In honor of the London Olympics, I’m devoting the next two weeks to my favorite endurance sport–shopping. If you think I’m kidding about the endurance, you should come with me when I shop. I stop for bathroom breaks only and carry water and snacks with me for the six to eight hour day. Of course when I’m traveling, the shopping is mixed in with sightseeing, so the days are actually even longer.
I’ll be showcasing the British brands I love, thanks in part to the Middleton sisters. Before they came on the scene at the royal wedding, I really only knew the British designer brands–Alexander McQueen, Burberry, Stella McCartney. High street brands, as non-designer brands are called in the UK, were a complete mystery. Now thanks to some rabid paparazzi and some even more rabid fans, who scour the internet to find every article of clothing worn by either Kate or Pippa, I have a good knowledge of and appreciation for brands like LK Bennett, Hobbs, and French Connection.
This is kind of going to be a walk through the Middleton sisters’ closets but oh well. I’ve enjoyed seeing what Kate and Pippa are wearing. Dresses, blazers, knee length skirts, matching handbags, it’s all very ladylike, some a little too proper for me but overall more my style than the short shorts and flip flops I see in L.A. on a daily basis. At times I feel like a groupie, but I’m always happy to discover new fashion brands that I love, which is basically Kate Middleton’s job now that she’s a member of the royal family–to promote all things British. She’s doing a great job because I’ve fallen in love with a lot of the clothes and brands that she’s worn, which I’ll be writing about here.
If you want to follow their fashions, here are the sites devoted to their fashion choices:
Kate: What Kate Wore (the best one), Kate Middleton Style, Duchess of Cambridge Style
Pippa: Pippa Middleton
Now on to the actual fashion.
The first thing that comes to mind when British fashion is discussed is tailoring. The Brits have been known for their exquisite tailoring for centuries. Saville Row was famous for men’s suits long before Bianca Jagger started having the men’s designers make pantsuits for her in the 70s. Bespoke, or custom-made, has a long tradition in the UK and it’s still alive and well.
Katherine Hooker has some ready-to-wear clothes, but most of her business is bespoke. Though Kate Middleton has been seen in a number of the designers pieces, Hooker has been around for many years. Princess Diana was often seen in her coats and jackets. There are some dresses in her collection to go with the long jackets for a traditional wedding outfit, but mostly it’s tweed jackets and coats.
Emilia Wickstead has become a favorite of Kate Middleton’s, though I have to say I like Katherine Hooker’s pieces better. Wickstead’s dresses and coats seem a bit looser and not as fitted, which I tend to steer away from in tailored pieces. She is branching out from bespoke. The pictures below are via style.com from her first ready-to-wear show for Fall 2012.
A word about buying British brands in the United States. Obviously, the designer clothes can be found in most of the American department stores–Neiman Marcus, Saks Fifth Avenue, Bergdorf Goodman, Barneys New York and Nordstrom and online at Net-a-Porter. For other brands, when available, I’ve linked to the company’s US website, which means you are paying in US dollars and not paying for international shipping. Asos is a British internet site that now has a US version; they carry mostly British brands.
If you want to see the full collections or sometimes just different clothes in their collections, you need to transfer over to the British version of the company’s website. Sometimes they edit the collection down for the American audience, especially if they think the item isn’t part of American life. The classic dress and matching jacket to wear with a hat for the traditional morning wedding doesn’t have as big a market in the US as it does in England.
Keep in mind that British clothes are designed for British weather, especially if the company doesn’t have much of an international presence. Look at what fabric the garment is made of. British weather can be cold and rainy year-round, as I found out when I was in London this past June. The gorgeous Emilia Wickstead pink dress Kate Middleton wore to the Queen’s garden party in June was made of wool. Ditto for the red Alexander McQueen she donned for the Jubilee River Pageant. A wool long sleeve dress in June in Los Angeles? Not going to happen. It’s hard enough to wear that in the winter when it’s 70 degrees most days.
House of Fraser and John Lewis are British department stores similar to Macy’s and Bloomingdales. They have a great selection of brands, in addition to the ones I’m featuring here. If you’re going to be in London, you can order everything you want to try on from their website and have it delivered to one of their stores in London. That way you can return anything you don’t want right in the store. If you have it sent to a UK address (like your hotel), you have to return it by mail. I know, go figure. Plus, a lot of the selection online is not available in the stores, so just order it and pick it up in store. Both of them have stores on Oxford Street, so you’ll be walking by them to go sightseeing anyway.
Most companies offer US delivery, though it can be pretty high and you really need to know your size. (In general go up two sizes for British sizes. If you’re a 6 US, you’re a 10 UK). House of Fraser’s US shipping is awesome; it’s only $10 and it’s faster than when you order from a lot of US websites. I just ordered something from them and got it in two days. I do recommend getting a Capital One Venture credit card, as they don’t charge foreign transaction fees, which can be really high. Capital One is what I used the whole time I was in Paris and their exchange rate is awesome. Now if only I could be their spokesperson and have them to sponsor my travels.