Long the home of counter-culture in the United Kingdom, Brighton has evolved from a storied history of creativity and rebellion. Since before the 18th century, when the Prince Regent built the Indian-inspired Royal Pavilion, Brighton fashion and street style has favoured the fun, the bold and the ever-so-slightly garish. Its reputation was cemented as early as 1850, when the pavilion itself was resold to the city by the royals as Queen Victoria labelled the local residents “indiscreet and troublesome”.
This nonconformist attitude continued into the 20th century, when stylish Brighton hangouts became a beacon for gay culture and a breeding ground for the restless music of the 60s. Today, the destination is home to numerous creative communities, and is the unofficial LGBT capital of the UK.
The distinctive Brighton style, its quirky architecture and its continual love affair with counter culture mean it’s unmatched by any other destination.
Brighton style is an eclectic mix that reflects the originality of its inhabitants. As the only constituency in the UK to have a Green Party MP, ecological issues and recycling are close to the city’s heart, which influences the lost-and-found nature of its street style.
Some residents opt for a London-influenced mix of understated staples combined with one-off pieces from Brighton’s many vintage boutiques. Others choose to live almost in costume, running daily errands in full 40s dress or flapper-inspired ensembles.
Brighton fashion and street style is consistently unpredictable and refreshing. While many think of the destination as ‘London by the sea’, its beachside location and low-key atmosphere mean it’s less in the grips of the capital’s biannual fashion week and its fads. Instead, Brighton is a place where individuality is prized over acquiescing to the latest trends – whether the individual’s look of choice is more casually undone in Comme des Garçons or overtly feminine in Dolce & Gabbana.
Home to an impressive concentration of independent shops, The Lanes serve as an introduction to Brighton’s past and present links to the fashion industry. Boutiques like Jump the Gun brim with Mod revival pieces, including replica Ben Sherman shirts. Ben Sherman launched its first collection in Brighton in 1963, which quickly became the uniform of the Mods. The Mod Weekender, where thousands converge on the city in buttoned-up polo shirts, riding pastel-hued Vespas, is held in the city annually.
North Laine is also ideal for scooping up authentic old-school finds. Nestled amongst the vegan cafes, traditional pubs and high-end restaurants are some of the best Brighton shops. Vintage items from fashion houses as diverse as Tommy Hilfiger and Missoni can be unearthed in the stores here. Don’t miss Wolf & Gypsy Vintage, where you can discover a stringently edited collection of one-off pieces from designers like Emilio Pucci.
Flanked by handsome Regency houses – one of which is owned by Adele – and featuring the instantly recognisable 19th-century pier, the renowned pebble beach makes a picturesque backdrop for spotting some Brighton fashion and street style. During summer, this is a premier sunbathing spot for residents and tourists alike. In terms of clothing, anything goes – this is Brighton, after all – but you could nod to the destination's Victorian connection with the corset-detailed beachwear from Fleur du Mal.
If the thought of swimming in British open water invokes an involuntary shudder, consider instead a dip at Saltdean Lido, which has been lovingly restored to its Art Deco glory.
The centrepiece of the cultural quarter, meanwhile, is the state-of-the-art Jubilee Library. Amongst stylish Brighton hangouts, it’s one of the few truly modern examples of architecture in the area. It also marks the city as one steeped in literary tradition – Victorian authors Lewis Carroll and Charles Dickens both stayed in beachfront properties here during their writing careers.
Brighton has had a recorded gay community since the 19th century, and is home to one of the largest Pride events in the country. Attracting around 160,000 people every year, the parade is supported by the thriving local LGBT venues, charities and publishers. To sample the best stylish Brighton hangouts for the community, head to St James’ Street in Kemptown.
With its open-arms atmosphere, it’s no surprise that Brighton served as the setting for 2005’s cult coming-out drama Sugar Rush. The heady atmosphere of the teen lesbian series captured the city’s giddy nightlife and vibrant alternative attitude. It also introduced viewers to some of the most stylish Brighton hangouts, such as the aforementioned North Laine.
With the likes of rock and dance icons Nick Cave and Norman Cook as residents, Brighton has earned its musical stripes more than once. It continues to engender a thriving underground gig scene with venues such as Green Door Store, a clandestine establishment hidden under the railway arches, which hosts trailblazing local bands and holds themed nights ranging from soul and funk to African music. The Hope & Ruin, meanwhile, books an eclectic mix of artists to play in its 150-capacity space, located above a bar where rundown washing machines act as tables.
Whether catching a show, lounging on the peaceful seafront or shopping in Brighton, the fashion-forward city is a clear leading choice for a stylish British staycation.