London

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. Lock & Co. Hatters

    St. James's | Specialty Stores

    Need a silk top hat, a flat-weave Panama, or a traditional tweed flat cap? Or, for ladies, an occasion hat? James Lock of St. James's has been...Read More

  • 2. Stanfords

    Covent Garden | Specialty Stores

    When it comes to encyclopedic coverage, there is simply no better map and travel shop on the planet. Trading in Covent Garden since 1853, Stanfords...Read More

  • 3. Swaine Adeney Brigg

    St. James's | Specialty Stores

    Providing practical supplies for country pursuits since 1750, Swaine Adeney Brigg carries beautifully crafted umbrellas, walking sticks, and...Read More

  • 4. Blade Rubber

    Bloomsbury | Specialty Stores

    This unique shop near the British Museum specializes in rubber stamps, with everything from businesslike "Paid" stamps to Alice in Wonderland...Read More

  • 5. Geo F. Trumper

    St. James's | Specialty Stores

    If you don't have the time for an old-fashioned hot-towel shave at this "traditional gentlemen's barbers" established in 1875, pick up a razor...Read More

  • 6. Green & Stone Art Materials

    Chelsea | Specialty Stores

    Relocated from its original fabulous cave on King's Road, this treasure trove of artists' materials, papers, art books, easels, and mannequins...Read More

  • 7. Mungo & Maud

    Belgravia | Specialty Stores

    If you don't want to leave London without buying something for your pet, Mungo & Maud have something for your furry friend. Pick up a well...Read More

  • 8. Old Spitalfields Market

    Spitalfields | Specialty Stores

    Once the East End's wholesale fruit and vegetable market and now restored to its original architectural splendor, this fine example of a Victorian...Read More

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  • 9. Rigby & Peller

    Knightsbridge | Specialty Stores

    Many of London's most affluent women find their luxury lingerie (plus swimwear) here because the quality is excellent and the service impeccably...Read More

  • 10. The Button Queen

    Marylebone | Specialty Stores

    Extremely specialized shops like this one once helped make London so distinctive, but today they are in danger of disappearing. The Button Queen...Read More

  • 11. Lulu Guinness

    Belgravia | Specialty Stores

    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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