King’s Road Caroline and Fulham Fiona are back. Their Barbours are less mud-stained now they’ve been designed by Alexa Chung rather than plucked off the peg chez mummy and daddy, and when they pop into Peter Jones their silk scarves are tied over their mouths in a nod to the virus rather than around their necks.
But the biggest difference between 1980 and 2020 is that the reign of the Sloane Ranger is no longer confined to west London.
Four decades after their heyday, the style set is finally using Sloanes as top-to-bottom fashion inspiration. Even in the year leading up to Charles and Diana’s wedding, the look was a cultural phenomenon but it was never particularly cool.
When The Sloane Ranger Handbook was published in 1982, it described the ubiquitous pie-crust collars, Gucci loafers, Hermès scarves, velvet Alice-bands and navy-blue gilets as, “middle-aged dressing for young people.”
Ouch. But now Emma Corrin poses on the cover of this month’s Vogue in a Sloane-tastic cobalt dipped hem ball gown by Oscar de la Renta looking anything but dowdy. On the red carpet circuit this year, the 24-year-old actress playing Diana in The Crown has been photographed in shirts and dresses with oversized collars by Miu Miu, a hot pink Valentino puff-sleeve gown and a pinstripe suit by Celine that all pay tribute to the woman she brings to life.
“There is something very reassuring about clothes from that time, and something very reassuring about Princess Diana and knowing what we need from fashion right now,” says Sophie Goodwin, former fashion director of Tatler, now freelance stylist and contributing editor. “She more than anyone had an amazing grasp on the importance of clothes, and it wasn’t a vanity project but an understanding of what people needed and wanted. It makes sense that we’re looking back to Diana in a year like this one.”
Corrin isn’t the only twentysomething enamoured with Sloane style. A week ago, penny loafers were spotted on the feet of supermodel Bella Hadid, who wore hers with a pair of vintage Levi’s and a not-very-Sloane slogan T-shirt saying “Your voice matters”. Thousands of American teenagers promptly went on TikTok to ask what exactly this goody-two-shoes style was.
The answer was all over the autumn/winter 2020 catwalks: loafers with a chunky platform heel at Celine; in chain mail at JW Anderson; in ski-ready white at Versace and with a minimalist twist at The Row. At Gucci they were even adorned with tassels just like Hooray Henrys would have been 35 years ago – and luckily nowadays you don’t even need to work at Savills to look at home in a pair.
It is not just designer brands that are tapping into the look. Russell and Bromley, Uterqüe, & Other Stories and Mango, not to mention Church’s, have all released tasselled, heeled and chunky penny loafers – wear them with straight-leg jeans, thick cords or checked minis and tights.
And then there are the primly pretty blouses with pie-crust or Peter Pan collars, which are front and centre of nearly every high street collection this season. Their accessories sections, meanwhile, are stuffed with velvet headbands and navy blue and black scrunchies.
“What’s interesting is that designer brands have referenced this way of dressing before,” says Goodwin. “Think about Edie Campbell as Diana in French Vogue in 2018. But now high street stores are really pushing the big collars and the penny loafers, so we’re seeing it as a trend across the entire industry for the first time.”
And as we shift into coat-wearing, the look will really take hold. Back in 1982, outerwear was just as important as footwear at proving U-credentials, and whether she was browsing on the King’s Road or striding around the fields of Wiltshire, a good Sloane Ranger was rarely without her Barbour.
Tap in the brand name to Google and you’ll be greeted with an array of images of Princess Diana and Sarah Ferguson standing in muddy fields wearing ancient moss-green Barbours, their collars turned up against the photographers and the English drizzle.
Today, the range is a lot more stylish than it once was thanks to Alexa Chung, who has just released her third collection for the brand. Her designs are a flattering hybrid of traditional wax jackets and high-end trenches, and appeal to long-term Barbour fans like the Duchess of Cambridge, as well women who don’t know the first thing about polo.
“It’s fascinating to see the way Alexa can take a 50-year-old jacket from our archive and completely rework it,” says Dame Margaret Barbour, the chairman of the brand. “Before long, sleeves have been adjusted, new colourways have been created and secret pockets have stealthily been added on.”
Chung is a country girl at heart and her collection was designed in homage to Hampshire, where she grew up – and she certainly knows her way around a wax jacket after years of pony club (very Sloane) and Glastonbury (less Sloane than Wilderness but better than Reading).
“Everyone adores Alexa – the way she dresses really resonates with women which is why she shifts product so quickly,” says Goodwin. “If she’s wearing it, then people suddenly want to be the girl in the wax jacket. And anyway, this year country living seems more appealing than ever – one look at the statistics of the number of people moving out of London bears that out.”
One of the gems of the collection is The Trudie, which was inspired by Barbour’s Eighties’ designs and which has flared sleeves, a belted waist and a neat navy blue collar. Aptly, in the collection’s campaign images it was styled with boots tucked into jeans and checked headscarf. Both trends we’re set to see a lot more of this season.
Before the team at Harper’s Baazar came up with the term Sloane Ranger in 1982, they called them “The Knightsbridge Knotted” because of their penchant for headscarves. Over the summer, influencers like Camille Charrière and Brooklyn Beckham’s fiancée Nicole Peltz started using silk scarves as impromptu tops, worn with baggy jeans and shorts. Meanwhile, nearly every celebrity from Sarah Jessica Parker to Sienna Miller has substituted a mask for a scarf knotted over half her face.
As the weather cools, these same women are tucking their high-waisted jeans into boots, much like the urban pony-lovers of the Eighties did. Make the look modern this autumn with low heeled boots that end just under the knee, and style with an oversized blazer – & Other Stories has a particularly good range of boots that are a mishmash between cowboy and riding style and that will fit even the thickest denim under the zip.
Just how little or how much of this trend you want to wear is entirely up to you. The brave will go fully retro and look fabulous with pearls, headbands, pie-crust blouses and tasselled loafers.
Knee-high crocodile-effect leather boots, £458, Paris Texas at Matches Fashion; Mollie bow flat shoes in black patent, £28, ASOS Design; Loafers, £120, Uterqüe; Oversized Organza Scrunchie, £8, Arket; Shirt with small lace collar, £209, Sandro; Peter pan collar, £29.99, Zara; Headband, £80, Ganni at Matches Fashion
Or make it modern by throwing a Barbour over jeans, Veja trainers and a sweatshirt, and wearing gold-chain loafers with a mid-calf silk skirt and a chunky polo neck. “This is not a one-size-fits-all trend and unlike the past, there are no real rules around it,” says Goodwin. “So long as you are being yourself, just have fun with it.”
Despite having a very distinctive style of their own, the original Sloanes were ironically rather anti-fashion – but they knew exactly who they were and they weren’t asking for approval from anyone else.
In a year where we’re craving authenticity and enjoying finding hidden gems at the back of our wardrobes, is it any surprise that instead of looking forward to an uncertain future, we’re looking back to one of the most comforting aesthetics of the last few decades? Long live the Sloane Ranger.