London Calling

An ode to style from across the pond

shot-by-richard-chambury

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.

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Thoughts?
  • http://adeliberateimagination.wordpress.com/ CJKEYS2

    mattie- big fan of your werk.

  • Dominique
  • Kinjal

    I’m studying abroad in London as well and I couldn’t agree with you more! I’m playing dress up and enjoying every minute of it. I love the style I’ve cultivated for the past 20 years but I’m looking forward to adding a little bit more chic to my wardrobe

  • http://www.theiridescenteffect.com/ Tatiana

    I agree. Style is a way of self-expression.

    http://www.theiridescenteffect.com/

  • Royal Wang

    I do adore “London calling” style,and you are a good author

    Royal Wang

    http://www.fashionculturediary.blogspot.it/

  • http://www.twitter.com/georginawootton Georgie

    UK style is the best (IMO second only to Swedish). You should visit Bristol – great fashion, even better nightlife. Plenty to see :)

    edit – also Edinburgh and Leeds. Never been to Manchester but by all accounts its absolutely worth a visit.

    • Mattie Kahn

      I *loved* Edinburgh!

  • http://www.itsalifestylething.co.uk/ Nancy

    When the sun shines, London is one of the best cities on earth – glad you’re having a good time :) xxx

  • http://fashionmusingsdiary.blogspot.fr/ Miss J.
  • http://thefashionistabubble.blogspot.ca/ Naghmeh

    loved this! you go right ahead and play dress up, I mean if there is any where to play dress up it should be London!

    xo

    http://thefashionistabubble.blogspot.ca

  • maud.schellekens

    Love it!

    XOXO Maud

    CHECK OUT MY FAB OUTFIT I WORE AT BEYONCÉ’S CONCERT:
    http://thirteentalesoffashion.blogspot.nl/2014/03/outfit-beyonce.html

  • Celeste

    I love your writing Mattie.

  • jas

    love this. being a style chameleon is probably how i would describe myself. i am inspired by all around me and want to take part in all genres.

    my hubby and i are moving to london in a month! cannot wait!

    reckless abandon

  • Tracy

    I am a fan of your posts, great work!

    http://fashion-soup.com/

  • Javi

    ohhhhh, I’m jealous of their culture!
    here in South America, people stare even if my jeans are a little bit ripped on the knees.. :(

  • Charlotte Delacroix

    Well, I cannot blame you, everybody does it when it comes to get dressed!
    To me you are still a precursor in fashion!!
    Do not miss your flair!

  • Paco T.

    Kate Moss, the Queen.

    http://thescientistp.blogspot.hk/

  • Martine

    Rallying cry of Posers! OMG. Words to live by. I know I do…

  • FI
  • http://haute-couture-hippie.blogspot.ca/ Angel

    Just visited London , the style there is out of this world. So fashion forward !
    CHECK out my Fashion blog. NEW posts every Sundays , Tuesday , Thursdays and Saturdays . http://haute-couture-hippie.blogspot.ca/

  • http://www.mimivesper.com Mimi Vesper

    Love the post! I used to live in London 2 years ago before installing myself in Paris right now. The Londoner love dressing up everyday and their casualswear is fabulous! Enjoy your time there girl!
    x
    www;mimivesper;com

  • http://nothingtowearnovello.blogspot.ca/ JennyNov

    This just brought back such beautiful memories of the three years I lived in Wales. I arrived from Toronto a naive 25 year old who until then THOUGHT I knew how to dress. I was way off. Living there and witnessing those stylish Brits every day changed my personal style habits forever. Mattie, cherish those 8 weeks that you have left, not a day goes by that I don’t miss waking up, and getting dressed in the UK.

    • Mattie Kahn

      I will! Thank you!

  • Lesley

    Love! London is the best! x
    http://www.rawvogue.com

  • http://thoughtsofglam.com/ ThoughtsofGlam

    I’ve been into all things London for the past couple of months, I’m one more union jack sweater away from booking a ticket to the actual place.

    http://www.thoughtsofglam.com

  • pinkschmink

    It’s a funny thing, but being an actual Londoner myself, I spend hours coveting the style of New Yorkers, Parisians and the chic residents of pretty much every other major city. I actually don’t think of London as having a definable style.

    But I guess that’s the same as believing that it’s people from other places that have accents, and not me: it took me years to accept that some people think that I speak with an accent. It’ll probably take several more before I finally acquiesce that there is a ‘London look’, and that maybe I dress that way too …

  • Liv

    English people don’t really eat that money scones but Londoners understand how much better your legs look if you roll up your jeans and put on very expensive low top trainers

  • ThisTrendThatTrend

    As I posted on your other article about packing the 30%, I am in the exact same position and am doing the exact same thing here. Inspiration for this “dress up” is constant in my new home and I am loving trying a new style. It’s not changing me as a person, which I despise when people make the assumption that a change in wardrobe means a change in personality. It’s just fun to change it up and dress like the people you want to look like!

  • http://www.noglitternoglory.com/ Patricia

    Enjoy London! Lived there myself for a while, love it so!