Aggies Abroad: Brighton’s Shopping Hot Spot

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A street view of North Laine. Pink, blue, and yellow pennants blow in the wind.

—Written by Emily Cowan, UCEAP United Kingdom Alum

It is a warm, sunny day in Brighton England. I know that sunny and England are two words that are not typically paired together, but for the two months that I lived there, almost every day was perfect weather. One of my favorite places to go during weather like this in Brighton, and hands down a must-see in my opinion, is North Laine.

Charming and unique, North Laine is an area in Brighton teaming with quaint shops that perfectly coincide with the retro, beachy vibe of the city. Pink, blue, and yellow pennants are strung from the buildings, creating a cheerful, inviting atmosphere. North Laine has it all: the edgy tattoo parlors, the vintage clothing stores, the delicious eateries, and plenty of English pubs. You could spend hours wandering up and down the streets of North Laine and find something eye catching everywhere you look. Many of the shops are painted bright colors and have many items you could not find anywhere else. Customers sit outside enjoying the lovely scenery with mouthwatering dishes and drinks, tempting you to order something from one of the countless restaurants. It is clear that tourists and locals alike can appreciate the charm of North Laine.

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One of the many tattoo parlors in North Laine.

While walking through North Laine, you tend to see many tattoo and piercing parlors. Brighton is well known for tattoos, and getting a tattoo is often listed as one of the suggestions for activities to do there. I noticed that many people in England had tattoos, so it makes sense that in a youthful town, like Brighton, you would be likely to see many parlors. I checked out a few in North Laine with a friend because he wanted to get his ear pierced at one of the shops as a souvenir of living in England. All of the parlors we went to were very nice inside and often gave me an old-timey beach carnival vibe. I could tell that the shops were well taken care of, and the artists took pride in their designs.

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A pub in North Laine.

Another place you tend to see in North Laine, and throughout all of Brighton, is a pub. Brighton is home to countless pubs, and you could easily go to a completely different pub every single night you are there. What I really liked about the pubs in North Laine was that many offered outdoor seating, so you could sit and enjoy drinks with friends without having to shout at each other over the music. I also love to people watch, so sitting outside of the pub is a great spot to observe all the shoppers in North Laine. From what I observed, pubs appeared to be of great importance in English culture. Many people go straight to the pubs after work to be with their friends and have a fun night. Pubs are not viewed as places to only get drunk. People go to watch the football (soccer) game, unwind after work, and appreciate the company of others over a couple beers or ciders. Some pubs even serve appetizers or home-cooked style meals that you can enjoy with your drinks. The pubs in North Laine were definitely popular at night, and they all had an inviting, lively atmosphere.

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A colorful thrift store in North Laine.

North Laine is also home to plenty of vintage thrift shops and cute, trendy clothing stores. Some of your best rare clothing findings can be achieved there. I loved going thrifting with friends while I lived in Brighton. They had such a wide array of vintage stores compared to what I was used to back home, and all of the shops were well organized. It was very easy to find the vintage jeans rack or the dresses area or whatever clothing item you were looking to add to your wardrobe. 

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A window display of men’s fashion in one of shops in North Laine.

While shopping around, I noticed some interesting fashion trends for both women and men. When I looked at the women’s clothes sections, or women on the street, I noticed that many liked to wear “mom jean” style jeans. They are a bit baggy, somewhat still fitted, and usually high waisted. Young women tended to roll them up at the ends and pair them with some sort of platform or tennis shoe. I noticed that women seemed to like wearing a shoe with a platform more than what I’ve seen typically worn in the United States. Birkenstocks were a popular shoe choice as well. Women also wore less fitted shirts, and pin stripes appeared to be quite popular. Every store that I went to offered a variety of pin stripe items from shirts to shorts to rompers. When it comes to men’s fashion in the United Kingdom, I noticed that many men liked to wear jeans that were much skinnier and tighter than in the United States. I rarely if ever saw men wearing boot cut style jeans or anything even remotely baggy. Men also appeared to wear jean shorts often. Usually the shorts would be slightly above the knee and be cuffed at the ends. Men did not tend to wear basketball or cargo shorts like I often see back home. Another fashion trend I noticed for men was that many liked to wear printed button up shirts. Usually the shirts would have some sort of floral pattern, geometric pattern, or even a print with tigers. I typically saw young men wear this style of shirt when they were going to go to the pubs or clubs with their “mates” (friends). I’ve seen men were this style of shirt in the United States, but I saw it much more often in England. Overall, I thought the styles of men and women were somewhat similar to the United States but certain items, such as mom jeans or printed shirts, were worn and sold more often in England.

Taking a trip to North Laine is much more than just a day of shopping. You can experience and learn so much about English culture just from observing the streets. From the lively pubs to the vintage clothing stores, North Laine has something to interest everyone. With all of its colorful, charming buildings and cute, quirky Brighton atmosphere, I would not be surprised if you fell in love instantly.

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