I can’t tell you the amount of blog posts I’ve read about ‘what to wear in London to look like a local’, or ‘how to not dress like a tourist in London’, and I’m just like no no no no no. Now little bit of a back story about me for those that don’t know me. I was born and lived on the outskirts of London for 26 years. I’d go into London to meet friends, see bands, go shopping…there were times when I’d only go there with a wallet and phone in my pocket and I very rarely did anything ‘touristy’ (until recently when I really started to appreciate London).
I did ‘local’ things, without actually living directly in London as such.
So I read these posts and I’m just like? You’re telling people to wear that? I’ve never worn that in London? I wear that and you’re saying Londoner’s DON’T wear that? Londoner’s are classy so you should wear these classic ‘expensive’ looks?
Yes there is this so called ‘London Look’ that’s featured in magazines and worn by models etc, but in reality a lot of ‘locals’ don’t dress this way!
I guess in a roundabout way I’m saying wear whatever you want in London because the chances are you are going to fit in somewhere and no one will even bat an eyelid.
Fair enough I understand these types of posts if you’re in a country where there are truly cultural differences where it’s important to stick with local customs (such as covering heads in temples etc). But London is SO DIVERSE that many different nationalities and people from different cultures call London HOME and they certainly don’t dress the way that’s listed in these posts.
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A prime example of this was when I visited a shopping centre in East London. I would be tempted to say that the majority of people shopping were females wearing traditional Muslim/Islamic dress. It was an area where locals are of this particular faith so of course they were going about doing their daily business with their friends and children. I did feel in the minority from what I was wearing but no blog posts say that locals wear this style of dress. BUT THEY DO BECAUSE LONDON IS DIVERSE.
There are also ‘poorer’ areas of London where the locals are hanging out with hoodies and tracksuit bottoms that are so low that their underwear is on display. They are still locals. Since I’ve been ‘gone’ and living in America, during my last trip home, I was shocked by the amount of homeless people on the streets in the Capital. You know what, they are still locals, they are still Londoners.
I’m now going to break down some of the stereotypes I’ve seen listed in these posts for what to wear in London and share some of the realities.
Outside Wembley Arena seeing my favourite band
Londoner’s only really wear black
Ok, it’s true, a lot of Londoner’s do wear black. Why? Because between Mondays and Fridays there are a lot of commuters and office workers going to work. There are thousands of businesses and offices in London and people tend to dress smart when they go to work. Black is a smart colour and yes people wear suits, shirts, blouses etc. When people are at work, they don’t necessarily then continue to wear these clothes on their time off!
I’ve been in bars/pubs where these businessmen are chilling out having a couple of drinks after work, the ties are off, top buttons are undone and shirts are untucked. Not exactly the vision of ‘in London people don’t dress messy’.
Sorry Londoner serving coffee, why aren’t you wearing black?
Again, on my last trip home, I kinda knew I wanted to write this post, so I was purposely people watching the ‘locals’. I sat in a cafe window during rush hour, it was right opposite Aldgate tube station, in an area with lots of offices. Yes, both men and women were wearing black suits/coats. Some had hand bags, but most had big black backpacks, the odd person had a briefcase and a couple of businessmen were even pulling around black carry-on sized suitcases.
These same people are the ones that are sat on the tube with their phones glued to their hands, proving that even the locals aren’t afraid of having their gadgets and electronics on display.
White trainers/sneakers aren’t really worn in London
Leading on from the black clothes ‘observation’, another classic is that people don’t wear white trainers/sneakers in London. Well you know what, I’ve often seen commuters on the trains that have switched out of their fancy work shoes and will then travel home with, you guessed it, white trainers on, it’s more comfortable and I can’t blame them. That even includes ladies that may be wearing a smart coat, a skirt and tights…paired with trainers. So if you truly want to blend in ‘with the locals’ make sure you travel with a suit and trainers and look like you’re going to work, because after all, that’s what Londoners wear.
Sorry mate, you better go home and change your white trainers.
People in London (I’ve even seen ‘Europe’ listed) don’t really wear shorts
Erm, excuse me? It does sometimes get hot in England and yes we do wear shorts. Maybe not the silky basketball/gym shorts but people do wear shorts. Classic example, go and hang out around one of the arenas like the O2 when a boy band is playing…nearly every girl in the audience will be wearing shorts…even if it’s winter.
Shorts and a t-shirt? Hmm..
Locals don’t wear athletic wear
In the USA, colourful leggings and ‘yoga pants’ are kinda the norm. Yes, it’s not quite as common to be seen in London, BUT you’ll often find locals in athletic wear going for runs through the parks, in lycra on bikes, wearing football/soccer shirts on match days around the stadiums. IF you happen to visit during the World Cup when England are playing, hundreds of people wear England football shirts. We wear it, there’s just usually a time and a place for it.
Those are 4 of my personal favourites.
Dress codes in bars/clubs/venues
It’s true, some bars and clubs in London will have dress codes. Smart casual, no trainers etc etc BUT there’ll be bars and clubs where you can walk into in jeans, trainers and a hoodie and look totally ‘in place’. I’ve seen many rock bands where you’d look out of place if you dressed up smart…and if it’s a place with a mosh pit…there’s also a high chance you might come out covered in beer (or even pee) too.
Ballie Ballerson is a ‘bar’ in Shoreditch. They even list on their website not to wear shoes that have a certain type of heel that’s too pointy, slip ons could in fact slip off and trainers/tennis shoes that tie up are in fact a good idea.
Take Camden Town for example. Argh 13 years ago it was amazing. There would be local punks lining the streets with giant mohawks, goth platform boots, studded belts, ripped jeans, tartan trousers, crazy tattoos. It was very much the local ‘dress code’ and the bars and clubs would reflect that. Over the years as it’s become more popular with tourists, it’s become more mainstream and not so unique anymore which is a shame.
In summary, when it comes down to what to wear in London, you can pretty much wear anything. If anything it’s going to be the way you act as opposed to what you’re wearing, that will make you stand out. So many nationalities call London home, that even having a different accent won’t necessarily make people automatically think ‘tourist’. If you’re wearing a big ole DSLR camera around your neck, you’re probably going to stand out as a tourist. If you’re part of a tour group following a guide with an umbrella…you’ll look like a tourist. If you’re looking well and truly lost or carrying around a guide book or a map, people will automatically assume you are a visitor.
One of the rare times playing tourist in London, yes I’m wearing my camera and no I don’t care.
As with anywhere, just be aware of your surroundings. Don’t put wallets and phones in back pockets of your jeans/trousers. If you have a bag, make sure it’s zipped up, I tend to keep my valuables at the bottom or in the opposite corner to where the opening is, just in case unwanted hands try for a snoop around.
The most important thing is to be comfortable! If you’re uncomfortable you’re more likely to have a miserable time! Be prepared to walk miles or have to stand up on the London Underground!
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