From Savile Row to Carnaby Street
British fashion is based on very strong traditions. Men’s tailoring and quality wool are mainstays. These convey the qualities of politeness and civility, which are considered part of the British character, particularly the English character. The axis of these values is Savile Row, a London street famous for traditional tailoring. The street is known as the ‘golden mile of tailoring.’ Its fashionability was established in the 18th century, when it was frequented by dandies like Beau Brummel.
Located in Mayfair, Savile Row is lined with traditional tailors specialising in ‘bespoke’ clothing. In fact, the term bespoke originated on Savile Row. Once customers had chosen the bolt of cloth from which they wanted a suit made, the fabric was said to ‘be spoken for.’ Bespoke suits are made specifically for the individual, cut and stitched by hand.
Of course, this comes at a price: the average suit can take 12 weeks to make, require up to four fittings and cost upward of $6,000. Tradionally, Savile Row catered to the elite of British society – royalty, aristocracy and wealthy city traders.
Notable tailors include Gieves & Hawkes located at No.1 Savile Row. It holds a number of Royal Warrants, presently covering all three British Royal Warrants (HM Queen Elizabeth II, HRH The Duke of Edinburgh, and HRH The Prince of Wales).
Even this bastion of British traditionalism has incorporated outside influences. Ozwald Boateng is located at No.30 Savile Row. He was a pioneer of the new bespoke movement. Boateng was born in Ghana in the late 1960s and brought up in north London. He began making bespoke suits in 1990, and is credited with introducing Savile Row tailoring to a new generation. Boateng's clients include international stars like Will Smith, Samuel L. Jackson and Keanu Reeves. So he offers classic English tailoring with a modern edge.
Ede & Ravenscroft are the oldest tailors in London, established in 1689. They have premises very close to the famous Savile Row. They make legal, clerical and academic dress. When you graduate from a British university, the usual procedure is to hire a gown from Ede & Ravenscroft.
English tailoring has been imitated around the world. The American designer Ralph Lauren draws on this tradition to create the prep-school look.
British fashion exploded in the 1960s, the age of free love, flower power and psychedelia. This was a decade of tremendous social upheaval – sexual liberation, drug use and radical experimentation in art and design. The rebellious young generation began reacting against the values of their parents.
With rising levels of affluence, this generation had ‘disposable income’ – money to spend on music and fashion. They looked for vibrant, colourful alternatives to the dreary styles of the past. For the first time young people were leading fashion, style and culture. This has been called a ‘youthquake’. The new spirit of consumerism led to specialist shops that expressed their values through design. Boutiques opened up all over London, and Carnaby Street became the centre of this new scene. Some of the buildings were painted in psychedelic colours.
Mary Quant is generally considered the inventor of the mini-skirt, which first appeared in 1965. Mini-skirts were an outrageous fashion item that caused a sensation. Designers of the earlier generation were shocked. Coco Chanel described the mini skirt as 'the most absurd weapon woman has ever employed to seduce men'. Until then, girls had essentially dressed like their mothers, but the 60s represented a youthful rebellion. Mini dresses provided the perfect canvass for Op art and psychedelic patterns.
New fashion trends needed new models to wear them. The big names in fashion modelling were Jean Shrimpton and Lesley Hornby, who was known as Twiggy. Twiggy was the ideal Sixties girl. She was only 15 and she was a size 6. This gave her a boyish figure that contrasted with the hour-glass figure of middle-aged women: again, the look was youthful.