Q&A: What to Wear to Work in London

March 31st, 2009

Q: I’m going to London this summer for an internship. I’m aware that London street style is super funky, but I also want to be taken seriously. How do I show my youth and creativity while looking professional and dealing with the weather?

by Traci Tsai

A: Dressing appropriately for work depends a good deal on where you are working.  If your internship is at a more serious, buttoned-up large company, I would advise letting your accessories express your youth and creativity. But if you’re working at an agency or a company with a more youthful, casual culture, you can take some more liberties – you’d be surprised at how some people will dress themselves for work!

London style is very bold, so the key is lots of color and prints, and not worrying too much if you match perfectly. Once you have your work basics (e.g. trouser pants, blazer, buttondown shirts), here’s six funky, London-appropriate pieces to build your work wardrobe around:

The Long Tunic/Dress
Silence and Noise Boatneck Tunic | $42 at Urban Outfitters

You can get more mileage out of this piece if you wear it both as a tunic (to work) and as a dress (on weekends).  Don’t be afraid of bold colors here.

The Vest
Pinstripe Pocket Vest | $12.50 at Forever 21

A tailored vest is the perfect item to take a more playful look into work-appropriate formal territory.  Wear it either open or buttoned-up.

The Cropped Leggings
Cotton Spandex Jersey Placket Legging | $28 at American Apparel

Perfect for layering, cropped leggings can be used to make a too-short skirt appropriate for work.  Think of them as the summer equivalent of matte black tights. 

The Long Necklace

Mixed Metal Multi Strand Necklace | $16.10 at ASOS

London women own a lot of great accessories, and we’re fans of the colorful wispy neck scarves they wear during the winter.  But for summer, long stranded necklaces are a good way to add personality (and a touch of sophistication) to your outfit.

The Flat Shoes
Frye Cameron Skimmer | $115 (sale) at Zappos

Flats are key – we cannot tell you how many friends have moved to London and learned this lesson the hard way on day one. London is a walking town. A comfortable pair of flats is essential.  Bonus?  Flats are a great way to add extra color to any work outfit.

The Large Handbag
Monserat de Lucca Artacho Satchel | $255 at Bluefly

Carry a large bag for all the possible things you might need in a day.  Londoners tend to carry fairly large bags, which are both functional and stylish.   A couple of things to keep in your bag:
(1) A Thin Neck Scarf, a great way to add some personal style to a standard work outfit.
(2) An Umbrella is a must.  You will be shocked how quickly a beautiful sunny day in London can turn into a stormy, wet mess

What would you wear to work in London? Share your style with us in the comments!

Entry Filed under: Q&A,Women's

13 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Amy C.  |  March 31st, 2009 at 12:20 am

    It can get really hot in London during the summer. Try dressing in layers so you can stay cool on the street, the bus, and tube (public transport is not air-conditioned and can get really stifling).

    I would bring the bare minimum of clothes with you and buy most of your clothes in London. That way, you can gauge the office attire and dress accordingly. Besides, London is amazing for fashion at all price points and you can get some great stuff at flea markets, Topshop, boutiques etc. Why spend your entire fashion budget before you arrive?

  • 2. E.  |  March 31st, 2009 at 3:24 am

    Some people in London are funky (under 20’s) but mostly, if you’re going to work in the City (our Wall Street) for a big firm, completely ignore the above. You’ll see that everybody wears the same: either business attire or business casual with maybe a dress down Friday before going to the pub at 5pm.

    You’ll need a set of formal skirts and if you don’t necessarily need a jacket, wear your flats on the tube and change to heels (to be kept in your drawer) when in the office. Accessories are the key.

    I agree with Amy, bring the minimum and buy your clothes in London after spending maybe an afternoon in the area where you’re going to work. Good shops are everywhere and I especially like Kew, Boden, Joules (casual), Jigsaw (for a treat). Banana Republic is also in London if you need a safe bet.

  • 3. M S  |  March 31st, 2009 at 5:34 am

    I want to add that London ‘can’ get really hot, but the past two summers in London has been very cool. The highest temperature during the day was low 20s Celsius at best. Yes it does get very stifling in the tube and in busy indoor areas, but once out of the sun, a light long-sleeve outer layer wouldn’t go amiss. How quick the weather changes from sun to thunderstorms is also very true. When that happens, the temperature drops quite a lot, obvs.

    I also wouldn’t just take the bare minimum. UK is notorious for charging a 15% VAT on everything. Eg. AA cotton legging costs $26 in the US. Cost £22 in the UK, which is about $31. Do the math and don’t give all your money away to UK government. Bring enough so you don’t ‘need’ to buy anything, but ‘can’ buy when you have good finds.

  • 4. Sal  |  March 31st, 2009 at 7:10 am

    Great advice for an internship in ANY large city, I’d wager.

  • 5. Claudine  |  March 31st, 2009 at 11:44 am

    I think its great to get ideas from other countries, London style would work well anywhere.

  • 6. Trisha  |  April 1st, 2009 at 1:56 am

    Wonderful tips, everybody! Thanks so much for sharing.

  • 7. Jamie  |  April 1st, 2009 at 7:39 am

    The weather here is so unpredictable. The first summer I was here, the HIGH on Memorial Day was 42 degrees! I’ve been here three years now and one summer was hot, then next was cold and the last was both. Brings plenty of professional pants tailored to wear flats or low heels (j.crew, banana republic) and skirts and shirts..I would recommend Brooks Brother’s no-iron as dry cleaning is expensive…and buy the cardigans, scarfs, summer dresses, etc when you get here. Just make sure what ever you bring, you can climb stairs and walk across cobblestone streets. Pencil skirts and heels are a nightmare in the tube and in the City.

    Make sure you bring lots of hair conditioner. The water in London is the hardest I have ever experienced and it will turn your hair to straw in just a few days.

  • 8. Kate  |  April 1st, 2009 at 8:36 am

    Definitely take an umbrella with you and I agree with the tips above if you’re working in the City. Elsewhere will probably be more relaxed, though shopping in the US often seems cheaper than the UK.

  • 9. Amy  |  May 7th, 2009 at 10:08 am

    What kind of work are you doing? The type of clothes shown above are not appropriate in conservative industries such as banking, consulting or business-related type companies. You should read the dress code for your company to get a better idea about what is accepted. On your first week, you should err on the side of conservative and wear dress pants and skirts with a shirt. Good companies which features such clothings are Banana Republic, Talbots, Anntaylor/Loft, JCrew The type of clothes shown above might be okay if you are in non-profit or a creative industry.

  • 10. Patricia  |  November 3rd, 2009 at 8:18 am

    These clothes are laughably bad for any office work in London. The dress is way to short, and would be a casual wear, not even remotely good for the office. Cropped trousers, unless made with a tailored look are also a massive no no.

    The shoes are ok, but would rub your feet sore if your on them all day, a lot of clerks dont sit down much in a busy office. The bag just looks like your going on a trip for the weekend.

    If you want promotion, you’d be the bottom of the list with this lot.

  • 11. i-lovemondays  |  May 4th, 2010 at 10:26 am

    as a busy career girl myself, with very little time to figure out what to wear in the morning – without looking too plain or boring – I thought i’d start a blog entirely dedicated to the world of office-chic, power dressing and smarwear with a flair. It is actually a lot of fun.
    I find multi-layered looks really interesting. I mean, shirt, a vest/gillet with either a pencil skirt or mono-cromatic trousers. You can always play around with 1 piece statement jewellery to make it funky. Warehouse also have a nice selection of cute corporate dresses and LBDs – staple items for your wardrobe!

  • 12. brighteyed  |  August 19th, 2010 at 6:12 am

    This may be a bit late, but there is a website based in the UK which give ideas for what to wear to the office; https://www.wearittowork.co.uk/newsPage.aspx Hope it helps!

  • 13. Srushti  |  February 6th, 2012 at 12:56 pm

    Having a personal stylist for yourself to fit your shape perfect. You need to visit sabbs. We even come to your doorstep for free.

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