What to Wear in London to Avoid Looking Like a Tourist

By Nick Hilden
Rainy street in London

London is one of those cosmopolitan cities that is a world unto itself, with so many overlapping cultural influences that it’s nearly impossible to spot where one ends and the next begins. Consequently, if you’re wondering what to wear in London, the answer is complicated.

From the Canary Wharf tailored suit banker, to the Afro-Caribbean Brixton hipster, to the Chalk Farm smoothie-drinking yogi, and beyond, every neighborhood is like its own world within the city. In other words, the definition of London fashion can change dramatically between districts and residents. London is more than just one thing, so while you can certainly dress your best, you won’t receive unwelcoming stares for staying casual. 

If there was something that Londoners agreed on, though, it’s dressing for the weather. London isn’t the rainiest city in the world, let alone within the UK. However, it does rain quite a bit, and the temperatures can reach scorching highs. Sometimes both on the same day.

With all this in mind, let’s take a look at how to dress in London.

Woman looking at pastries

The Best Travel Backpack for London

Before we look at what to wear in London, let’s discuss the right bag for carrying your wardrobe over the pond.

I’m a huge proponent of going 100% carry on. This avoids the hassle of checking and retrieving bags, which is particularly important if you’re going to be flying in and out of multiple European cities. I suggest using a carry-on-sized travel backpack like the Tortuga Outbreaker Backpack.

From my experience, there are several advantages to carrying the Outbreaker. While it’s designed to fit within airline carry on size restrictions, the Outbreaker also allows you to use each and every square inch allowed to you. In other words, I’ve found no other bag that is capable of holding so much within the limitations of a carry on bag. That’s important when you need to carry on plenty of clothes to suit different weather conditions, as you should when visiting London.

What’s more, the Outbreaker is water-resistant, which is especially important if you’re visiting London during one of its famous rainy spells.

What to Wear: Shoes for London

First up on our London style guide, let’s talk footwear.

I need to emphasize that comfortable shoes are essential to navigating London.

London doesn’t have an “off-peak” season. The city is constantly busy and can be packed to the point of suffocation in the most touristy areas, like Piccadilly Circus and Parliament.

If you want to get in and out of places quickly and comfortably, walk.

If you’re dressing up for a show in the West End then dress shoes and heels are appropriate.

I’d recommend wearing leather ankle boots with sturdy soles during the spring, summer, and autumn. Wear leather shin-height boots during the winter when you’re trying to get from A to B quickly and comfortably.

Do not wear wellies (knee-high rain boots). Wellies are reserved solely for the countryside. Avoid heels unless you’re going out or attending a formal function. Leave the flip-flops and sneakers back home.

What to Wear in London in Autumn

Personally, I love London’s autumn. There’s nothing like walking down a tree-canopied street lined with Georgian houses with a cup of tea in hand.

Fall is the time of the year to start layering. Ladies, go for jeans and a button-down top. A dress with leggings plus a sweater and light jacket is also a great choice. Gentlemen, try a sweater over a button-down with a pair of fitted jeans or trousers.

The weather can be rainy with temperatures around 50-60 degrees Fahrenheit from September to November. In other words, autumn kicks off the 9-10 month rainy season until summer hits. Tossing an umbrella into your daypack is a must if you’re not wearing a raincoat.

Man shopping at a market

What to Wear in London in Winter

I’ve always found London’s winters to be confusing. Sometimes it feels like a spring day and other times it feels like a winter wonderland.

November tends to kick off winter with light to heavy rain. Snow falls more regularly in January and February. Remember that the Gulf Stream keeps Great Britain warmer than you might expect. Expect milder temperatures in the 40s and 50s during the winter months.

That being said, layers are your friend once again. Have an insulated coat with gloves and a hat at the ready as temperatures can fluctuate throughout the day. A sweater with a blouse or shirt underneath worn with fitted pants should keep you cozy. You can always shed the sweater in case you get toasty at the local pub.  

What to Wear in London in Spring

Whatever you do, please do not wear shorts at the first sight of the sun. London’s spring weather will be cold enough to demand pants, plus it’s likely to change mid-day.

In Spring, expect rain. Make it a rule to always carry a raincoat or umbrella with you no matter how sunny it is in the morning.

Towards April and May, you can begin to turn in your winter layers for lighter ones. Late spring is time for lighter jackets and sweaters.

Ladies, can think about dresses again. But don’t forget about a sweater or shawl for the cooler evenings. Men, you can likely get away with a short-sleeved shirt, a sweatshirt in hand, and lighter pants.

What to Wear in London in Summer

Despite common expectations, London summers can be absolutely scorching. Everyone will be taking advantage of the heat to wear as little as possible, given that the majority of the year is spent layering.

For women, colorful summer dresses, hats, shorts, and blouses will be on show, especially if you’re lounging around the parks. For men, a button-down shirt and some pastel shorts would be a typical summer outfit.

Be sure to bring a pair of sunglasses and wear some sunscreen as you may not always find adequate shade on London’s busy sidewalks.

Conclusion: What to Wear in London

Let’s summarize what we’ve learned about what to wear in London.

  • Go carry-on-only with an appropriately sized travel backpack.
  • Unless you’re visiting during the heat of summer, layers are essential.
  • Be prepared for weather changes by having an umbrella or rain jacket in your daypack.
  • You don’t need to splurge on top designer brands, but looking neat and well-composed is advisable.
  • Don’t forget a comfortable pair of shoes.