I’ve spent a lot of time trying to unravel this one. I’m just perplexed by the fact (yes, I believe it to be fact) that the British have such better taste in consumer goods (and especially apparel) than Americans. Wild generalization, but my powers of observation suggest to me that this is actually true. For some reason that seems counterintuitive to me. Every stereotype I know about British Culture would suggest to me that they would have horrible taste in consumer goods. Clearly I know the wrong stereotypes. I think it comes of growing up in Massachusetts. New Englanders are such misers, so conservative and lacking in taste when it comes to frivolities, and there’s a tendency to ascribe that to our Puritan roots, our Yankee heritage. You name it. But I’ve always understood the failings of New Englanders to be the fault of the original Englanders. I guess we have to stop passing the buck.
Certainly there is a conservative strain in British society, but even that strain has an odd element of whimsy to it. Just think of the array of hats at the royal wedding. We all made fun of Princess Beatrice and Princess Eugenie. God only knows I sure did. The hats are absurd. But upon reflection, I’m finding I kind of have to admire their boldness. Maybe they took the hats seriously, but I’m going to give them the benefit of the doubt and assume they were having “a bit of fun” with those hats. They are definitely ridiculous hats. They are also fun(ny), and when it comes to fashion, in my book fun trumps boring any day.
That is not to deny that there’s the whole queen in the matching-suit-from-head-to-toe thing going on, or that the British know the proper attire for a hunting party. But there are two other major strains in British style that seem to have gotten lost en route to the shores of Plymouth. First, there’s the whole crazy aunt-who-looks-like-a-thrift-store-gone-awry-with-bad-teeth-and-even-worse-oddly-dyed-hair phenomenon which, while it generally demonstrates a remarkable lack of taste, also has tremendous charm, warmth and humor to it.
Then there is a whole culture of rebellion which is often at the cutting edge of fashion and has a wonderful way with clothes. I can’t help but notice that, in part, the British stores are so alluring because the trend of the day even in America seems to be based on the High Street. But Zara, H&M, Target, Mango — even though none of those is a British chain, what they are serving is ultimately a High Street kind of aesthetic. It’s no wonder the British stores are looking appealing in this context. Quirky whimsical dressing, as opposed to restrained elegant fashion, is all the rage right now. But if you think back to the 1960s and mod fashion, some of the English at least have been getting it right for a while now.
Given this, what I can’t figure out is why the great High Street chains — Topshop, Asos, Miss Selfridge, Debenhams, John Lewis — haven’t established themselves across the pond yet. One caveat, yes, Allsaints has put down real roots in the States and I am a very happy shopper as a result. You can in fact shop many of the other stores online, but trust me, the shopping is an ordeal (Topshop pretty much has it down, but in order to buy something from John Lewis you have to contact their Oxford Street store and make shipping arrangements). Until then, I will look longingly at their online shops and think about how wonderful it would be to live in London, if just for the shopping. Which, as an anything-but-conservative New Englander still strikes me as extremely odd.
Topshop Fall 2011 dresses and skirts
And for home goods, John Lewis is phenomenal. Check out this selection of pillows! I would order at least 5 for our living room couch if they didn’t make it so hard to order from the U.S. (and the shipping is outrageous). I’m thinking if we all barrage them with emails at some point they’ll have to set up a U.S. website at the very least. Right?