London Eye: A brief guide to shopping in London

London is a shopping Mecca – whatever you want, whatever you need, even those things you didn’t know you wanted or needed… you’ll find them in London. Sure, other cities can give you designers (Paris and Milan), some can give you bargains (Hong Kong), while others might give you celebrities (New York), but nowhere in the world can you find all of those in one place, with a whole lot of unique street-style to mix it all up.


For me, the best part about discovering London’s unique style is the realisation that there is in fact, no one style – although designers dictate and predict certain seasonal looks and retail stores reinterpret and make accessible these looks to the market. When those same looks get whisked out onto the street they can look very different to how they started out, and frankly, my dear, no-one gives a damn. This unique street style can only be termed as that “London look”.

And it’s the reason the London fashion icons of the noughties – Alexa Chung, Daisy Lowe, Sienna Miller, Peaches Geldof and Agyness Deyn – have become internationally recognised for their style.

Shopping in London is a dream come true for most Fashionistas. Unfortunately it can also very quickly turn into a nightmare… with so much choice you could find yourself in a frightening cycle of desire, unsure whether to blow it all on one gorgeous LBD from Luella or an entire wardrobe revamp from Topshop. And of course there are the crowds… no matter what time of the year you head out on your shopping trip at some point you will find yourself staring out into an ocean of fellow shoppers.

The problem also comes down to knowing where to start, and where to find what you’re looking for. Where does one begin when you have an unlimited choice of shopping? I recommend heading out with a basic strategy. Consider the following:

1.    What do you want?
2.    What is your budget?
3.    What is your time limit?
4.    And how badly do you want it?  Are you prepared to fight for it? You may have to.

And finally, wear comfortable shoes.

Hitting the streets
I haven’t been able to work out an exact definition for High Street, but since living in London I’ve sort of worked it out to be anything that isn’t designer.  If you like what you see on the catwalk then the best place to find wearable and super hot garments that are reasonably priced is on the High Street. Oxford Street, Bond Street, Regent Street and High Street Kensington are world renowned shopping destinations, and home to the most popular designer and High Street retail stores.

Bond Street is where you head if you don’t plan to spend any money, but do want to revel in the land of haute couture design. Gucci, Armani, Louis Vuitton, Dolce and Gabbana, Alexander McQueen – spend an afternoon in the company of fashion geniuses, and hopefully some of that glamour will rub off. Even if you can’t afford it, a girl can dream…

Oxford Street, on the other hand, is the epitome of High Street, offering everything you could dream of in one shopping destination. Home to Selfridges, the largest Topshop store, a giant Primark and much, much more (there’s over 300 stores in all), this stretch of road sees many of the same shops popping up more than once in a bid to please all. Unfortunately, the constant stream of pedestrian traffic often leaves you’re feeling as though you’re constantly going against the crowd, no matter which direction you’re going in. From the 5 December the street is closed for Christmas shopping, but this only seems to encourage the rabble.  Despite this, I just can’t help myself from taking an evening stroll down the street once the Christmas lights have been switched on – this year the theme is “A Christmas Carol”.

High Street stores come in all shapes and sizes. Although the idea is that these retail stores provide a cheaper alternative to the catwalk, this doesn’t mean that they can’t make you gasp when you look at the price tag. If money ain’t a concern then head to French Connection, Topshop, Warehouse or Jigsaw. If your budget is a little more restricted, but you still want quality gear, then H&M, Dorothy Perkins, Zara’s or Bershka might be more up your alley. And of course if you just want bags and bags of goods, with minimal concern for quality then Primark is your destination.

To market, to market…
An alternative to High Street shopping is to head to some of London’s popular markets, of which there are many.  The wares on offer vary greatly, from antiques to food, art and crafts, but if you’re looking for fashion then Portobello Road, Camden, Spitalfields or the Old Truman Brewery are your best options.

Portobello Road is my personal favourite and a particularly good option if you’re a vintage queen. To avoid being driven insane by the tourists I recommend you avoid starting your trip through Portobello Road at Notting Hill Gate station, and instead heading around to Holland Park station and tucking straight into the fabulous vintage market at the back. Most of the great restaurants are also at this end of Portobello road, an area that far less tourists seem to find.

If you’re looking for a grungy, punky vibe then Camden Market is your destination. There are a few consumerist and kitschy stores, but the locals hanging out in the area help maintain its arty, rock ‘n roll vibe. Be sure to stick around in the evenings and look out for impromptu live music or comedy gigs.

Avoid the rain, head indoors
Finally, last year London very proudly announced the opening of their largest shopping centre, Westfields. As a South African, who has spent a great deal of time at Canal Walk, Sandton and Cavendish I didn’t think I’d be all that impressed by Westfields, but I must admit that the air-conditioned, sheltered luxury of Westfields does provide is a retreat from the hustle and bustle of outdoor shopping that is traditionally the London style (interesting, actually, considering how much it rains in this city).  From designer to high street, Westfield’s does really have it all covered…

And that’s about it. I think.  I am aware that there are many boutique stores, designer collectives, niche markets and much, much more that I haven’t covered here…  if you’re planning a shopping trip to London I recommend grabbing a copy of Time Out’s Shops & Services guide. If you have any stores or London shopping destinations you would like to recommend please post them in the comment box below. And if you have a particular question about shopping in London, give me a shout and I’ll do what I can to help.

Sshh! Here’s this week’s London shopping secret:
Sample sales are how Londoners get their hands on designer goods at discount prices… the London Accessory Sale is one of the largest. Sign up for their newsletter so you don’t miss out.

Francine Higham

Francine is a lover of designer flare and originality, but addicted to finding the look for less on the high street. She’s a sucker for a bargain, but willing to spend where quality counts.