Autumn is here (at least in theory), and even if you're not entering the third grade, it's time for a back-to-school/work wardrobe. If you're already tearing up at the thought of missing your beachside sunbathing time, not to worry: fall is an utterly gorgeous season in nature and, of course, in fashion. However, summer can be a tricky season for the bank account with the constant lure of weekend getaways and rooftop bars. If you're working with a negligible budget for fall fashions and the looks at local chain stores have lost their luster, it may be time to think outside the box and look across the Atlantic for inspiration.
Britain does many things admirably, and one of its finest accomplishments aside from the contributions of countless literary virtuosos to the world is fashion. Beyond Burberry and Stella McCartney are a veritable sea of high street retailers whose clothing looks like it may cost a pretty penny but actually sells for less than an Oyster Card for the London Underground. Though Topshop and Zara are famed for their chic looks at low prices, the two brands are merely the tip of the iceberg when it comes to English style. So forget your pilgrimage to Forever 21, because these nine British brands are the next best thing in fashion.
1. RIVER ISLAND
River Island may well be the U.K.'s answer to Nasty Gal, with its extensive collection of club wear and its unthinkably low prices. But the retailer also offers elegant coats, mod mini skirts, and midcentury-inspired satin midis. With much of its stock under $100, it may be hard to resist temptation with this British gem.
Call it L.K. Bennett's more affordable — and more whimsical — little sister. Whistles provides Kate Middleton-worthy wares that adhere to current fashion trends, but aren't ruled by them. Most of the label's enviable items could serve double duty as workwear and loungewear, like this printed silk skirt or the brand's relaxed yet refined sweatshirts. And don't miss out on Whistles's extensive accessories collection; the beautifully-made jewelry and belts are perfect for providing much-needed accents to bland ensembles.
If you haven't already partaken in the joyful e-enterprise that is ASOS, you're missing out on a significant cultural movement. The online store not only boasts its own affordable label with trendy pieces like full midi skirts and crop tops, but also offers clothing from favored high street brands like Warehouse and Oasis. In addition, the website provides a handy trend guide when the sheer volume of merchandise makes you forget exactly what you were looking for.
If you adore patterns, embroidery, and figure-flattering jeans under $80, Monsoon may be your shopping mecca. The forty-year-old British company creates its wares with the help of India and Afghanistan-based artisans to develop the unique, optical patterns and prints for which Monsoon is renowned.
5. NEW LOOK
If you think you can't work the blanket wrap like Cara Delevingne or the cocoon coat like a Hitchcock blond, British high street retailer New Look is here to prove you wrong. With statement checkered coats available for just under $100 and optic floral shifts for $40, you can restock your wardrobe for fall without breaking the bank — or even denting it.
If you're looking for a dress that resembles Victoria Beckham's notoriously pricey wares, or a shift that captures the animal print trend without costing a bundle, Oasis should be on your browser's Favorites list. The retailer's newest collection, Flutter by Oasis, enlists the design expertise of Peter Ting to provide beautiful, feminine silhouettes printed with delicate natural patterns.
Find trendy kicks, slouchy knits, or a dress for your next night out all in one place at Boohoo.com. You may be able to score a tee or top for $20, but the surprisingly solid quality ensures that your quick fix impulse buy won't fall apart after a single wear.
The COS website emphasizes the brand's motto of "favouring style over fashion," a concept which even couture designers occasionally forget. An item from COS will rarely set you back more than $200, but each piece would be equally fitting for a well-dressed university student or a chic CEO.
9. Marks & Spencer
This nearly 150-year-old company may have begun as a tiny niche in a bustling English market, but now the expansive store boasts everything from picnic blankets and wine to reasonably priced accessories, clothes, and shoes from the brand's house line. This scarf may look like couture, but it will set you back less than $30.
Images: Maridav/Fotolia.com; River Island Oversized Coat, $160, us.riverisland.com; ASOS High Waist Pants in Soft Floral, $67.71, us.asos.com; Whistles Olivia Rockprint Silk Skirt, $275, whistles.com; Monsoon Juniper Jacquard Skirt, $79, us.monsoon.co.uk; New Look Black Check Blanket Wrap, newlook.com; Flutter by Oasis Peter Ting Placement Tee, $49, oasis.andotherbrands.com; Boohoo Harper Heart Elbow Patch Jumper, $39.99, boohoo.com; COS Deep-Neck Printed Dress, $135, cosstores.com; M&S Collection New Lightweight Lips Print Scarf, marksandspencer.com