Like most world capitals, London should have its share of well-dressed businessmen, but the suit thing followed us to Wales, Dublin and Belfast and smaller cities in between. The trendy color is royal blue. Jackets and trousers are cut much tighter and shorter than in the U.S., though few American men don suits outside banks or funeral homes these days.
Speaking of blue, I was amazed by all the blue shoes. From dress shoes to sneakers, I was surrounded by blue shoes. No suede ones (sorry Elvis), but when I pointed this fact later to my friend Diane in Gloucester, she looked puzzled until I looked down. She was wearing a blue pair too.
How many American women wear dresses to work? It was refreshing to see them every day—still—in the UK and Ireland. Women in what we would call church or funeral clothes marched into office buildings, schools, banks and shops at every turn.
Store windows featured suits and dresses with accessories in one of two accent colors: bright coral and powder blue. Every other woman wore black hose or tights. Yes, even in May. Blame the cool, rainy weather.
But all in all, the children stole the show. One afternoon popping into a grocery store, a little girl caught our eye. She was wearing the cutest blue pinafore with crisscross straps in back—an outfit I might have worn to kindergarten in 1960.
She was not alone. We saw children of all ages in neat frocks in calico and gingham, smocked bodices and embroidery the likes of which I have not seen here in 50 years. I gasped in delight at young girls with neat braids and straw boater hats and store windows displaying the most darling children’s clothing imaginable—smocked dresses, Peter Pan collars, knee britches—all of the well-trimmed clothes we might expect the Banks children to wear in Mary Poppins are alive and well on the streets of Knightsbridge and beyond.
One children’s shop in Wales enticed me to step inside and ask where they find such amazingly detailed merchandise. Spain and Portugal, the shopkeeper said. I smiled. At least their imported goods come from someplace other than China.
Meanwhile, older children through teens looked tidy and dapper in their school blazers, ties and white shirts. British designers and consumers obviously have higher standards for children’s wear. As we traveled across England, Wales, Ireland and Northern Ireland, we smiled at children dressed to look like young ladies and gentlemen instead of Vegas show girls or rap singers. This is not to say that British don’t have parenting issues, but conservative clothing does tend to encourage better behavior. British school administrators figured this out generations ago.
Meanwhile, American tourists could be spotted instantly—baggy trousers, sweat shirts with bold slogans, sneakers and backpacks.
Lucky me. I’d packed black slacks, a black jacket and a coral-colored neck scarf. Maybe I’d be more immune to pickpockets. Maybe I could pass for a local. I knew I had succeeded the very first day when a British gentleman stopped me to ask for directions to the Irish Embassy.