where to shop for women's business casual in the UK?
December 12, 2013 7:19 AM   Subscribe

UK mefites, help a new transplant out! I need to put together a business casual wardrobe essentially from scratch. I hate shopping so I would like to do this as efficiently as possible. Which shops should I be trying?

In the US, when I needed something nicer than the usual Target crap I wore to work every day, I could go to a number of stores that catered to young to middle-aged professional women at different quality/price points - Banana Republic, Ann Taylor, Ann Taylor LOFT, New York & Company, etc. Are there any brands in the UK that occupy similar niches? I would really prefer not to have to dig through the all-ages/all-styles mess of big department stores.

As far as location, I am in Cambridge and while that obviously means I can go to London to shop if needed, I would really prefer not to. Online is OK if the return policies are reasonable.
posted by homuncula to Shopping (15 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
My other half goes to Next a lot for her work clothing.
posted by EndsOfInvention at 7:38 AM on December 12, 2013

Have you tried Debenhams?

The pricing is right, and the looks are nice (although lots of leggings in the UK, no?) They carry Land's End, which I like for long lasting basics.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 7:41 AM on December 12, 2013

John Lewis (in the Grand Arcade) and M&S are worth a try (although M&S may be a bit too stodgy for a younger professional look). Monsoon is probably worth a look but you will probably either like it or hate it.
posted by crocomancer at 7:48 AM on December 12, 2013

Wallis is the place for picking up tops and shirts that do that whole 'goes with a suit, but can also be dressed up for a night out or Sunday brunch'. Great for accessories, too. And grey leather jackets for some reason. Wallis is also online.

Marks & Spencers might seem a bit 'mumsy', but! You can pick up stretchy comfortable trousers that look like suit trousers there that have elasticated waists and are the most comfortable things ever! They come in a 'narrow bootcut' that honestly do look like suit trousers, but feel like yoga bottoms! Great for business casual.

Dorothy Perkins are great for blazers and work accessories, and maybe the type of top you'd pick up in Wallis - just younger and hipper.

Clarks for all work footwear: comfy and that wonderful English middle ground between classy and quirky.

Monsoon for cardigans (if your budget stretches that far), failing that, Debenhams or M&S for them.

For coats-that-go-over-workwear, I'll suggest Evans. This is typically a plus-size store but go down to size 14. Fab for finding English weather appropriate outerwear that, you know, actually fits over your work clothes.

Take a dash around Primark, too. I know you'll come out with 5 knickers for £1 and armloads of bangles and perhaps even a onesie, but some of my best casual work finds have come from Primark!
posted by Chorus at 7:53 AM on December 12, 2013 [1 favorite]

Definitely Clarks for shoes. They cost more but will last you years.
posted by EndsOfInvention at 7:56 AM on December 12, 2013

There is a Zara in Cambridge and I like their blazers and tops. Also, Topshop. We have these now in the US as well, are you looking specifically for things you can only find in the UK? Because if not, there is a Gap in Cambridge too.
posted by rmless at 7:57 AM on December 12, 2013

On the rare occasion I need a work/interview suit I go to Next. Anything in the realm of buttoned/fitted tops I get from Pepperberry because BOOBS.
posted by corvine at 8:09 AM on December 12, 2013

Jigsaw and Whistles (in John Lewis), Karen Millen and LK Bennett and perhaps Ted Baker - all are in Cambridge.

Also, have a look at Asos online.
posted by MuffinMan at 8:13 AM on December 12, 2013

For suiting and coats I'd try Next, Debenhams, Dorothy Perkins and Marks and Spencers. Next and Debenhams are probably the best. For other things those shops plus Zara, Mango, H&M, Warehouse, Wallis, Oasis. Definitely give Primark a go, you might come out lucky.

British clothes shops all tend towards fast fashion more than eg the US in my experience.
posted by plonkee at 10:14 AM on December 12, 2013

What's your budget? I would second Zara for excellent basics (I had to buy an emergency sub fusc blazer and three and a half years later, it's still in great shape). Jigsaw also has lovely dresses. I love Hobbs, because I have zero cleavage and their blazers are far more tailored than most US brands; it's expensive, but the January sales are coming up...LK Bennett is also expensive but worth it. Cannot recommend M&S for tights/other business suit underpinnings more-- I have a pair of black opaque tights that are also over three years old at this point and still in great shape.
posted by jetlagaddict at 11:41 AM on December 12, 2013

There is also Banana Republic in London (other store locations here). There's a rather large one on Regent St. They also have an .eu webshop.
posted by alchemist at 12:26 AM on December 13, 2013

The shop you are looking for is Next which is aimed squarely at the 20s-30s market. The womenswear section will have one side of the floor devoted to casual and one side devoted to office appropriate. Go for the high street versions of the store. The out of town outlet Nexts will have all sorts of crazy end of line stuff and made-for-outlet items which will be an exercise in frustration if you're looking to minimise your time spent shopping.
posted by Ness at 1:38 AM on December 13, 2013

Oh - one other thing. The poster who mentioned the UK high street as being fast fashion is dead on. I find clothes shopping in December to be very frustrating unless I'm looking for thick jumpers or party wear.

Clothes in the faster fashion stores will all be very bling at the moment, you may have more luck in January.
posted by Ness at 1:53 AM on December 13, 2013

Hobbs is expensive, but worth it. Try to catch a post-Christmas sale.
posted by Ms. Moonlight at 7:05 AM on December 13, 2013

The Monsoon sale starts online on the 24th - I've picked up work appropriate clothing there in the past. Clarks also have a sale on online - they'#re one of the few places on the high street that do my size, and I have shoes from there that I've had for years. Phase Eight have a sale on at the moment, and do some nice dresses and skirts.

Online - all UK shops should allow you to return for a full refund within seven days, due to the Distance Selling Regulations. (This is not the case in stores - some stores will not refund at all on sale items, or only exchange. LK Bennett are notorious for being extremely obstinate when it comes to returns. ) You should have no problem with major stores when it comes to online shopping.

With less money, I've done workwear shopping in Next (again, big sale on Boxing Day, but shops are mental) and Dorothy Perkins - though the latter isn't as great quality as it was. We have Lands End here as well - I've got some nice jumpers and cardis from there - don't buy anything without a discount code, though! Marks and Spencer would be my place to look if I suddenly had to wear formal wear each day to work.

I'm not a big fan of Primark's clothing, but I think that's because I'm curvy and their clothes are cut quite meanly. I think they are the equivalent of Target in the US.

US chains like Banana Republic are a lot more expensive here than in the US. Hobbs is good for workwear, but quite expensive - I work in a casual office so can't really justify it.
posted by mippy at 5:18 AM on December 16, 2013

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