London vs. Manchester

May 27, 2010

Sandwiched between our two busy weeks in London and Prague was our two-day stay in Manchester. Perfect time to relax. Ironically, our desire to relax was mirrored in the city’s atmosphere. Manchester, in comparison to London, was much more mellow, calm, and laid-back – both in general and fashion-wise.

Our hotel was on the outskirts of the busier areas of Manchester. The buildings were mismatched and there was a big urban vibe. My initial impression of the city was that it was really empty. There were barely any people walking around. The few people that were walking down the sidewalks were adult men or women walking alone to work or elderly people. There were three free busses, taxis, and trams for people to commute in. There were not a lot of shops or restaurants near our hotel, either. We had to walk a few minutes further into the city to reach a more busy shopping area. The Northern Quarters had a lot more shopping areas, malls, restaurants, and boutiques for people to shop in. We walked through a small collection of stores called Affleck’s Palace that had a lot of independent stores, Olden St. with other independent shops, and the streets by the ferris wheel that had more high-end stores like Louis Vuitton and Lacoste. Even these shopping areas were only moderately crowded.

Our tour guide gave us a good insight into the minds of the people of Manchester. He compared the atmosphere of London to Manchester, saying that London came from lords, ladies, and hierarchies of social classes, while the working class of Manchester rose to power and became powerful. The people of Manchester, therefore, rose because of what they could do, not who they were. They have an “attitude” about them, which was described in the art museum –

Once I understood the distinction between the social history London and Manchester, it gave me an insight as to why the people in Manchester dressed much more casually. Manchester has a working-class, urban, industrial feel to it which is reflected in its fashion. During the day, I saw a lot of plain business suits, generic outfits on men and women, and laid-back pieces. The only places that I saw high-end fashion were the high-end shopping areas, and even those outfits were nothing compared to the immaculate ensembles of London.

The shopping habits in Manchester were very similar to those in London. Shoppers in Manchester walked around alone or groups of two or three. People were walking around at a moderate pace, taking their time and enjoying the experience. They usually had one shopping bag on their arm. A lot of people walked around the stores and boutiques but did not buy anything. They interacted with the salespeople and talked to their friends about the pieces in the store.

London was filled with cutting-edge trends, hundreds of unique stores, and the most prestigious brands, while Manchester was mostly convenience shops, office buildings, parks, and restaurants and only had a few big shopping areas. The people of London were extremely put-together, fashion conscious, and concerned with high-end brand names, while the people of Manchester were comfortable walking around in sweatpants, gym shoes, and laid-back apparel. The people in Manchester did dress similarly to Londoners at night, however. When we went to the Northern area bars, I saw many girls wearing dresses that I would expect to see a London girl wearing while shopping during the day. In general though, Manchester was a much more casual fashion environment than London.

From what I was able to observe and write down, the culture code of Manchester fashion is all about comfort and generic, traditional style. The people that I observed walking around during the day were wearing extremely casual clothing. Some were in sweatpants and gym shoes, others in jeans and a t-shirt, and others wearing pants and a simple coat to tie the outfit together. Nobody was wearing anything outrageous or slightly out of the ordinary, which is extremely common in London. The people walking around Manchester were not concerned with standing out, being “unique,” or announcing to the world that they are “their own person.” They simply dressed in a casual/cute outfit (some not so cute) and went about their shopping. Londoners seemed to care equally about their outfit and the clothes they were shopping for, while the people in Manchester were focused on talking with friends, walking around the streets, and casually shopping for only a few items.

I kind of enjoyed the less casual feel of London. Maybe it’s just because I’m a girl and love to dress up and shop, but the Manchester atmosphere was a little too laid-back for me.


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