British Studies Web Pages

Youth Culture and Fashion


Fashion in Britain
An essay by a Polish student

Sława Krasińska

" In England bad dressing may be an art raised to its highest form", one of my friends said once during the conversation we conducted in my flat. Indeed, a few dozen T-shirts which I brought from London are paradoxically considered to be the most precious pieces of my clothing. Thus, I started to wonder what is so special about the British style that being the symbol of bad taste for some has also become the emblem of all of those things which are the coolest and the most wanted in the world of fashion.

Undoubtedly, the British style is now perceived to be one of the cultural signposts of the 90's. And not only in fashion but also in film, art, music and, what is especially hard to believe, food. Yet, what is most seductive about it, is its breadth, the excesses of conservatism as well as anarchy so willingly sing out in the Verve's songs or show in such breathtaking British movies as "Trainspotting" or "Lies, lies".

British style seems to be the ability to become creative, to be understood, to be all over the place without worrying too much about it. You can point to elements of it, of which confidence is the main one, but you can't define it. That would be nonsense.

Nonsense or not, yet defining British style is precisely what the Labour government is attempting to do, aiming to convince foreign economies that there is more to Britain than Burberrys and beefeaters (or football hooligans and mad cows). A recent report by Demos, the left-wing think-tank, has added impetus by claiming that abroad this country is seen as "a backward-looking island immersed in its heritage".

A bright new government, a bright new culture. What could be better? The danger anyhow is that although Blair and Mandelson are at least talking the right language and seem to believe it, as soon as you turn something like that into a marketing slogan, it loses its charm.

With all the hoopla about British style and creative energy, on the other hand, those who are internationally known have shown a canny understanding of market forces, as John Galliano has shown at Dior and Alexander McQueen at Givenchy. Their works seem to be just a seeking of Nineties version of street fashion. People like Alexander have been trained in marketing and promotion, they are very sophisticated about publicity. But at heart, it is still like the whole of their style in general, a version of classic British rebellion against parents and the establishment. It is still saying, "I am me". And it is as powerfully pronounced by Liam Gallagher (Oasis) as it used to be in Sex Pistols verse. Only the fans this time are spread all over the world.

Sława Krasińska

Produced in Poland by British Council © 2003. The United Kingdom's international organisation for educational opportunities and cultural relations. We are registered in England as a charity.