Temporary Brit

My three months of adventures in London!

Shopping until I (almost) drop October 24, 2011

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Well, we’re down to the wire.  I’ve only got nine days left (out of my 99 total) before I fly back to Seattle.  That means I really only have 8 days left to enjoy London; I won’t be doing anything on the second other than getting up and going to the airport.  I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: I can’t BELIEVE how fast the time has gone!  I feel like I just got here, and yet it’s already time to leave!  I’ve gotten the bulk of what I needed to get done for school out of the way, so I’ll have most of this next week to enjoy myself and get all those last things checked off of my to do list.

 

Today was my big shopping day on Oxford Street.  I’ve been planning this for ages; even though (as you all know by now) I’m on a budget, I figured I should take advantage of the fact of the reasonably priced stuff that fits me better than most of what I find back home and add a few nicer pieces to my wardrobe.  I also spent only a fraction of the clothes budget I set for myself before I left, leaving a little something to shop with here.  You can find high streets and shopping districts all over London (just about every neighborhood, borough, and outlying town is going to have something), Oxford Street seemed like an idea choice for me.  It has all the stores I’ve grown to like and then some!

 

I rode the Tube to the Marble Arch station; that’s as far down Oxford Street as you can get and still be on Oxford Street.  My plan was to walk up one side of the street and down the other, finishing up back at Marble Arch.  That’s exactly what I did, and as any good travel adventure should be, it was a learning experience.  I learned that Oxford Street is a bit….repetitive.  The street isn’t all THAT long, but a good chunk of the stores have more than one location.  Some even have three (Next and Dorothy Perkins, I’m looking at you).  If that’s not enough for you, just head down Regent Street for more of the same (it crosses Oxford Street at Oxford Circus).  I’ll admit it: I went into multiple locations of the same store. 🙂  I was afraid that one would have something that the others didn’t and that I’d miss out!  Needless to say….that wasn’t the case. 😛  I also learned that I’m NOT an all-day shopper;  I was pretty much done by the time I got finished with one side of the street.  Since I hate not finishing things that I start,  I kept going.

 

I was surprised at how crowded Oxford Street was, considering the fact that it wasn’t even a weekend.  By the time early afternoon rolled around, it was hard to get around at anything resembling a reasonable speed.  Part of it is the fact that schools are on vacation this week, which meant dealing with packs of teenagers in some of the shops who seemed to feel that they were entitled to block aisles, shelves, etc.  It got really annoying trying to work around them.  Does the fact that teenagers annoy me mean that I’m getting old?  If so, I’d better pick out my cane and sign up for AARP.  At any rate, trying to shop at Primark was an experience in and of itself.  I wrote briefly about them in my shopping blog from from awhile back; cheap stuff, big stores, very Old Navy-esque.  Today, though….oh, my lord.  I’ve never seen a store so crowded!  The line to get into the dressing rooms stretched halfway through the store, and the place looked like some sort of natural disaster had just been through.  There were messy piles of shirts and sweaters on display tables, and people had even untied the ribbons from gift sets of pajamas to get a better look at them.  I don’t blame the store; I’ve worked in retail, and I well know what kind of a mess customers can make.  Primark still gets the prize for least pleasant place to shop when it’s crowded, though.  There’s so much to look at in the first place that it’s almost over whelming, and when you have to fight through hordes of people and dig through stacks of unfolded stuff, it just isn’t worth it.

 

So…with all that, did I buy anything?  Did my big shopping result in serious wardrobe additions?  Nope.  I bought a total of one very nice, very sensible, very inexpensive black button down shirt.  I can wear it with anything, which the bargain hunter in me likes very much, and when I add that to the (very small) pile of other things I’ve picked up during my trip, I think my London wardrobe is as big as it’s going to get. 🙂

 

Harrod’s October 10, 2011

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I’ve been very neglectful of my blog this past week…bad me!  It’s midterm time for me at school, and (since I want to get rid of as many of my heavy books as I can) I’m scrambling to finish up one or two of my classes before I head back home.  Hard to believe that out of my three months here, I only have three weeks left! 😦  I’m still trying to cram in as many more adventures as possible, though, so continue to watch this space!

 

Today, I did something that I didn’t think I would ever want to do in London: I went to Harrod’s.  I was never really into the idea for a few reasons.  First, they have a dress code.  I don’t really like shopping in places where I have to worry about what I’m wearing.  Harrod’s isn’t actually all that bad; nothing too revealing, nothing offensive, and proper shoes at all times.  I was still a little afraid of being turned away at the door; not only was I wearing jeans, but my shoes are pretty much in pieces at this point from walking around London in them for two months.  I was also hesitant to go to Harrod’s because it just seemed like such a cheesy, touristy thing to do.  After all, I really WAS just going as a tourist; no way could I afford to buy anything.

 

I entered the store and found myself right in the middle of the luxury handbag department.  Right away, I felt pretty uncomfortable.   I was so out of my league with all the posh brand names I saw around me, and I’ve never understood why people feel they need to spend thousands of dollars (or pounds) on a freaking purse.  Plus, I always feel bad when I go into a place to look around, knowing I can’t afford to buy anything.  At any rate, even though I was totally out of my element, I was really impressed with how beautiful Harrod’s actually is.  The rooms are almost museum-like, and each one is distinct and different.  There’s an Egyptian theme to parts of it; the family of Dodi al-Fayed owns the store now, and there’s a memorial to him and Princess Diana that seems to get a lot of attention from visitors. It’s a bit hard to find your way around once you’re inside, though.  There are very few helpful “you are here” maps, and nothing telling you exactly what departments are on what floor.

 

Once I got to the food halls, I felt a bit less out of place.  The clerks were friendly, and I was pleasantly surprised to see lots of treats and gift packages that were within a normal person’s price range.  Something that wasn’t in a normal person’s price range?  The huge picnic basket filled with 1000 pounds worth (pounds as in money, not weight) of Jelly Belly products.  That’s about $1500.  FIFTEEN HUNDRED DOLLARS OF JELLY BELLY, PEOPLE!!!

 

The only other departmens I spent much time in were the toy department and the pet department.  I avoided the clothes like the plague; the price tags were too scary, and I’m just not into designer labels.  Even the kids’ departments were super fancy, and had things from Burberry, Gucci, and Prada.  Seriously, parents?  You’re going to spend THAT money on something that your kid is either going to outgrow or get dirty in about two seconds after putting it on?  I don’t get it.

 

We tend to get a lot of flack in the US for starting Christmas way too early.  Well, London has us beat.  Not only have I been seeing Christmas candy in the grocery stores since early last month, but Harrod’s already has a separate Christmas department set up….complete with Christmas songs playing over the loudspeakers.  I don’t think I’m quite ready for Christmas yet…..

 

I didn’t stay much longer, and I tried to avoid all the fancy departments on my way out.  I know it was just paranoia on my part, but every time I accidentally wandered into designer land and a sales person glanced at me, I kept thinking that they could smell the poor on me or something and were wondering what I was doing in there.  I definitely felt a sense of relief when I was back outside!  Overall, I really liked Harrod’s itself.  The architecture, inside and out, is fantastic, and I was pleasantly surprised at how many reasonably priced items they had for sale.  I just don’t fit in with the fancy designer stuff.  🙂

 

Shopping September 17, 2011

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As most of you know, I’m doing my best to travel cheaply.  That means watching my pennies even closer than I do at home, and not buying a lot of non-essentials.  I’m doing pretty well so far, but the fantastic shopping here isn’t making that easy!  London is home to a LOT of reasonably priced clothing stores that offer decent quality for your money, which is what I typically look for when I need to add to my wardrobe.  Another benefit, at least for me?  Things just FIT better over here.  I haven’t done a lot of  purchasing, but I HAVE done a lot of trying on, and I’ve hardly ever decided I don’t like something because the cut was awkward, or the style didn’t suit me.  I think it may be worth my while to pick up some things for future employment purposes while I’m here, rather than waiting until I’m back in the states. 🙂  At any rate, I thought I’d give you guys a little lesson in some of the stores I’ve gotten to know so far:

 

H & M, Topshop

 

These are two different stores, but I’m lumping them together because they’re definitely cut from the same cloth (ha, ha).  Both feature very inexpensive stuff that’s a bit more on the young, trendy side, and (gotta be honest) the quality of stuff at both these places doesn’t seem that high.  They remind me a bit of Forever 21, which (although American, I believe) is also available over here.  I’ve seen a few things at H & M that I thought were cute, but never anything at Topshop.  Maybe I’m getting old or something, but I think I prefer stuff that’s a little more classic. Plus, the inventory in both places seems more or less the same (another reason why I’m putting them together).  The accessories are decent, though.  I’m okay with cheap accessories. 🙂 For those of you who are curious about these places, both have U.S. locations.  There are two H & Ms in Seattle alone.

 

Next

 

Next is, by far, my favorite UK chain.  It actually reminds me of the Limited, which is my favorite U.S. store, in terms of price range and what it carries.  Next offers a good range of “wear to work” type outfits as well as jeans, shoes, and more casual pieces.  The price range is above that of H & M or Topshop, but the quality is better an the clothes are more versatile.  I don’t think they have any stores in the U.S. yet, but they DO ship internationally (thank the Lord! :D).

 

Primark

 

Primark is another, fairly inexpensive place. It’s like a slightly cheaper Old Navy (although Old Navy has, unfortunately, gone a bit downhill in recent years).  It’s a good place to get basics, but (as with H & M and Topshop), I wouldn’t expect anything you get here to last years and years.  Still, the deals can be incredible.  I’ve seen pairs of very cute earrings here for only one pound!  I wouldn’t recommend going in here during a sale or on a particularly busy day, though; you’d think a tornado had been through!

 

Department Stores

Like the U.S., the UK has some well-known department store institutions.  Debenham’s is my favorite so far, and I’d say that its closest U.S. counterpart would be JC Penney’s.  Debenham’s falls more or less in the middle of the price scale, although you can find both excellent deals AND expensive stuff there.  Plus, I don’t feel like I have to dress up just to shop there.  That’s the reason I haven’t been to Harrod’s yet. 😛  Marks and Spencer is pretty ubiquitous, too.  It reminds me most of Macy’s, although that comparison doesn’t seem quite right.  My favorite part of M and S is the food, which Macy’s does NOT have.  There’s usually a good grocery selection in the larger M and S stores, and you can find M and S Simply Food shops everywhere.  Last but not least out of the department stores that I’ve visited is John Lewis.  They are the British equivalent of Nordstrom’s, through and through.  That means, of course, that they’re pretty well out of my price range, and I doubt I’ll be doing much shopping there. 🙂

 

One thing to keep in mind when you’re shopping over here: sizes are different. When it comes to clothes, you’ll need to go two sizes up from what you normally wear in the states.  The smallest size I’ve seen anywhere is a 6, which would be equivalent to a U.S. size 2. So, don’t panic and think you’ve gained a ton of weight if you ever happen to be in the UK trying on clothes; it’s just different sizing. 🙂 Shoes are the opposite, though; you’ll wear a smaller size here than in the U.S.  For example, I wear a 7 or 7.5 back home, but I’m a 5 here.

 

There are other stores (chain and otherwise) beyond those I’ve mentioned, but we’d be here all day if I tried to describe them all. 🙂