The keyword of London shopping has always been "individuality," whether expressed in the superb custom tailoring of Savile Row, the nonconformist punk roots of quintessential British designer Vivienne Westwood, or the unique small stores that purvey their owners' private passions—be they paper theaters, toy soldiers, or buttons. This tradition is under threat from the influx of chains (global luxury, domestic mid-market, and international youth), but the distinctively British mix of quality and originality, tradition, and character remains.

You can try on underwear fit for a queen at Her Majesty's lingerie supplier, track down a leather-bound Brontë classic at an antiquarian bookseller, or find a bargain antique on Portobello Road. Whether you’re just browsing—there's nothing like the size, variety, and sheer theater of London’s street markets to stimulate the acquisitive instinct—or on a fashion-seeking mission, London shopping offers something for all tastes and budgets.

Although it's impossible to pin down one particular look that defines the city, London style tends to fall into two camps: one is the quirky, somewhat romantic look exemplified by homegrown designers like Matthew Williamson, Jenny Packham, Vivienne Westwood, and Lulu Guinness; the other reflects Britain’s celebrated tradition of classic knitwear and suiting, with labels like Jaeger, Pringle, and Brora, while Oswald Boateng, Paul Smith, and Richard James take tradition and give it a very modern twist. Traditional bespoke men's tailoring can be found in the upscale gentlemen's shops of Jermyn Street and Savile Row—there's no better place in the city to buy custom-made shirts and suits—while the handbags at Mulberry, Asprey, and Anya Hindmarch are pure classic quality. If your budget can't stretch that far, no problem; the city's chain stores like Topshop, Zara, and H&M, aimed at the younger end of the market, are excellent places to pick up designs copied straight from the catwalk at a fraction of the price, while mid-market chains like Reiss, Jigsaw, and L.K. Bennett offer smart design and better quality for the more sophisticated shopper.

If there’s anything that unites London’s designers, it’s a commitment to creativity and originality, underpinned by a strong sense of heritage. This combination of posh and rock 'n' roll sensibilities turns up in everyone from Terence Conran, who revolutionized product and houseware design in the ’60s (and is still going strong), to Alexander McQueen, who combined the punk aesthetic with the rigor of couture. You'll see it in fanciful millinery creations by Philip Treacy and Stephen Jones, and in the work of imaginative shoemakers Nicholas Kirkwood, United Nude, and Terry de Havilland—and it keeps going, right through to current hot designers Erdem, Christopher Kane, Victoria Beckham, and up-and-coming names like Shrimps, Duro Olowu, and Molly Goddard.

One reason for London’s design supremacy is the strength of local fashion college Central St. Martin’s, whose graduates include Conran, Kane, McQueen, his successor at his eponymous label—and designer of the Duchess of Cambridge’s wedding dress—Sarah Burton, and Stella McCartney’s equally acclaimed successor at Céline, Phoebe Philo.

To find the McQueens and McCartneys of tomorrow, head for the independent boutiques of the East End and Bermondsey. If anything, London is even better known for its vibrant street fashion than for its high-end designers. Stock up from the stalls at Portobello, Camden, and Spitalfields markets.

Aside from bankrupting yourself, the only problem you may encounter is exhaustion. London's shopping districts are spread out over the city, so do as savvy locals do: plan your excursion with military precision, taking in only one or two areas in a day, and stopping for lunch with a glass of wine or for a pint at a pub.

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  • 1. James Smith & Sons Ltd.

    Bloomsbury | Jewelry & Watches

    This has to be the world's ultimate umbrella shop (it is definitely Europe's oldest), and it's a must for anyone interested in real Victorian...Read More

  • 2. Philip Treacy

    Belgravia | Jewelry & Watches

    Magnificent hats by Treacy are annual showstoppers on Ladies' Day at the Royal Ascot races and regularly grace the glossy magazines' party and...Read More

  • 3. Anya Hindmarch

    Chelsea | Jewelry & Watches

    Exquisite leather bags and personalized, printed canvas totes are what made Hindmarch famous, and this store sells her complete collection of...Read More

  • 4. Asprey

    Mayfair | Jewelry & Watches

    The company's "global flagship" store displays exquisite jewelry—as well as silver and leather goods, watches, china, and crystal—in a discreet...Read More

  • 5. Butler & Wilson

    South Kensington | Jewelry & Watches

    Specialists in bold costume jewelry and affordable glamour, Butler & Wilson attracts fans including the Duchess of Cambridge. Semiprecious...Read More

  • 6. Garrard

    Mayfair | Jewelry & Watches

    The oldest jewelry house in the world, Garrard has been in business since 1735. Between 1843 and 2007, the company was responsible for the upkeep...Read More

  • 7. Kabiri

    Marylebone | Jewelry & Watches

    A carefully curated array of exciting contemporary jewelry by emerging and established designers from around the world is packed into this small...Read More

  • 8. OTHER/Shop

    Soho | Clothing

    Aimed at men and women in search of stylish cool, this independent boutique stocks its own brand of entirely made-in-England clothing, as well...Read More

  • 9. The Shop at Bluebird

    Covent Garden | Household Items/Furniture

    The brainchild of the couple behind popular womenswear brand Jigsaw, this 15,000-square-foot space over three floors brings together men's and...Read More

  • 10. Wartski

    St. James's | Antiques & Collectibles

    This family-run specialist in antique jewelry and precious objects boosted its fortunes when the founder's canny son-in-law snapped up confiscated...Read More

  • 11. William & Son

    Mayfair | Jewelry & Watches

    William Asprey, scion of a jewelry dynasty, sells his carefully chosen, British-made luxury goods using a friendlier and less formal approach...Read More

  • 12. Bernstock Speirs

    Spitalfields | Jewelry & Watches

    Here since 1982, Paul Bernstock and Thelma Speirs have put a quirky, fashionable spin on traditional hats for men and women, with street-smart...Read More

  • 13. Lulu Guinness

    Covent Garden | Jewelry & Watches

    Famous for her amusing, imaginatively themed bags (think the satin "bucket" topped with roses or the elaborately beaded red "lips" clutch),...Read More

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