On my way back from the recent London 2012 Olympics, I took a few moments to reflect on my fashion memories of the past two weeks in the First Class lounge in Terminal 5 at Heathrow airport. Even there in the rarefied atmosphere of the Concorde Lounge (as those of us who still long for the glory days of supersonic air travel still call it) the rankings were clear. Team GB may have come in third in overall medal count at the Olympics, but the British women I had encountered on the various parts of my trip took the gold in the highly competitive fashion stakes.
Several weeks ago, I boarded the Queen Mary 2, setting sail for a much needed UK adventure. As an intrepid fashion reporter, I could not help but take notes on the endless fashion parade that is a Cunard Transatlantic Crossing. I calculate that I spent half of my day changing clothes, going from morning outfits to luncheon outfits to teatime outfits to formal evening clothes for the whirlwind of cocktails, dinners and balls. As this particular voyage continued on to Hamburg, the German contingent was there in full force and gave the Team USA and Team GB a run for their money.
Although the Americans, the Brits and the Germans were all equally guilty of Crimes Against Fashion in the morning hours, all that changed by the time lunch was served. I can’t even begin to describe the fashion atrocities I witnessed; suffice it to say that it was on a par with the men in socks and sandals. Each day around noon the decks were cleared as everyone changed into luncheon clothes. A half an hour later, the decks were suddenly a fashion parade as everyone strolled to our respective dining rooms. What I noticed right away was that the British women had all donned “proper” day dresses, bright solids and prints that fell to the knee with covered shoulders or a perfectly color coordinated cardigan. Most of the German women wore pants with blouses varying from backless halters to long sleeves. I had never seen so many pairs of perfectly tailored Jil Sander and Chloe pants outside of the tents of New York Fashion Week. Unfortunately, the American women stumbled on the starting blocks for this first fashion meet of the day. Almost all wore either ill-fitting or circulation strangling blue jeans, undoubtedly in the sacred name of comfort.
One of the great challenges of crossing the Atlantic is that Cunard changes the clocks forward every day at noon in order to perfectly acclimate you to Greenwich Mean Time by the time you dock in Southampton. Unfortunately, that leaves very little time to change clothes between lunch and tea. Make no mistake, no self respecting fashionista of any nationality wears the same thing to lunch and tea. Here again, the rankings were clear.
The British women took gold in what is arguably their native event for changing into proper tea length dresses, below the knee. The German women added jackets and scarves to their pants and blouses. Again, the Americans stumbled through this event in too short and often too tight dresses. All through this most British of afternoon rituals, the American squirmed in their seats as some constantly struggled with keeping their skirt hems pulled down and others cramped up from trying to keep their knees together. The more savvy players realized their mistakes instantly and covered up their knees with hastily untied scarves and tiny tea napkins. What the Brits knew that the Americans didn’t was that you can wear a shorter skirt to lunch where you’ll be sitting at a table with a long cloth, but at tea time, gathered on chairs around a low table, your legs – and possibly much more – will be exposed. The American women displayed all the class of Paris Hilton climbing out of a limousine.
For the Fashion Triathlon of cocktails, dinner, and dancing, each of the three competing nations took a different strategy. The actual starting line was clearly the Grand Staircase that led from the elevators down to the various Dining Rooms. The Brits all went ankle length or longer, some lean and some full, and strolled flawlessly down the stairs. The Germans all went streamlined – undoubtedly for better aerodynamics – but ranged from below the knee to floor length. The Americans were the only ones to go short – and I mean short. Most had to scissor their legs as they descended the treacherous starting point for the evening, and even then you knew they had already lost.
The lesson that I – and now hopefully you, dear reader – learned from all this is that just because you can go short, tight, and sexy doesn’t mean that you always should. Just look to the women’s volleyball teams. Given the option to cover up, the Brits did, the Germans sometimes did and the Americans definitely did not.
On my last day in London, I took a late lunch on the rooftop of Harvey Nichols and even before I heard the accents, I knew the nationalities of the ladies who lunch there. The American ex pats were the ones who were uncomfortable because their shoulders were chilly and their skirts were definitely too tight or too short or both. As I rode the escalator down to the Ground Floor, several featured designers caught my eye. If you’re ready to give Tea Length a try, here are some of my favorites from British designers.
Why not get used to tea length for daytime with a skirt from Matthew Williamson in one of his signature bright shades? You can pair it with all your favorite tops. If you’re dying to jump right into this fall’s hot floral trend, then head over to Burberry Prorsum for one of Christopher Bailey’s oh-so perfect dresses for daytime. If you’re a fan of color blocking or even just feeling a little military, then get one of Victoria Beckham’s dresses that will have you feeling “posh” the minute you slip into it. If skirt suits are your lunchtime uniform, then mix it up with Temperley London’s hybrid cape-cardigan suit.
You may not be able to jump hurdles in tea length skirts and dresses, but you’ll cross the fashion finish line this fall a winner!
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Tags: British vs German vs American fashion, Burberry Prorsum Fall 2012 RTW, Fashion on the Queen Mary 2, London 2012 Olympics, male perspective on fashion at the Olympics 2012, Matthew Williamson Fall 2012 RTW, Olympics of fashion 2012, Temperley London Fall 2012 RTW, Victoria Beckham Fall 2012 RTW