Archive for May, 2010


The Culture Code of London…

May 25, 2010

After spending over a week in London I have been able to gain a real sense of what fashion and shopping means to Londoners. I have been to all different parts of the city in high end and low end shopping areas. I think overall though the most consistent theme with fashion in London is that it is all about INDIVIDUALITY. While leggings, gladiator sandals, skinny jeans, tunics, funky prints, and vintage looks are all very popular in London, locals seem to all take these popular trends and mix them with alternative, unique pieces that makes their own unique look. Mixing old with new is a common approach to fashion. While stores like Harrods, Top Shop, H&M, and other major brands are popular stops in London for shoppers of all ages, each person also ventures out to other nearby boutiques to find that one statement piece to add a little extra something to a dress, or shirt that hundreds of other people may own.

What I found very interesting to further explain how INDIVIDUALITY is highly valued in London is comparing the high and lower end stores in the city. Today I had the chance to visit ASDA (the UK’s Wal-Mart), which was completely different from anything I had seen so far in London. At ASDA prices were displayed in large bold print, and shoppers very very price conscious. I noticed in particular in one of the aisles that had several different solid colored tank tops and tees that shoppers looked at everything from a distance and then narrowed into the items of the lowest cost. This price analysis from consumers was different from anything that I had seen so far. However once the consumer had picked out the top, I noticed that several of the women went over to the accessory aisle soon after to look at a belt of necklace that would complement the look. Here customers seemed to go towards what stood out, or what appealed to them most rather than looking at the price first. The shoppers at ASDA seemed to know that since their options in clothes may be limited at this price point, they can still take it from generic to unique by adding a quirky accessory.

One other major point I want to make about ASDA is that in comparison to American discount stores, I was surprised that there were no designer “knock-offs”. Back in the states Wal-Mart, Forever 21, Target, and Kohls all try to mimic the styles and trends in the upscale stores and brands. Back in the states stores will through on a little moose or seagull logo slightly different from ones at Hollister or Abercrombie so people that may not be able to afford the real thing can feel like they are following the trend and fit in with everyone else. Even designer handbags are copied and sold as knock-offs at low prices and fabrics and designs are copied. Back home fashion is about fitting in, and following trends so discount stores sell products that mimic those that are more expensive. In London, ASDA and other discount stores do their own thing, so that people at that price point can still make their own look. Londoners don’t want to lo0ok like everyone else, they all seem to have a real sense of self, and are true to who they are. They live having their own INDIVIDUAL style that reflect who they are.

This idea of INDIVIDUALITY in London can be seen again at the higher end stores as well. Today I also had the chance to visit Carnaby Street which is a small block located off of Oxford and Regent Streets in one of the most popular shopping areas in London. The street is lined with some store unique to Europe and the UK but I was surprised to see some popular brands on this block as well such as Levi’s, Puma, American Apparel and Diesel. However also located on Carnaby is a store called Liberty, which is one of the oldest fashion stores in London. From the outside the store looks like a German mansion, or medieval lodge. On the inside the theme continue with a five story center foyer and dark wood pillars and banisters. I was surprised to see that Liberty is actually a very very very upscale store. Stella McCartney, Fendi, Chloe, Chanel, Alexander McQueen, and other major couture designers were featured throughout the interior. While this store did not have the quantity of clothes in various sizes, each designer only had 2 or 3 styles in one or two sizes. Shoppers were much more sparse in this store, however for the shoppers that can afford to pay 1500 pounds for a dress or outfit are still guaranteed INDIVIDUALITY if they choose to purchase here. Shoppers at Liberty are extremely wealthy, know fashion, and know the designers they want to buy from. With that said, since each designer only had one small rack with a few select pieces, if a consumer purchased from  Liberty they are guaranteed to own a piece that is unique and perhaps one of a kind.

Over the course of the past week, I have observed perhaps hundreds of shoppers, been to many stores, and talked to some interesting people that all have a unique style. In the end though the main consistency that I found with the majority of Londoners is that they all value INDIVIDUALITY.

Well, time to experience Manchester! Cheers London I can’t wait till we meet again!


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Last Day!

May 24, 2010

Wow. It’s our last day in London, and this week flew by. Moving onto Manchester next! Anyway, I have come to a few conclusions about London fashion. The thing that I noticed the most is how comfortable everyone is in their own skin. No matter how flamboyant or conservative you might dress, it is all about the way that you have confidence. Londoners don’t try to adapt to their surroundings and dress the same; they try to set themselves apart. This creates a wonderful myriad of styles and fashion creations. Fashion trends are seen in magazines, and then Londoners adapt them to suit themselves.

We noticed that a huge part of London fashion deals with mixing old with new, and being able to take an outfit from day to night. Accessories are huge here. Londoners have a way of taking one accessory, a belt for example, and using it to tie together an entire outfit. The use of selected accessories helps them do what I mentioned earlier, take an outfit from day to night or combine something old with new. It has been inspiring visiting a place where people are so independent and confidant, and I’m sure going to miss this place! I can’t wait to see what Manchester and Prague will bring.


“And an integrated life is one where you’re able to fit the different pieces of your life together in seamless fashion.”
-James Collins


Final Thoughts on London

May 24, 2010

Today’s our last day in London. So weird to say that. It feels like we’ve been here a day, even though we’ve done a million things – sightseeing in Central London, winery tour, visited ad agencies, Abbey Road, marketplaces, pubs and clubs, shopped – the list goes on and on. Since we’ve done so many things, I’ve collected more than enough notes, thoughts, and perspectives on the ethnography of shoppers in London.

I’ll start out with our final ethnography field work that we did today. We took a trip to ASDA, which is basically London’s equivalent of Walmart.

I walked around the store to get a feel of the place, then focused most of my research on the clothing section. The clothes were layed out in an organized way. The pieces were all very generic – all sizes, basic colors, nothing very fancy. There were some more basic pieces and some more ornate ones – this represented the idea of ASDA being a store fit for every person, no matter what size or sense of style they have. The inexpensive prices were advertised with big yellow signs, emphasizing the great deals that ASDA had. Above the clothing, there were pictures of young, pretty models wearing the clothes, showing the customer that they would get the high-end look without paying a high-end price.

The customers at ASDA were mostly adults or elderly people, equally men and women, and a lot moms bringing their families along for the shopping trip. They did not have overflowing shopping carts like one would expect to see at a Walmart – they collected the ten or fifteen items that they needed and went immediately to the check-out. They seemed like they had a purpose for being at ASDA instead of wandering aimlessly through the aisles. They were calm, casual, and relaxed while shopping.

After ASDA, we went to Tesco.

Tesco is the superstore giant of London. They have everything anyone would need, and have stores everywhere. We’ve gone to the Tesco by our flat at least twice a day since we’ve been here. Tesco is layed out in a very organized manner with lots of signs, promotional ads, and exciting posters directing the customer where to go next.

The customers at Tesco were mostly adults. There weren’t any teenagers and there weren’t many elderly people, but there were a lot of little children walking around with their parents. Most people only purchased a moderate amount of items – they didn’t seem like they were stocking up on food. They were focused on the food that they needed and often checked prices.

We walked around some shopping areas and came to Carnaby Street.

The stores on Carnaby Street were average-sized stores and were mostly recognizable American brands. My friends and I walked into two of our favorite American stores – American Apparel and Steve Madden – to look at the set-up, atmosphere, and prices compared to our stores back home. They were almost identical with the exception of a few pieces. The tags at American Apparel even had a US Dollar marking along with the UK Pounds mark.

The customers walking around Carnaby Street were very similar to us – young, trendy, with friends, and enjoying the shoppingn experience. They had one or two bags on their arms and were taking in the atmosphere of the street as they went from store to store. They seemed very happy with their shopping experience.

We met as groups to collaborate and decide what our most important observations have been over this past week. We made a word cluster to highlight the most frequent trends and habits we’ve seen. We decided that the typical London shopper is —

  • young
  • trendy, hip
  • collected, put-together, organized
  • unique and comfortable with their style
  • mixes old and new pieces
  • confident, ready for the next trend

Lets say we’re looking at a typical young London girl that’s shopping around. From what we have seen, she would usually walk around alone, in a couple, or occassionally a group of three. The London shopper knows what she wants, so she’s not afraid to go by herself. She is comfortable with her unique style, knows how to put together old and new pieces, and is calm and casual about shopping.


shoe shoppers

May 24, 2010

After my converse post I was curious to understand how people act when they are shopping for shoes.  Today I visited Nike, Asics, Size?, Topshop, Converse and Asda.  Six stores, but some very similar shopping trends.

Nike was amazing.  It was the biggest Nike I had ever been in, but the best customer service I have ever had in a shoe store.  Similar to Apple they had handheld gadgets.  I asked for a shoe, he scanned the barcode to make sure my size was in stock and he ordered it from the backroom.  It came down on a shoe elevator and within three minutes of my request I was trying on a pair of shoes.

Besides my personal experience I watched as others browsed.  Shopping for shoes is a hands on experience.  Customers loved to pick up the shoes, look at all angles, bend them, smell them to make sure they were of quality.  Just as London was eclectic, Nike shoppers were very different as well.  Athletic, casual, comfort driven people that still appreciated style.  I asked a store worker why he liked working there and his response was because he loved living in London.

Asics was impressive because it was so personal.  A much smaller store than Nike, asics wanted to get to know there customer.  I spoke with a lady that had just been measured for a shoe and asked her why she came in today.  She said she had been in before and loved how they helped her.  She had just ran on a treadmill where they looked at how she ran.  They measured her arches, looked at her knee alignment and suggested a shoe that was best for her foot structure as well as the way her body contacted the ground.  This was an obvious sign of loyalty because Asics was dedicated to their consumers experience with their product.  The measuring session cost 5 £ and you had to commit to purchasing a shoe from them.

Size? was a little hipster store.  Shoes were mainly casual and very colorful.  Along with Nike the customers were very curious and wanted to know what they were buying.  They picked them up and looked at them, felt them, bent them, walked around in them, wanting to know if it was right for them.  At this store I really noticed a gender difference in shopping.  Men did not mind looking for shoes on their own where as women were very rarely alone.  Women loved conversing with friends and getting their opinion before their purchase.

Topshop was a madhouse.  Shoes, Shoes, Shoes.  Since the shoe area was so large I was curious on their customer service as well.  I asked for a size and he went off into the shoe jungle to find it.  I didn’t feel like I could browse because I wasn’t sure he would be able to find me if I moved too far from where I had requested a size.  He returned ten minutes later and felt so terrible that he couldn’t find my size.

Another area with cheaper shoes had multiple sizes hanging and here is where I noticed again the customers interpretation with the product and the people they were shopping with.  I saw no women shopping alone.  They were all with at least one other person and again picking up the shoes looking at them in many angles and since it was so convienent many were trying them on.  Lot’s of converstions included: What do you think? Should I get them? As if they needed someone else to help convince them to make a purchase.

Converse.  The biggest thing I noticed here was loyalty and casual shopping.  No one seemed to be in a rush.  They seemed to be enjoying their experience at the store.  The thing I thought was cool was about half the people that I identified as shoppers were already wearing converse of their own.  This brand loyalty reminded me of all the people I have seen on the Tube and in the streets wearing Converse.  It seems to me that people buy one pair and keep coming back for more!


This was the smallest shoe area I went to today.  Cheaper shoes, but still trendy.  These Londoners are trendy even when they are unable to spend big dollars.  Once again there was a personal connection between the shoppers and the product.  They all wanted to feel them.  After the visual appeal, the feel of the product seems to be the next thing to take into consideration.  It was nice to see that my observations were similar reguardless the price.

To wrap up my experience with London shoe shoppers they are a confident bunch that want quality shoes to fit their lifestyles.  They are not impulse buyers, but rather careful.  I link to this to the price of shoes and the length of their life in the closet.  People know that this is a lengthy piece to their wardrobe and want to make sure it’s worth their money.  To make sure they take their time when buying, and they look to their friends for advice.



Off to Manchester in the morning! Goodbye London…I can’t wait to see you again.


London Street Style

May 24, 2010

The street style is here: just a few words that come to mind and I’ll let the pictures speak for themselves.

Rompers, Tap-Dancing Shoes, Skinny Ties, Pastel Denim, Ray Bans, Taking your time, Pet Clothing, Ray Bans, Old Fashioned VIntage, Old with New, Day into Night, TINY shorts, Lace-up leather boots, Flannel, Status Symbol. Loose Tops, Cropped Tees, Neon Shoes, Statement Pieces, Louis Vuitton, Overalls, Gladiator Sandals, Blazers, Office Worn Casually, Light Denim Jackets, Skinny Belts, Black TIghts with Shorts, Laid Back Shoppers, Converse, Embellishments, Tailored Suits, High Waists, Stone-washed Jeans, Socks with Heels, Florals, Cross-body Bags, Vests, Nautical, 80’s, Kate Moss, Ripped Tights, Sequins, Red Lips, Stripes, BEING YOURSELF- This is what London fashion is about. ❤

I saw a lot of girls wearing these cross-body bags and office shoes, usually brown or black leather.

Men in Central London have a way of dressing day-to-day. They’ll put a lot more thought into their outfits than the typical American man. They are generally more into looking “smart” than American men, who usually aim towards comfort and masculinity.

American inspirations? Cowboy hats, pigtails, and overalls. Yeehaw!

If this isn’t a bold fashion statement I don’t know what is. As an American, I was a bit shocked at the boldness, but nobody else here in London on the street that day seemed to look twice.

Be sure what you want and be sure about yourself. Fashion is not just beauty, it’s about good attitude. You have to believe in yourself and be strong. -Adriana Lima


Harrods Pet Store

May 24, 2010

Harrods was definitely an experience to remember. The staff is very helpful and friendly, and they look to make your experience at Harrods a pleasant experience. There were many different types of people shopping at Harrods, but it seemed like they were mostly either wealthy and/or a tourist. Many people go there just to see it. In other words, Harrods is a London department store that acts like a must-see London landmark as well. As soon as you walk in, you know that you’re in Harrods. There is security everywhere. If you’re wearing a backpack, you’ll be asked to carry in your hands, not on your back. There are high ceilings and endless amounts of rooms, all unique.

Because of its size, I focused my ethnography to one section, the pet shop. Everything in the pet shop was high class. It brought dressing your dog to a whole new level.

It’s really interesting to see how people act when they are shopping for a pet. I watched a certain couple as they perused through the pet apparel. The man acted rather bored as his (assumed) wife sifted through all of the cute little outfits made for dogs.  They had everything displayed the same was as if you were shopping for a person. One particular sweater was delicately hanging from clips on wires coming down from the ceiling. This sweater let me remind you, for a dog, was priced at about 100 pounds sterling. I couldn’t believe it. Anyway, getting back to the couple. The woman was very interested in what kind of material everything was made of, as if the dog would know the difference. Her husband was a patient man, but showed little enthusiasm for any of it. He just kind of wandered around next to his wife looking at things and pretending to care. At one point, the woman even took a doggie-shoe, put one on her finger, and mimicked walking with her hand to try to get an idea of how it’d feel on her dog’s little paw.

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I thought about why people would act like this and came up with a few theories, but the best one has to do with the idea of a pet being an extension of who you are. In other words, if you take time to look nice, why shouldn’t your dog look nice? People have done this for centuries through grooming and breeding, and it took until now for someone to think outside of the box to think of this idea, which has now become a booming industry. In my opinion, I think it’s brilliant (now the Londoners have even gotten me saying things like “brilliant” all the time). Anyway, I had a really interesting experience doing ethnography in the fashion of pets market. Later, I’ll be posting a blog about people fashion! I’ve been collecting data all week (and even got myself a sweet pair of those spy glasses I mentioned earlier thanks to the paycheck I had forgotten all about, yessss).


“Please do not have a fit in the fitting room. Your fashion life begins there.”

– Florence Eiseman


Shopping Buddy

May 24, 2010

During the observation in several different markets these days, most Londoners do shopping alone; some of them also do shopping with family, boyfriend/girlfriend, and friends. Consumers’ shopping behaviors, interaction with products and purchase decisions would vary a lot depending on their various shopping buddies.

My Shopping Buddy — Me

Those who do shopping alone are usually young women, from 22 to 26. They would look around the products displayed and grab two or three similar products. For example, if a girl wants to buy a pair of high heels, she would take two or three similar style high heels but with little differences to try on. Especially for shoes, the more she tried, the more possible that she will purchase nothing in the end. Also, they are relatively quicker shoppers and they don’t look the tags before they want to try them on.

My Shopping Buddy – Friends/Mom/Daughter

During girls shopping, friends’ recommendations play a vital role in shopping behaviors. Also, rather than shopping alone, they will have more communication and interaction with the brands and products. They will talk about the product features, styles or latest trends. For instance, if a girl is interested in one clothing item and want to try it on, as long as her friend shows a little bit negative opinions, she will put them away and never take them to the fitting room. On the other hand, girls will be proactive to make recommendations for their friends.  They would say, “Hey Jane, try this!” Even though Jane is not that interested in it, it’s more possible for her to bring this piece into the fitting room, which also increases the purchasing possibility.

Moreover, for Mom/Daughter shopping, they are also looking for each other’s advises. In most cases, mom would grab more pieces for their daughters to try than daughters would do for their moms.

My Shopping Buddy – Boyfriend/Girlfriend

In Topshop, 95% of the seats are occupied by men. They are waiting in front of the fitting rooms. They usually walk behind their girlfriends/wives and carry the bags for them. Every time that girl wants to hear some advises from her boyfriend, his response is usually quite simple and short. And they will not recommend any products. In some sense, they are just a company.

However, I went to do the observation in the GAP Men. The interesting thing is that usually, women’s recommendations would affect a lot on men’s purchasing decisions. Women would pick the clothes for their boyfriends/husbands and suggest them to try them on. As long as women think the products are good for their lovers, men would buy them. In conclusion, women play a vital role in the purchasing decision process in the fashion market in London.

In the last several days in UK, I want to do more observations in Manchester and  share my observation notes from UK fashion industry with my group members. I hope that we could do more researches about the related cultures in London and discuss more about how to analyze the phenomena in depth. Only critical thinking could help us to find a pattern.