We all know her. She’s unlucky in love. If she’s not secretly crying in her bedroom after getting gifted a Joni Mitchell album from her cheating husband, she’s dressed like a Playboy bunny finding naked women in her boyfriend’s bathroom.
She’s the leading lady in any Richard Curtis movie and she’s either snogged Hugh Grant or Jude Law at some point, or wishes she has. While this sounds like an archetype destined only for the '00s, TikTokers are claiming it back in, what is essentially, a British-rom-com-core – or as Ella O’Keeffe, fashion and brand features editor at RUSSH Magazine, dubbed the “frazzled English woman” aesthetic.
The look is layers upon layers of knitwear, cardigans, mid-length skirts, opaque tights and knee-high boots mismatched with tiny scarves and messy hair. It’s Renée Zellweger as Bridget Jones and Kate Winslet in The Holiday. It’s a move away from today’s hyper-perfect aesthetic shaped by influencer culture – and despite its name, doesn’t actually imply being frazzled. It’s just not flawless.
As O’Keeffe explains in her TikTok, this “frazzled” aesthetic hopped straight from a 2006 Blu-ray and onto the runways and It-girls. “I usually hate referencing anything as an aesthetic because for a lot of people the pieces referenced are just everyday clothing, and are basically a meeting point between corporate attire, fall layering, and a bit of nostalgia,” O’Keeffe tells Refinery29.
And we’re seeing it everywhere. For instance, Altazurra’s Spring/Summer '23 collection at last month’s New York Fashion Week spotlighted office-appropriate blouses peeking out from under fine knitwear (à la Sarah in Love Actually) while Paloma Wool’s skirts grazing past knee-high boots epitomise the 30-something-working-in-publishing look. Even model Bella Hadid has been spotted on the streets of New York City in pleasantly-awkward length midi skirts and tall boots.
The "frazzled English woman" certainly isn’t a Kardashian-Jenner and her uber-refined self, rather Bridget Jones walking around the office in a see-through top that accidentally flashes on camera.
Biz Sherbert, culture editor at The Digital Fairy, explains that the aesthetic “embraces the undone quality that’s come into fashion with the indie sleaze revival. It also seems to be part of the ‘true–thousands’ trend [a phenomenon described by TikToker Rian Phin which is all about dressing how normal people truly dressed in the '00s, versus the extreme looks worn by celebrities and those on the fringes of fashion.” The "frazzled English woman" certainly isn’t a Kardashian-Jenner and her uber-refined self, rather Bridget Jones walking around the office in a see-through top that accidentally flashes on camera.
Susie Friedman, a London-based fashion creator whose TikTok bio reads “a modern Bridget Jones (or so I’m told)” doesn’t personally identify with the aesthetic, but frequently recreates the character’s iconic fits. “I think Bridget’s an interesting style icon because she just has a normal wardrobe and I think like most of us half the time, she kind of looks a bit strange in that the outfits don’t completely work or there’s always something a little bit wrong,” Friedman says. “Then some of the time she just completely nails it. She doesn’t dress particularly well most of the time – I guess just like normal people.”
In a sense, this British-rom-com-core is the remedy to the toxicity of the “clean girl aesthetic,” with everything no longer needing to be slicked back with Olaplex or part of a spotless matching set. “It kind of validates the fact that sometimes you can pull together a good outfit, and little things aren’t going to work. Maybe your hair’s a mess, or your makeup’s not pulled together and I think on TikTok especially, there has been for a while a fixation on the whole look being completely put-together,” says Friedman.
If you really want to get in on O’Keeffe’s “frazzled English woman” aesthetic”, raiding an Oxfam is your best option, given that Friedman describes Bridget Jones’s look as “very charity shop”. With a steady rise of secondhand shopping in the UK, this is yet another factor lending to the success of this look’s revival.
As we enter an autumn that’s already bringing the kind of chill everyone seemed to have forgotten about, '00s layering helps open the door for this trend to grow. For O’Keeffe, she believes the aesthetic is likely to be consumed in parts rather than whole, reassuring that “we will likely see elements of the trend enter the mainstream, but we won’t have an army of '00s Keira Knightleys on our hands any time soon.”
Army of Knightleys or not, the 'I tried but not too hard' aesthetic alone is enough to give anyone their very own “I look quite pretty” moment.