Get that London look in Baltimore

As the world looks to England for the summer Olympics, try on a little British-inspired fashion. Laundry by Shelli Segal mod shift dress from Handbags In The City ($245); MCM cognac backpack from Handbags In The City ($850); chandelier earrings from Sassanova ($36).
As the world looks to England for the summer Olympics, try on a little British-inspired fashion. Laundry by Shelli Segal mod shift dress from Handbags In The City ($245); MCM cognac backpack from Handbags In The City ($850); chandelier earrings from Sassanova ($36). (Amy Davis, Baltimore Sun)

As nations battle it out for sports supremacy at the Olympics in London this summer, we can all acknowledge that when it comes to fashion, the Brits have us beat.

Vivienne Westwood, Victoria Beckham, Burberry, Kate Moss, Kate Middleton, Twiggy, the late Princess Diana and Alexander McQueen ... what is it about the British that allows them to excel at clothing design and setting standards?

It starts with their willingness to try new colors and styles, according to Felicia Peele, head of Fashionably Young, a nonprofit fashion image consultant in Baltimore.

"They are not afraid to be daring — from the hats, shoes, color-blocking," Peele said. "They don't have a problem wearing this every single day. The women and the men go a little further and step outside of the box."

Ella Pritsker, director of Maryland Center of Fashion Design, thinks that British designers reign supreme because of their traditionally high standards.

"Their clothes are classic and high-quality," she said. "The color palette is always timeless. Their clothes are staples for everyone's wardrobe."

The British are credited with starting and popularizing edgy trends like the mod look of the 1960s and the punk and androgynous looks of the '70s and '80s. When Diana married Prince Charles in 1981, her fairy-tale princess style set a new tone, and she continued to dress to impress on the world stage until her untimely death in 1997. Most recently, the refined elegance of Kate Middleton has started a mini-revolution here in the States by embracing sophisticated lace sheaths, jeans with blazers, nude heels and even, surprisingly, hose.

"With impeccable precision and tailoring, the Brits tend to stay on course by encapsulating how a chic woman wants to dress," said Latease T. Lashley, founder of Creatively Speaking, a Baltimore-based public speaking company specializing in fashion commentary. "The British influences on fashion reflect pop culture and how the world was changing during that time."

Designers such as Vivienne Westwood and John Galliano have continued British dominance by tapping into the popular culture of the time, Lashley explained. Whether it was Westwood's ability to mix new romantic looks with street, punk styles of slashed T-shirts, rubber clothes, anarchic imagery and bondage details, or the sophisticated garments of Galliano, which transformed the ready-to-wear London scene in the 1980s, British designers have set the fashion agenda, Lashley added.

British celebrities are credited with the lion's share of the work. Princess Diana's wedding dress was the "highlight of the early '80s," Lashley said. "Their clothing and style is extra-appealing to the masses with British-style bombshells like Victoria Beckham, Kate Moss and the royal trendsetter, whose chic style sets the bar in fashion, Kate Middleton. These British powerhouses emerge as style icons with universal appeal that leaves us wanting more, making all things Brit look so impeccable."

Peele favors Middleton's and Beckham's styles.

"Kate Middleton is gorgeous," Peele said. "I love the way she steps out every day. Victoria Beckham has been wearing her own designs. If that is what she has to offer, I think she is going to do very well."

Lashley prefers the iconic model Twiggy, who popularized the mod style in the '60s.

"As the world's first supermodel, even as a teenager, Twiggy had several Vogue covers under her belt, and she even went on to publish her own magazine," said Lashley. "I love the mod fashion influences of the '60s. From the mods to the rockers, miniskirts to black leather jackets with metal trim, freedom of expression ruled. The flair of palazzo pants, A-line dresses and patterned pantyhose capture the essence of the time. I still covet patterned pantyhose as my fall trademark in my closet."

Pritsker, a native of Russia, thinks that Americans can learn a style tip or two from the British.

"In America, a lot of our wardrobe is disposable," she said. "European women — particularly the British — have so many things that are staples and classics. American women have a more relaxed style of dressing. I would like to see some of the classic trends come here to impact our sense of style so that we can perk ourselves up and have a little more class to our dressing style."

You don't have to cross the pond to achieve that British style. In Baltimore, it's possible to achieve the look any number of ways. You can tend toward classics, as Pritsker suggests. You can pick an icon and try to emulate her signature style.

And, of course, you can shop for the brands or designers.

There is, for example, the Burberry store in Towson Mall's luxury wing. And major retailers such as Nordstrom carry Burberry as well as men's wear favorites Ben Sherman and Ted Baker.

Smaller boutiques also are a great resource.

For example, Sixteen Tons, a menswear boutique in Hampden, sells a number of pieces from Ben Sherman. Handbags In the City sells a Longchamp bag designed by Kate Moss and an MCM backpack adorned with the British flag. Sassanova, a shoe boutique in Harbor East, sells L.K. Bennett shoes, which became popular here after Middleton was photographed in them. Cupcake in Fells Point sells J Brand jeans, which have also been worn by Middleton.

"They are in demand," said Ellington West, an associate at Cupcake.

About a third of the inventory at Gian Marco Menswear, a men's boutique in Mount Vernon, is from British designers, according to Marc Sklar, president of the boutique. Garments by British designers are ideal for the colder, damper months of a Baltimore fall and winter, Sklar said.

"The English understand cold, rain and damp," he said. "They have a lot more thick, rich tweed and flannels. And they have very warm sweaters, too."

Twice a year, Sklar and his co-owner John Massey go to Europe to meet with fashion houses to produce collections for their boutique. Their trip always includes stops at fashion houses in London.

"They are very reliable and incredibly precise," Sklar said.

For those who don't have access to or can't afford exclusive boutique collections or garments from heavy hitters such as Burberry, Stella McCartney and John Galliano, consignment and vintage boutiques are likely the best option.

Chris Anderson, owner of Vogue Revisited, a consignment boutique in Roland Park, regularly sells popular British designs by Burberry and by Galliano when he was the lead designer for Dior.

"I get a lot of that in," she said. "It doesn't stick around long, though. When I get it in, it leaves the store fast."


Brit tips

Follow these rules, and you too can look like these British fashion-setters:

Victoria Beckham

Take structured silhouettes in mostly solid colors, add a fierce pair of heels and a "major" handbag, and you'll have a look similar to that of the celebrity turned designer.

Kate Middleton

From her blazer and skinny jeans look, to her ladylike dresses, the royal one remains a hot fashion item. Extra points if you add a fascinator and nude heel or a rounded toe pump from L.K. Bennett. And don't forget the pantyhose!

Alexa Chung

The television personality is known for her versatility. Whether it's boho, preppy or contemporary, Chung wears it with ease. Our favorite look is when she matches a sleeveless dress with a collared button-down.

Kate Moss and Naomi Campbell

When you have a shape like women, even a potato sack is going to look good on you. Thank goodness, these supermodels put a little more effort into their appearance. They're usually in haute couture or all-black. A flashy little dress will do. So will a designer gown for those red-carpet appearances. Add a pair of oversize sunglasses to shield you from the camera flashes.

Recommended on Baltimore Sun