13.9. Discussion Points.
How do you think a typical Englishman dresses? Describe first the clothes that they wear. Then think of adjectives that you could use to describe their appearance. Now do the same for other nationalities. What about your own country? Who is the most stylish nation in Europe? Justify your answers. Who are the worst dressers in Europe? Explain. What are the stereotypical ways of dressing for different social classes in your country?
The stereotypical view of the British dress sense is that it is casual, scruffy, rebellious, carefree and even... dirty. That is the problem with cultural stereotypes, they are always completely and totally ....right! The intelligent student will comment that in many countries the objective of dress is to look smart, elegant, and stylish. The even smarter student will realise that the objective is to look more attractive, and richer that your neighbour.... if you are from a poorer country. A look into a Las Vegas casino or a luxury trip on the Orient Express will show that the nationalities with too much money dress appallingly. The guys in the posh-looking suits at the local nightclubs are probably dirt-poor. This is very important to remember in England; judging people on dress alone is complicated.
There are several other factors that you will need to take into consideration when you go clothes shopping in England. The first is retro. This means understanding not only what is fashionable, but also what has gone out of fashion, and then come back in again. That young Japanese student that you see dressed in clothes from the 1960s is actually wearing the same outfit as that homeless tramp. Who is the fashionable one? Is ‘retro’ really just a way of wearing your old clothes and calling them fashionable? Who knows? Then, there is the idea of kitch, which could be described as ‘irony in dress sense’. That group of girls dressed in those awful 1970s disco clothes realise that they look ridiculous. But that is their intention.
You can wear anything in England; put a bunch of bananas on your head if you want; but wear it with panache, vogue, chic… or any of those French words.
Do you follow fashion? Is fashion important? What is the difference between a follower of fashion and a fashion victim? Have you ever had a period in which you broke the rules, and went against the current of fashion?
If you wear whatever is on sale in the ‘trendy’ (fashionable) clothes shops and advertised in the up-to-date magazines, then you can probably conclude that you are a ‘fashion victim’ (a humorous way of describing someone who wears all the latest gear). A follower of fashion is really the same thing. Don’t worry, there are plenty of those in Britain too. ‘Breaking the rules’ doesn’t mean taking off your suit at the weekends, and putting on a black Metallica t-shirt and a pair of jeans with a hole in the knee. It doesn’t mean going to your job in the bank with an earring. Oh, you rebel! If you want to break the rules, go to the local church meeting dressed as a gay sailor. Go to an anti-globalization demonstration dressed in a respectable three-piece suit, with a briefcase and a copy of the Financial Times under your arm. Go to the local motorbike rally dressed as Osama bin Laden, and tell the bikers that their leather jackets are just another uniform.
If you are young, and are going to England away from home for the first time, then you are probably about to go through your ‘rebellious’ months. You will arrive in Britain, and see all these crazy looking people, and realise that you look like a typical dumb tourist in your clean blue jeans and bright yellow jacket. Do not under any circumstances go to Carnaby Street, Kensington Market or Camden town and buy blue spray-in hair colour. That doesn’t make you stylish/fashionable/cool/trendy. It will just make you look like a typical dumb tourist in clean blue jeans, bright yellow jacket... with blue dye in his hair. Ten billion foreign students have done the same before you. The fact is, that if you don’t know what being ‘cool’ and stylish are already, you are not going to learn it after a week in London.... and if you are from Belgium, you are not going to learn it at all.
What were the best and worst decades for fashion during the last fifty years? The 1950s and the 1960s were definitely interesting from the point of view of fashion for the sheer diversity of fashions. The 1970s are generally considered as the ‘decade that style forgot’, but at least the hippy, glam, and punk movements were fun. But then there was the 1980s. Oh dear! What happened there? That was stylistically a truly appalling decade. Don Johnon suits, Princess Diana hair, and little or no interesting music (or drugs). The post-modernist I990s at least let us wear whatever we wanted, and besides, after a couple of ‘ecstasy’ tablets, the world looked beautiful again. (Editor’s note: The author of this piece is a balding, ugly, fat, middle-aged ex-disco gaylord who never washes, and likes to dress up as the ‘policeman’ from New York disco band ‘The Village People’. Hardly the archetypal style-guru!)