I had the extreme pleasure of spending the first part of this month in London with my sister, Colleen (Keough) Wagner, who lived in her condo on Ford Street in Geneva before her move to the U.K. in 2008.
She’s always had a flair for fashion, and moving overseas hasn’t changed that one bit. So while I was there, I decided to pick her brain about fashion in metropolitan London versus hometown Geneva.
One of the first things she noticed was that Londoners don’t hesitate to mix and match styles, patterns, and textures. This is an upcoming local trend noted in an , but the Brits are way ahead of us.
“When I first moved over, I saw a girl wearing a flowery cotton sundress with a leather bomber jacket and boots, and then I realized it's not that unusual for around here,” Wagner said.
One reason for the diversity in dress is the necessity of layering—a tip my sister shared with me before I started my packing. “The weather is mild, but it can change from cool to warm throughout the day. So I’m always peeling off my sweater and then putting it back on again,” she said.
While Geneva stores are stocking up on new spring and summer sandals, boots and ballet flats are the year-round norm in London, again because of the mild temperatures. Wagner says, “The only time I saw sandals and tank tops regularly and in abundance was during last year's freakish heat wave. Everybody owns them, but mostly for going on vacation.”
Wagner has adapted well to the new fashion environment, but she admits to missing some of her favorite stores in the states, most especially Antrhopologie in Geneva Commons. Even though the chain made a jump across the English Channel last year, she notes, "the British pound to U.S. dollar conversion adds even more ouch-factor to their prices."
“With the higher price tag of everything else in London—especially real estate—the clothing budget has been severely cut,” Wagner tells me.
Luckily, she’s discovered thrifty boutiques and open air markets in the charming Notting Hill neighborhood and other spots throughout the city, and has managed to keep her wardrobe fashionable and practical while still managing to pay the rent.
Which is not to say she doesn’t occasionally like to wander into high-end London stores, such as All Saints—a chain that manages to keep a boutique feel with an unusual selection of apparel and its signature collection of antique sewing machines lining the windows of every store.
As we shopped around, I noticed a lot of stripes and military influences, which have a strong showing in our local spring fashions as well. Other common fashion trends include skinny jeans, leggings, and opaque tights worn with minidresses and oversized shirts/sweaters.
Wagner tells me, "You also see more skirts than shorts when the weather warms up—shorts are regarded as a distinctly American thing. That being said, though, there's a big trend with denim and wool short-shorts—like Daisy Duke short—worn with opaque tights in the cooler temps, even in the dead of winter."
And yep, I saw 'em.
She explained that men’s fashions are also slightly different in London. Men over there are more adventurous in their wardrobe choices, both with color and accessories. The throats of several men we passed in Kensington Gardens were wrapped in billowing, patterned scarves that I frankly would have trouble picturing on most of the guys I know in Geneva—although I had a good giggle when I tried.
Additionally, men’s trousers and jackets are more narrowly cut, reflecting the typically slimmer build of European men.
If you’re planning a trip across the pond, you should note one important difference in fashion lingo. In England, locals use the term “pants” to mean what we call “underwear,” as my sister learned through her colleague’s raised eyebrow when she told him how her husband enjoyed getting to sport his red pants all over town.