunglasses and tall boots. Americans are fascinated by the British so, naturally, we endeavor to dress like them. The British have a strange kind of duality inherent in everything they do, from their mannerisms, to their accents, to their culture. They come across as both sophisticated and quirky; they can seem elitist and distant like Professor Higgins or warmly prim like Mary Poppins. The reason we return again and again to bands like the Beatles and One Direction (some Beatles fan just had a stroke at my comparing them, I’m sure. I’m only comparing their nationalities – promise) is that, at least in part, we’re never quite certain if they should be sipping tea on Edwardian china or sporting leather jackets like an artsy youth in Piccadilly Square. Are they quiet intellectuals or free-spirited wanderers? Images of Bond-James-Bond, Mr. Bean, the Queen, and the Mad Hatter, meld into one, very British, but otherwise indescribable mass of the lack of the pronunciation of the letter ‘r’. The enigma is, at least in part, the charm.
The same is true of the renewed interest in the recent 1960’s-British-Invasion-Styled fashions of late. We are at a period in history where we’re ready to relive the fun of mod in graphic, form-fitting shift dresses and heavy eye makeup. The two embody that same strange dichotomy: fun and kooky, but at the same time, stable and put-together. The look is youthful and cheery, yet structured and balanced. Pick up any fashion magazine and in a few brief moments, I bet you will be confronted with the triumph that is the latest Louis Vuitton ad. In the marketing marvel, models stand tall and poised, bows in their beehives. Clothed in bright yellow, checkered shift dresses, coats, pant-suits, and rompers, they seem ready for a day of bouncing from Harrow to Big Ben to a place called “Smitten” (which, if it doesn’t exist, should) for a spot of tea with their respective “mum”s. To examine the thoughtful, stable, chuckling composition is, I’m convinced, practically the same as experiencing a Mondrian. Everything is perfectly placed but with a bit of a smirk. Just like the British.
Of course, there’s no way to examine the latest Louis Vuitton creations or the three-quarter-sleeved delights that will undoubtedly follow suit at a Marshalls near you without thinking of the iconic Twiggy. “At sixteen, I was a funny, skinny little thing, all eyelashes and legs. And then, suddenly people told me it was gorgeous. I thought they had gone mad,” she’s quoted as saying. Twiggy is the real-life Jo Stockton, Audrey Hepburn’s character in the 1957 musical Funny Face. Jo did not think herself pretty, but once her odd brand of beauty was discovered, she embraced her quirks and used them for the betterment of all in a myriad of musical numbers involving getting models to read (I’m not doing the movie justice in the least.) Twiggy did much the same. She accepted her strangeness as a strength and turned her modeling career into an acting career which enabled her to campaign against animal cruelty. Her appeal is her comfortably in her own skin, whether clothed in mod dresses of the sixties or the suits she often sports today.
That very vibe, unsure and odd yet proud and satisfied, is what the U.S. hopes to import from across the pond. That security in knowing we are who we are and someone in the world must think it’s fabulous, while remaining humble, is what the British, 60’s shift dress represents. Through this clothing phenomenon, we are declaring to respect ourselves by looking polished, sophisticated, and a smidge mysterious while at the same time endeavoring to respect our imaginations with bright color, bold prints, and a bit of a wink. So this spring, sport a bold print or a daring red lipstick. Bat huge eyelashes or swish down the street in a tulle skirt. Wear something British in the most philosophical sense, even if it’s just the most British smile you can muster.
Photography credit: sarahcstanley. All photos used under Creative Commons licensing.