CHEAP AND CHIC IN LONDON

A story on how to live in magnificent London from a new contributor – Allie Easling.

Three months without an income in London, one of the world’s most expensive cities, was a daunting prospect. You see, it also happens to be one of the world’s most stylish cities, brimming with shopping opportunities to tempt even the most disciplined Adelaide girl – and I’ve never been known for my restraint. Of course, the solution is simple: do not shop. Naturally, my determination evaporated almost immediately. The streets of London are like a real-life Pinterest board of sartorial inspiration. Joining the throng of ultra-chic Londoners every day, the desire to experiment with my look was strong. And in a city renowned for creativity and trendsetting, it would have been rude not to – right? As it turns out, I discovered that you can satisfy your consumerist whims and still afford to eat, no matter how heartbreaking the exchange rate happens to be. In fact, if I had given up scones and Starbucks I’m sure I would have been able to afford – and fit into – even more…

Harvey Nichols department store, Knightsbridge.

The options in this city are so overwhelming that you definitely need a plan before you set out. People-watching is a must.

Stroll through Mayfair to Dover Street Market and, as anything else in the store is unlikely to align with your budget, go straight to the fifth floor Rose Bakery café. Find a cosy corner and alternate between looking out over the urbane rooftops and gazing in awe at the Vogue staffers and fashion bloggers who frequent this highly instagrammable spot. If you’re feeling homesick, head to Granger in Kensington – the UK branch of Sydney classic Bills, it not only has a familiar and delicious menu but is always full of beautiful, well-dressed Londoners. Order the courgette chips and take notes. To see the coolest of the cool kids in their natural habitat, wander the streets of SoHo with a takeaway flat white in hand from Australian-run café Milk Bar. If you are after the truly avantgarde, glam yourself up and head to a drag night at one of the area’s many gay clubs (fabulous gay date strongly recommended).

Rose Bakery Cafe n- handy for sustenance and inspiration
Once you’ve decided which facet of your personality to shop for, you’ll need a plan of attack. Trendy high-street fashion originated in Britain, and they still do it better than anyone else. When it comes to high-street shopping, Oxford Street is both your mecca and your nightmare. Each time I shuffled along amidst the crush of tourists I darkly resolved never to return, but those shiny flagship stores and their never-ending parade of new stock were like a siren song to my wallet. Zara, H&M, River Island, Cos…if it’s trendy, someone will stock it (in three colours)! The Oxford Circus Topshop, in particular, is a marvel. Prepare to get lost in this store –  literally, geographically lost. Three sprawling floors are dedicated to affordable fashion and accessories, as well as two hair salons, a café, a beauty bar and a tattoo parlour (just in case you need some new ink to go with that fringed kimono). There’s also a vintage section and boutique offerings from other British labels. However, unless you’re a fan of queuing for change-rooms and checkouts, choose your visiting hours wisely!

If you fancy a unique look, hop on the tube towards Brick Lane.

Vintage shopping in London is a world away from Adelaide: these are not your standard Vinnies offerings! Whether you’re after shiny 80s party frocks or embroidered cowboy boots, seek and ye shall find. Keep your eyes out for popup warehouse sales, but make sure you have plenty of cash in your wallet a quick trip to the ATM could cost you that perfect, dusty pink fur coat and no one deserves that kind of heartbreak. Even if you can’t make it to a weekend market, there are plenty of vintage stores around the Lane. Blitz is the biggest vintage store in Europe, with multiple floors of well-curated men’s and women’s clothing and accessories. Prices are reasonable too, if you’re not looking at ball gowns or fur. Trawling through vintage treasures is an addictive practice so, if you’re up for more, check what’s happening at the Old Spitalfields Markets while you’re in town. They run seven days a week but the offerings differ each day (Sundays are a safe bet, with a little bit of everything). Be warned: smugly responding to compliments with “It’s vintage!” is almost as addictive as the shopping itself.

a trendy shopper on Brick Lane

Another advantage that London has over Adelaide (or, indeed, Australia) is the designer sample sale. Unlike at home, these are no rare occurrence. During my brief stay there were events by Alexander McQueen, Sophia Webster, NARS cosmetics, Victoria Beckham… and the only sleuthing I had to do was a quick Google search. However, these opportunities are not for the faint hearted. Prepare to queue, to elbow and be elbowed, and to hold on for dear life to anything in your size. It is best to venture in alone, so as not to risk your friendship over that last pair of bejewelled size 38 sandals, and without any time constraints, as these sales can involve a lot of waiting. But the discounts are worth it and you might even get your hands on a one-off sample that was never mass-produced. Besides, it’s a bonafide London fashionista experience!

Of course, if you’re in the position to splurge, there are plenty of places for that sort of shopping too. Luxurious department stores and beautiful designer boutiques are everywhere, but the best place to indulge yourself? A mere two hours away on the Eurostar…but that’s another story. Bonne chance!

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