Greetings from London: What to Wear
Meghan Thomassen | Monday, April 29, 2013
Every day in London is like a master class for fashion. In the morning I walk across the Thames River and through Trafalgar Square, the London equivalent of Times Square. I arrived in London with a fairly-relaxed wardrobe: lots of cotton shirts in blues and blacks and a few dresses I thought were cute.
But once I hit the streets, I realized how woefully uneducated I was in the language of the London look. And now that I face my return trip home, I have to reflect on how my lessons will translate in America and at Notre Dame.
Disclaimer: Everything you see people wearing in London should be taken with a grain of salt. Do not take crazy-moustache guy, plaid-overdose girl or bright-green-hair punk rocker too seriously, unless, of course, you want to make a drastic change in your appearance.
This should be more of a lesson to those of us Notre Dame students who are tired of looking like we walked out of a college catalogue for jeans and Urban Outfitters shirts but don’t feel the need to go out decked entirely in tweed. (It’s a thing, I promise.) So, I hope you brought your pens and paper, because I’ve been taking notes.
These were probably the most valuable ideas I came across while in London, since I spend the majority of my time in South Bend wrapped up against the cold and wind. Unlike Americans, Londoners usually deal with the cold without having to resort to the igloo-esque North Face, down-to-the-ankle coats.
The wind on the bridge to class can be just as biting as South Quad in January, but as I tromped along I saw men and women making their way wrapped fashionably in many layers of Irish sweaters, pea coats and Burberry scarves. Since snow isn’t really a problem for this town, women were able to wear their favorite ankle-boot high heels while men stole the show with perfectly chocolatey-leather shoes.
Layers will always be in style, and it seems like Londoners have it down to a science. I learned to wear a camisole and long-sleeved shirt underneath whatever sweater I wore, then a shell underneath my pea coat.
Then I added a bit of color with a warm scarf and found a bright hat to bring a touch of color to the otherwise London-gray arrangement. I think this will be fairly easy to recreate, although I will probably need to add cute knee-high snow boots to the ensemble for South Bend next winter.
To be honest, spring didn’t look that different than winter here in London. The skies were dark and cold and spat rain unexpectedly throughout the day. I had to stick to my black water-proof boots like a koala sticks to a eucalyptus tree, which didn’t give me too many options for what else to wear.
I took notes on the way to class again, however, and noticed how Londoners paired sleek leggings with the boots and then wore a chic sweater dress or pleated shorts. I firmly oppose the leggings-as-pants movement, so it was a relief to see the London fashion elite agreeing with me.
Granted, you will see plenty of leggings as substitutes for pants around the city, but never without sufficient coverage from an oversized men’s dress shirt or vintage sweater. Overall, Londoners are modest, especially when it comes to showing skin. Strapless doesn’t seem to be a thing here, but off-the-shoulder chiffon tops are a must, especially once the weather gets nicer.
Summer has just barely, maybe arrived here in London, but you probably couldn’t tell from the way people are dressing. The wind is still chilly and the sun only comes out in the afternoon, so no one has broken out the short shorts and tank tops yet.
I have observed, however, the sheer genius of the sundresses London women wear. Cutouts, floral prints, ’50s silhouettes – these dresses seriously run the gamut. And the men have impressed me with the importance of the dress-shirt-and-tie combination.
Without jackets to cover up their coordination, I can now appreciate how much the right tie can complement a simple shirt. Extra points for a bow tie. I’ve transitioned to a pair of black-cloth, lace-up shoes that I bought for my Easter trip to Rome, which instantly makes me feel more like Audrey Hepburn as soon as I put them on.
It’s gotten too warm for my scarves, so to add personality to my mostly-neutral wardrobe, I throw a purple or white cardigan over a dress and ditch the tights. Of course, these are all extremely conservative alterations; I’m limited by my plain closet (and thinning wallet).
Another thing Londoners do right is their shopping. You won’t see cheap stores on London’s main shopping strips, like Oxford Street or Regent Street. Things are sold here for value and quality, so Londoners slowly build an eclectic wardrobe according to their personality.
I much prefer the London approach to shopping and dressing and plan on making those significant purchases slowly but surely as I transition from college student to college graduate. Hope this gave you a little taste of the London look! Cheers!