When A Cardigan Is Not Enough

It's that time of year again: summer in Britain. And it's great, with BBQs, picnics and of course strawberries & Pimms. And no matter how much the Brits complain, the weather isn't bad -- not too hot, not too cold. But for a long time, summer here made me miserable. I was caught off guard when the good sunny warm weather hit and was often either freezing or uncomfortably warm. In short, it has taken me a long time to get used to dressing here (nearly 10 years - I am slow on the uptake). If you are new to this country, this post is for you. Or if you have lived here a while and still find yourself awkwardly dressed this time of year, read on. 

Here goes:
A cardigan is not enough. During a sweaty New York summer a cardigan is perfect for an air conditioned restaurant or the office, but it just doesn't cut it in London. It can be very chilly on some summer days here. Think jean-jacket weather (those of you who are also children of the 80s). For work, a suit jacket can work, but I have four more versatile summer outerwear items* at the moment: a short khaki jacket with a belt, a summery blazer, an old fall-back jean jacket (not from the 80s, but doesn't actually work fashion-wise every year) and a blue longer spring coat for those much colder days. These trusty items are  so important because you are expected to be outside in the summer and if you don't have something warm, you won't have fun experiences at BBQs, picnics or while sitting in friends' gardens drinking wine and eating crisps. And that would be miserable! It's light until 10 p.m. this time of year - being outside is essential!

But don't be fooled by the fact that you are wearing a jacket. Don't even think about wearing a long-sleeve shirt or sweater underneath. Short sleeves or sleeveless dresses are essential for when you are inside. Even the air conditioned shops/offices/restaurants are not over-air conditioned like in some hot climates. Also don't forget that public transportation is not air conditioned at all - so even if it is mild outside you might be sweltering on the tube or bus.

And what if the temperature is inbetween? This brings me to my next tip.

The summer scarf. An oxymoron? I think not. It's the best thermostat around - makes your coat that bit warmer, or you can wrap it around your bare shoulders if it is too warm for the coat and too chilly for your sleeveless top. I've got a whole collection of cotton and linen scarves that I break out just for the season. 

Throw the scarf in your bag even if you think it it "very hot". Conditions are changeable. Make sure your scarf is kept company by a pair of sunglasses and umbrella. They both come in handy most days.

Then, get yourself one really cute but comfortable set of ballet flats. I resisted these for a long time as they do nothing for a woman's legs (in my humble opinion). But I clearly misunderstood. They are so useful when it has been cold and rainy for days and suddenly the sun comes out but you haven't had a pedicure. With a sundress or skinny jeans they work just fine. Also, they can be worn with tights to work on those cooler days before changing into heels - bonus. Sandals, not so versatile. It took me a while to find some that didn't tear up the back of my ankles, (thank you Dune!), but I am now a convert. (Many women here have lots of pairs but I prefer just one that I really like and goes with everything. You can really only wear them a few months of the year anyway - I prefer to have lots of nice pairs of boots!)

Coming back to tights. I know, I know, they are just not in the spirit of the summer. But sometimes it is too cold! Also, when you are in the habit of wearing them it feels weird to be in the office without them - I feel suddenly exposed, like the puritan I am. Which made it even funnier that my compromise -- flesh-colored small-knit fishnets -- was met with horror from one colleague. She told me they were slutty, which I found hillarious and made me want to wear them even more.

If you are English, Irish, Scottish or Welsh, this post may be met with the universal "duh". But for us Yankees it's just not that easy.

*Windbreakers, I find, don't work. They make you look like you really should be sailing or playing golf. Which is fine, but not on the streets of London.

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