Walpole Editorial | British Style: Does it Exist? by David Evans of Grey Fox Blog
A few years ago I was talking to an Italian tailor in London and I expressed my admiration for Italian style, with its comfortable unstructured shapes and sprezzatura cool. To my amazement he told me, in all seriousness, that Italian men were actually trying to look like British men.
Sadly I was too surprised to question him further about what he saw as British style. It’s a question I’ve pondered over the years since embarking on Grey Fox Blog in which I record my own search for personal style.
The word ‘style’ is interesting. We all have ‘a’ style, which can vary from truly dapper to complete wreck with no interest in our appearance. However, when we remove the indefinite article, ‘style’ becomes a badge of quality of appearance. If we say that someone ‘has style’ we mean that s/he dresses, acts and moves in a way that exudes… well, something that’s hard to define but that we all recognise.
So is there a British style? What was it that the Italian tailor recognised in the way that we dress?
I started my blog with no background in menswear or fashion, but a creative and artistic background, acquired from parents who collected art and antiques, seems to have given me an instinctive ability to recognise what is stylish – attractive in form, function and design. From an early age I breathed in British heritage, manufacturing and design through their interest in art, antiques and a love for industrial archaeology. From the breathtaking architecture of Inigo Jones, to the exquisite mechanical designs of the industrial revolution, from the messiness of high Victoriana to the starkness of modern brutalism, the UK has been a melting pot of ideas that have influenced every area of design, from art, engineering to fashion – and these factors are at the heart of British style.
This eclectic nature has given our sense of style a self-confident and relaxed nature that expresses itself, in menswear for example, in the tweedy country gent with his check shirt, regimental tie and highly polished brogues. His look has been carefully put together, but it looks that way because his father dressed like that and he had to polish his shoes when in the Army. He may be proud of his appearance but doesn’t want to show it (because that’s vain and a bit flash) so his suit may be old and unpressed and his shirt ragged at the collar; but both are of the highest quality and will last for many more years.
This man’s style flows from the inherited nature of his dress and from his complete lack of self-consciousness. Maybe that’s the look that the Italian tailor had in mind and it’s certainly one that’s emulated now around the world.
That historically-developed British style can be found in other areas. The original Land Rover wasn’t the product of a design department, it flowed from the need to create a go-anywhere car from the materials available after a World War. A long history of mechanical excellence and a desire to make for function rather than form. produced a car that may not have the sexiness of a Ferrari Dino but is, in my eyes, more attractive because it’s honest and unflashy and, above all, it has character.
Look around the high street for well-dressed men, or look in The Rake or any fashion magazine or blog and you will find the part played by heritage in forming the character of British style. Here bespoke tailoring was born, Britain was first to mechanise the spinning and weaving of cotton and the quality and integrity of our manufacturing and an openness to ideas from elsewhere lie at the heart of the passion for creativity, among both brands and consumers, which has kept British style, and its recognisable character, so sought after round the world.