· London Style Staples ·
If there’s one thing London’s got, it’s style. Let me rephrase that: it’s styles, plural. With such a long and diverse cultural history, it’s no wonder that you see people wearing pretty much anything walking the streets of London. Despite this, there are certain items that scream “London.” Items that have stood the test of time and instantly come to mind when you think of London style. Here are 7 key London classics to add to your wardrobe before heading across the pond.
Wellies (rain boots)
Spoiler alert: half of this list has to do with rain. Of course, we know London’s relationship with rain is unbreakable, so it never hurts to have a good pair of rain boots around (or Wellies as they call them here) even if they’re more useful for a day in the country than a day in the city.
Did you know that the iconic Hunter boots were actually invented by an American expat living in Scotland? While rain boots are fully British (invented by the Duke of Wellington in the early 1800s, hence the name), the American Henry Lee Norris established the rubber boot company that would become Hunter in 1856 while living in Scotland. Hunter boots played an important role in military uniform in both world wars, but today they’re more synonymous with muddy festivals than muddy trenches.
Ah, this perennial punk favorite. In 1960, the Griggs family’s boot company released a boot using an air-cushioned sole designed by the German Dr. Maertens and the classic boot appeared. Originally, this classic was solidly working class, but as the ‘60s progressed, musicians and underground London subcultures began wearing the boot, most famously Pete Townshend.
Dr Martens continued to be an essential piece of London underground style, and in the ‘90s their reach widened. “This [the ‘90s] was the first time that we really saw the Doc Marten go mainstream,” says Kate Lanphear, Style Director of Elle. “All the cool girls started wearing it, it was no longer like a guy thing.” After a brief lull in the late ‘90s and early ‘00s, we’ve seen a resurgence of the boot’s popularity, and today it’s definitely a staple in many Londoner’s closets.
This is one of those pieces that will never truly be out of style. Cold day? Throw on that old cashmere scarf with the plaid print and you’re good to go. Tartan, of course, comes from England’s northern neighbors in Scotland where the plaid patterns identified which clan you belonged to. In the 1700s, the British government outlawed the wearing of tartan in attempts to reign in the rebellious Scottish clans, but the ban eventually was lifted and tartan saw a renaissance in the 19th century.
Of course, the most recognizable plaid scarf comes from Burberry (more on them later). The Burberry scarf emerged from the popularity of the plaid lining of their classic trench coats in 1967. But you can still get a plaid scarf in endless different color combinations on the high street year after year.
The nomenclature of this classic is contentious, so for simplicity’s sake, we’ll set out a definition first. Brogue technically refers to the perforated decoration on a shoe, while oxfords are a style of low-heeled shoes with closed laces up the front. So oxfords can be brogues and brogues can be oxfords, but they’re not always interchangeable, which is what causes internet rants. According to Alex Newman and Zakee Shariff’s illustrated fashion dictionary, Fashion A-Z, the Oxford can have “decorative perforations, in which case it may be called an ‘Oxford brogue,’” so for our purposes, we’ll just call it the Oxford brogue.
While the Oxford has been worn by men since the 1640s, they became popular among women in the early to mid 20th century. Today it’s a smart alternative to flats and can be paired with almost anything.
A London necessity, the umbrella can be traced back three thousand years to China. It was brought to Europe in the 17th century and was widely used in England by the mid-1700s. During the Victorian era, umbrellas were referred to as “gamps” after Sarah Gamp, a character from Charles Dickens’ Martin Chuzzlewit who always carried an umbrella. You know you’re a London classic when you have an explicit connection to Dickens.
London has a store devoted entirely to umbrellas called James Smith & Son Umbrellas. It’s been around since 1830 and remains largely unaltered. If you find yourself in need of an umbrella while in London or if you want to step back in time into a Victorian umbrella store, plan in a stop at the store just a short walk away from Oxford Street.
Chelsea boots were invented long before they got their name. They were actually made for Queen Victoria in the 1830s by her bootmaker J. Sparkes-Hall. The boots were unique in that they had elastic sides rather than any fastenings, meaning that they could easily be slipped on and off. For a good 100 years, the boots were known as Paddock boots.
In the late fifties and early sixties, however, their popularity among a certain London population gave way to a rebranding. In what would be a key part of Swinging London, a group of young, stylish Londoners hung out on King’s Road in Chelsea. They became known as the Chelsea Set and their influence on 1960s fashion is undeniable: Mary Quant, inventor of the mini-skirt and influential sixties designer was a prominent member. The stylish Chelsea Set wore the boots often, and thus they were renamed ‘Chelsea boots’ as their look spread throughout London. Their popularity skyrocketed when The Beatles made them part of their signature look. This is another style classic that comes back around time and again, and you’ll never regret having a good pair in your arsenal.
What screams “London” more than a Burberry trench coat? Not much, I’d argue. The ultimate style staple, no London wardrobe is complete without a trench coat there to keep you both chic and dry. Of course, the trench coat was originally designed for military use with all aspects of the design pertaining to a specific military function. But even from the beginning, this was a unisex style. Author Amber Jane Butchart told the BBC, “Even during the war you got ads in the Illustrated London News for the Burberry trench coat being sold to men and women.”
Despite its utilitarian beginnings, actors wearing the trench coat in movies gave it its iconic status. Who can forget Holly Golightly searching for Cat in a trench coat or Humphrey Bogart delivering that iconic line in Casablanca in the same? With its wet climate its no wonder the ultimate London staple is the trench coat, and you can never go wrong with that plaid-lined Burberry classic.