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. Agent Provocateur

    Soho

    Created by fashion designer Vivienne Westwood's son and daughter-in-law, this line of lingerie in gorgeous fabrics, silks, latex, and lace tends toward the kind of...Read More

  • 2. Benjamin Pollock's Toyshop

    Covent Garden

    This landmark toy shop still carries on the tradition of its eponymous founder, who sold miniature theater stages made from richly detailed paper from the...Read More

  • 3. Berry Bros. & Rudd

    St. James's

    Nothing matches Berry Bros. & Rudd for rare offerings and a unique shopping experience. A family-run wine business since 1698 (Lord Byron was a customer),...Read More

  • 4. Blackout II

    Covent Garden

    Escape the bustle of Covent Garden's Neal Street here at one of London's top vintage clothing shops. Its two small floors are overflowing with high-end...Read More

  • 5. Books for Cooks

    Notting Hill

    It may seem odd to describe a bookshop as delicious smelling, but on several days you can't help but notice the aromas wafting out of...Read More

  • 6. Broadway Market

    Hackney

    This parade of shops in hipster-centric Hackney (north of Regent's Canal) is worth visiting for the specialty bookshops, independent boutiques, organic cafés, neighborhood restaurants, and...Read More

  • 7. Columbia Road Flower Market

    Hoxton

    London's premier flower market is about as pretty and photogenic as they come, with more than 50 stalls selling flowers, shrubs, bulbs, and trees—everything from...Read More

  • 8. Covent Garden Market

    Covent Garden

    Established in the 1670s as a thriving fruit, herb, and flower market, this popular historic piazza now has three separate market areas: the Apple Market,...Read More

  • 9. Daunt Books

    Marylebone

    An independent bookstore chain (there are additional branches in Belsize Park, Chelsea, Hampstead, Holland Park, and Cheapside), Daunt favors a thoughtful selection of contemporary and...Read More

  • 10. Fenwick

    Mayfair

    A manageably sized department store, Fenwick is a welcome haven of affordability in a shopping area where stratospheric prices are the norm. The store is...Read More

  • 11. Fortnum & Mason

    St. James's

    Although F&M is jokingly known as "the Queen's grocer" and the impeccably mannered staff still wear traditional tailcoats, its celebrated food hall stocks gifts for...Read More

  • 12. Foyles

    Soho

    Founded in 1903 by the Foyle brothers after they failed the Civil Service exams, this family-owned bookstore and literary landmark is in a 1930s Art...Read More

  • 13. Geo F. Trumper

    St. James's

    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, a shaving...Read More

  • 14. Hatchards

    St. James's

    This is the United Kingdom's oldest bookshop, open since 1797 and beloved by writers themselves—customers have included Oscar Wilde, Rudyard Kipling, and Lord Byron. Despite...Read More

  • 15. Heywood Hill

    Mayfair

    Open since 1936, this is considered by some to be the best small bookstore in the English-speaking world—John Le Carré, who set a scene in...Read More

  • 16. James Smith & Sons Ltd.

    Bloomsbury

    Stepping into this gorgeous Victorian-era umbrella shop is like stepping back in time. Open since 1857, this family-run emporium sells every kind of umbrella, parasol,...Read More

  • 17. Liberty

    Soho

    Its distinctive black-and-white Tudor-style facade, created from the timbers of two Royal Navy men-o'-war ships, reflects this department store's origins in the late Victorian Arts...Read More

  • 18. Lock & Co. Hatters

    St. James's

    Need a silk top hat, a flat-weave Panama, or a traditional tweed flat cap? Or, for ladies, an occasion hat? This wood-paneled shop has been...Read More

  • 19. Maggs Bros. Ltd.

    Bloomsbury

    A bibliophile’s heaven, this bookshop was first established in 1853 by the wonderfully Dickensian-sounding Uriah Maggs, who passed the business onto his four sons. Still...Read More

  • 20. Manolo Blahnik

    Chelsea

    Blink and you'll miss the discreet sign that marks fashionista footwear central. Blahnik, the man who single-handedly managed to revive the sexy stiletto, has been...Read More

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