North vs. South Fashion : Why do Londoners dress down?

London dress down fashion

I ended up in London via the Midlands (growing up), the South West (Uni) and the North (first grad job) and so I have seen -and participated in – my fair share of regional fashion tribes.

What always struck me is the huge difference in north vs. south fashion, especially the ‘glam up’ attitude of the North compared to the ‘dress down’ vibes of the South.

When I lived in Manchester, not only did people dress up at night but a Saturday daytime in the Arndale shopping centre would see plenty of heels, blow-dried hair and faces full of makeup. Put that look in London where the trend is trainers, bomber jackets and minimalist dressing and it would stand out like a sore, albeit very glam, thumb.

So how and why did this stark sartorial difference happen?

I think a lot is to be said for just how big and busy London is. With something happening across London every day of the week in every area of the city, going out after work is the done thing. People rarely live close to their office in London (an average commute is said to be 50 minutes) so as there isn’t the option to go home and get changed, and a very real possibility of standing outside a pub for hours/lots of walking, flats and office dressing are the norm. Who wants to be hobbling down the escalators for the Piccadilly line in heels and potentially miss the last tube home?

That isn’t to say we didn’t go out mid-week in Manchester – it was a buzzing city with plenty of people wanting to have a good time. But it was a very different kind of going out. The girls and I would get changed in the office (heels and new outfit, obvs), get a taxi to our location then head home afterwards in a taxi, swinging by the office en route to collect our abandoned work clothes. None of this carting your handbag, gym bag and coat with you like in London where it is usually too expensive to get a taxi home, even with Uber. The Manchester nights were also, more often than not, planned nights that we would discuss what to wear beforehand rather than the spontaneous after-work drinks of London working life.

As for day-time glam, shopping was one of the major activities of a weekend in Manchester, almost acting as a key occasion to dress up for. It would also be likely that you would bump into someone you knew, making it all the more reason to make an effort with your appearance. (Saying that though, there were plenty of times that I rocked up in Uggs and leggings and then scurried my way back onto the Magic bus to Fallowfield).

Yet shopping in London doesn’t seem to have the same draw. Whereas in Manchester shopping was almost always done in groups with friends, mums or sisters all out socialising on a Saturday, most Londoners I know go shopping alone, squeezing it in during the week so that they can relax in their local area with friends on the weekend. After busy weeks, it seems that Londoners prefer brunches, parks and the latest pop-up on the weekend over a shopping precinct.

The type of things people buy differs regionally too. When I last went up to Manchester I noticed that online fast fashion store Missguided had a concession in Selfridges in the Manchester Trafford Centre. Missguided is known for its party (read: bodycon cut-out) pieces which would suggest that there is a higher demand for fun, glam, partywear in this city. Yet in London where I work on Oxford Street, one of the busiest shopping streets in the UK, I mostly see workers either nipping into a shop on their lunchbreak to pick up a present or dashing in after work to find something for an occasion the next day that they had been too busy to think about.

Of course there are differences in each city. Indeed, London is one of the most diverse cities in the UK, has its own style tribes within the city (punks and goths in Camden, hipsters in Shoreditch, rahs in Chelsea) and sees a huge amount of people experimenting with their looks. And of course Manchester isn’t just the bodycon dresses and hair extensions that you might see at Birdcage or Tiger Tiger but also has the cool Northern Quarter, known for its independent shops, cafes and ‘creative types’.

Personally, I have loved experiencing both north and south fashion and as much as I love wearing my Adidas Superstars in London, I equally love getting dressed up and making more effort in Manchester. One of the style tribes I miss the most though? The leggings and hoodies of the Uni years. Now they were some comfy years.

London street style