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6 Secrets for How to Wear Classic British Style

Updated August 3, 2023

Wondering how to pack classic British style for your travels to the UK? Perhaps you fancy looking like you just stepped out of a Range Rover!

Of course buying British once you’re here is dandy, but if being prepared is your thing (guilty!), then read on.

After all, it’s fun to go shopping, but it’s another to spend precious vacation time chasing down a pair of boots because it’s too chilly for sneakers. That was me, when arriving in Edinburgh. In September!

The beauty of truly classic British style is that it never really goes out of fashion. Ask the Royals…. they famously wear their clothes until they fall apart because it’s not the “done thing” to sport a shiny new wardrobe or the latest fashion. So it’s worth spending a bit more to get quality and wearability.

Want to dress like you’re British?

Here’s what I believe. Unless you’re actually mucking around a farm and your Land Rover is decades old, don’t try to pull off head to toe classic British. Better to take the look and make it work for you and your lifestyle.

Classic British Style – YES

  • Nature colors – moss or dark green, navy, camel
  • Natural materials – wool, cashmere, linen, cotton
  • Practical – should keep you warm and dry
  • British brands – Hunter, Barbour, Boden, Burberry, Clark’s, Marks & Spencer
  • Footwear – Wellington boots for country, traditional brogues or lace ups in city

Classic British Style – NO

  • Bright colors – exception is a red trouser for men
  • Synthetic materials – anything obviously shiny or metallic
  • Impractical – wearing city clothes in the country
  • Trying too hard – understated is better
  • Footwear – wearing sandals or heels in the country unless at a party
  • Logo wear – unless it’s very discreet

classic british style

How to Wear Classic British Style

  1. Dress for the season not the weather
  2. Spend more on outerwear and footwear
  3. You can’t go wrong with a dark jean
  4. Keep your color palette neutral
  5. Limit patterns to a dress, blouse or scarf
  6. Use a tote for your umbrella

In the past I was told I was obviously “American” by what I wore, which always came as a surprise! I’d say the British tend to be less style conscious than Americans. Colors, patterns and logos on clothing aren’t as obvious here.

The idea of true British style is to look as if you didn’t make much of an effort!

Now that’s all well and good if your clothes and labels are impeccable, but what if we don’t have an unlimited budget or aren’t related to the Royals?

1. Dress for the Season not the Weather

British people famously wear sandals and shorts with down jackets because it can be chilly even in the summer! They won’t succumb to wearing boots or long pants unless they can help it. 



I don’t advocate that look (not flattering!) but expect to see summer clothes worn here from May to September. The trick is to layer keeping a lightweight trench coat, poncho or wrap rolled up in your tote bag along with a travel umbrella.

Sneakers or trainers as they’re called here are a good alternative to sandals and can be worn almost everywhere without a worry (exceptions would be posh city restaurants)

In the winter, layer up as much as you need to with a warm coat and boots. In fact don’t skimp on layers like a thermal top underneath your sweater. Although there are four seasons in the UK, be prepared to be chilly all year round!

 

2. Spend More on Outerwear and Footwear

This is always a good rule to follow but especially in Britain because frankly our brisk and wet weather demand the best. Don’t skimp as having the very best stylish waterproof coat that you can afford is key to comfort. The same is true for shoes and boots!

A fabulous jacket or coat instantly pulls your entire look together. Which is why I love a trench coat. It takes you from city to country without a problem with true British style. A lined coat is ideal because it will feel much colder here due to the high humidity, than you’d expect. A light thermal layer or down vest underneath your trench coat is a perfect Plan B.

Shop for a comfortable stylish waterproof boot and or sneaker. I prefer dark colors to hide muddy splashes that coordinate with my blues and greens.

 

3. You Can’t Go Wrong with a Dark Jean

While jeans are more American style than British, obviously they’re a wardrobe staple we can’t travel without. British style is variable. I’ve seen skinny jeans and wide flares here.

I’d suggest a dark jean in either style with as much flare as you feel comfortable with. I stay away from the new trendy cropped flare because it doesn’t suit petites but try it one and see if you like what you see in the mirror!

Personally I prefer a bootcut flare that floats easily over a sneaker, boot or high heeled sandal. I’ve given up on straight leg jeans. Unless you’re wearing a flat sandal, they never seem to hang well.

 

4. Keep Your Color Palette Neutral

I love my blues and greens and this easy palette allows endless combinations when traveling because they go together. They also epitomize British style which takes its cues from country wear like Barbour jackets and Hunter wellie boots.

But by all means experiment a little with your neutrals. What do you love and what’s in your closet? As long as you keep the line and style classic you can flirt with gray|cream|navy  OR  black|cream|red OR navy|gray|camel.

Pull your neutrals together with a patterned scarf, blouse or dress for a little outfit spark.

5. Limit Patterns

It’s rare to see patterns in classic British style except perhaps a very subtle one on a coat lining, a tie or scarf. The one exception of course is plaid or tartan as it’s called here. Burberry is known by it’s classic plaid and it’s perfectly acceptable to incorporate a subtle check or plaid either on lining, scarf, or shirt.

But by all means avoid large or medium size patterns if you want to look like you fit in!

The one exception to pattern? A floral frock or blouse is perfectly acceptable.

6. Use a Tote for your Umbrella

Whatever the season, a tote or carryall is always handy for that folding umbrella you’ll want to keep handy in case of showers. In winter a leather or even wool tote is appropriate.  I carry a straw tote with leather straps that I found at a National Trust shop as soon as it’s “summer”.

A tote is not only chic but incredibly useful to stash all your bits in plus those small purchases as well. 
I use a handbag organizer inside my straw tote.

The just right tote epitomizes true classic British style. It’s both chic and useful.

So there you have it; how to incorporate the best of British style into your wardrobe, suitcase and travels!

About Author

With over 30 years in a creative role in advertising and publishing, and a lifetime of journeys between the US and UK, I've created Hipoverfifty for you. I hope my journey and perspective will guide you on yours.