Culture Shock

Madison Oliver

Lift or elevator? Take-away or to-go? The differences that separate one English speaking country from another are undeniable. I grew up in the suburbs of Philadelphia where fads like velour tracksuits and fur boots were worshipped. Brand names and comfort were more important than the fact that your outfit resembled a bath towel. I was only enlightened to my enormous misconceptions about fashion after my six-week study abroad experience in London. While I still argue that no one knows a good cheesesteak better than a true Philadelphian, I now say no one knows sophisticated fashion like a true Londoner.

I would reluctantly call my pre-voyage shoe store experience a saving grace, but I will be forever grateful to the young woman who helped me select my first pair of trainers (British for pretty sneaker). In sheer shock, the European shoe store saleswoman chastised me for intending to wear my mainstream athletic sneaker as a casual day shoe outside of the gym. I’m not saying I wore “mom sneakers” and light washed jeans to the clubs, but were my all-black tennis shoes that bad? I left the store with my first slap of British-style trainers feeling a little confused (and a little offended).

The first time I walked through South Kensington, I was astonished by how American my peers looked. Contrary to popular belief, accents aren’t the dead giveaway of whether someone is from London -- clothes speaks first. The concept of formal sneakers (trainers) isn’t mind boggling, but it seemed genius compared to the flat, uncomfortable, unsupportive sandals us American girls wore around the city.

The style and functionality of my new trainers set the tone for the British style I grew to love. Men and women of all ages, from children to grandparents, looked impeccable -- and most importantly -- comfortable. In warm weather, men wore lightweight trousers and in the cooler temperatures women wore light sweaters and blazers. There was no time for basketball shorts and tattered sweatshirts in this fashion-forward metropolis. The shoe salesperson was right: rarely did you find a person who donned a British accent clad in athletic wear. And on the occasion you did, it was obvious that they were returning from the gym or a run through Hyde Park.

The American idea that pain is beauty and high fashion cannot be comfortable is absurd. There is no need for impractical fashion when there lies an endless array of more comfortable options that are just as stylish. Americans, myself included, have overlooked this amazing concept. However, British style has influenced me to embrace a simpler wardrobe and keep practicality in mind, especially in my shoe choices. Alongside my approximately 300 Bostonian peers, my typical laid back, sporty, American style evolved into a more well-conceived British look.

As much as I miss South Kensington-style, every morning when I wake up in Boston, I feel a flicker of nostalgia when I reach for one of my many pairs of trainers. I understand why unsupportive shoes and unflattering sweatshirts may be easy to slip into on a cold Boston morning, but the satisfaction of feeling comfortable, while still looking stylish is quintessentially British.



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