Quintessentially British Fashion: The Classics

Quintessentially British Fashion: The Classics
Reading time: 6 min

Paul Smith. Vivian Westwood. Alexander McQueen. Britain has its fair share of fashion luminaries. Yet British style is often under appreciated. We hear of Italian style and French chic, but Britain has had a huge influence on the world of fashion.

To celebrate the endless contributions Britain has made to fashion over the decades, presents a four-part series on quintessentially British fashion. And how else could we start such a sequence, but with the essential British classics?

The Mackintosh Jacket

No self-respecting list of classic British fashion pieces would be complete without mention of something designed to combat the country's infamously rainy weather. First sold in 1824, the Mackintosh jacket is a waterproof raincoat made out of rubberized fabric. While its popularity waned during the 21st Century, it was revived and reinvented in the 1990s when the Macktintosh brand owner, Traditional Weatherwear, collaborated with iconic French fashion houses such as Gucci and Louis Vuitton to bring the look back into vogue. Since then, the Mack has become a luxury style staple, most recently appearing at Paris Fashion Week in Vetements' Spring/Summer 2017 ready-to-wear collection.

Man wearing Mackintosh jacket

Source: Doherty Evans & Stott

The Trench Coat

Every list of luxury basics includes the trench coat. How could it not? The trench can be cut for both men and women and is a rare combination of glamour and function. While every fashion line and house has produced their own incarnation of the classic coat, the traditional trench remains the best: Double-breasted, 10 front buttons, wide lapels, removal lining, and a belt at the waist.

As for our favorite make, do we even need to say? Famous British fashion brand Burberry's heritage trench coat is our idea of Trench perfection, and we know we're far from alone.

Woman wearing trench coat

Source: iStock

Wellington Boots

Wellington boots - or Wellies, as they're affectionately known to natives of the UK - have been a staple of hunting and outdoor wear for the British since the 19th century. Originally popularized by Arthur Wellesley, First Duke of Wellington, they can now be found in the footwear collections of fashion savants across the world, with Hunter Boots being the top pick of the upper class.

Wellington boots by door

Source: iStock

The Three-Piece Suit

A finely tailored three-piece suit is one of the most versatile and important items in any gentleman's closet. The addition of a vest to the classic two-piece suit adds to the utility and style of this classic staple adds some extra warmth as well as a touch of formality, while leaving it out is perfect for spring and summer, or for more low-key events. Whatever the combination, it is sure to make a statement.

Man wearing three-piece suit

Source: iStock


Originating from the Scottish traditional dress, tartan has long been adopted and adored by haute couture houses worldwide, and has become an essential part of many luxury fashion collections. The print can be found on everything from cashmere scarves to jackets and leather bags, and is most famously used by Burberry - as well as contributing to the work of more contemporary designers such as Alexander McQueen.

Woman wearing tartan patterned dress

Source: iStock

The Bowler Hat

Invented in 1849, the bowler hat was originally worn by British workers before gaining popularity among the middle and upper class. Traditionally made of felt and with a rounded crown, it is both durable and fashionable (as much of classic British fashion is), and is still worn by modern-day dandies in the United States and United Kingdom.

Man wearing bowler hat

Source: iStock


Oxfords are a smart shoe to suit any occasion and a must-have in any male wardrobe. The sturdy footwear is characterized by shoelace eyelet tabs, otherwise known as closed lacing. The material with which Oxfords are made is dependent on the style and function, but the most common are suede, calf leather, and patent leather in luxurious shades of black and brown.

High angle view of Oxford shoes

Source: iStock


Brogues are a somewhat more stylish variation on Oxfords, easily identifiable by their multiple-piece leather uppers and decorative perforations. Just like Oxfords, they were originally made as a low-heeled men's shoe, but have since become an increasingly popular style in women's footwear, though their version is typically high-heeled to give it a feminine touch.

Close-up of brogues shoes

Source: iStock

The Pea Coat

With its short length, sumptuous lining, heavy wool fabric, double-breasted front, broad lapels, large buttons, and vertical pockets, the pea coat is a winter classic that looks smashing on both men and women alike. Though originally made by the Dutch, the popularity of this overcoat is credited entirely to the British navy. From these functional beginnings, it has become a darling of haute couture, and is a constant presence on Fall/Winter runways. Designers frequently play with the original British design by adding accents such as hoods and embroidered embellishments, but we personally think you can't top the perfection of the original.

Woman wearing pea coat

Source: iStock


Any woman's wardrobe would be incomplete without an assortment of finely-made tights and thigh-high stockings. It should come as no surprise, then, that the the modern version of this obligatory undergarment was a British invention. In addition to its functionality, hosiery also adds a touch of class and femininity to any outfit - and investing in the very best (courtesy of the likes of Wolford and Agent Provocateur) is thoroughly worthwhile.

Studio shot of woman in black dress and tights

Source: iStock

The Miniskirt

It's common knowledge that "Swinging London" caused a fashion revolution in the 1960s, with the United Kingdom's most daring and enduring contribution being the miniskirt. While the origin of the above-the-knee skirt is dubious, Welsh designer Mary Quant is most frequently lauded as its creator. Moreover, the groovy style was adopted and further popularized by British fashion icons such as Twiggy, Jean Shrimpton, and Jane Birkin. Once a symbol of youthful protest, it is now a closet staple, with a button-down version recently making waves on the runways.

Studio shot of woman in mini skirt

Source: iStock

Chelsea Boots

Named the affluent London borough, Chelsea boots are yet another of Britain's fabulous contributions to footwear. The close-fitting, ankle-high boots are universally flattering, and their elastic side panel and loop make for easy wear. For decades now both Chelsea boots and their famous sixties counterpart, Beatles boots (named after the band and characterized by Cuban heels and pointed toes), have been mainstays in luxury shoe stores across the globe.

Woman wearing Chelsea boots

Source: iStock

Closing Remarks

Every style-savvy individual knows that while trends come and go, it's the well-made classics that provide the foundation of any luxury wardrobe. Britain has met this need for centuries, producing clothing that is simultaneously functional, utilitarian, and chic.

That said, basics are not the only thing that the United Kingdom has contributed to our closets. To find out more about the iconic, daring, and memorable styles that Britain has bestowed upon the fashion world, watch out for our next articles in this series.

In the meantime, we turn to you, our dear readers: What is your favorite fashion item of British origin? Are there any other pieces or styles that you think should be included in our list of iconic British fashion designs?