I've just returned from a three-week trip to Sydney and LA; nearly a month of continuous sunshine, food cooked with the freshest of locally grown ingredients, and a lifestyle culture built around beaches, surf and open-top cars; three weeks of chinos, button-down oxfords, blazers and loafers. What’s not to like?
I then arrived back in London to grey skies, drizzle, traffic jams and Greggs. I sat on the Heathrow Express and stared at the square-toed shoes, shiny suits and over-sized patterned ties. And then I smiled because I was home; home to a city where its craziness, lack of uniformity and comfortable mess somehow manage to end up being its very virtues.
If we had a climate that meant our bodies were on display more often, an unwritten dress code that everyone more or less adhered to, a body shape that exemplified our locale, we might well see a lot of the creativity this country excels in watered down. And this particularly applies to the way we approach clothes – both as consumers and as a fashion industry.
British fashion designers are fêted and employed across the globe. In only three seasons, London Collections: Men, the capital’s men’s fashion week, has become a style hotspot attracting press and buyers from all the world’s major fashion markets eager to see everything from east London design duo Agi & Sam’s kooky prints to the slick tailoring of Savile Row. They’re also keen to see what British men across the capital, and up and down the country, are wandering around in without a care in the world: from the Gloucestershire farmer in his eccentrically coloured cords, green wellies and tattered old Barbour to the Glasgow design students pottering around the city’s Finnieston area in giant trainers and exaggerated knitwear.
Look at the new trends and there isn’t one that you haven’t seen, or couldn’t envisage being worn in almost every corner of the country. On the catwalks for the autumn/ winter season, for example, were a multitude of checked and pinstripe suits – all of which could easily have come straight out of the City at any point over the last few decades.
Admittedly, the pinstripe has kept quite a low profile for a handful of years after the financial crisis blew up. In fact, numerous City workers were advised against wearing pinstripes by their employers, as the distinctive tailoring made them an easy target during the protest against bail-outs for the banks galvanised by the Occupy movement. But now the pinstripe has been deemed acceptable once more.
Military coats have continued as a trend – the bigger, the better – and for obvious reasons our homegrown brands are pretty expert at creating these: British companies such as Burberry and Aquascutum both have military roots and allow these to influence their collections year after year. Duffel coats and parkas, both rarely out of fashion, also return with a bang for this autumn. Although the parka has American military origins, its most popular cultural appearances since have included the mod movement in the Sixties (characterised in the cult 1979 film Quadrophenia) and Oasis-era Liam Gallagher in the mid-Nineties.
Tweeds and quilted jackets are still all the rage – gently interpreted on our shores by Richard James and Hardy Amies, more irreverently visited by E. Tautz, and given an easy street-edge by Oliver Spencer. Shearling was back with a vengeance, too; that Seventies staple, popular with East End traders, car dealers and Del Boy, was made modern and slick (check out Rake). The East End also made an appearance with the Alexander McQueen collection and its menacing take on sharp-cut, red-and-black-clad Victorian gangsters.
And some of the craziest trends designers popped onto their catwalks this season you’ll already be familiar with: having been doing double-takes at them for some time while staring out of a bus or taxi. Cuffed or cropped trousers show no sign of disappearing; ginormous fashion/sport hybrid sneakers in dazzling primary colours will be around even more over the coming months (as will other rather eccentric shoe designs).
While knitwear, another reliable member of the great British wardrobe, is no longer a cosy option suitable for a cup of tea and shortbread biscuit. This winter, even Gyles Brandreth’s choices look timid. There’s pattern galore with contrast-coloured panels and oversized sweaters that look as if they’ve been made from steroid–addicted sheep. The latter by Sibling, this London-based label perhaps best of all exemplified the pottiness that makes our country so charming.
Where else would you see sober–faced male models stomping down a catwalk wearing a design that successfully managed to combine two very British yet very different cultural influences: traditional Scottish Fair Isle and Bet Lynch–inspired leopard- skin? And where else would you see an audience so full of applause and smiles at such a sight? Surely we don’t mind putting up with a bit of rain and a pebbly beach when we’ve got all this glorious eccentricity on our doorsteps.
Pinstripe suit by Moschino, Military coat by Burberry Prorsum, Duffle coat by Moschino, Parka by Woolrich , Tweed suit by Ralph Lauren, Quilted jacket by Barbour and Shearling jacket Bottega Veneta.
Jeremy Langmead is the editor-in-chief of mrporter.com