Tuesday, September 18, 2012

An American in London

A foggy day in London town...

When I worked in New York City, we New Yorkers (mostly engulfed in black) could spot a tourist at forty paces. In winter they always looked cold. I don't care where home might be, they wore an air of surprise that New York City could be damp, slushy, snowy and windy. Needless to say most wore no gloves or waterproof boots.

NYC tourists on the prowl

Summer tourists in NYC always dressed like they were at Disneyworld with we, the natives, being the exhibits. Shorts, halters, flip flops— scraping the bottom of the barrel when it came to wardrobe choices. Once the sun went down, it was the tourists who outshone us. Old movies had them believing New Yorkers really do dress for dinner or "The Theatre". If you've ever spent a night in a cramped Broadway theatre seat you'd know the dress code should be one step above sweats.

So there I was last week, a tourist in London, one of my favorite cities in the world. London is one of those places that much as it changes, as much stays the same. New York City reinvents itself; London has apps. You get the Old London, oozing history, cheek-by-jowl to what seems to be the new international capital of the world. This is Now London, hopping with people and restaurants, shops, museums, shows— too many to do and see in any one vacation. So you have to have Future London— those things On the List for next time. Otherwise, how could you leave?

My plan was to pack in black and disappear a la Japanese stage hand in a Kabuki production. Except for a nice plaid coat, I did. Was that a success? Not really. Most everyone in London wears either unadorned black or gray or black-and-gray. The flashes of style I saw (outside of Fashion Week which shall be another post) were in the shop windows or on women speaking languages other than the Queen's English. I quickly wished I had opted for my usual more colorful style, but since I had chosen to be an Observer, this is what I observed on London ladies:

> Nautical stripes abounding
> Colored denim did make an appearance— any color as long as it's red
> Dark tights with light-colored shoes— so wrong
> Summer handbags with fall-ish looks— granted the weather was changeable but ya gotta pick one season
> Either no makeup or too much on beautiful young faces
> Kate Middleton is a type. There were way too many look-a-likes to be merely an homage.
The real Kate was in Bora-Bora

Perhaps the biggest shocker was the cost of apparel. Generally speaking the "good stuff" was about 60% higher than we would be used to paying in the US. Even TJX (the British TJMaxx) and H&M were priced significantly higher than at home. My favorite Zara seemed to be the same. Sadly, no wonder the best lookers were in the shop windows. No doubt it would be very frustrating to be a fashionista with limited funds in London.

I also read, while there, that British women "don't believe in being coordinated". They think this is the territory of Americans and Europeans. The tone of the article made it seem, not exactly a virtue, but at least a reason for the sense of style disconnect I observed. Please, dear British readers, don't construe these observations as biting the hand that fed me so well this past week. It is with deep regret that I unpack my suitcase without a return ticket in hand.

Last observation:  French women really do know how to wear scarves.


  1. Good to know! We're planning a visit to London (and a few other select bits of the British Isles) next April/May. My travel wardrobe strategy is much the same as yours: black, black and more black. Looking forward to reading your Fashion Week observations.

    Found you through That's Not My Age; think you looked smashing in that coat!!

  2. Thanks for your nice words. You may wish to rethink tous les noir so as not to add to the gloom.