7 Moments to Remember from England's Stylish Past, in Honor of London Fashion Week 2013

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7 Moments to Remember from England's Stylish Past, in Honor of London Fashion Week 2013

New York Fashion Week is over, so some of us are kicking off our high heels while the fashion elite speed overseas to meet our British cousins in the next iteration of Fashion Week, London-style. Never underestimate the power of a tiny country to make waves in the style community; England has a rich and storied sartorial history that could never be summed up in a single slideshow. But since it's (still) Fashion Week — er, month — and we've got shows to attend (or watch online), here goes, anyway.

New York Fashion Week is over, so some of us are kicking off our high heels while the fashion elite speed overseas to meet our British cousins in the next iteration of Fashion Week, London-style. Never underestimate the power of a tiny country to make waves in the style community; England has a rich and storied sartorial history that could never be summed up in a single slideshow. But since it's (still) Fashion Week — er, month — and we've got shows to attend (or watch online), here goes, anyway.

Elizabethan Opulence (1558–1603)

England's "golden era" was presided over by everyone's favorite badass queen: Elizabeth I, she of the bright red hair and elaborate ruffs. This distinctly fashion-conscious era was marked by yards of fabric and a distinct lack of bathing — but that didn't stop ladies from piling on the pearls and sculpting their hair into outrageous updos that put our ubiquitous topknots to shame. (Check out the modern-day equivalent of Elizabethan extremism — Thom Browne sent his nightmare version of the era stumbling down the runway at NYFW just last week.)

Neoclassicism and Jane Austen (late 1700s-early 1800s)

Hopping ahead a century or two just got a lot easier, since gowns in the Elizabeth Bennet era were more informal and characterized by a softer silhouette. Tight corsets were thrown to the (pure countryside) winds as flowing, high-waisted gowns came into vogue. As you've probably seen in your favorite Pride & Prejudice adaptation, white day gowns were very popular – the better for traipsing after Mr. Darcy in.

Victorian Rules (1837-1901)

Though our concepts of the Victorian era as fussy and prudish are mostly just an overblown stereotype, the Victorian era was strict about certain things — particularly mourning garb, which all depended on who you were mourning, whether you'd been mourning before, and how many yards of crepe each mourning situation required. Queen Victoria saw many feminine silhouettes come and go during her long reign, helped out by undergarments such as the hoop skirt, the crinoline, and the bustle (break for meta commentary here). 

Edwardian Curves (early 1900s)

With a man on the throne again, cleavage came back in style. (Okay, maybe that's an oversimplification, but historians have speculated that the Edwardian trend for full curves stemmed from Edward VII's appreciation of mature women.) The women in the painting are covered up now, but just wait till the dancing begins. Broad hats were also very chic. Undergarments were less hampered; the Edwardian woman was beginning to move into a more freeing century (and, for the next several decades, she'd be following international trends, like the flapperism of the 1920s). 

Mary Quant's Miniskirt (1964)

You can thank Mary Quant for freeing our legs forever (or curse her for inspiring creepers everywhere, depending on what kind of mood you're in this morning). Miss Quant sold her own clothing designs in London and began playing around with shorter and shorter skirts during the late 1950s. A couple of years and some significant snips of fabric later, the miniskirt was born in 1964. She named it after her favorite car: the Mini. Mod fashion picked up the style, and leggy women everywhere have never looked back.

The Birth of Punk (1970s)

The poster children of punk may have been bad-boy guitar-smashers like The Clash and the Sex Pistols, but the invention of this anti-anti-antiestablishment clothing trend is usually credited to a chick: Dame Vivienne Westwood. Her designs for a boutique called SEX in the '70s (think razor blades and BDSM) served as the jumping-off point for a lot of punk fashion. Seems a little counter-intuitive to think of a punk designer, but there you have it. 

Real-Life Princesses

The world has had its princesses before, but with globalization and ever-faster methods of information exchange, ladies who marry into the royal family these days become immediate international mega-celebrities and English royalty. With great celebrity comes great fashion influence: Both Kate Middleton and Princess Diana have been celebrated for their impeccable style, which tends to be characterized by perfect hair and a tinge of repressed feminine tragedy. Perhaps the sweetest moment of princess fashion we've seen in the past few decades was when Kate paid homage to her deceased mother-in-law by wearing a blue polka-dot dress on her son's first outing, just like Diana did.