British clothing culture is a central aspect of life in Britain. Fashion trends, weather, and social norms all shape the country’s modern clothing culture. And, if you are considering visiting or relocating to Britain, the British clothing culture is something you may wish to consider while packing your suitcase.
Overall, Britain’s clothing has a Western influence. It’s safe to say that you can expect lots of jeans and t-shirts. British clothing categories mainly fall into loungewear, casual, smart-casual, and formal wear. Loungewear is usually limited to indoors or popping to the shops on a low-maintenance day. In contrast, formal wear like a suit is suitable for events like the races and weddings.
British clothing culture can seem like an etiquette minefield. It’s quite an accurate stereotype that Britain heavily advocates etiquette and manners, especially with dining and clothing. Luckily for you, we have curated a helpful guide to British clothing culture.
While commonly linked to British clothing culture, tweed originates from 18th century Scotland.
In the Outer Hebrides, the concept behind tweed was simply a protection against the harsh elements. However, word (and fabric) soon spread. By the 19th century, tweed was the height of fashion in British society. Tweed jackets were particularly favored for the sporting upper class and often worn for riding, hunting, and shooting. Later still, tweed spread across the British class spectrum – becoming an essential farmer’s item of clothing.
Nowadays, tweed jackets are a versatile item within British clothing culture. The jackets are worn by men and women alike and can fit several different clothing categories. Many farmers still wear tweed, especially at agricultural shows such as The Great Yorkshire Show. Similarly, some horse riders and sport shooters still choose to don a tweed jacket.
However, the tweed jacket is also suitable for smart-casual events outside of sporting and agriculture. Whether on a night out, a fancy dinner, or even a wedding – tweed gets a large green tick for social acceptability.
Jeans are perhaps one of the most obvious items of clothing on our list. While some may choose to wear jeans as loungewear, that is a controversial category choice within British clothing culture. Typically, you will see jeans in the casual and smart-casual clothing categories when in Britain.
Like tweed, Britain adopted jeans from foreign soils. Jeans originated in the USA back in the 19th century. The design is credited to a tailor named Davis, who sought patency from his fabric supplier, Levi Strauss. Nowadays, Levi’s remains one of the largest company icons in the clothing industry.
By the mid-20th century, jeans had crossed the Atlantic and grown in popularity within British clothing culture. And, now when visiting Britain, you’ll see jeans in supermarkets, fancy bars, and even in the workplace.
Leggings are typically regarded as somewhat of a guilty pleasure and worn mostly by women. While somewhat of a versatile item within British clothing culture, you can primarily expect leggings to fall under loungewear. Leggings are also popular within the sporting and fitness industry, with a matching sports bra and leggings a popular gym outfit in Britain.
With that said, you can dress leggings up to fit the casual category. Pairing leggings with an oversized jumper and some trendy jewelry is a popular outfit look, especially in the Autumn months. Think of a takeaway coffee street style.
Funnily enough, while women now favor leggings, it was military men they were designed for in 14th century Scotland.
Trainers are undoubtedly an international love affair. And, in British clothing culture, the love for a good pair of trainers does not dissipate.
Fashion trends for trainers fluctuate regularly in Britain – which is good news if you want an excuse to shop for shoes regularly. At one point, you could hazard a guess that 90% of the female British population owned a pair of Adidas Superstars. Until, of course, everyone got fed up with matching and moved on to the next shoe obsession.
Fashion trends with trainers tend to hit fast and hard, so it’s a good idea to be aware of current trends if you are fashion conscious with footwear. Generally, Nike and Adidas are the go-to brands for trainers. Although, Converse, New Balance, Puma, Vans, and Jordans all receive purchase love in Britain.
Trainers are mostly considered casual in the footwear categories. A prized pair of trainers are suitable for Friday night at the local pub but likely not for clubbing or smart-casual venues and events.
While the weather may influence the majority of clothing on this list, bodycon dresses are the exception. Rain or shine, winter or summer, when going clubbing, a bodycon dress is uniform.
And a coat? Absolutely not. Women in Britain take their clubbing outfits very seriously in Britain and are more than happy to shiver their way to hypothermia while lining up to enter the club. Figure-hugging dresses are very much the fashion when partying in British clothing culture.
However, the bodycon dress is not solely reserved for clubbing. It usually falls into the smart-casual and formal category – although the brave may attempt the casual category, especially in summer. The bodycon is always a popular option for dining out, the races, or events such as weddings.
Another universally popular item of clothing, the classic suit, is also popular within British clothing culture. Like the bodycon dress, a suit is associated with smart-casual or formal occasions, with casual wearing remaining a bold option.
Often, a suit jacket is worn with casual clothes, like a pair of jeans, to create a smart-casual look. A full suit is usually reserved for formal parties, certain work occupations, the races, or key social events like weddings.
Interestingly, the suit is actually a British creation. Beau Brummell is usually credited with the rise of the suit’s popularity in the 19th century and was deemed somewhat of a fashion icon. Beau was friends with George IV, so he had a large social platform and Britain quickly caught onto his unique fashion sense.
Popular amongst men and women, the trench coat is a standard wardrobe addition in Britain. The coat shot to the spotlight as military attire in the First World War, despite being used back in the early 19th century.
The long, waterproof trench coats were ideal for navigating the disgusting mud and diseased trenches. Although, trench coats were mainly reserved for the higher-ranking military, such as officers, instead of the common soldier.
Nowadays, many retailers who once designed military uniforms provide fashionable clothing. Burberry, for one, was particularly notable during the war and remains a global fashion company today. During the First World War, Burberry released the Burberry trench coat for military use, and now its website showcases trench coats for a retail price of up to approximately £4,000.
Fortunately, not all trench coats cost £4000 in Britain. However, the allure of the coat does still remain.
Quite possibly the comfort loungewear of all loungewear, grey joggers are a necessity within British clothing culture. Commonly associated with hangovers, self-care days, or screaming “I prioritise comfort” to the world – joggers, preferably grey, are a cornerstone item of clothing.
Joggers, also known as sweatpants, usually fall into the loungewear or casual category. For context, you may just about get away with grabbing a drink at the local pub in joggers, although this could be considered a bold move and underdressed. However, to socialize casually with friends, joggers aren’t an issue.
Joggers were originally born in France as the brainchild of Emile Camuset, the founder of Le Coq Sportif. He created grey joggers in the 1920s for easy movement yet warmth for athletes. In the 21st century, joggers are mass-produced by global brands and are particularly loved by the Brits throughout colder seasons.
Last but not least, the humble umbrella. While it may not be an item of clothing, you can bet that it is a standard outfit accessory for most during wetter periods of the year.
The history of the umbrella stretches back across recorded history. Even the Egyptians and Ancient Greeks utilized them as sunshades back in the times of ancient empires. Although, in Britain, modern umbrellas are used as protection from the rain rather than the sun.
Umbrellas can be used functionally with every clothing category within British clothing culture. However, it is more common to see city-based professionals regularly carry umbrellas. Of course, when commuting to work in smart-casual attire every day, the umbrella becomes a wise necessity rather than an emergency afterthought. Black umbrellas are particularly popular and, conveniently, match most outfits.
If you are visiting or relocating to Britain, we’d recommend investing in an umbrella – even if just to maintain your trendy British clothes.