What Do I Wear There? Study Abroad in the United Kingdom & Ireland

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This week is the first site-specific post for the “Study Abroad” series, and by popular demand, it will be focusing in on the United Kingdom and Ireland.

Before I share all of the awesome information some of the wonderful CF readers as well as some of my own friends have given me from their experiences, I want to make two quick notes:

  • All of the information here is taken from advice I have received–it is not a binding set of rules for how to dress in these locations! These are simply some helpful suggestions on what articles of clothing have proved most functional and worth that valuable packing space for those who have traveled abroad.
  • Because of the nature of these posts–which are trying to cater to such a large crowd of people going to all different places within the United Kingdom and Ireland–I am forced to generalize. However, I do understand that fashion is different not just in the different countries but also in the different regions of each country. Therefore, please feel free to correct me or add more detail in the comments if you think your specific location in the United Kingdom follows different fashion “rules” or subscribes to a different way of dressing that I did not mention!

Now, on to the advice!

Layer, Layer, Layer (Yes, that many layers)!

One of the things recommended to me from all of my sources (who are all amazing girls, credited at the bottom of this article) was to bring clothes that you can layer. This allows you to have more variation in your wardrobe (and more space in your suitcase) than simply packing a lot of shirts, dresses, etc. that have to be worn on their own. This is also essential since you will be there for the change from colder to warmer weather.

For ideas on what pieces to bring for layering, check out my Study Abroad: Part I article!

Add in Accessories

In the original post, I know many people commented on the importance of accessories when studying abroad. Accessories are essential because they can take an outfit from day to night and add variety to your wardrobe. Considering the limited room you have to pack, accessories are definitely a great way to make up for the lack of clothing you can bring! Here are some accessories that were recommended to me as being hot in the UK and Ireland right now:


Product Information: Leopard Print Scarf: Buckle, Hat: Topshop, Bow Headband: Forever 21, Studded Belt: Forever 21, Necklace: Nordstrom

Another general consensus from former study abroad-ers in the UK and Ireland was that scarves are essential, which makes sense since the winters there tend to be a bit chilly! One student told me that leopard print is huge there as well, and I think the scarf above is such a cute way to incorporate the pattern into your daily look.

Along the same lines, slouchy knit hats (which I have a well-documented love for!) are great for the cooler weather. I have also seen/been told that these hats are trendy in the UK and Ireland, as well as more structured ones in dark colors for a slightly more eclectic menswear look.

For a super girly daytime look or a fun night look, over-the-top headbands are great pieces to bring with you. They add excitement to an otherwise plain outfit and can be tailored to fit your personal style–this one has a huge bow in a pretty muted color, but you can get ones with flowers, neons, feather, or whatever else you love!

While looking through various UK and Irish street style blogs, I noticed that many girls really pulled their looks together using waist-cinching belts. From studded ones (like the one pictured above) to more traditional leather ones, belts are another smart way to change up your looks without taking up too much suitcase space.

Finally, don’t forget to bring along your favorite jewelry staples. Interesting necklaces, bracelets, and rings not only do wonders for your outfit but also act as conversation starters for all of the new people you will meet!

Classic Coats

The general consensus of my study abroad sources was that pea coats and trench coats are the way to go in the UK and Ireland. These coats are great staples to have anyway, so they are definitely smart investments!

Trench coats look chic in solids and add a cheeky element to any outfit in a print, while pea coats are preppy-perfect in dark or bright colors. No matter what type you decide, these are two basics that I have been told are “essential” in the UK and Ireland and are great to have for colder weather pretty much anywhere you go.

Sure-Bet Shoes

I have heard many mixed things about what shoes to wear in the UK and Ireland, but one characteristic was common in every suggestion: comfort! Most suggested bringing a nice, dependable pair of boots, as well as a pair of flats that work for class or for going out and sneakers for any major excursions. Converse shoes are apparently pretty popular there and are available in so many colors, so they may be a smart buy if you need a new pair of sneakers.

Another suggestion I commonly received was to limit the number of heeled shoes you bring due to the difficulties they cause when you’re trying to strut across cobblestones. An amazing pair of shoes will be decidedly less adorable if they cause you to limp!

Lastly, as I said in the original post, don’t forget to bring along shoes for warmer weather! Sandals are tiny and don’t take up much room in your suitcase. They are also useful in the winter to throw on if you are just walking around your dorm.

If you happen to be a shoe-a-holic like me, I would try to take the clever advice of one CF reader, who said she was able to pick her pairs by “choos[ing] the pairs you want to bring, cut that in half, and then pack those.” This is especially smart if you think you might want to buy more shoes while you’re abroad. (I know I plan to!)

Rain, Rain, Here to Stay

The idea of dressing for rainy weather was a recurring worry in my previous posts. Unfortunately, I once again have received some mixed answers to the question of rain gear or no rain gear.

So while an umbrella is an absolute MUST (check out my CF Fabulous Finds: Marc by Marc Jacobs Umbrella post for my personal favorite, as well as those of your fellow readers), donning rain boots is a bit more subjective. While it seems like some people do wear rain boots in particularly bad weather, many seem to prefer water-proofing their daily beloved boots/shoes.

My overall suggestion on this matter is not to bring a rain coat or rain boots with you. I would absolutely make sure your coat is waterproof and spray your shoes to ensure they hold up in rainy weather instead. Rain boots are typically rather bulky, so I think it would be best to forgo packing them and instead buy a pair abroad if you find you really need them.


One of my favorite things about reading all of the responses was seeing what you guys suggested for websites and shopping spots in the United Kingdom (unfortunately I only received these sort of tips for England but the sites/spots suggested were so great I wanted to include them).

I have always loved the crazy cool style of British blog star Susie Bubble, and some of you suggested her site to see what’s hot in the UK as well (http://stylebubble.typepad.com). Another fabulous site a reader suggested ishttp://streetstylelondon.blogspot.com. In her words,

Here is a great blog that not only talks about street style, but also less touristy areas of London that you definitely want to get around to visiting.”

Many who traveled to London also suggested shopping at Portobello Road, which is full of great vintage finds!

My Study Abroad Sources

I just wanted to take this time to thank the lovely girls who have given me all of the wonderful advice you see above. I have chosen this advice from the detailed comments, e-mails, or messages from Amanda from NYU, Carolyn, Mo, Lauren, and Amanda! All of these girls have either studied abroad or live/have lived in the UK or Ireland, so they truly know what they are talking about.

Be sure to thank them in the comments as well! They all took out so much time to help you guys from their experience.

What do you think?

Do these tips fit in with your travel experience? Have you noticed these trends in the UK countries and Ireland as well? Do you have any additional tips that you think are important? Do you know of any other websites or shopping spots that are great for those going to the UK or Ireland? Tell us in the comments!

Also, keep the e-mails and comments coming for advice for other countries! Next week, I will be looking at France, Spain, and Germany (each will have its own little section since they were all pretty much tied for popularity following the UK), so e-mail me at whatdoiwearthere AT gmail DOT com with any tips for these places!

21 thoughts on “What Do I Wear There? Study Abroad in the United Kingdom & Ireland”

  1. to Lola: If you love them, bring them! I can’t think of a more chic look than a pretty summer dress with bare legs and sleek black hardly-look-like-rain-boots.

    I’m so touched by your comment, esp. about being scared you’ll stand out (i.e. as not being English). I don’t know your nationality, but I’m an American, and when I moved here with my English husband, I actually thought of I didn’t speak, I might ‘pass’ for English! (& I’m normally pretty chatty). I, too, was so worried about not standing out, about ‘fitting in’. I had no idea that a) there are TONS of Americans (and even more foreigners) b) tons of foreign students and c) it doesn’t matter! There is no norm, really, about fitting in: women of all ages are much more comfortable in their own skin, IN GENERAL, than in other countries: if your hair is curly, forget the curling irons. The people with the best ‘style’ are the ones with their own style, wearing what they love: what they feel happy in.

    I can’t tell you how many times someone asked where I was from, I told them (NY) and they said ‘oh I’d love to live there! I’m planning to visit …’ and then go on to tell me their plans.

    You will probably be at festivals – in fields, with tons of mud – and be kicking yourself that you didn’t bring your beloved rain boots. My suggestion is bring them, bring whatever else makes you smile & feel good about yourself, but try to pack as light as possible – it’s summer, after all – and then forget about all that, and focus on having a wonderful, magic adventure this summer!

    Get in touch when you’re here!

  2. hey i think this article is extremely useful. i agree with the rain thing and if you are coming over to the uk it is extremely important to have a decent umbrella and not one of those cheapy pound shop ones that break in 5 minutes. spend at least £10 (around $15 i think) and it should last you for a while

  3. I’m an Irish native, and generally a tank top, a sweater and a wool coat will keep me nice and warm with a pair of jeans and boots. The others are right, umbrellas don’t last long here with the wind, but they’re still kind of an essential. I suggest just buying one in Penneys (the Irish name for Primark) for a few euro and replacing it when you need to. Even the expensive ones don’t seem to survive!

    But don’t be scared off by all these comments. It’s really never extremely cold here, and though it rains a lot more than many climates, it’s certainly not every day!

    Also, I go to Trinity College, Dublin, which is a major tourist destination because it’s so old, and I can tell you that the quickest way to spot an American tourist is by their shoes. They always seem to wear sports shoes as casual shoes, whereas the only sneakers a stylish Irish person would wear are Converse. You can also spot them by their rain-ready clothing. Irish people dress like normal people, despite the rain, but I suppose tourists are told that the climate here is wet so they go all out with their rain gear.

    I’d say buy a pair of Hunter rain boots though. They are functional, and are a BIG fashion trend right now with a skirt/dress, tights, and a pair of thick socks, or even with a pair of skinny jeans and a nice coat 🙂

  4. I’m wondering about color–I’m studying abroad in Ireland next semester, and I tend to dress in bright colors. Will this make me stand out as an American?

  5. Hi 🙂 I’m going to be studying abroad in Derry Northern Ireland. I’m from Pennsylvania, and am not sure what I’m going to be wearing. I really, really love nerdy things like Disney and Marvel, and a lot of my wardrobe has characters on it. Is that going to be a problem? I don’t particularly enjoy standing out in a ‘she’s an American’ way and it’s my first time abroad. Any tips or ideas?

  6. I’ve just written a hugeeeee reply on my phone but I accidentally closed the page. Grabbed my laptop so I’ll try and remember what I had written down! Everything in this reply is based on my own personal opinion and experience as a 20 year old UK student.

    I live in the north east of England so we get pretty much the worst weather you can in England. I also live close to the coast so the weather is very changeable. Here is my advice to all you international students coming here with the daunting thought that the UK is one big fashion show and everyone will judge what you’re wearing. (they will not, and even if they do, we’re too polite to say anything about it).
    The best way to find out what is on trend at the moment is to go on New Look/Topshop type websites and look at their sections on ‘trends’ (http://daily.newlook.com/trends). For example at the moment floral kimonos are a MASSIVE trend, almost everyone has one, but the beauty of trends in the UK is that even if everyone is doing it, most people do it differently. Here is a link for kimonos (http://www.newlook.com/shop/womens/tops/kimonos/_/N-9wfZg23)

    Weather – the weather can change very quickly. yesterday I went out in a summer outfit only to be hit with a torrential downpour at lunch time. However, this was my own fault, I hadn’t checked the forecast. I base my outfits every day on the weather forecast (Met Office Weather app on my phone). This is a pretty much fool proof way to make sure you don’t get rained on as it gives an hour by hour forecast and is usually pretty accurate. I used to be one of those people who always carried an umbrella, but to be perfectly honest, if you check the forecast and it says its not going to rain, it probably won’t. I never spend more than a couple of quid (pounds £) on an umbrella as they don’t last five minutes. We typically get very definite seasons. Now it is mostly dry and warm with the occasional summer storm, the weather in the last few weeks has been gloriously hot, so in terms of fashion it’s mostly been summer dresses or denim shorts and a top (or shirt ,whatever you want to call it)

    Hair styles – to straighten or not to straighten?! Straight hair isn’t really in at the moment, most people are going for loose waves or big curls (done with straighteners, check out youtube for some really good tutorials) In terms of hair styles, again this depends on the weather. Most days I wear my hair down in loose curls, but if it’s going to be windy, I’ll tie it up into a ponytail or a messy bun just to keep it out of the way. If it’s frizz you’re scared of then fear not! Most people are fighting a battle with frizz so if it rains or is humid and you feel your hair starting to get frizzy, just go with it, no one will care, as they’re probably feeling the same. If anything the messy, just rolled out of bed look is very on trend at the moment so you’ll probably feel like you fit in more!

    Accessories – with accessories, unless it’s a hand bag, statement necklace or statement rings, I’d keep it small. If you’re going for a waist belt, go for a skinny one, the thicker ones went out of style about 3 years ago, same with the big headbands. We’re right in the middle of festival season so there’s a lot of floral headbands in the shops BUT in my personal opinion and experience, these should be worn for festivals and that’s where they should stay! (personal preference again obviously)

    The mountain climber look – this is a sure fire way to stick out like a sore thumb as an international student. Yes, it’s very practical, but if its fitting in that you’re worried about, avoid this as an everyday look.

    Shopping – the best way to find out what people are wearing is to go shopping. pack what you feel comfortable wearing and then when you get here, go walk around the town centre/high street. I love shopping, even if I don’t buy anything, because I usually see inspiration for a new outfit from someone wearing something in a way I hadn’t thought of. Get an NUS student discount card if you can (available through most universities for about £12) this means you can get between 10%-20% off in participating high street stores (BONUS). If you’re shopping on a budget then Primark/Penneys is your new best friend. Items from Primark are super cheap however be warned, leggings from here are very see through and most items will shrink if you wash them on anything higher than 30 degrees C, also I would avoid tumble drying clothes from here. Having said that, I have some great items from Primark that have lasted a longggg time and are still going strong.

    Wellies – or ‘rain boots’. I own a pair of wellies, they only get dragged out of the cupboard when the snow is really heavy in the winter. Last year we didn’t get any heavy snow so they stayed tucked away in the wardrobe. Military style lace up boots were big through the last couple of winters.

    Coats – last year it was all about the parka. For a thick winter coat that is going to keep you warm and dry, you can’t really beat the parka. For milder weather, leather jackets are always stylish. My wardrobe staples are a parka (winter), leather jacket (winter, autumn and spring) and cropped denim jacket (spring and summer). This covers me for all seasons!

    Layers – this is important for students as you might be facing a chilly walk into lectures and then when you get there they have the heating on full blast! Maybe a couple of thin layers or two thick layers. Just to be on the safe side, in the winter I carry my ’emergency cardigan’ (sounds ridiculous, I know). It’s just a normal thin knit cardigan in a neutral colour like black, that folds up quite small in my handbag in case I get cold.

    Overall, I go with the thought that there will always be someone worse dressed than you! Wear what you think looks good, feels good and is comfortable and you should be fine. It all sounds very hard and complicated, but really it isn’t! Fashion is supposed to be fun!


  8. One thing I will say about rain boots is while they are completely practical in Ireland where I am I’ve found nobody really wears them day to day, a good pair of leather boots should be enough to keep out the rain! In my college you can always spot the American students because they’re always wearing wellies (what we call rain boots over here!) Reason we don’t really wear them over here is our weather is so variable, it’ll be sunny one minute and raining the next so if you wear wellies you can end up at the end of the day looking a bit ridiculous!

  9. This all sounds great, but when winter arrives these things won’t keep you warm.. Right now, when I leave the house, I’m wearing (for example) a cotton tanktop, a knitted sweater, a regular cardigan, a thick knitted cardigan, a normal pair of leggings, a thermal pair of leggings, cotton socks, super woolly socks and uggs.
    Top this with a thick wintercoat, a huge warm scarf and a hat lined with fleece..
    STILL cold!

    People who tell you to just buy a peacoat and bring some boots probably have a great tolerance to cold, or just don’t have to go outside when it’s well below freezing. The air here is very humid so the cold chills you to the bone.

    Just a heads up for people who aren’t very good at dealing with cold!

  10. As a UK native (essex) please do us all a favour and leave the fake tan! There are enough orange people! Other than that, bring cardi’s or jumpers, cause even the hot days are a bit chilly! Skinny jeans are a must, and converse/leather boots are fine. We may be stylish but comfort always comes first! Tee’s are perfect for layering. We have the best high streets so you can always find a bargain over here so leave a little space in your suitcase! Xx

  11. Hi Charissa, first, THANK YOU for your support!

    It’s a good thing I get follow up comments sent (does this mean that everyone who commented on this is getting this? If so -sorry to bother you ; )

    It’s funny… where is it… I just saw on someone’s blog this weekend, a wonderful guide to how to dress for the weather here. Oh I know who it is! She’s wonderful:


    Those black knee high ‘rain’ boots sound perfect. My main wardrobe staple (until I recently got gifted a pair of Mou’s) is a reasonably priced, classic black leather riding boot – knee high, flat heel.. I’m actually wearing them in my post from last New Year’s Day – stalking deer.

    My suggestion is don’t waste a penny on buying anything in advance – you’ll need all you can just to deal with the exchange rate on a student budget – and see how you feel when you get here. I still feel that ‘wellies’ are perfect in summer for festivals, mud, etc and look great with bare legs and little floral flirty dresses, so it sounds like what you’ve already got is ideal. I’m not seeing much over the knee on anyone on the streets, and the little short bootie, too – anything with a crazy heel is fine for showing off but it’s useless for day to day.

    How random is this: tomorrow I and a bunch of other fashion bloggers are meeting at St. Pancreas station at 8:00 a.m. to take a train to LEICESTER for a day trip for Next.

  12. @Jill
    not only am I keeping up with your blog now, but I’ve read and taken detailed notes from your comments!!
    So I’m definitely leaving the umbrella at home, definitely bringing my H&M trench coat, flats, leggings, and flats.
    As far as boots go….I’ve had a pair of knee high black “rain” boots that aren’t really rain boots for about 10 years now. (They were in, then out, and are back in!) And was already planning in investing in a new pair of boots, and then Study Abroad at U of Leicester 🙂 made my day. I was wondering what would be good…leather? water-proofed suede or some other sort of material? And is knee high a good length? I’m personally not a fan of over the knee boots and was never in to the ankle boots.

    You’re so sweet to follow up with readers comments and offer advice!!

  13. I’m so enjoying reading this thread even tho it’s so long since I was a student abroad (& in my case it was in Copenhagen – we started in January, it was freezing, and I immediately came down with the flu).

    Bri: those last three posts, Niamh’s, Emily’s about the umbrellas, and Stephs, are so perfect. I’m amazed at how trends are different than in the states but don’t worry too much: bring what you have, what you like – definitely bright colours, why not, esp if you’re happy in them. One thing I’ve noticed here in London, and it’s probably no different at universities, is that the most important thing stylistically is BE YOURSELF and be true to yourself. People wear the most ridiculous stuff – Great Britain is the home of the English Eccentric, remember! In fact, if there is one look that’s the most popular right now, I’d have to call it ‘English Eccentric’.

    In East London – Spitalfields market area, and Camden – where a lot of style originates – I’m seeing people mixing up patterns.. anything goes. Just bring layers, which like everyone’s saying, you’ll need to peel on & off even thru the summer – and just have a great time. Just remember you will never be a student abroad, in that place, again. You can come back, but you won’t be in this particular experience. I don’t remember what I wore when I was there, but I”ll never forget the people I met, and places I went, the things I did.

    I’m quite excited for all of you, actually!

  14. I live in england! Don’t bother with umberellas the wind just blows them inside out & also hoodies hoodies hoodies everyone has them! And they can look chic! x

  15. Coming from a UK person, In the UK, no matter how much you wish, it’s going to be cold at some point. If you are packing october-april you’re going to need lots of layers, especially coat and a jacket underneat, because most college/unis will have heating inside so you need to be able to remove stuff and put it back on,

    For shoes, sneakers aren’t really in, I’d recommend Boots,with some thick socks inside, as they are very big and don’t look like they’re going out of fashion for a while. Also, in summer plimsoles are quite big. A favourite of mine for cold weather also, is because I don’t wear jeans much, i wear leggings with 2 pairs of thick tights underneath to keep me warm!

    Also, even in summer, feel free to pack lots of summer stuff as we do occasionally get some lovely summers, but do remember to bring a coat and umbrella just incase.
    And, if you’re out here and need some cheap clothes to update your wardrobe, Primark
    hope that helped 😛


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