An ode to style from across the pond
Chalk it up to my Canadian heritage; I was born with an allegiance to Britain.
But while I have been sipping milky tea alongside my Torontonian mother since infancy, it was not until I ate my first scone at Alice’s Tea Cup on West 73rd Street that I fully realized it. The confection was a revelation and tasted like some magical alloy of sugar and royalty. Could the Carvel Ice Cream Cakes of my ignorant youth possibly compare? They could not.
Later, a steady stream of foreign goods sustained the passion that pastry ignited: the Beatles, The Parent Trap’s Annie James, Harry Potter, British Vogue. I “queued up” for four hours to see Alexander McQueen: Savage Beauty. On the morning of Prince William and Kate’s wedding, I rose at the crack of dawn to bake biscuits and more consciously regret my citizenship.
Given my fixation, I had no choice but to seize the opportunity to spend four months studying abroad in London this spring.
I arrived in England prepared to confront my own inferiority. This was the land of Jane Austen and Kate Moss, after all. My friends made me swear that I would not attempt an English accent, but that wasn’t my worry. You see, despite my longstanding obsession, it was never the British pattern of speech that tempted me. It was the style of dress.
Marching down Marylebone High Street and through the doors of local cafés were swarms of English girls that seemed lifted straight from the pages of Pop. They paired faded black denim with a parade of fluffy jackets that would have made Margot Tenenbaum jealous. They wore sneakers and Timberlands and wrapped their arms in thin, silver bracelets. I wondered whether Alexa Chung had given each and every one of my British classmates a private tutorial in the art of hair care. I abandoned all previous professional ambitions. I wanted to grow up to be them.
And yet the wardrobe that had sustained me so well in New York betrayed me in London.
It consisted of too much black and not enough navy. It boasted neither the cropped, skinny trousers that flattered my new friends’ frames nor the insouciant graphic tees that populated their closets. I wandered around Topshop in search of inspiration, but I did not dare attempt a sensibility so removed from the one I had spent a decade nurturing. It seemed not only inauthentic, but also somehow mortifying to risk it.
That is until I recalled the rallying cry of poseurs everywhere. I, too, could fake it ’til I made it.
And so I began cuffing the hems of my jeans ever so slightly and learned that the resultant visible sliver of ankle had the power to change everything. Really. I started to study the girls in Hyde Park and shrugged into versions of their mid-length trenches on weekend outings to Dalston and Notting Hill. I filched entire outfits from the playbook of a particularly posh girl in my Shakespeare class and did not feel so much as a hint of remorse. I decided that appropriating her aesthetic was no different from wriggling into black-tie regalia. Neither is meant for daily use and both make for excellent Instagram photos.
Personal style is supposed to be just that — an expression of self. But the cultivation of one does not have to be some solitary mission. So, here I am admitting the charade. I may not have adopted their native lingo, but since landing in London I have perhaps falsely claimed the British fondness for loafers as my own.
I have a scant eight weeks left in the United Kingdom. Eventually, I’ll have to return to “real life” and the masses of clingy black dresses I’ve temporarily renounced.
For now, let me have my fun. I’m playing dress up.