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What You Need to Wear in London in Winter

Updated December 29, 2023

Here’s the secret to what you absolutely need to wear in London in winter.

5 tips to stay warm no matter what British weather throws at you!

  1. Layers: wearing several thin layers keeps you warmer than one thick layer because warm air gets trapped between them acting as an insulator.
  2. Wool: Wool fibers act just like layers by creating tiny pockets of air that insulate us from the cold. Wool absorbs less moisture than cotton keeping us dry and warmer.
  3. Down: Just as layers and wool create warmth, down also traps air in those fluffy clusters of duck plumage.
  4. Waterproof: Body heat escapes through wet skin easier than dry. A waterproof layer stops the wet getting through.
  5. Accessorize: Heat rises and this includes your body heat. Wearing a hat helps retain warmth and keeps you dry.

Your packing list needs to include something with wool.

When sheep were designed there was real thought and planning going on! The poor dears are often outdoors in the worst weather aren’t they? Wool is not only warm but it’s also naturally water resistant, so it’s a double bonus.

Thanks to modern technology, it’s easy to find wool clothing that’s light, soft and washable. No more scratchys. Hallelujah! Yes it does tend to be more expensive, but trust me wool is well worth the investment.

A quick heads up.

Be sure to look at the amount of wool on the label, if an item is touted as wool or wool blend. Even small amounts can make a difference, but 30% and up is what I prefer for best results.

London winter temperatures

Although temperatures in London aren’t extremely cold by New York standards, the high humidity and wind can make it feel a lot colder. Trust me. This is very obvious when you find yourself walking more than usual, standing on an open train platform or waiting for a taxi. Brrrrr.  Oh by the way, here’s how to get to London from the airport.

Hi/Lo (F) Rain Days
November 53/45 10
December 48/40 10
January 48/40 12
February 49/40 9

 

The Secret to What to Wear in London – in Winter

1. Layers

What’s the science behind wearing multiple layers? More than one layer helps trap warmth close to your body and core. Layers also help block chilly winds from penetrating your core too.

Your first layer should be a long sleeve thermal or base layer under a wool sweater or dress. The material could be smartwool or a light sheer synthetic like these. These synthetic/polyester layer can also work as a barrier between your skin and wool, if you’re sensitive to wool.

Men should wear a long sleeve thermal baselayer or like this one underneath a wool sweater or shirt.

Wear these sheer wool tights or these for extra warmth under a dress or skirt.

what to wear in london in winter

2. Wool

While you’re roaming the streets of London, wool will make the difference between staying warm or feeling absolutely bl**dy freezing. Wool is a game changer. There’s simply no other material that provides such consistent protection from the cold.

The only other material just as absorbent, warm and comfortable is wool in it’s natural form, sheepskin!

A cotton or a synthetic material sweater or coat just won’t keep you warm.

3. Down

Not only do sheep wear the right stuff for cold weather but ducks have it figured out too. Duck down is a close second to wool for keeping a body warm. Too bad it’s not so great at keeping us dry once it leaves the duck’s back! I love a down jacket, but it doesn’t provide water or wind resistance which is so essential here in the UK.

For this reason I love a down vest or gilet as they’re called here. It’s the ultimate warming layer to wear between your sweater or dress and coat. It’s absolutely wonderful at keeping your core toasty warm even with if your coat is open.

I found an amazing Eddie Bauer combination jacket on sale that is a waterproof parka with hood and a separate black down jacket to wear underneath. Brilliant. You can wear either one separately or both together for ultimate warmth and water resistance.

4. Waterproof

Wintry wet weather in England means you’ll always want to reach for an outer layer that’s water resistant or water proof.

Seeing the sights in London? You can always dodge downpours in a museum or pub so water resistant should be enough protection.

Taking long walks in the countryside on a day trip? Waterproof is ideal.

Barbour coats are famous here for a reason. They have perfected the art of a waxed canvas jacket (more suitable for country wear) and windproof waterproof quilted alternatives that work in the city or country.

Waterproof or resistant material is also naturally wind resistant, whether through a treated fabric or a naturally repellent material. A waterproof coat to layer over your wool sweater or dress will give you the best of both worlds. A wool coat on it’s own will have some natural water resistance but I suggest packing an umbrella or waterproof hat for extra protection.

5. Accessorize

Guess what … it rains in England. I may have mentioned that already. So be prepared! A coat with a hood works well for quick showers but I find a water proof hat works best for me.

I prefer wearing my wool hat vs carrying an umbrella. I like to leave my hands free and besides, who wants to mess with a wet umbrella!

Back to singing the praises of wool.

Why not invest in some wool tights, socks and gloves? You’ll be glad you did. When it gets really cold and damp here, I wear my wool socks on rotation because quite frankly they make all the difference.

Water proof boots are also a smart choice. You could be walking through puddles and rain, so you might as well keep as dry as possible. Boots are usually a better choice than sneakers or trainers during the winter. They’ll not only keep your feet warm but add a certain amount of style to your outfit.

A cuddly wool dress with long wool coat looks so much nicer with a smart pair of boots. And guys, you look better in proper footwear too.

Now you may be one of those naturally warm folks who rarely bundles up. I get it. I’ve been called the toaster oven because I tend to stay warm. But it’s different here. When the sun isn’t shining, and the days are gray and damp, I believe it hampers your natural ability to keep warm.

If you find you’re too warm then thank goodness wool is also breathable. Experiment with your layers and see how you can adjust them to suit the day and your preferred level of warmth.

These styles work anywhere but especially on the streets of London!

Here’s how to get to central London from either Gatwick or Heathrow airport.

When is the best time to visit London?

Find things to do in London…

About Author

With over 30 years in a creative role in advertising and publishing, and a lifetime of journeys between the US and UK, I've created Hipoverfifty for you. I hope my journey and perspective will guide you on yours.