A guide to shopping in London

posted in: Shop Review | 12

We often have visitors from abroad, and as we live near Oxford Street they often ask for advice on where to shop. I will not cover fabric shops in this post. This is about ladieswear. Maps from Time Out, which I also recommend.

Here is my take on High Street fashion, starting at Marble Arch tube.

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New Look/River Island/Forever 21

Low cost, especially the shoes and bags which are rarely made with leather. Not easy to find anything well made or nice, but worth a look occasionally. May suit teenagers.

Primark

More or less in a class of its own (although there is a Matalan in Oxford Street now). Very cheap. Most of the clothes are cut very badly and are probably unwearable in terms of nasty fabrics that ride up when you wear them. There are some exceptions. I heartily recommend their cotton T-shirts with stretch. They last for years, are available in great colours and lots of different neckline, sleeve variations. They are also very cheap – £2-£5. I use them to screen print on as well. The socks are cheap – not the best quality but OK. And for little kids clothes, especially boys jogging trousers, underwear and T-shirts they are unbeatable.

Marks & Spencer

I like M&S – fairly well laid out, innovative, pleasant staff, well made clothes on the whole and some bargains. Not very high on style side, but if you look around there may be a few interesting items.

Good for: Thick tights in basic colours, knickers, cashmere jumpers, shoes, simple jewellery like silver studs.

Selfridges

A department store with lots of smaller outlets inside the shop, some of them high street like Top Shop, Karen Millen and Oasis, but also edited collections by top designers such as Westwood, Armani, Chloe, etc. A few small independent makers too, which change from time to time. A nice shop with lots of choice; classy store with well-trained staff. Nice food too – especially the salt beef on rye, which is nearly as good as my husband’s.

Russell and Bromley 

My daughter and I both love this shop. The shoes and boots are very expensive, so we tend to stick to the sales, although the discount is tokenistic. For absolutely classic, classy styles this shop is fantastic. Although I think many of the items are made in Spain or Italy it has a very British feel. The leather soled shoes can be repaired because these are classic shoes you will probably wear every day.

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Gap

This shop does nothing for me. Everything is boring and badly made.

Debenhams

A middle of the road department store. Look at the Designers at Debenhams area – cheapish versions by top designers, unfortunately often in polyester – Preen especially – and the swimsuits are good too.

House of Fraser

Similar to Debenhams. I like it less but probably because the escalators feel claustrophobic.

John Lewis

A nice department store. I prefer it to the two above, mainly because it is friendly, easy to navigate and has (on the whole) great staff. As they are “partners” and get a good bonus if the company posts good results they are generally very helpful and patient. The fabric department is pretty poor and not cheap – although any port in a storm sometimes. They run knitting and crafting classes and the staff can really help you with a knitting question, say. The clothes are generally pretty good with an emphasis on the “occasion” clothes which is why I understand it is such a popular shop with young middle class women and their mums.

Uniqlo

A super Japanese shop. Great for basic items like long-sleeved vests in great colours, long johns (perfect for yoga or under trousers on cold days). Also I love the down jackets which are fantastic; light, warm and in nice colours. The other thing that is great is wooly jumpers made from cashmere – not the very best quality, but I have found them very good so long as you wash gently. If you have a skinny husband or sons this is a good shop for men’s jackets and tops.

BHS

A sad shop. My mother always used to rate this shop for lampshades. But for clothes, no.

H&M 

I always think this shop smells funny. Do they have their own brand of perfumed room spray?  I could be imagining it. The clothes are generally quite well designed, especially the more expensive ranges, with nice colours. A bit hit and miss but worth a look.

ZARA

I like this shop very much. A Spanish company with lots of Spanish staff who always seem harried, but helpful. The window displays can be very fashion forward and inspirational. Often you can see high designer looks at a fraction of the price. One of the few high street shop with clever cutting. Good yellows and lots of neutrals, coats, waistcoats and jackets, nice dresses and skirts, shoes, bags, scarves – and great value, especially during the sale. Many of the clothes are cut a bit small and tight so probably not a good shop if you are on the larger side. For slim tall men their suits are good.

P&B

Never been in, never wanted too. I think this is one of those shops with throbbing music.

Three more great shops

Liberty

Consistently voted the best shop in London and I have to agree. The shop itself is beautiful. It sells fabric and yarn, but most of all it has beautiful products – most of which are very expensive. Designer clothes and new designers, interesting shoes and accessories. Lovely, lovely place. Also you can get a nice meal here. If you love Arts and Crafts antique furniture you can find it on the 4th floor. If money were no object I would not shop anywhere else. As it is I rarely buy anything, but I do love looking round and getting inspiration.

Topshop

This is a shop I drop into regularly, often for inspiration as many of the clothes are cut very short and tight. They have lots of good shoes at reasonable prices. I have had a lot of great white shirts from here – there is clever cutting here too if you look around.  I do get a few things in the sale and alter them. The designers are great – have a look at Unique for example. Also downstairs they have a lot of brands, including recyclers and vintage suppliers.  The menswear is great too again for slim, youthful men. You can get a manicure and a blow dry too.

Office shoes

Inexpensive, modern, stylish shoes.

 

Locals – have I missed anything? Visitors – what were your favourites?

 

 

12 Responses

  1. Well thought out guide, Kate. Agree with all your points. Can I add a favourite of mine. “& other stories”. A few yards away from Liberty. Under the same umbrella company as H&M and Cos, I like the well priced jewellery – just a bit different. The clothes are also interesting, well made and not over-priced.

  2. So glad someone mentioned COS, interesting shapes, well made, good quality in the main, easy to wear. My current go to (as well as Uniqlo!).

  3. Liberty’s every time – it’s an experience in itself:)

  4. Liberty is always a pleasure, although I tend to get disorientated and lost in there! Cos always has some interesting pieces, although the fabric choices can be a bit strange sometimes.

  5. Your post made me go look at my frequent flyer accounts to see if I can get to London ASAP! My first visit was 30 years ago and I have been a regular since, although sporadic. I feel Liberty might be my spiritual home. I have only ever purchased lunch there but have spent hours looking at all the beauty. And Selfridges is such a pleasant experience as well. We have Uniqlo and the other high street shops here in Portland so for the very best of Britain experience I would head to Liberty, Selfridges, and any small home grown British shop. And people in London are really nice and friendly for the most part so are happy to share ideas of things to see. Of course there are grumpy folk too just like any city but Londoners are fiercely proud of their great city and like to share. There are so many secret little parks, churches, pubs, and shops that contain great beauty and interest and every Londoner has a top pick if you ask them to share. I can’t wait to meet you Kate for a cup of tea at Selfridges!

  6. This is not my favorite part of Oxford street, Berwick is much better wink wink!

    • Yes I love looking around Berwick Street Carmen but the rents are so high this is reflected in their prices! And sometimes it is nice to buy RTW (I like to anyway).

  7. Oh my, shopping in London…..in my dreams. And the one that stands out among your descriptions is Liberty, but maybe for a reason you’d not expect – the Arts and Crafts antiques. I’d love to play there!

  8. Good post, you’re analysis is spot on, you haven’t mentioned my favourite though – All Saints, I like their style but unfortunately their predominantly dark colours don’t like me much, and they’re a bit pricey, but a good store for walking around and getting draping inspiration.

    • I do admit that I too like Allsaints (are they in Oxford Street?), especially for the interesting cutting, draping and nice layering. I agree that they are expensive and the preponderance of black plus sludge really is too much for me. To discover a bit about their processes see this article.

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