Buying men's clothes in London
September 29, 2011 5:19 PM   Subscribe

Where should I shop for men's clothing in London for an office job? And what should I wear?

I need work clothes. I have been a grad student forever; my last "business casual" job was years and years ago and I don't have much left from that time so I am starting from almost scratch. I am also moving to London for this job and need advice on where to go shopping or how to dress.

I was told by my boss that "we dress informally in the office, although do bring smart clothes for the occasional meeting or presentation". I am parsing London "informally" to mean a slight step above North American "business casual" -- dress shirt or sweater, nice pants (no khakis or jeans) and of course no sneakers; and I would interpret "smart" to mean add a tie or a blazer or both. Am I on target here? Possibly informal means casual in which case I only need a few of these "smart" items.

And where should I shop? I am not so good at dressy clothes. I mostly shop in vintage stores and have kind of an academic/hipster style. I kind would like to project a more professional grown up image at this job, but I also like to appear colourful and stylish, though in a subtle way. So not super flashy, yet not just fade-into-the-wallpaper. Since I rarely have to buy this kind of clothing I can't tell you where I would normally shop. Banana Republic? I don't really love that place but I have bought stuff there before out of necessity. That's the best I can do. If it helps, I am 28 years old and of fairly average size; size-medium anything usually fits me.

And... what should I expect to spend for a semi-complete wardrobe - maybe one full suit, a couple shirts, another pair of pants, one or maybe two pairs of shoes? Can this be done for like £500? What's a good affordable option?
posted by PercussivePaul to Clothing, Beauty, & Fashion (11 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
I think you're generally on target about business casual in the UK being a touch dressier than in the US, but as for specifics, I am not so sure.

To get started, Charles Tyrwhitt could work quite well. They seem to have sales fairly often. Many of their dress shirts have French cuffs, which are more prevalent in the UK than the US, but they do also have some button cuff shirts that would look more natural to someone that hasn't worn a lot of French cuffs before. I own a few of their shirts (in slim fit) and am quite pleased. They're not the most luxurious things I've ever bought, but they're a big step above something like H&M (or Top Man), and will work for day to day wear without immediately falling apart. There's a store on Jermyn Street, of course, and a few other locations in the City.

Some other options: TM Lewin, Thomas Pink (a bit expensive compared to the others), or Hawes & Curtis.

Getting even more basic: you might have luck with the department stores Debenhams (huge store on Oxford Street) or Marks and Spencer (everywhere).
posted by midatlanticwanderer at 6:40 PM on September 29, 2011

Next or Marks and Spencer are perfect for what you're looking for and probably the best places for affordable, moderately fashionable work wear. TM Lewin is a great place to buy a full suit which is a nicer than Next or M&S but still affordable. There's a Banana Republic on Regent Street but it's more expensive than in the US. I used to work in a pretty conservative office in the UK and men generally bought their everyday suits at Next or TM Lewin. If they wanted more expensive upscale suits they would go to places like Gieves & Hawkes. Austin Reed is another good suit store which is probably on par with TM Lewin and is almost always running some kind of a great sale.
posted by triggerfinger at 6:50 PM on September 29, 2011

I'm a Londoner, and I would interpret this to mean:

I would try to wear a shirt every day. This can be covered with a v-neck sweater. A jacket and tie are not necessary. You may be able to get away with a tidy t-shirt and nice jumper, but I would wait to see how the rest of the office dress before going that informal.

This could range anywhere from nice tidy black trousers, through appropriately cut chinos, right down to well-cut and tidy looking jeans. It depends on the company. I would certainly err on the side of dressiness at the beginning.

Anything that's not a sneaker or flip-flop should be fine. Schuh, Office and their ilk should have something suitable. Try Camper for something a bit quirky, or one of these guys for something budget-bustingly upmarket. I've noticed (relatively) affordable Cheaney shoes in the massive Austin Reed on Regent Street, though this is veering onto dressy overkill for your needs.

The "smart" request would parse as a formal business suit to me, probably for more formal meetings and the like.

I'm quite slim, and tend to shop for new things at Uniqlo, Topman and a little bit at H&M and Next. I find Uniqlo the most bountiful by far, and the second one on Oxford Street (closer to Oxford Circus) often has a decent variety of lighter business-friendly stuff in.

For a more formal look, TM Lewin do fairly decent suits for the price. The service should also be quite good. Their shirts are quite nice - if you go to the Jermyn Street store they'll take the time to get you something that fits well, though their better-fitting shirts can get pricey. They're still probably the best value for a quality dress shirt. More everyday shirts can be found at Marks & Spencer, Uniqlo, Next and probably some others for a bit cheaper.

It's worth noting that M&S probably sell more suits than anyone else, by quite a margin. They're a pretty safe option, and quite affordable. Last time I was suit shopping, I didn't like the look of anything I tried on there, but YMMV.

I hope that helps!
posted by Magnakai at 7:13 PM on September 29, 2011 [1 favorite]

It's difficult to offer advice without knowing what industry you'll be working in. Investment banking's "informal" would probably be overkill for media's "smart".

If you don't feel comfortable asking your new boss (and I can understand that that might be a bit awkward), can you speak to someone in HR? You can make assumptions about what your boss might mean by "informal" and "smart", but HR will know, and they'll probably be happy to help you out and explain what the dress code actually means in practice. We can then give you suggestions about where to go shopping!
posted by finding.perdita at 7:17 PM on September 29, 2011

Sometimes when deciding what to wear you may like to enlist the services of a personal shopper or stylist to help you find something that suits you, suits your budget and suits your workplace. Selfridges has FREE personal shoppers - you do need to ring ahead and book an appointment but this may be well worth your while. Phone details are listed below and taken from their website:

Selfridges' Personal Shopping Service is free. For more details or to book an appointment please call the department directly.

* London: 0207 318 3536
* Birmingham: 0121 600 6924
* Manchester Trafford Centre: 0161 629 1177

As our Personal Shopping service is very popular, there is usually a waiting list for appointments. Please book well in advance to avoid disappointment.

These shoppers will likely save you a lot of time and frustration - plus from what I've seen they are also friendly, attractive and your age! They will be able to work with your personal style and find something that will be good for work and morph into after work styles as well.

Selfridges is big enough to have a wide variety of styles and brands but does not necessarily mean big price tags. Plus there is the bonus of great food halls where you could go for a snack once you're done.

Try with a couple of basic outfits and once you've received advise from your personal shopper you will likely develop an eye for what works for you from other places in London.

There are other stores in London with personal shoppers too - I'm sure House of Fraser on High St Kensington would - I haven't been there in ages but always used to be able to find a great range of work clothes and sometimes at really great prices.

M&S is a reliable choice - an institution in the UK.

Stay away from Liberty, Harrods and Harvey Nics unless you feel like dropping a good chunk of change.

Good luck - enjoy your time in London - everybody should live there for a few years.

Though not appropriate for your work - given your preferences for off work clothes I hope you have found yourself wandering around Camden Market - ahhhhh the hours and hours I have spent there - I miss it (and I was there 3 short weeks ago).
posted by YukonQuirm at 8:07 PM on September 29, 2011

Uniqlo. You can get a cheap and not too bad suit there, even... in NY they do hemming for free, perhaps London as well. Other than that they have decent and cheap dress shirts, jackets, sweaters, coats.

Also you can pick up decent dress shirts, blazers/jackets and simple sweaters at H&M for not too much.

Shoes? Aldo has cheap stylish dress shoes.

I don't live in the UK or London, but I think you could probably do that for a bit over 500 GBP. The suit'll be what costs you. But if you're only expecting to wear it like twice a month, you can skimp on the quality.
posted by DLWM at 12:29 AM on September 30, 2011

Until you have started the job the only things to get would actually be a suit and a shirt and shoes to go with these. Once you have worked out what everybody else is wearing you can work out what else you may need to get.

But you were told you are going to need formal wear for meetings and presentations so you know that you need a suit, you were also told that "we dress informal" so you know you don't need to wear a tie. If it turns out that they are on the informal side of the spectrum it still is never inappropriate to be smart on your first day. You can always just drape the jacket over the back of the chair and not wear it if you find their interpretation of informal is very informal when you get there.

Once you see what everybody else is wearing you can work out what else, if anything, you need to get.

Until then it may be helpful to browse the shops people have recommended just to see what's out there and what you like. That gives you ideas and allows you to do the actual shopping quite quickly should you find you need to get a bunch of stuff after you start the job.

But in my experience investing in a new work wardrobe based on what you expect everybody else to wear is a waste of money - having spent money ahead of starting new jobs a few times I generally found that my old work wardrobe would have done just fine. I know you haven't got a work wardrobe at the moment so you will need to invest in one but as the spectrum is so wide you'd probably still get it wrong if you do your shopping before you start the job.
posted by koahiatamadl at 2:05 AM on September 30, 2011

Response by poster: I sucked it up and asked the boss, and was just told that it is kind of anything goes, some wear "shirt and trousers" (sounds like an amusingly British thing to say to me) and others jeans and t-shirts. So I think I can get away with a pretty minimal amount of shopping. Thanks for the help. Amusingly I had never heard of a single one of these stores.
posted by PercussivePaul at 2:22 AM on September 30, 2011

If I were to send you to one shop and one shop only to sort all of your concerns it would be Marks & Spencer, especially if you want to include a suit inside your £500 budget.

If you go to the M&S Pantheon store on Oxford Street, you can also go to the John Lewis and House of Fraser flagship department stores, and I would also recommend going to the Moss flagship store across the road from John Lewis for a broad and reasonably priced range of casual jackets/blazers and suits.

Fashion disclaimer - all of the above is the safe, middlebrow option of middle Britain. But from the question I think that was what you were after.
posted by bright cold day at 2:35 AM on September 30, 2011

I think the Debenham's on Oxford Street is the best of the four department stores in that strip (Selfridges, House of Fraiser and John Lewis) for everyday work wear. Selfridges and House of Fraiser are nicer but pricer, John Lewis is a bit crap for clothes. At Debhenham's you can get a nice suit for £200 which makes it comparable to M&S in terms of price but a bit more stylish.

I'd pretty much agree with your assessment of the clothes you'll need. You will need a suit (even if you only wear it occasionally). You need one pair of shoes and a belt that will go with your suit. A plain tie that you can wear with anything. I'd suggest five shirts so you can wear a different one every day (shops often do multi-buy offers, TM Lewin mentioned above is good for this) and at least one of these should have proper cuffs. day-to-day pair of trousers from one of the less formal places mentioned (Uniqlo are very cheap and have a huge range). You should be able to do that for £500 if you are careful. You can build up your wardrobe as you get used to the environment, get more money and develop your own preferences.

Oh, and one place I haven't seen mentioned which I really like for smart casual is Muji.
posted by ninebelow at 3:36 AM on September 30, 2011

although I see now its from Jeans and a T-Shirt up. For shopping recommendations I'd recommend obviously Oxford St, H&M, Marks & Spencers, Uniqlo, Muji as above.

I'd also recommend Neils Yard / Seven Dials / Covent Garden area for not quite as 'Oxford St'.

Or for the more Hipster end of fashion; shopping around Brick lane / Spitalfields Markets is now de riguer.
posted by mary8nne at 5:06 AM on September 30, 2011

« Older Shabu Shabu Restaurant in Sydney   |   Looking for a new scooter helmet... Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.