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Tans, tiny skirts and vulgarity: why Kristin Scott Thomas is wrong about British style

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BAFTA-winning British actress, Kristin Scott Thomas has hit headlines today for criticising her fellow countrywomen’s fashion tastes.

The star of Four Weddings and a Funeral, told Marie France "French women make getting dressed seem simple… and they can be attractive without abusing their sexy side. There is no vulgarity, it’s all about subtlety." Whereas, their English counterparts, Scott Thomas says, "are terrible and very much the opposite, like they wear miniskirts when they don’t have the legs for it.

"French women would never get drunk on a Saturday in a mini skirt in November," says Scott Thomas. "They follow all the latest trends, even though they all look the same... And they love tanning, especially fake tan, which means, by summer, everyone is orange."

Here Stylist's Harriet Hall explains why - far from being a bad thing - a certain kind of vulgarity and a free-for-all attitude is actually at the very heart of a long and celebrated tapestry of renegade British style.


Crikey tell us what you really think, Kristin.

Never mind the whiff of elitism-meets-sexism arising from her words, the actor has fallen into a tired old stereotype and her ungracious assessment of British style is wildly unfounded.

We all respect the classic Parisian penchant for head-to-toe black, but to compare this ‘subtle’ style to the ‘vulgar’ Brits, is to miss the point of British fashion entirely.

British fashion has never been about subtlety: we wear our vulgarity on our lapels like recently-awarded rosettes.

Steve Jones, Alan Jones, Chrissie Hynde, Jordan and Vivienne Westwood at Westwood's shop 'Sex', Kings Road, London - 1976

Style mavens including Chrissie Hynde and Vivienne Westwood at Westwood's shop 'Sex' on the Kings Road, 1976

This month the stylish cogniscenti descended upon London for Fashion Week to celebrate the innovative and the unexpected - and those that ardently reject the status quo.

Yes, we're pretty down to earth and free and easy about what we wear - and proudly so. Our capital is where the concept of bubble-up fashion was born, because what was being worn on the streets in the 1960s was so distinctive, designers simply had to have a piece of it.

Trends aren’t just born on the streets of London anymore, they broth and foam, overflowing onto the catwalk and are then twisted on their head and reinvented by designers. It’s this cross-pollination of design that we do best, and to say we are lacking when it comes to style reveals complete obliviousness.  

If we were worried about being vulgar, where would Gareth Pugh, John Galliano and Christopher Kane be? What would have become of Westwood and McClaren’s SEX shop on the King’s Road that dressed (or more like undressed) the punks and birthed the Sex Pistols? What would we think of Lee McQueen – now lauded deity of the catwalks?

Twiggy: an early fan of the mini-skirt, in 1967

Twiggy: an early fan of the mini-skirt, in 1967

If it were up to Scott Thomas to decide if McQueen’s Taxi Driver collection of 1993 was appropriate or his ‘Bumster’ trousers ‘subtle’ enough, the landscape of British fashion would be quite different today.

If us Brits didn’t have a penchant for flashing our assets, we’d never have had the mini skirt, brought to us by Mary Quant in the 1960s and soon picked up by none other than a French designer – André Courrèges.

Hell, we wouldn’t have had the nineties girl power of the Spice Girls if we were worried about what was subtle or appropriate. And what of Victoria Beckham’s burgeoning New York fashion empire?

British fashion has never been afraid to be a little risqué, we’ve always been celebrated worldwide for having the freedom to dress as we like and have always rejected any prescriptive idea of what’s ‘subtle,' ‘classy’ or ‘appropriate’. We turn our noses up at such antediluvian ideals.

The Spice Girls, 1997

The Spice Girls - pioneers of 'Where It Like You Want' style, 1997

We've always been about taking things to the extreme when it comes to clothes. It’s why British fashion is historically known for its rebellious boundary-pushing, not for its softly softly does it approach that – let's be honest – would not lure the world’s press, buyers, bloggers and glitterati over in hoards twice a year.

Why would fashion editors spend a month traipsing across Europe and the Atlantic for fashion month if was all one homogenised ‘subtle’ display of ‘simplicity?’

Instead of saying one country is better than the other when it comes to style, we should be celebrating the unique identity of them all: the cutting-edge of London, the classic chic of Paris, the opulence of Milan and the immaculate sportswear of New York.

A model in McQueen 'bumster' trousers, 1994

A model in McQueen 'bumster' trousers, 1994

When Scott Thomas says all Englishwomen dress the same, I’d like her to take a look at the streets of London, Manchester, Bath, or Brighton, and show me exactly what she's referring to. The tumult of trends across the United Kingdom is what makes our style so distinct.

At the core of it, fashion is all about fun, it’s about self-expression through wearable art, about telling the world ‘this is who I am’ using sartorial signifiers.And if those signifiers happen to be doughnut buns, fake tan and miniskirts, then what of it?

So, let women wear miniskirts in July or in November, let them spray themselves with infinite amounts of St Tropez and expose their real – not airbrushed- legs if they so wish. And get stupidly drunk in the process. 

You can keep your cup of simple subtlety, thank you.

We’ll take another pint of vulgarity.

Images: Rex Features

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