Back in the late 2000s, the words “British fashion” might have conjured up mental images of Kate Moss’s iconic Topshop collection or Lily Allen’s penchant for pairing designer ball gowns with Nike trainers. You might have thought of it-girls like Alexa Chung and Agyness Deyn, or indie lads like Pete Doherty and Kele Okereke. In other words: It was kind of cool, in its own way.
Today, it’s a different story. Topshop stores have shuttered while online retailers like Boohoo and Pretty Little Thing reign supreme. British style probably exists on a spectrum somewhere between Depop bucket hats and whatever ex-Love Island contestants are flogging on Instagram Reels. Either way, we arguably peaked a decade or so ago and it’s been downhill ever since.
But what does everyone else think (aside from the French, who no longer think we’re cool)? From our inability to dress according to the weather to our toxic relationship with fast fashion, here’s what non-Brits had to say about the current state of British fashion.
Elettra, 24, Italy: ‘British style is trash’
There are very cool shops, like vintage shops and charity shops, which is something we don’t have in Italy, and also brands that we were always looking for in Italy, like Urban Outfitters. But I found this great disconnect between the availability of cool shops and what people were wearing.
If I had to define British style in one word – and I think London is less representative of this – generally, I’d say the British style is trash. Everyone just kind of looks the same and there’s not really a lot of individuality. I also think something that has not yet come to the fashion style here is simplicity – the more glitter, the more pizazz, the more “out there” it is, the trashier it looks.
Laura, 23, Spain: ‘Tiny, tiny dresses in the middle of winter’
What shocked me the most about UK fashion when I first moved here is how open it is. You can wear whatever you want and nobody’s going to stare at you.
Another thing that I found shocking was going out fashion, because I’ve never seen anything like that. I’ve never seen girls put so much effort in and wear such tiny clothes. It’s fine to wear tiny clothes, I have nothing against them, it’s just that it shocked me at first because I’ve never seen anything like that before. Just so much makeup and so much effort and tiny, tiny dresses in the middle of winter when I would have been freezing. I found that quite shocking, to be honest.
Renny, 24, USA: ‘I can’t say I’ve seen a fashion sense that is truly British’
For context, I work in fashion PR and before I worked in PR, I worked in retail. One thing that I feel like I’ve picked up in the time in the fashion space is that a lot of people pull their inspiration from other places. I can’t say I’ve seen a fashion sense that is truly British. All the people that I would consider fashion-forward aren’t really British, and if they are British, they’re pulling inspiration from the 70s, 80s, 90s, fashion lookbooks, people in the US, people in Milan, Scandi people.
Very rarely are British people like, quote unquote, “truly authentic” in their style. There isn’t a true essence of British fashion – you have the traditional Parisian, or the traditional “Scandi, but you don’t really have a traditional British fashion sense. In my opinion, anyway.
Ade, 24, US/Nigeria: ‘Black British people help drive British fashion and cultural trends’
So for me, when I think about British fashion, I think about immigrants and I think about just how much Black Brits have contributed to the culture. For me personally, it’s a source of inspiration, looking at people like [Black British designers] Mowalola, Feben, [fashion stylist] Julia Sarr-Jamois or Edward Enninful.
I think all these people in the fashion industry contribute a lot to British fashion, but even outside of the fashion industry, I do think that African immigrants and Black immigrants in your neighbourhoods are style inspirations. They help drive British fashion and cultural trends.
Pooja, 24, India: ‘No traditional wear’
India has a lot of traditional clothing, but I didn’t get to see that in the UK. Back home in India we do have traditional wear – for festivals or anything of that sort – but they don’t have it here.
One thing that also caught my eye was the layers of clothes you have to wear in the UK because of the weather. In Mumbai, it’s usually really humid, but in Leeds – where I am right now – it gets quite cold. For the first time I had to think about what kind of coat I wanted to get and see if my jumper was thick enough to protect me from minus two, minus three degrees.
Giulia, 26, Italy: ‘There’s a lack of dressing appropriately for the weather’
One thing that I found very funny when I used to live in Scotland was that the highest temperature there is probably like 15 degrees, and when it happens people just go crazy. They go out with their tops off and wear summer clothes even if the temperature doesn’t justify it. So I would go out when it was sunny, still wearing jeans and a sweater, and then you see all the Scottish people with their flip flops, tank tops, short skirts, like they are in Spain. I think there is just this lack of dressing appropriately for the weather, which I find very curious considering how the weather is on this island.
Andrea, 24, Italy: ‘Uniqueness and eccentricity are celebrated’
What I’ve always appreciated and admired about British fashion is the unabashed sense of individualism and how uniqueness and eccentricity are celebrated. That’s actually something that my mother remembers really picking up on when she first came to Britain in the 80s when you had all these movements, like punk and the New Romantics. I would say that tradition is something that has carried on to this day and is a real strong point of British culture.
On the negative side, however, I will say that I feel that fashion can be quite strongly coded in British culture, especially in the polarised political times in which we live. For instance, I’m someone who has always been highly inspired by continental fashion styles, so I like dressing up and I pay attention to what I wear. And sometimes that has been interpreted by people as me dressing like a Tory or I’ve even been assumed to be a Tory, when I am definitely left-wing in my politics. I feel that how I dress is no reflection of my political and social values.