London Style Notes And Some Rarefied Shopping

The Venerable Fortnum & Mason

Londoners move fast! Even if it weren’t for everyone wearing outwear everywhere, all the time, I would have had difficulty getting any definitive street style pics, as no one slows down for an instant, except to wait for a green crossing light. London is as ethnically and culturally diverse as any major city, defying any pigeon-holing of a dominant style aesthetic.

Even so, I observed a few common threads:

  • “Gussying Up.” Londoners, at least in the areas we visited, tend to dress up for dinner, even just a bit more so than in Paris. I observed that women frequently wore dresses and heels (with nude or no tights), men wore blazers. I didn’t see people out for dinner in jeans (even nice jeans), other than in pubs or very casual places. 
  • Flats. During the daytime, everyone is in flats, whether ballet flats, sneakers or flat boots. I rarely saw women out in heels except in evenings.
  • Kitten heels. But when I did see heels, few were the vertiginous platforms and I spotted lower and kitten heels on several very stylish women, from young to mature.
  • Printed scarves, silk or otherwise. Saw women of all ages in printed silk scarves more so than I’ve observed in Paris in recent years, usually peeking out from the collar of a trench coat. Which brings me to…
  • Trenches. Ubiquitous. Usually some variation on the classic tan trench, though in a variety of fabrics, lengths and detailing. I also spotted brightly colored trenches, usually red or orange.

We often spend a good deal of time on vacation shopping for the perfect gifts for folks back home. We’d heard that the Harrod’s Food Halls were not to be missed and as it wasn’t far from our hotel, decided to make a pass though. Harrod’s is sort of like the Disneyland of department stores, an attraction all on its own. People come to gawk; shopping is secondary (and from what I could determine, mostly high end). Like Disneyland, Harrod’s surprisingly seemed to have absolutely no problem with people snapping pictures on the premises. No place else we tried this took as kindly to it.

Just one of what seemed like a dozen halls.
We are amused.
The Hall Of Endless Chocolate
“Luca Brasi sleeps with the fishes.”

Beautiful as it was, we didn’t think the fish would travel well, but did pick up some very nice boxes of chocolates there. At Fortnum & Mason we found some lovely teas and biscuits. (Wish we’d had more time in that store…stumbled onto it on our way to meet le monsieur’s cousin for dinner so only had time to explore the first floor before we had to rush off.)

I really hadn’t planned to do any shopping for myself, but did want to scout out some brands and shops that I’d heard of but aren’t readily available in the US. We browsed around Harvey Nichols, which while upscale was less steroidal (and was certainly less crowded) than Harrods. I had a chance to pop into Jigsaw and look around while over in the Charing Cross area, and found it quite style-accessible. We never made it to Selfridges. Other than a few British/European brands that aren’t brick-and-mortar-available here, it seemed that style and fashion are certainly global now. I would have loved to seek out some smaller boutiques and markets, but our schedule didn’t allow for that this time and so whatever shopping we did was limited to what we happened to come across as we were out and about. However the Universe did put a couple of nice things in my path, which I’ll share in a subsequent post.

Do you shop much while on vacation? Do you have favorite types of gifts to bring home?

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  1. May 20, 2013 / 11:00 am

    It looks like you packed a lot in your tight schedule!
    I think people make more of an effort when out to dinner in cities but in small towns, it doesn’t really happen.
    When in London I usually end up in Selfridges as it’s nearest my commute. It has everything I like to look at and isn’t as crowded.
    On vacation, I do try to find small gifts that are unique to the place but it’s not always possible.
    I can’t wait to see what you bought!

  2. May 20, 2013 / 12:16 pm

    Love to shop when traveling and seek out local designers/artisans or brands not sold where I live, such as Katherine Hamnett. I avoid touristy stores, they make me feel like a penned animal. For that reason I occasionally pay too much at a flea market or boutique but at least it’s a more human experience. We have entirely cut out gifts for people back home unless a friend asks a favour.

    re heels, London is the city, where, in the early ’80s, I discovered Arche shoes after trying to negotiate the cobblestones in heels. Looking fwd to seeing what you bought and as am away rest of week will check in later.

  3. May 20, 2013 / 2:10 pm

    Whenever I’ve been in London, I’ve noticed that women definitely stay away from sky high heels, stilettos, and platform shoes. (I’ve actually noticed that in Paris and Sydney too.)

    During the winter months, Londoners appear to wear only black, gray, and navy blue. There were times on the Tube when my family appeared to glow by comparison, color-wise.

  4. May 20, 2013 / 2:26 pm

    No, not really.
    I love Fortnums, it’s my favourite shop in London.

  5. May 20, 2013 / 2:26 pm

    No, not really.
    I love Fortnums, it’s my favourite shop in London.

  6. May 20, 2013 / 3:54 pm

    We don’t do a lot of shopping when we travel. However, last year in Big Sur, I purchased the most wonderful Mexican Silver ring–very simple–not expensive. I wear it almost every day. We are considering having it copied in gold. It’s that wonderful.

    I’ve always enjoyed Harrod’s even though it is a tourist magnet. It is fun to see!

    I do have favorite shops in Santa Fe that I like to visit.

    I can’t wait to hear about your purchases. And I enjoyed following your trip. I look forward to seeing how you may change your makeup and/or clothing colors now that you are a blond. I’ve found that there are certain beiges I can’t wear with my blond/white hair. But, there are so many shades of blonde, so you may well be able to wear colors that I can’t wear.

  7. May 20, 2013 / 4:44 pm

    Because we have a big family and because we travel carry-on, I decided long ago that we would keep gift-giving for birthdays and Christmases. Since my granddaughter was born, I’ve made a tradition of picking up a little dress for her in Paris and will continue that with my second granddaughter — but will re-evaluate if more come along. . . And if we something that is perfect for someone, I’d bend my “rules” if the item isn’t too big. I do find that there is less and less that can’t be got somewhere back home or online. . . So glad to hear you enjoyed London so much. Isn’t Harrod’s something!!

  8. May 20, 2013 / 5:20 pm

    A hall of chocolate? Oh, my – yes, please!
    What beautiful pictures. I have British and Scottish friends that love to visit me because they don’t have to bundle up in the Deep South. I try to adhere more to European standards when it comes to dressing up a little.
    I’ve so enjoyed reading all about your trip 😉

    Spashionista (Alicia)

  9. Nicolene Richards
    May 20, 2013 / 11:15 am

    Shopping in London can get a little tedious, however, I shop for specific things like cooking ingredients when travelling, truffle oil at Harrods, truffles in Paris, smoked Paprika in Budapest, and perhaps Lemon Grass tea in Thailand etc! If customs allowed it, I would always bring back goats milk cheese from Amsterdam, but regretfully they don’t when you enter South Africa! I also take advantage of season end sales, and London is perfect for that purpose, especially Oxford Street! Nice post!!!

  10. Pam @ over50feeling40
    May 20, 2013 / 11:30 am

    I love hearing your observations of how Londoners dress and can’t wait to see what you bought. My Mother-in-law traveled to London years ago…the people moved so fast that as she crossed a street she was bumped into, fell and broke her arm. She always talked of the speed in every story after that!!

  11. Lady of Style
    May 20, 2013 / 11:40 am

    I love London and my daughter just went there again this morning. That’s why I was up at the ridiculous time of 4:30 this rainy and cold morning on a German holiday to assist her getting ready for the airport…

    You are so right about the dress code when going out. I even noticed that on the countryside. In Germany you (unfortunately) won’t see that.

    And I do shop while on vacation… a lot I have to admit 😉

    Lady of Style

  12. Frugal Scholar
    May 20, 2013 / 12:23 pm

    Strangely (?), I shop almost not at all on vacation, except for food items. I always say NEXT year, I will bring something back, but–since we often take trips within trips–traveling light trumps all.

    I shop plenty in the USA–not trying to come off as super virtuous.

  13. Madame Là-bas
    May 20, 2013 / 12:31 pm

    I wander through the streets when I travel and sometimes I buy. This trip, I wanted a Hermès scarf, a Le Pliage bag and a Frey Wille bracelet. Two out of three ain’t bad. I am in Munich now and people seem more casually dressed than in London or Paris. My coat is packed at the bottom of my big suitcase but the people are wearing outerwear here too. I took the hop on/off tour this morning and stayed inside. There is a better selection of trenches in Europe.
    I don’t find the double breasted style flattering on my 5’3.75″ curvy figure.

  14. May 20, 2013 / 8:03 pm

    I find I enjoy London’s street markets very much. But, oh, how nice to see Fortnum & Mason! We also enjoyed the Charing Cross area, the little narrow streets in the theatre district with all the used bookstore. Since we were in London for Boxing Day, I did go down to Regent Street to catch the sales, but OH! How incredibly crowded! I went to Liberty, and it was a madhouse.

    I find as I get older I am less tempted to buy things. Windowshow, yes, but actually buy? No.

  15. Tibs
    May 20, 2013 / 1:36 pm

    I’m heading to London on Wednesday so thank you for the tips – so flat it is or kitten heels.
    I always shop abroad, especially in London. My favourite shopping places there are Selfridges, Liberty’s and Bond Street.

  16. May 20, 2013 / 9:11 pm

    Londoners do live in flats, they’re good for the speed-walking! I visit my brother in NYC quite often and buy bits & pieces but don’t go crazy – we spend all our money on eating out & having a good time.

  17. mette
    May 20, 2013 / 2:54 pm

    Your observations as a tourist in London was interesting to read.
    I have not traveled for a long time, but when I did, I wanted to visit all the fancy shops we lack in Helsinki.
    Today, with the option to buy online, I´d only wish to visit Hermes, as we lack that one over here.

  18. Bunny
    May 20, 2013 / 4:09 pm

    I just got back from a trip, and at both the opera in Budapest and the ballet in Prague, the women (even the young girls) all seemed to be wearing nude, sheer pantyhose — at least for evening. The weather was warm, so the cold wasn’t a factor. I just found that a startling difference from the bare legs that prevail here.

  19. vicki archer
    May 20, 2013 / 5:03 pm

    I liked reading your take on London… i am so close to it all that I sometimes forget… And Harrods is so Disneyland-esque! Too true… but it’s my local so it has to do… 🙂 xv

  20. Sarah
    May 20, 2013 / 6:13 pm

    Yes I would say your style notes are spot on ! Love your photos and look forward to seeing the purchases soon! S x

  21. Frantic But Fabulous
    May 20, 2013 / 7:08 pm

    I always enjoy hearing about trends around the world. So many of the street-style blogs focus on cutting-edge models, etc. that it still doesn’t give a sense of what real people are wearing.

    Yay, kitten heels! I will pretend I am in London whenever I wear mine 🙂

  22. Terri
    May 20, 2013 / 8:32 pm

    What wonderful impressions to read. Most of our vacations are to outdoor spots…with limited shopping. Did they give out samples of the chocolates?

  23. CoffeeInspired
    May 21, 2013 / 11:37 am

    Heading to London at the beginning of June, so love reading your latest. I do shop, and plan on shopping, while on vacation. Usually it’s just one big item (last trip in Jan to London I picked up a cambridge satchel), and rest food items I don’t have access to in NYC. Mmmmm chili and ginger cookies from Fortnum.


  24. Nancy
    May 21, 2013 / 3:32 pm

    Although I’m not much of a shopper at home, when I travel I find I enjoy it! On my last trip to France I brought back salt, pimente de espellette, honey, soap, scarves and 2 sweaters. I tend to like things that are usable. One year when I was in Paris, the Longchamps store was having a sale so I stocked up!

  25. May 22, 2013 / 3:22 am

    Intrigued by you photos and observations! I spent an hour in the Harrod’s hat department 10 years ago and will never forget it.

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