When most people holiday in a foreign country they usually like to spend their time “soaking up the culture”. You know; food, drink, landmarks, the faffing around with a phrasebook if you don’t speak the language. I don’t claim to be much different, although the past couple of years have seen me add a new “to do” to my holiday sight-seeing list: fashion. It is easier to forget when you live in a country where pretty much anything goes how different countries and cultures have different expectations about dress and appearance. Since my last post on the new film adaptation of Jane Eyre (did any else watch it since my review? If so, what did you think?) I have had the pleasure of visiting France, Belgium and Spain – three of the nearest countries to the UK distance wise (I think!), and my my how different their attitudes towards clothing are…
First things first, I noticed a considerable lack of pattern, prints and garments with writing on them during my visit to the countries mentioned. Not many people go in for visibly branded clothes which makes quite a contrast to the land of Abercrombie and Fitch jeans, Superdry t-shirts and Jack Wills hoodies I’ve become accustomed to living in, but it also means that there are many more independent boutique-like shops who stock various different known or relatively-unknown brands. It is really rather enjoyable to be able to walk down a straight without recognising the name of a single shop and not knowing what delights are being held upon its rails instead of getting the feeling of being looked down upon by the signs of high-priced, mass-produced brands bearing down at you as you embark on a shopping trip.
Secondly, tailoring and the cut of a garment seem far more important than current colour trends. There seems to be a uniform of jeans, heels, fine wool/cashmere sweater and blazer in western Europe (excluding the British isles), with lots of black, grey and navy. Neutrals seem far more popular than outlandish, flamboyant outfit colour schemes, and they appear far more chic and “oh this? I just threw it on” than the painstakingly pieced-together looks we are perhaps more used to in the UK. I think it’s why I have always thought people from other European countries, France in particular, to look just so much, well, cooler than we Brits. They seem to have their own fashions, their own rules, and yet somehow it works. Collectively as a nation (and I know there will be exceptions, but bear with me) they buy for quality and cut rather than for a quick fashion fill of whatever is in season, or whatever brand everyone else is wearing on non-uniform day.
Thirdly and lastly (for the moment anyway), on the continent fashion defies age. Women don’t get to fifty and think that they can’t keep up with the trends any more so there’s no point in even trying; instead they’re right in there in the queues in Zara and Mango (yes I was in Spain by this point), alongside the teenagers and twenty-somethings, the students and the young professionals shopping for new work-wear wardrobes. The great thing is, it’s normal over there. Women in their fifth and sixth and even seventh decades are still out there in the shops, embracing the changes in fashion and being a part of that change themselves. We really should take a leaf out of their book instead of palming off our grandmas with the M&S Classic Collection “elegant, understated and stylish…the perfect balance between fashion and comfort”. I hate to say it, but all that range offers is elasticated trousers and the same blouse in twenty different shades. I appreciate that not all women whether over a certain age or not want to be in fashion, but surely we should give those who do the opportunity to express themselves without feeling “too old” for a certain design or cut.
I truly hope that when I reach a sophisticated age I shall still be as interested in the fashions of the day and still feel comfortable purchasing clothes in the same shops of girls a quarter of my age. Spain has mastered it, so why can’t we?