Shopping in London

I suppose I’m jaded, having lived near one of the world’s great cities for a few years now, but I was disappointed in London shopping. It seems like more and more these days the kinds of things available in any major metropolitan area are the same, throughout North America and Western Europe. Even the shops are the same some of the time – the U.S. may have inflicted Starbucks on the world, but H&M and Zara seem to be doing the same thing clothing-wise. I was particularly disappointed in the bookstores, even though I spent less time looking at books than I did my last trip. Guess the Internet is affecting everyone.

Shopping in London: Fabric

It was the first time I’d been to London since I started sewing again, so I wanted to check out the well-known fabric stores. The closest thing to a ‘fabric district’ is Berwick Street in Soho, which also has a nice street market on Saturdays (with veggies and such, not fabric). Prices were really high – more than twice I’d expect to pay in the US for similar fabric (and of course the current exchange rate doesn’t help). If you’re looking for that one-of-a-kind silk piece, however, these stores might just have it. There were also some lovely wools that were way beyond my skill range. I’m mostly a cotton and knits girl, so the only piece I got was a piece of striped shirting, which was apparently from Oswald Boateng, from Borovick Fabrics (? I think) on Berwick. My shopping companion found some remnants at Silk World on a side street. Cloth World had some great linens and cotton wovens, but I just couldn’t bear paying the high prices. They had a lot of vintage trims and buttons, though, if you’re looking for that kind of thing.

Besides Borovick, the other store I’d recommend is McCullock & Wallis, which is not in Soho, but farther west on a side street off Oxford. I had written the name down in my pre-trip research but forgotten about it until I saw a sign. They had more reasonable prices, though there was plenty of pricey silk and wool as well. There I got some printed cotton broadcloth that I hope will become a shirtdress.

The one place I didn’t get to, which I regret, is RD Francks (?), a fashion bookshop. I looked for it at the end of a long day shopping on Oxford St., and when I couldn’t find the street I gave up and headed back on the Tube to where I was staying.

Obviously I wouldn’t recommend coming to London just for the fabric, but if you want a break from the usual tourist round, walking down Berwick is a fun way to spend an hour or two.

Shopping in London: Clothes

Normally, I would never recommend going to Harrod’s. Its supposed uniqueness has been eclipsed by the ridiculously high prices, and the hordes of tourists who tromp through with no real interest in buying anything. OK, maybe you should go once and get a look at the Food Hall ceiling, but that’s it. But, if you’re plus-sized you may want to consider a trip. The larger-sizes section had some brands I didn’t see anywhere else: Anna Scholz and Elena Miro to name the most notable two. I looked at a pair of Elena Miro slacks with a wonderful detail: they had a center back seam all the way up including the waistband, and the seam allowance had not been trimmed, just serged at the edges to avoid raveling. It made it easy to take in or out at the center back without having to do major surgery. Very clever. The prices are high, but the quality seemed excellent.

Other than that, as I said everything seemed just the same as I could get in San Francisco. I did pick up a top at H&M (crazy busy!) and a dress from Marks & Spencers. (There was an adorable wool knit dress @ M&S that sadly didn’t fit well – the ‘gores’ in the skirt were black, while the rest was gray, and the bodice was similarly shaded. Very flattering. If you knit this would be a killer project. I’ll try to look for a picture online.) I didn’t get to Liberty, which I really enjoyed browsing on my last trip, but I doubt that any of their clothes go up to my current size anyway.

Most of the department stores carry up to a UK 18 or 20 (subtract two for US size). The only other department store besides Harrods that seemed to have a separate plus section was Selfridges, and the area was small with everything being quite casual. Monsoon, which is worth a visit if you’re looking for party clothes that aren’t too spendy and neither in the teenybopper or the post-menopausal ‘sensible’ market, carries up to 22. Evans is the UK equivalent of Lane Bryant, and had some very useful and well-priced office work wear, though I don’t need much of that at the moment. Evans also had both petite and tall areas, which is always nice. If you’re a fan of the Boden catalog, they have a retail store in the suburbs, where they carry all of the current season’s pieces (sizes up to UK 20). I tried on a lot of things and left with a sweater, and it was a nice change of pace – you can visit the Polish groceries nearby for an unexpected treat. Uniqlo, which is a Japanese company, had several stores in London and I got a couple of pieces there from their summer clearance at a good discount. There was an adorable white blouse for autumn that I tried on, but the bust seam was too high. I wish I’d taken pictures. Apparently the only stores they have in North America are in the New York area.

Of course, I didn’t spend all my time shopping. The V&A is worth a visit – I just missed their upcoming special fashion exhibit on mid-century Paris & New York, but the ‘usual’ fashion exhibit was up, and I saw some neat things. As soon as I get the pictures of the clothes from my traveling companions, I’ll post them and the notes I made. We went to Portobello market for the first time this trip – ridiculously and overwhelmingly crowded! There’s a craft/needlework store on Portobello that carries notions and needlework stuff, as well as trims and buttons. (I got some super-big hooks & eyes, and a Vliselene product I have a hard time finding in the states.) And I picked up a pair of cute shoes at the secondhand shop nearby for 1 pound.