Retail essentials: what is ‘high street fashion’ in the UK?

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It’s only fair to say it; if you hail from an English-speaking country and you’re visiting London or, actually, anywhere in the UK for the first time, it can be a slightly confusing, nay bewildering experience at times. And that’s because, sharing a language with another country only goes so far; in fact, it can create misplaced assumptions because people from countries that share the same language may fall into the trap of thinking the other country’s culture is more similar to their own than is actually the case.

Often this is revealed in how the two countries use the shared language – specifically, how they use it differently. For instance, you may be visiting the UK capital (and staying in one of the London 5 star hotels) and getting on fine, discovering many similarities between your country – the United States, say – and the country you’re visiting. But then you’ll come across a saying, a phrase or a term that simply floors you. Indeed, when you’re out shopping, a good instance might be the term ‘high street fashion’…

London shopping street

What is a high street?

Understanding what the term ‘high street’ means, at least for North Americans, isn’t difficult – it’s the exact equivalent of the North American term ‘main street’. To wit, in the UK a high street is simply the retail and commercial-based stretch of road (sometimes fully or partially pedestrianised) in a town or city. Most often, you get high streets cropping up in provincial Britain; in the country’s major cities, various districts, suburbs and even neighbourhoods will likely have their own individual high streets.

They also occur even in the small villages of the British countryside; traditionally, such a high street would contain a church, a post office, a bank or two, a chemists (pharmacy), a butchers, a bakers, a grocers, one or more clothes shops, a telephone box (a public pay phone) and at least one village shop (convenience store). In such small villages or small, medium-sized and large towns, the high street may well actually be officially called ‘High Street’; although equally it may not and there may be another street in the place officially called ‘High Street’ (which, historically, once was the ‘high street’). Moreover, the ‘High Street’ may no longer run along the highest point in the village or town.

High street fashion

Inevitably, as the 20th Century progressed, the idea of the high street became synonymous not just with all things commercial, but all things retail. And, of course, one of the primary drivers of retail is fashion. And for much of the second half of the 20th Century and, generally, still today, it’s been the primary driver of British high street retail thanks to food shopping having increasingly left the high street for ‘out of town’ supermarkets.

In which case then, the UK term ‘high street fashion’ is understood to refer to mass-market-style clothing choices consumers make. It’s high volume and non-exclusive, but usually expected to be high-standard, well-made clothing. For instance, the bastion of high street fashion is what you’d expect to browse through and buy in the clothes shops of Central London’s Oxford Street or in East London’s gigantic Westfield Stratford shopping centre (the latter a retail and multiple entertainment and restaurant venue that, should you be staying nearby at the Montcalm hotel London City, you must take the time to visit).