Track Suit City

When I first came to London 8 years ago, the street fashion excited me. Already the 80’s revival was making a quirky come-back, and the cyberdog candy-borg look was in full swing on the streets of Camden.

Now, London street fashion seems nowhere. Maybe I am just older and more jaded? Or perhaps we can blame it all on the demise of rave culture, or the banning of mushrooms as a harbinger of grim new times. Or blame sky-rocketing rents which drive out anyone who lives a life that allows them to express themselves. Who knows.

Just to make sure it wasn’t my own pessimism, I sought out some London Street Fashion blogs. First I found London Street Fashion, and it just confirmed my dismal conclusions. I understand how much work a project like this must be for the documenter, but that won’t stop me from being critical.

Most outfits featured on London Street Fashion are a combination of grey or brown or black or khaki. All oversized, ripped, drooping, hooded. Camo overload! Basically ugly as hell. The editors clearly have a bent against things femme or colorful. Depressingly, this does seem represent what a lot of people are wearing in London. I won’t use a screen capture because in the site’s words, “they don’t play.” But take a look at the grey-hoodie misery. From looking at this site alone, one might falsely assume that everyone dressed in London is under the age of 25 and thin. I’m assuming this is not an active site, because I believe the “Sloane Square Coming Soon” has been up for a year. The “neighborhood” format limits sightings to trendy, expensive neighborhoods and shopping districts, as if the site has also fallen prey to the post code snobbery so prevalent in the capital. I suppose they are going for a Fruits, Shibuya-style focus, but in London people don’t get dressed up to go shopping, so what’s the point?

However, I then found Style Scout, which reflects the London style I actually admire– the demure, the whimsical and subtly wacky. I recognized a shop girl from Carnaby Street featured there, in her signature pink lipstick and pearls.

And then I came across Savvy London and was rather gleeful. Clearly this (also American) blogger is excited by personal style, regardless of the subject’s age or body type. Risk is admired, and each entry carries a delightfully brief narrative.

But on the whole, London is not very inspiring, street-fashion-wise. I was more impressed with Glaswegian style– girls with Biba-black eyes and vintage tweeds, huge rhinestone brooches– men in fitted trousers and elaborate scarves. There are a few flashes of style I see on the street, mainly in the Sikh community here in Southhall– with the mixing of prints, textures and traditions. Or the art school girls mixing it up in Hackney, or a stray man on the tube wearing some Saville Row masterpiece– but on the whole people are stuck wearing the disposable crap from Primark, etc., and nobody’s trying anything new or different. Second hand shopping and even flea markets are, well, sorry-ass. In the words of Tricia Royal, it’s loathian thrifting here in London.

I’ve come to accept that most of London fashion is decidedly top down– Liberty’s anachronistic styling and new designers like Social Suicide Suits may get the blood going, but it’s out of reach of most Londoners. Let’s face it, by the time most of us have paid rent there’s little left for even modest indulgences, much less playful risks. On the whole, the city seems dispirited, and fashion is a barometer of this (One can trace the takeover of San Francisco by dot-commers, as well as the dot-bomb through street fashion, but I digress).

I am of course looking at it all from the bottom up. I live in W7, a nowheresville post code ghetto of immigrants and laborers, not trust fund art students and socialites. London’s working poor have a strong tradition of defiant style, but as I see it, the look on the street at present is nowhere.

Helsinki, with its playful absurdities, puts London to shame.

8 thoughts on “Track Suit City

  1. I read once that the reason we all dress so dull here is to do with our weather. Bright colours look out of place under grey skies. I think you need a trip to Bristol, where apart from all the skate kids and emo kids, you will find a handful of well dressed people. I suppose living in the same town as Becky and all the amazing outfits she puts together I forget the rest of the country is so dull!
    I like the savvy London blog the best- it seems very real and not too style/cool concious, which of course makes it the most stylish of the lot!

  2. i was both elated and disapointed when the facehunter moved from paris to london. i’ll miss seeing the french kids posing up a storm, but i’m happy that all the lovely ephemeral oddities will be not just recorded for posterity but available for me to see.
    i was hopin london would be a breeding ground for creative expression, but it’s more creative apathy. i blame it on the bland british food and stultification of perpetual inebriation.
    thanks for sharing the style scout. it makes me think maybe i was too harsh.

  3. I was also quite disappointed when I visited New York, everyone dressed so plainly. I expected to see some radical new subcultural styles but no, the fashion seemed very subdued and off the rack. I was only there for a short amount of time so it’s probably not a fair judgment. I’ve recently seen some youtube videos of arty New Yorkers who are reclaiming 90s fashion with a vengeance. To be honest though, I’m not ready for the 90s.

  4. Hey chimatli– I haven’t been to NYC lately, but I hear it’s gone the way of the chain store-mall- takeover like other cities. SF is the same–

    I went to Spitalfields Market with my friend Kate last weekend and there were some people mixing it up, but it was clearly a “weekend” thing– their hair and bodies were without any permanent alterations. Everyone’s given their soul to their day jobs!

    The 90’s– WHOA. I’m trying to get my head around that. Is it all like swing dancing outfits and minimalist dresses? Or maybe grunge flannel?

  5. Check the videos on my blog to see what I mean. It’s basically 90s rave and hip hop clothing–lots of baggy pants.
    What you’re describing wouldn’t be too bad but even in the 90s, the swing fashion took awhile to catch on (it’s still going strong in East LA!)
    I think the globalization of culture makes everything trendy in record time and homogenizes the whole process of individual expression. Add to that the proliferation of vintage clothiers who loot the thrift stores before the rest of us have time to score, and all I’m left with is shopping for clothes at Target!
    Oh wait, there was this strange trend with neighborhood girls here in Lincoln Heights putting rubber bands around the hems of their jeans and pushing up the bottoms to make them sort of baggy. Besides that, I haven’t seen anything else that’s made me take notice.

  6. I love the 40’s retro thing– I hated the weekend “swing” thing— like girls in dresses they bought at Ross to double as church-going duds. Now I’m splitting hairs, probably.

    There is no thrifting in London for even basic, non-vintage stuff– and the vintage here is hella expensive, like everything else. I hate to say it but I miss Target! Now I just save up a little money and buy something at TopShop once in a blue moon.

    Everything does become available so quickly– in terms of trends– sometimes it makes me sad to see something I like, like the kaffiya scarf, getting so much play.

    What freaks me out is you can go across Europe and everyone is wearing the SAME EXACT THING. All H&M’ed out. Creepy. Maybe to find real style you have to go someplace the chains haven’t hit yet.

    In shoreditch I saw some women rocking a weird combo of 80’s Pat Benatar mixed with Ziggy Stardust aesthetic, but yeah– that’s about it.

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