In the UK you will see people wearing all kinds of clothing – from smart to casual, eccentric to traditional.
School children usually wear a uniform until the age of 16. For older students, UK schools, colleges and universities are typically informal environments where you can choose what to wear.
For classes, students tend to wear casual clothes, such as jeans, T-shirts, jumpers and dresses.
Some courses require you to wear specialist clothing for health and safety. For example if you are in a science laboratory, you may need to wear protective glasses and a white lab coat. Check with your course provider what you need and if you need to buy them yourself.
For parties and nights out, people dress in many different styles, from casual jeans to glamorous outfits.
If it's a more formal evening event, such as a university ball, this might mean wearing a dress or suit and tie. You can avoid the expense of buying formal wear by hiring it from a local shop or outfitters. Scroll down for more advice!
The weather in the UK is rarely extreme, but it can change quickly. In just one day, you might have warm sunshine, rain and cold wind. Wear several layers so you can put them on or take them off as the weather changes, and always carry an umbrella. Read more about dressing for the UK's weather below.
The UK is a multicultural place and it is common for people to wear clothing associated with their culture and religion, for example a head scarf, kippah, turban, sari or long skirt. In major towns and cities you will find specialist shops selling clothing from around the world, particularly Asian and Middle Eastern clothing.
Most UK towns and cities have a large range of shops selling clothes to suit all styles and budgets. As well as high-street shops, there are plenty of second-hand and vintage shops. These are perfect for bargain-hunting and are often found in student areas. Read our top tips in the Guide to second-hand shopping.
Dressing for the weather
You might have heard the weather in the UK is unpredictable, so it's not easy to know what clothes to pack. Read Weather and seasons for an idea – the temperature can range from below 0° Celsius (32° Fahrenheit) in winter to 30°C (86° Fahrenheit) in a heatwave!
We recommend checking online just before you leave, to find out what the weather is like where you will be studying – rural areas are likely to be colder than cities, for example, and the north is generally a little colder than the south.
Manchester Christmas market ©Rii Schroer
If you're moving to the UK in autumn (September, October and November), bear in mind it is going to get colder. This is when chilly winds start closing in, and by December, there might be snow falling in some parts of the UK.
Our top tip? Layering – make sure you have a few short- and long-sleeved T-shirts, jumpers and a coat, so you can put them together in different ways. This means you’ll get more outfits out of fewer items – saving valuable luggage space! – plus you can wear as many layers as you need to keep warm. You'll notice many students shed layers as they step into a warm lecture hall from the cold outside.
What about style?
The good news is, you’ll see all kinds of fashion at UK schools, colleges and universities, and almost anything goes. Younger students might have a school uniform, but older students usually dress casually during the day – jeans and T-shirts are fine – and more smartly if you’re going out in the evening. Very few student bars and pubs have a dress code.
Worried about looking good while keeping warm? For more ideas, we took to the streets of Manchester for style tips from some current students! Check out the photos here.
Essential items of clothing
It’s important to wear what you feel comfortable in, but you'll probably find that most students in the UK have these key items in their wardrobes:
- Winter coat – choose one that will keep you warm and dry in all weather, although you can also bring a separate, lighter raincoat for those spring showers. And definitely take an umbrella!
- Gloves, a scarf and a warm hat or earmuffs.
- Trainers (sneakers), or any shoes comfortable enough for running to class if you’re late!
- Waterproof shoes such as Wellington or hiking boots, for rainy and snowy days. Remember: rain can damage leather, so treat any leather boots, gloves and bags with a protective waterproof spray.
- Jeans. For many college and university students, a good, comfortable pair of jeans is like a uniform.
- Jumpers (sweaters), cardigans or hoodies. A woolly cardigan and a big thick scarf are perfect for curling up in a corner of the library when you’re studying.
- For the girls, tights (at least 40 denier) or leggings if you’ll be wearing skirts or dresses. And for the guys heading up north, long johns are a must. You might find it strange at first, but when it starts to snow, you’ll be happy and warm while your less sensible friends’ teeth are chattering.
- Clothes you don’t mind getting dirty! You might be taking part in a charity race, a baking competition, a muddy obstacle course or a game of paintball for somebody’s birthday – and you’ll be grateful for that old tank top and tracksuit bottoms.
- A smart shirt, blouse or dress, and smart shoes for evenings out – it’s common to wear jeans and trainers to pubs, bars and restaurants, but you might want to dress more elegantly once in a while!
- Once or twice a year, your institution might hold a formal event – this means a suit and tie for men and a cocktail dress or gown for women. Don’t be afraid to ask if you’re not sure about the dress code.
You don’t need to bring all this from home, though – most UK towns and cities have shops to suit all styles, including second-hand shops where you can fill the gaps in your wardrobe without blowing the budget!
When it comes to formal wear, you can save even more money by renting instead of buying. Guys should easily be able to find a suit hire shop, and for girls, try websites like Girl Meets Dress, where you can borrow the dress of your dreams for the night – just like Cinderella.
Vintage clothes market stall in Spitalfields, London ©VisitBritain