I’ve been living in the U.S. for all of nine months now, and to this day I am still getting lost in translation with my friends/coworkers/husband. For example, when I noted to Mr. Manfriend this morning that I was writing a piece about British High Street stores, he sort of awkwardly gawped at me before politely stating—as he is so very used to doing—”People won’t know what that means.”
It never ceases to amaze me that in our years of dating, there are still so many simple British/American phrases that zoom straight over each others’ heads. But, no matter: If you’ve never heard of “High Street” fashion, I apologize. Put simply, High Street fashion brands are the mass-market chain stores, like Forever 21 or H&M. They’re the ones you find in shopping malls across the country, the names that people recognize, the shops you might veer away from buying all your clothes in because you don’t want to walk down the street next to someone in the same outfit. Those stores.
Now, to segue way off a little, when I came to the U.S. I realized that I had a really excellent deal: specifically, I came over with my wardrobe of British clothes to a country where almost no one was going to have the same things as me—not even the faux-leather Topshop jacket that every girl and their mother was wearing around Christmas 2012, or my lovely camel River Island purse. It was wonderful to be asked, “Where did you get that?” and be able to give an obscure answer (with a smirk, because back across the pond it’d be common practice to shop in any of the stores I’d mention).
So, at last, I have decided to break my silence and put the best British High Street stores out here for you, darlings. So go ahead and peruse, bookmark, and blow your next paycheck.* You can thank me later!
Best for: Runway-inspired trends.
The undisputed King (Queen?) of British High Street fashion, Topshop is every young woman’s go-to for on-trend pieces. It’s fun, frivolous and adopts a hot-off-the-press ethos to copying runway looks, giving fashionistas the most bang for their buck. Topshop are excellent at hitting the bullseye with new trends, which cements this brand’s reputation as a cult favorite. From affordable basics—including denim which fits like a dream—to a higher-end “Topshop Unique” line, these folks truly understand what British women want, coupled with an easy and unparalleled ability push the best trends from every season onto the streets of London and beyond.
2. Jack Wills
Best for: Proper British tailoring.
In contrast to Topshop and their fashion-forward approach, Jack Wills wends itself into the heart of less trend-centered wardrobes. Their slogan is “Fabulously British”, and this is precisely their appeal. The JW girl grew up fox hunting, graduated from a red brick university, and spends her time sipping cider by serene, riverside pubs. While the brand finds itself compared to a Union Jack-heavy Abercombie & Fitch (which is not an entirely unfair comparison), it remains a relatively undiscovered gem over here in the States. Just skip the sweats and head straight to the tweedy jackets and fine cotton shirts. Durable, well-tailored and in a beautiful spectrum of colors and fine fabrics, there are some pieces in the Wills collection that will add a distinctly British flavor to your ensembles. Oh, and the brand’s logo—a pheasant with a hat and cane—is simply darling.
Best for: Basics with a twist.
Whistles is every discerning British fashionista’s go-to store for the perfect basics: clean silhouettes, muted colors and a quirky twist on the basics we already love. If you’re looking for the white tee that’ll carry you through years of reuse through offices and bars alike, or a pair of beautifully tailored jeans (with a quirky-cool hemline), you’ll feel as though you’ve hit the jackpot. A Whistles woman is sophisticated and well-groomed, and has a sense of style that compliments without overwhelming her (my words, not anyone else’s … hey, Whistles, I’ll take that PR job now).
Best for: Ladylike touches.
Remember that engagement photo of William and Kate (pictured, left)? The Reiss “Nanette” dress that Kate wore in the photo sold out in the blink of an eye after the shots were released to the press. And if Reiss is fit for a princess, then it’s good enough for darlings like us, right? Of course! That is part of the Reiss charm; it’s affordable, to be sure, but also beautifully constructed from fine fabrics in gorgeous colors. Each piece doesn’t cost the earth, but it’ll make you feel like a million
NB: I bought a Reiss dress for my graduation and I can vouch for the fact that yes, I did in fact feel like royalty on that day.
5. River Island
Best for: Something quirky.
River Island is a go-to for those who want something a bit edgier: a bright party dress, a cheeky logo tee, a pair of textured leggings, chunky jewelry, et cetera, et cetera. RI’s speciality is taking a catwalk trend and shaking it up a bit with a bright print, a bold cut, and adding a few extra accessories; an RI girl is irreverent and cool, listens to old-school hip-hop, wears un-sensible shoes, drinks mojitos. Oh, and the brand’s other great virtue is that it’s super affordable, too, without compromising on quality.
*I take no responsibility for any broke readers in the forthcoming weeks!