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Best of British: Style Landmarks

by Hollie Moat
Brtiain has had a rich and varied style history, and as we celebrate Queen Elizabeth's Diamond Jubilee we thought we'd take a look back over some of the nation's sartorial highs...

The Mini Skirt

A group of girls enjoying the mini-skirt in the Sixties

Whether or not you can truly call the mini skirt a British invention or not is debatable. But of the designers who claimed to have first come up with it, English born Mary Quant was by far the most prominent (and though it didn’t take off until the mid-Sixties, she started experimenting with a shorter skirt length in the late Fifties after setting up her shop on the Kings Road) and certainly, it really took off in the British capital where ‘Swinging London’ was in full effect. The mini skirt came to be one of the decade’s defining features, signifying youth, rebellion, freedom and fun.

James Bond

Sean Connery as James Bond

Writer Ian Fleming created the suave spy in 1953, but 007 didn’t become an sartorial role model to men the world over until 1962, when the franchise’s first film Dr No was released, with the handsome Scottish actor Sean Connery playing Bond. With his sophisticated taste in drinks, flawless gun skills and unmitigated success with women, the secret agent was an immediate hit, but would he really have made quite such a splash if he hadn’t done it all looking immaculate in a series of sharp, tailored suits?

The Nineties Waif

Kate Moss shot by Corinne Day in The Face July 1990

In 1990, the late photographer and Corinne Day went down to Camber Sands to shoot the young Kate Moss for the cover of now defunct style magazine The Face. The pictures of Moss wearing a feathered head-dress became world famous and resulted in British Vogue commissioning ex-model Day to photograph Moss again for their publication. This shoot, which showed the Croydon born Moss, fresh faced and wide-eyed, in her underwear lounging around her London flat were even more striking and visually arresting, and would go on to define the decade’s aesthetic. Even though the look eventually developed into what was unflatteringly dubbed ‘heroin chic’, these early pictures were significant for the way they challenged the idea of beauty, showing Moss as ethereal and waifish, but also modern, urban even.

The Mods

The cast of Quadrophenia (1979)

Mod wasn’t a way of dressing, but a way of living – one of the late Sixties’ most significant subcultures, young people who liked to ride scooters, listen to British beat music, riot and stay up all night dancing whilst high on amphetamines. As anyone who has ever seen seminal English film Quadrophenia knows, they were also pretty well dressed – mods were meticulous about their beautifully cut suits, Chelsea boots and oversized Parkas.

Cecil Beaton

Cecil Beaton's shot of dresses by the designer Charles James in 1948

In his various forms, Beaton was a huge influence on British style in the first half of the 20th century. As a photographer for the likes of Vogue, he immortalised the pinnacle of glamorous society fashion, capturing silk gowns and tea dresses at their most alluring angle. As a costume designers, he created the iconic black and white racecourse attire in My Fair Lady (as well as costumes for the rest of the film), and as a dandy and diarist he led by example, always immaculate in a full suit with unusual details and the most luxurious of accessories.


The Sex Pistols

Punk was a progressive movement that rejected materialism, loathed capitalism and was generally anti-establishment, but like it or not were significantly connected to style. Granted, it was one that took inspiration from taboo things like bondage and S&M, with punk attire featuring safety pins, leather and razor blades, as well as tartan and heavily ripped fabric. The patron saints of this sub-culture were British group The Sex Pistols, who always looked artfully dishevelled and were kitted out by Vivienne Westwood, who would, ironically, go on to become one of England’s most treasured fashion designers.

The Trench Coat

Burberry Prorsum A/W 12

Two British heritage labels share credit for this iconic garment – Burberry and Aquascutum both lay claim to its origin. After being created by both in the 19th century, the garment takes its name from World War I, when officers wore it in the trenches because of its hard-wearing design and waterproof fabric. It was later adopted by Hollywood stars like Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall, which saw its style stakes rise, and the cut and silhouette was adapted to reflect its new sartorial status. It was a smart move – the trench is now an all-time fashion classic, revisited season after season.

The Beatles

The Beatles

Liverpool band The Beatles didn’t just change music with early hits like She Loves You and I Want To Hold Your Hand, they also changed fashion. Protagonists of the mid-Sixties ‘youthquake’, the popularised the ‘mop top’ haircut, which was first cut for them by former member Stuart Sutcliffe’s German girlfriend during their 1962 Hamburg residence. Another key component of their image was the suit, narrow-fitting and sometimes collarless with a high-necked shirt, it was a thoroughly modern way of dressing at the time and showed off their slim, youthful physique. That, plus their innovative pop songs led to the cultural phenomenon that was Beatlemania.

Ossie Clark

Mr and Mrs Clark and Percy by David Hockey

One of the most celebrated designers of the Seventies, Clark made dreamy hippy-esque dresses alongside striking tailored pieces and was routinely described by peers and critics as a master of design and ‘the king of Kings Road’, his work is a constant reference for modern labels. Clark often collaborated on collections with his wife, Celia Birtwell, a textile designer famous for her prints, and the two of them appear together with their cat in a well-known painting by English artist David Hockney named Mr and Mrs Clark and Percy, which now hangs in the Tate Britain.

The Royals

Prince William and The Duchess of Cambridge (nee Kate Middleton) on their wedding day

Or more specifically, their wedding dresses. If the world’s enthusiasm for Princess Diana’s David and Elizabeth Emanuel meringue was misguided (blinded by their love for the bride), even the sternest fashion critic couldn’t fault the Alexander McQueen creation that the Kate Middleton wore to walk down the aisle with Prince William. Tasteful, elegant and timeless and designed by Sarah Burton, who had taken over from the late and daring McQueen at the helm of his label, it was the ultimate British fashion choice, and sealed Middleton’s influence as one of the country’s greatest sartorial exports, which in turn boosted the industry by millions of pounds.
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