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The London American – What to Wear in London? Guide to London Fashion

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Everyone knows that London is a fashionable city. It is quite different from anywhere I’ve lived, and I decided to change my wardrobe accordingly when I moved. Chicago is quite a casual city, and in winter becomes a sea of black and brown when everyone moves into the winter shades. I wanted color, sophistication, and uniqueness.

My first step was to get rid of all my sweatpants. I have never seen a Londoner wearing sweatpants, even when walking to and from the gym. I used to live in sweatpants, wearing them everywhere from the shops to classes to restaurants. This is a big no-no in London. The proper leg covering for women is leggings, usually black, but occasionally patterned or other colors. After initially laughing at people wearing just leggings without a skirt or some other cover (the only people in the US who do this are pre-teens), I gave in and bought a few. I’ve found leggings to be rather versatile – I can wear them under a dress, and then change quickly for yoga classes; I can wear them under a heavy skirt for layering; and I can very quickly go from lounging to clubbing just by changing my shirt. (I do miss sweatpants, though, and brought some back just to wear around my flat. Nothing beats the coziness.)

Kate Moss

Actress Kate Moss and friend in leggings, from CelebrityLeggings. Note that they’re wearing coats: it must be winter, and yet they lack real pants. Also note the footwear.

Next, I invested in a good pair of boots. This pleased me to no end – they’re leather, waterproof, and have a slight heel. However, I soon discovered that boots are not required winter wear. London does have a winter, with temperatures down to the 20s (Fahrenheit) and occasional snow, but Londoners seem to have developed a superhuman ability to ignore the weather completely. While bundled up in coat, scarf, hat, mittens, and boots, I’d often see girls wearing skirts, leggings, flats, and light jackets, basically dressed for early fall. I looked fashionable in my boots anyway, and avoided feeling cold and miserable. I notice quite often that Londoners dress inappropriately for the weather. On the same 30-degree day I saw young girls dressed for summer, as well as some wearing parkas and snow boots. The point: no matter what you wear in winter, you will never look out of place.

I also bought some new dresses, expecting to be dressed up whenever I went out. This is not the case. Generally, I only dress up to go to bars or clubs. I was once dancing at a club in Soho and realized I was one of two women wearing jeans: the rest were all in skirts or dresses. However, I keep forgetting this and still frequently go out in what I lounge in all day, always ending up the least dressed up! There is a certain dress code for clubs, and it involves at least trying to look nice. For women, anything goes, and outfits range from jeans and a nice shirt to outrageous makeup and super high heels. Men are usually derided if they wear sneakers – a nice pair of jeans, a clean shirt, and good shoes is the bare minimum. These are only the guidelines for the places I frequent, but others are much more intense. I’ve seen girls queueing in winter for snazzy, expensive clubs wearing a uniform of tiny black dress, insanely high heels, and excessive eye makeup (note the lack of coats). I don’t understand the appeal of this, but to each her own.

Pixie Geldof

Celeb Pixie Geldof and two well-dressed gentlemen at the London Fashion Awards. From Life.

In addition to learning new dress codes, I also had to learn new dress terminology. It still causes me buckets of trouble when I confuse “pants” and “trousers” – in the U.K., pants means underwear! This has led to quite a few embarrassing situations. Instead, say trousers or jeans. A sweater in the U.K. is a “jumper,” and a “playsuit” is not worn by children, but is more like a jumpsuit.  Really, pants and trousers is the important one, and the only one that’ll make people laugh at you!


Author: Stacy

Stacy is a graduate student in archaeology currently living in London. She enjoys visiting museums, riding the tube, splashing through puddles, and giving directions to lost tourists. She also writes a blog about pies.

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  1. So true about the pants/trousers tip – I once went into Primark to return some cheap jogging pants. When I said that to the clerk he looked at me like I was insane and told me they didn’t allow returns on pants. I apologized, corrected myself, and returned the item but still felt like a complete heel.

  2. I know, right? I once went on and on about how my pants had a hole in them and everybody looked at me like I was insane until I showed them the very non-scandalous hole in my trouser pocket!

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