The Real Difference Between American And British Fashion

Good afternoon, friends: Let’s play a word association game! I say “British style”, and you say… What?

Edgy, quirky, eclectic? Alright. Time for a little myth debunking. I like that game, too.

As Vanessa Friedman pointed out in a recent New York Times article, British style isn’t all *out there* and *extreme*, as the media—ever-ready with their metaphorical P-Touch labelling machine—would like to tell you. It’s magnetic, for sure. It’s often creative. But it’s far too easy to lump “British style” into a big, aching stereotype like, “British girls love to mix patterns and styles to create a quirky look,” or something to that effect. As if the UK is a floating rehoming centre for anyone with a penchant for tartan and florals. Groan. No thanks.

That said, there are differences in how British folks dress, compared to our American cousins. While there might be a handful of sartorial hotbeds in the U.S., for the most part, athleisure and comfy-cool is the go-to for American women. That, my friends, is a fact. On the other side of the pond, however, things are a little different: British women are raised on a different kind of aesthetic diet, full of stellar high-street stores and weather that’s typically mild enough to add a couple more layers in July. So, yes, you’re more likely to see a British girl mixing tartan with florals, but that’s compared to the milk-toast jeans-and-tank-top sensibility that prevails over here in the States.*

It’s not like we’re programmed differently; we just grow up in cultural environments that are subtly different enough to create patterns. Patterns which are then butchered in WikiHow articles that tell you all British girls are “edgy” and “quirky.” Patterns which then turn into bizarre myths like, “do you all dress like Kate Middleton?” (sadly, the answer is no). Instead, I want to tell you what’s what: here are the things that really make British style that little bit unique. Now get on the first plane to London, hit up Oxford Street, and cackle because you look so damn good.

“Cute” is not what we’re aiming for.

Let me lay this down for you: I hate—haaaate!—the word “cute,” when it’s being used to describe an (adult) outfit. “Cute” is not a word that I have ever heard my British friends used to describe themselves when they’re really feeling their look, and with good reason: There are lots of words that have ever-so-slightly different meanings in the UK, and to us, “cute” is reserved for bats eating grapes and Prince George. Even in the USA, though, “cute” has that endearing connotation, that slight “awww” factor. Cut it out, my friends. Don’t ask your friends if you look cute. Be sexy, be gorgeous, be beautiful, be badass. Never cute.

Topshop. Is. Everything.

A proud moment: This weekend, one of my beloved friends (and fellow LD darling!) told me how much she hated me for getting her hooked on that Topshop crack. To which I said, “yaaaasss!” Really, though, the UK is famous for its high street stores. And, if that’s news to you, then clearly it needs to be more famous. I cringe when I go into American malls and the most fashion-forward it gets is H&M. British girls are spoiled; we grow up with an abundance of easily accessible, on-trend stores as our fashion bread and butter. Topshop is the undisputed king, but it’s worth checking out others, too—and then feeling super-jelly that you didn’t grow up with these just a hop, skip and a jump outside your front door.


Romper, $45

Charity-shop-shopping is a beloved pasttime.

Now, I didn’t realize for a long time that charity shops aren’t “a thing” in America—which is bizarre, because on the other side of the pond they are everywhere, and also they’re just a really good idea. Think Goodwill, but for specific charities: Oxfam, Cancer Research UK, British Heart Foundation… the list goes on. It’s just an outlet selling second-hand goods—clothing, books, household items—where all the proceeds go to the charity. Even the people who work there are volunteers! I do find it shocking that the USA hasn’t cottoned onto this yet. A good cause, and a great place to find all sorts of vintage trinkets?! Everyone wins.



We’ve obviously invested in a rain jacket.

You Americans have North Face, we Brits have Barbour. It rains a lot in the UK, and I don’t think anyone could truly appreciate this fact until they’ve lived there for at least 365 days (because it’ll probably rain on 183 of them). So, yes, we all have a raincoat, and naturally—since we’re going to be wearing it enough—we want this necessary evil to be part of our ensemble.


Jacket, Barbour

We also all own a pair of wellies.

Wellies = Wellington boots = rain boots. We also own these due to our country’s perpetual “chance” of precipitation. Having said that, we do not wear rain boots as a fashion item, as I have bizarrely seen girls on American college campuses attempt to do from time to time. Wellies are for country walks, muddy puddles, and maybe getting from A to B when it’s raining and you’ve got a pair of normal adult shoes in your bag.


Boots, $150

*Please direct all hatemail to @ooohByrne on Twitter, please and thank you.


View Comments (2)
  • Charity shops are a bit more popular in the States than you might think. We call them thrift shops, and while some people own them as regular businesses (for profit), there are a lot of them that are charity shops- I manage one! I haven’t really noticed them much on the East Coast, but on the West Coast- especially the Pacific Northwest- they’re huge. Probably because “thrifting” is considered to be “totes hipster.” I don’t know. But we do have them and I love them. :)

    Also, fantastic article! I especially loved the bit about being called “cute,” because I get called adorable all the time and it’s like, “I’m wearing skin tight jeans and a leather jacket- not going for adorable, folks.”

  • Most secound hand shops in America are ran by community Churches (“angels loft”) or state rehabilitation (“not necessarily new”)which tries to fund itself mostly through charity…
    Then you have the privately owned secound hand antique treasures”(“Callies Treasures, Grandma’s attic” junk shop) secound hand “boutiques” (“the ladybug”) they usually do not advertise to donate to a charity……”
    Goodwill is a national chain so is salvation army…..
    I knew of one ran by a couple of recovered alcoholics “Kans for kids” they recycled aluminum and donated it to childrens charity, also ran a 2nd hand store by way of receiving surplus or damaged freight.

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