What to Wear Wherever You Are: City vs Countryside Dressing in the UK
By Sophie Wilson
Once upon a time the way rural-dwellers and metropolitan Brits dressed was worlds apart. Different clothes facilitated completely different lifestyles. While rural fashion was created for outdoor sports like hunting and horse riding, city style had been firmly rooted in bespoke tailoring since the 18th century when gentlemen started flocking to London’s Savile Row. It’s tricky to make the same over-generalisations between city and country style today but there are some norms that simply haven’t gone away.
That said, city style is hard to pin down. Anything goes on London’s streets, from the dapper to the daring. You only have to look at how the city sidewalks turn into kaleidoscopic runways during London Fashion Week. However, eye-catching looks and cutting-edge streetwear is against a backdrop of classic muted suits that make up the daily wardrobe choices for the majority of men who live and work in the city.
London’s is the home of bespoke tailoring and heritage menswear. Savile Row tailors make suits for the elite, from movie stars to royalty. Most Londoners may not wear Savile Row suits but that classic sensibility rubs off in the wardrobes of the masses. But there’s a thin line between classic and outdated. The centuries old adage “no brown in town” – referring to the supposed faux pas of wearing brown shoes in the city – reveals Britain’s obsession with social class and the role that clothing plays in its presentation. There’s a stark contrast between conservative sayings like this and the street style that’s the beating heart of one of the most fashionable cities in the world.
British cities are wonderfully diverse and boast a sublime fusion of styles. Cities outside of London tend to be more relaxed. There are local differences and stereotypes, most of which are based on how the city’s student population dress. You want preppy? Go to Oxford. Love getting dressed up for a night out? Head to Liverpool, Newcastle, or Nottingham.
If metropolitan style comes from aesthetic preferences then rural style is born out of practicality. Sturdy wax jackets and waterproof wellies protect against the elements. Tweed is another mainstay in the typical rural British wardrobe. Traditionally associated with aristocrats on hunting retreats, today you’re more likely to find these garments useful for outdoor activities like dog walking, gardening or going for a picnic. There’s always spike in the popularity of this style the world over when the royal family are photographed on a country retreat. It’s arguably even more influential than classic London tailoring, having influenced the preppy and Ivy League look across the US and Canada.
While formal headwear – top hats, bowlers etc – has fallen out of fashion in the city, hats can still be found in the country, particularly tweed flat caps. The flat cap has found its way into many a city wardrobe too, thanks to London hipsters and the popularity of TV series Peaky Blinders. It’s not uncommon to see tweed suits and flat caps inspired by 1920s and 40s fashion around the capital creating a melting pot of rural and metropolitan style.
The divide between city and country is no longer as defined as it once was. While the lifestyles do have their differences, style is fluid and most of the outdated rules are there to be broken. Classic British styles have permeated menswear in countries around the world. Times change, decades pass, but you always know what you’re getting with heritage menswear, whether you’re a country man at heart or a man about town.