The Brit Girl

· Why We Can’t Get Enough of British Style ·

alexa chung
Via Elle UK

Alexa Chung, Cara Delevingne, Kate Moss, Suki Waterhouse, Emma Watson: our favorite fashion darlings, all hailing from across the pond. But while they may be London natives, their influence doesn’t stop at the Atlantic. For years now, London It Girls have enamoured and inspired American girls, causing many girls across America to aspire to the “Brit Girl” style.

The Brit Girl is bold and a bit irreverent. She is a little bit feminine but with an edge, too. To the American eye, there is an elegance but she’s also bold. She’s not afraid to mix couture with high street or mix in some vintage. Her style is enviable yet accessible. It’s an every girl style and Americans find it irresistible. There’s something about their attitude, authority, and accent that we can’t help but admire and try to emulate. They’re European, but somehow they’re a little more like us than the rest of Europe. They are just that much different from us to be interesting, yet similar enough that we can still identify with them. Americans often have a reputation of being either sloppy or over-done up, and the Brit Girl is the antidote.

Take for instance Alexa Chung. A model turned style icon (she’s in part to thank for the rise of Hunter boots’ popularity), Alexa is the ultimate Brit Girl. She has a girl next door look, albeit with a very British angle. In a recent interview with Elle UK, she explained her aversion to skin tight, sexy clothing. “I feel uncomfortable in anything tight or body con,” she says. Instead, she opts for overalls and flats, comfortable clothing just about anyone can pull off.

The American ideal of beauty is often so intertwined with being sexy that American girls find this approach to style refreshing. Her tousled waves and casual style is one we can emulate, but also has a polish Americans expect from European style. Even still, Alexa continues to mix high street into her closet. “If I’m getting something for myself it might be from Zara, mixed with something from Liberty,” she said in the same interview. “I still feel uncomfortable spending vast amounts of money on clothes.” This accessibility is key to American girls’ ability to copy British style. Megan McDermott, a graduate student at London School of Economics from Tucson, identifies this aspect of British style as its key feature: “It’s accessible European.”

Zella Watson, founder and publisher of blog Anglophiles United, explains that to the American eye, British style is more natural. “We can identify a British ‘It Girl’ standing in a red-carpet crowd of American celebrities because of her regal self-confidence and understated, natural looks,” she says. “American celebrities simply try too hard. Their hair is too bleached. Teeth, too perfect. Faces, too made-up. They show too much skin.” In comparison, Brit Girls, like Alexa, Cara, and Emma, show a “devil may care” attitude to dressing and grooming, resulting in an attainable, natural, confident look that American girls can’t help but be drawn to. “The British It Girl, even with her slightly tousled hair, little makeup, and more modest clothing, invariably outshines all others in the room because of her authenticity,” says Zella.

This authenticity comes not only from her style, though. Emma Watson, an American fashion favorite, has used the attention she receives from what she wears to make a difference. Because of her reputation as a Brit Girl, she reaches an audience other ambassadors wouldn’t be able to tap into in her role as UN Goodwill Ambassador. It’s clear that any official appearance she makes, she chooses her clothing carefully and wisely. But on the other hand, because of her popular feminist voice, she’s followed even more closely and her style is enviable as American girls want to be a little more like her.

The US and the UK have always shared culture back and forth, but in the sixties, the US really got the British bug. We all know of the incredible power of The Beatles and The Rolling Stones but the influence of British culture on Americans went beyond music. Swinging London defined the decade as Mary Quant’s mini-skirt took the world by storm and perhaps the first British It Girl emerged: Twiggy. Quant’s influence on fashion during the early years of the decade became known as the Chelsea Look (we might refer to the style as “mod”). London’s global power in the sixties can’t be denied: in 1966, Time magazine put Swinging London on its cover, solidifying Britain’s cultural hold on America.  Twiggy, Julie Christie, Jean Shrimpton, and Beatles girlfriend Pattie Boyd typified the London look for which American girls aspired, much like we look to Emma and Alexa today.

The popularity of British culture in the US had a renaissance in the ‘90s, with the rise of Brit Pop and Kate Moss as a remedy to grunge. “The model of the moment kept chic in slip dresses and fur chubbies, but it was her off-duty looks – jeans and a tee or a biker jacket with studded trousers – that gave La Moss her indefinable cool factor,” writes Moss’ minimalist chic contrasted with the era of grunge which made her standout. She had an effortless cool that we wanted to copy, just as Cara or Alexa’s quirky style distinguishes them from the rest today.

The dust settled again, but with the rise of social media, these British models with strong personalities were able to find their place in the hearts and closets of American girls. Their style looks thrown together, but in the most put-together way possible.  American girls see their casual style and think, I can wear something like that, too.

With the rise of high street stores in the US, more and more American girls are finding themselves with the ability to dress like Alexa and Cara Delevingne and other Brit Girls. Before stores like Topshop, Zara, and even H&M landed in the US, our “high street” choices were American Eagle, Abercrombie & Fitch, and the like. Americans crave the stylish affordability of European high street stores and now we can get Topshop from Nordstrom and order from ASOS online. We’re embracing British style, and with it, the darlings who epitomize it. As we emulate the confidence and natural way in which the Brit Girl puts together an outfit, we’re becoming more stylish and confident ourselves. To which we say, long live British style!


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