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LONDON versus NEW YORK

STREETWEAR and FORMAL differences

In this feature we’ll be looking at some of the key differences between the style genres of the UK versus our American cousins.

If you were travelling to the US, what might you expect to find that is identifiably America? How does their tailoring compare to the likes of Savile Row?

Now the US is a big ass place so we’re going to be going like for like with New York and London. I will attempt to be as objective as I can, though every now and then you might find me rooting for the home team.

Chelsea Boots Base London

Tailoring

London and New York both have their financial districts. In London you’ll see more well-heeled souls in the surrounding areas of Bank, known as ‘The City’.  And now, thanks to the gentrification of East London, a lot of city workers have expanded out to Liverpool Street.

The American equivalent can be found in Lower Manhattan, Greenwich Village where the Royal Stock Exchange is located. Conveniently opposite is Hermes Flagship store, the number one go-to outlet for investment bankers with disposable income looking for their weekly grenadine ties.

London fashion Base London
From the street of London

What’s the major difference?

Firstly there is less dandyism in the American financial district. The suits were very practical, full chested, low rise, no glaring windowpane checks, prince of wales or city tweeds.

When I spoke to former US Editor of Mr Porter Dan Rookwood for the Menswear Style Podcast, he also echoed this thought and spoke on how he had to morph his London to wardrobe when he moved to New York.

“The look is different in the years I’ve lived here. My wardrobe has changed almost completely. When I was London I was a buttoned-up, Savile Row, mad shoe kinda guy. Here that looks like fancy dress. Especially in a muggy New York summer it’s impractical.

I dress more practically here, love it or hate it sports luxury is very much the look. Athleisure was born here, that has permeated around the world, it’s the trend here.” – Dan Rookwood, Senior Director, Global Editorial Content Strategy at Nike

Dan Rookwood
Dan Rookwood, Senior Director, Global Editorial Content Strategy at Nike

English man in New York

We have recently seen an uptick in English tailors in New York. Turnbull and Asser is now on 57th Street, English Born David Reeves (tailor to Tom Hardy and Bryan Cranston) can be found by appointment in Union Square) and Jermyn Street menswear giants New & Lingwood is poised to open their flagship store in mid-October on Lexington.

On my recent trip to New York I spent the afternoon with Matt Spaiser, editor of the amazing menswear blog, The Suits of James Bond. We chanced across a gentleman in the street and quickly scrutinised his look.

An oversized window pane check jacket over mid-blue denim jeans, tight on the calves and a single roll. He wore some tanned loafers with no socks.

New York v London Fashion
What’s wrong with this picture?

Fashion critique

Matt and I discussed our shared mutual disdain, yet agreed the sockless-loafer look is less egregious than the sockless-brogue look which has become a mainstay in London catalogues. (Including Base London I may add, at the knowing risk of never getting asked back to write another article).

It might sound like we’re a pair of elitist fashion warriors judging and berating a poor gentleman’s style. I guess there’s no way of getting around that. In truth I never take pictures of people whose style doesn’t stand out or speak to me in some way.

So if this gentleman’s sartorial ambition is to stand out from the crowd, he has succeeded. In doing so he has also delivered a visual microcosm of everything that is wrong with American tailoring, a typical man who wants to buy nice things but doesn’t know how to wear them.

New York Matt Spaiser and Human Research
Matt Spaiser from Suits of James Bond and Pete Brooker from Human Research

Style observations from a New Yorker

After hunting down a few James Bond locations in New York, I prompted Matt to crystallise his thoughts on New York Tailoring. “Today, tailoring in New York is dominated by a few English tailors. There are also a handful of tailors who tailor in an updated American style.

In years past, some tailors in New York specialised in the Ivy League style, which features a soft-shouldered jacket with an undarted front and a rolled lapel, and Paul Winston’s shop still does this today.

Many tailors in New York also have traditionally done an updated American cut, which takes a bit from the English, a bit from the northern Italians and a bit from the Ivy League.

Street Style New York
From the streets of New York

Such suits will usually focus one of these three styles while having a touch of American blandness, and some have a completely nondescript look.

Many tailors from all over the world meet with clients in New York, which may be more appealing to some than using a local tailor who has a more bland style.” – Matt Spaiser, New Yorker and editor of The Suits of James Bond

Matt touches on a moot point here. Many of our British Savile Row tailors spend a considerable amount of time in the US with their trunk shows. Michael Skinner, chairman of Deges and Skinner,  spoke about most of his custom coming from trunk shows in an interview with Bloomberg 5 years ago.

“Only 25% of  our business comes in through the door the rest is done through traveling the US, India , Japan ,we still do it.

Whilst Savile Row has held dominion in the stakes of tailoring for over 300 years, the Americans have always had the indomitable Brooks Brothers, and fashion designers such as Tom Ford, Phillip Plein, Michael Kors are much more household names, albeit some in the world of couture.”

Brooks Brothers
Brooks Brothers flagship store in New York

We must discuss Brooks Brothers

We can’t skip idly by the subject of New York tailoring without mentioning Brooks Brothers, an iconoclastic American brand founded by Henry Sands Brooks on April 7, 1818.

Their flagship store has been stationed in New York since that time and there are currently 9 Brooks Brothers stores located in the New York area and they still produce and manufacture clothes in the city today.

The brand is still at the forefront of American tailoring and is prevalent in many US movies. In the modern day retelling of The Great Gatsby where they were commissioned to design 1500 pieces for the film’s wardrobe. George Clooney is an avid wearer of Brooks Brothers as is US chat show host Stephen Colbert.

New York Street Style
New York Gentleman

Do New York City Tailors do bespoke suits?

This is where you have a big dividing rod between the UK and the US. In London we have Savile Row that make bespoke suits in house. Bespoke; meaning it comes from a paper pattern, designed specifically for the customer and cut on the premises by the cutters of the house.

You have contemporary bespoke which is made from a block pattern, but with measurements and design features set to the customers’ requirements. Not cut in house, but rather shipped out overseas for production to save costs, with final fit and adjustments done locally in-house.

This speeds up the processes, minimises the number of times the customer has to come back to the store and keeps costs down.

Final thoughts and who wins UK versus US tailoring

I spent four days in the financial district. My lasting impression was that US tailoring is more functional, less for show. (Many people in New York wear comfortable trainers with formal wear and I presume, change once in the office). We share the same amount of population give or take 1/2 a million, so there’s no reason for the average Londoner to want to stand out more with more ostentatious suit patterns.

Street style man in New York
Opting for comfort

I will say that even the style of the British office worker has elapsed into a more casual tone with the aforementioned sockless loafer look and the shortened leg. Due to the warmer climate in New York there were a lot more gentlemen wearing shirts without jackets, much like in Singapore.

Street Wear NEW YORK versus LONDON

To compare apples with apples we have to look at the most vibrant parts of each city. If you venture into Brick Lane in London you’ll find an eclectic mix of vintage clothing and independent boutiques.

Despite the gentrification of East London it’s still got a unique energy and together with Soho, holds the mantle for the most urban and honest reflection of London street style.

I only had 3 days in New York, and I found the majority of US streetwear comparatively dull. Plenty of adventure-less navy polo’s over stone wash denim. Mid-town Manhattan and other touristy areas such as Madison, 5th Avenue and Central Park bore the most yawn-inducing streetwear you could ever wish to imagine.

However, when you stumble into Soho, Time Square East and Central Harlem, the culture truly springs to live.

London Street Style
East London Street style

What Street Wear Brands are big in the UK right now?  

In the UK we’re looking at a huge uptick in brands like Supreme, Yeezy’s and Palace according to UK Hypebeast. Superdry are still a dominant force and come winter you’ll start to see the usual 3-Zip Windcheater jackets, sadly. Superdry has some presence in the US but marginal.

Despite Nike’s horrible, empty-calorie advertising campaigns on asking ‘whether your dreams are crazy enough’, they are still the main player for street wear brands; Air Max 1 being one of the brands best sellers.

What’s surprising is that people are still affording these trainers even in times of austerity. People are once again going back to the 60’s of Peacocking, investing in experiences and cheap sartorial materialism rather than investment pieces or saving for down payments on a house.

According to Marie Malone, a fashion lecturer from Manchester University “Young people don’t want the same thing as everyone else, they want to look different on a Saturday night.

It’s a generational things, 20-30 year olds have different aspirations. Most have been priced out of the housing market, so no one is thinking long term anymore. It’s not achievable.

Now it’s all about life, lifestyle, going out. [Sic] We’ve gone for cheap fashion, not investment pieces.” Maria Malone lecturer at Manchester University, talking to Wake Up to Money Podcast.

In both the US and the UK Athleisure wear has incepted the luxury end of the market. Brands like Balenciaga and Gucci had introduced track suit bottoms, ponchos and sneakers into their collections.

Recently you may have noticed prodigious French fashion house Louis Vuitton collaborate with global streetwear brand Supreme. These limited edition pieces such as the Box Hoodie would have had an original tag of £200. Now currently with an astronomical reseller value of £10,000.

What Streetwear Brands are big in the US right now? 

Outside of the heavyweights Nike and Adidas, I noticed that the streetwear brands in America leaned heavily on the skateboard and hip hop culture.

Brands like Thrasher, Vans, HUF and Odd Future are prevalent, not as much as the Supreme and Kith, both US born brands. Japanese brand Bape is also strong with their Camo and Shark bite bags.

New York still has the same cheap basics such as Uniqlo, Top Man and H&M, that we do over here. However, the floral prints that you see from online brands such as Boohoo has not made its way over to the US just yet.

Boohoo are desperately trying to incept the US market, this will be the sole ambition of newly appointed CEO John Lyttle formerly of Primark.

Despite the ever-decreasing celebrity endorsement market, BooHoo are championing campaigns such as Paris Hilton collections, with Lil’ Kim performing at launch parties etc.

Starting your own fashion brand is a huge investment. A lot of start-ups are now taking on the direct to consumer method, curtailing overheads such as bricks and mortar and selling exclusively online. If Boohoo want continue their trajectory they have to expand internationally.

Final Verdict Who Wins

The true yardstick for me on who has the better street style between New York and London has to come down to how many times I find myself getting shots of strangers.

Predictably I found some common trends, distressed hems and knee blow outs are more common around the London landscapes.

Air Max, Jordans, Yeezys and Timberlands are the weapon of choice in the US, and noticeably not exclusive to the casual wearer. The US is built for comfort, not style.

Expect to do a lot of walking on unforgiving surfaces in the US, it’s no surprise that the city worker bins the brogues for soft heels when not in the office.

All that considered, when I unloaded the camera on the plane I found ore pictures of arty building reflections than I did of strident streetwear, dandy checked blazers or indomitable bespoke suits. It’s a vote for the home team on both accounts.

Wafer Waxy Base London
Wafer Waxy Trainer – Click to Shop