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The Real Difference Between New York and London

In partnership with Ted Baker Colour by Numbers.

When I boarded a plane from New York to London to study abroad during my junior year of college, I anticipated a challenging transition. The cities seemed so different in my head, from the public transportation to the food. And I was right that they had many distinctive traits, which I grew to appreciate, but over time I became acquainted with their similarities, as well. There was one in particular that really stood out to me: a palpable enthusiasm for style and its many modes of self-expression.

Both Londoners and New Yorkers wear clothes that tell stories about who they are or who they want to be, and living in either place is a lesson in interpreting them. The cities share a fascinating mix of ease and energy — a willingness to play and experiment complemented by a penchant for looking and feeling relaxed. UK lifestyle brand Ted Baker captures that precise combination in its Colour by Numbers collection, a curation of contemporary everyday items rendered in unique colors and shapes — something a denizen of either city might appreciate.

To highlight that versatility, I enlisted three Brits with cool style to model the Colour by Numbers collection and showcase some of its best statement pieces. Each of them happens to have lived in both London and New York, so I asked them a bunch of questions about their experiences hopping back and forth across the pond. Check out their outfits and answers below.

Phoebe Lovatt

Phoebe is a journalist, moderator, author of The Working Woman’s Handbook and founder of The WW Club. She currently lives in Bed-Stuy, Brooklyn.

Colour By Numbers striped tie waist pants and striped blazerscallop detail knitted top and metallic loafers
styled with Roxanne Assoulin earrings, Isabel Marant belt, Illesteva sunglasses Hysteria by Happy Socks socks and headband via Amazon Fashion

Where are you originally from and why did you relocate to New York?

I’m a Londoner, born and raised. I grew up right in the middle of the city and went to school and university within a two-mile radius of my childhood home. When I was 24, I got a green card (long story) and decided to make the move to the U.S. I am the proudest Londoner you’ll ever meet, but I was already feeling the need to spread my wings and push myself to try a new way of life.

I started visiting New York when I was 17 and always knew I’d live here one day…but I actually moved to L.A. first, despite having only been there once! At the time, I was working as a freelance music and lifestyle journalist, and I knew it would be really hard to make it work as a self-employed 24-year-old in New York. I wanted to give myself a bit of financial breathing room to continue my work as a writer, and also to figure out my next career steps. Plus, there are a lot of lifestyle parallels between London and New York, and I was really craving a culture shock. L.A. was certainly that.

After three years in L.A., with lots of back and forth to London and New York, I knew it was time to head to the East Coast. I was sick of driving everywhere, and I was craving street culture and general stimulation. More crucially, I had started The WW Club — a community and resource for working women — while I was in L.A., and I felt that New York was the right place for that venture to take its next step.

I’m glad I waited until I was a little bit older to make the jump to New York. It’s a fabulous adult playground, but the cost of living and the overall lifestyle can be difficult to hack if you’re a creative kid without a trust fund (i.e., me!).

Colour By Numbers striped tie waist pants and striped blazerscallop detail knitted top
styled with Roxanne Assoulin earrings, Isabel Marant belt and headband via Amazon Fashion

What was it like when you first moved? Did you experience any kind of culture shock?

Moving to L.A. was a much bigger culture shock for me than New York. I grew up right in the heart of London, walking everywhere and knowing a million people everywhere I went, so adjusting to L.A.’s driving culture and much more laid-back lifestyle was tough at times. However, it was actually L.A.’s sense of isolation that gave me the idea to create The WW Club, so every cloud has a silver lining.

That’s not to say my experience of moving to New York was entirely seamless either. It’s no secret that this city is hard work, especially when you’re juggling an independent business and a freelance career simultaneously. Having just spent three years in L.A., I was used to everyone being super-friendly and chill everywhere I went. New Yorkers are great people, but I’m not sure “super-friendly and chill” is how I would describe them.

On a personal level, I think the biggest adjustment was learning how to manage my personal energy reserves because I definitely burnt out at numerous points. The amazing thing about New York is the dizzying sense of opportunity — socially and professionally — but that can be slightly dangerous if you’re really ambitious and driven (which, of course, almost everyone who moves to New York is, whether or not they’re willing to admit it).

In your experience, what are the biggest differences between New York and London?

The pace of life is a big one. London is a lot less frantic than New York; people are slightly less obsessed with their careers. The sense of humor is totally different; London is sardonic and sarcastic, New York is more about quick wits and smart quips. The 24/7-ness of New York still feels very specific to this city. In London, it’s really hard to get anything to eat beyond a kebab past 11 p.m., and no one really goes out at the start of the week. But there are lots of parallels between the cities, too — amazing art, inspiring street culture, great style. The part of Bed-Stuy where I live reminds me of London, in some ways — it’s diverse and vibrant but also full of quiet, tree-lined streets. I appreciate the balance.

What do you miss about London?

Beyond the obvious like my friends and family, I miss London’s green spaces and its architecture. I actually miss British food; it gets such a bad rap, but there are incredible restaurants in London. I also miss walking streets I know like the back of my hand and seeing places that have sentimental history for me. Any expat will tell you there’s no way to describe or replace the comfort of being on home soil.

What do you love about New York?

It kinda goes without saying that British weather isn’t the best, so I can live without that. In terms of what I love about New York, at this stage of my life and career, I’m grateful to live in a city that still feels limitless. New York is so vast, so dynamic. It pulses with some weird, crazy energy that I’ve never really found anywhere else, and I’m kind of addicted to it. I think it’s just that — its inexhaustible nature — that makes New York both exhausting and totally invigorating, depending on what stage of life you’re in. I’m not sure if I’ll live here forever, but I’m definitely not tired of it yet.

Jasmin Aujla

Jasmin is the Senior Partnerships Strategist at Man Repeller. She currently lives in London.

Colour By Numbers knitted color-block dress, trench coat and suede stripe heel sandal
styled with Zara earrings and headband via Amazon Fashion

Where are you originally from and why did you temporarily relocate to New York?

I’m originally from London. I first came to New York in 2013 to do a yearlong internship at a small design agency. It was one of the best years of my life. I had been back in London for a year and a half after graduating from university and I was feeling stuck in a rut, career-wise. New York had always been one of my favorite cities to visit and had great energy, so I applied to a program that facilitated internships in N.Y. for Europeans. I had absolutely no commitments at the time: I wasn’t married to my job, wasn’t in a relationship, was living at home, so it felt like a no-brainer to go off and spend a year having a New York experience.

When the year was up and my visa had expired, I had to come back to the U.K., but I felt like I wasn’t done with New York yet; there were still a few more years in me that I needed to experience there. So I applied to do a master’s degree at The New School, got accepted and was back in the city five months later to start classes. This time, it felt more long-term given the program was two years long and I was more set on a path to be independent and figure things out on my own, which I definitely did, but New York does not like to make that process easy — starting with trying to find somewhere to live. It’s so stressful!

What was it like when you first moved? Did you experience any kind of culture shock?

One of the main things that made my decision to move to New York so easy was that there was no language barrier. No one ever warned me that there would be an ACCENT-barrier. Simply ordering a glass of water quickly became something I dreaded because I knew the ask would be met with “Wha t?” or “Huh?” I slowly found myself altering words to make things easier for myself, like asking for the “check” (not bill), wearing “sweaters” (not jumpers), living in an “apartment” (not flat) and spelling words like “color” without a “u.” After four years, these things started to feel like second nature, which, unluckily for me, came back to bite me because when I moved back to London toward the end of last year, all my friends made fun of me for all my Americanisms.

In your experience, what are the biggest differences between New York and London?

People often say that London and New York are very similar, and I used to be one of those people until I actually lived in New York and realized they’re totally different. The energy in New York is unlike any other, and as a result, people are much more intense, work crazy hours and are always on the go. Not to say that Londoners don’t work hard, but there’s definitely a stronger focus on work-life balance in the U.K. Since moving back to London, it seems like people are generally out of work by 5:30 p.m. and cook their dinner most evenings during the week. I also used to think you could generally get anything, within reason, at any time in London. But the convenience in New York is actually insane.

What did you miss about London when you lived in New York?

Typically, in offices in the U.K., when one person goes to the kitchen to make a cup of tea, they ask if anyone would like one. On my first day at my internship in New York in 2013, that’s what I did and everyone looked at me in utter shock. AND TWO OF THEM WERE ENGLISH THEMSELVES! (They’d obviously forgotten the custom.) So, I missed the tea rounds, Colin the Caterpillar cakes for birthdays, Galaxy chocolate and the ability to have a Sunday roast without cooking it myself.

What did you love about living in New York?

I loved being freed from the obligation to ask if anyone wants a cup of tea at 3 p.m. because literally everyone says yes and you end up having to make 20 cups. On a more serious note, though, New York has taught me so much about myself and what I’m capable of, lessons that I’m not sure I would have experienced in any other place. It really does consume you and push you to your limits in a way that allows you to see how strong you really are. Even though I’m back in London now, it will always be a special place for me.

Amanda Murray

Amanda is a stylist. She currently lives in Crown Heights, Brooklyn.

Colour By Numbers crane print wide leg pants and striped knitted top
styled with Zara earrings and headband via Amazon Fashion

Where are you originally from and why did you relocate to New York?

I was born in the beautiful twin isles of Trinidad and Tobago. My mom is a chef and moved to Paris when I was pretty young, but the younger me was apprehensive about moving to Paris because I was reluctant to learn a new language (crazy!), so I didn’t join her until she eventually moved to London. That’s where I spent my formative years.

I have a lot of family in New York, so I spent a lot of summers here, and for a very brief time I even went to high school here. I have a lot of happy memories about New York from that time. I decided to leave London after going through a bad breakup because I wanted to get as far away as possible. I was definitely running away from a problem, which in retrospect wasn’t the best idea. I was very conflicted because London, to me, is the most amazing city in the world, and living there really defined and shaped me as a person, but I had to let go, sadly, in order to find peace of mind after the end of that relationship.

What was it like when you first moved? Did you experience any kind of culture shock?

I experienced a myriad of emotions when I first moved here. I was happy to liberate myself and begin an amazing new journey, but I was sad because I was mourning the end of a relationship. I moved during the summer, which is when New York really bewitches you. New York is AMAZING in the summer. Everyone is sweaty and happy, so it’s easy for people to get caught up in that excitement and drop everything and move here, all because they had one great summer in New York.

I will say the one thing that threw me was the rats. I’m still not over the rats — in the subway, in the streets, in restaurants…they’re all over the place. I remember barricading myself into my bedroom because there was a mouse in my apartment. I stuffed towels under the crevice of my door, played music loudly and banged things together to make as much noise as possible so that even though I was scared, the mouse would know I wasn’t one to be played with. At a certain point, I needed to pee so badly I had to throw my keys out of my bedroom window so my super could get into my apartment to catch the mouse.

In your experience, what are the biggest differences between New York and London?

New York and London are similar in many respects. They are both cosmopolitan cities, they’re both expensive and they’re both important centers of fashion. That being said, the extent of their differences is vast. For one, London is much cleaner than New York. It shocks me that with all the taxes we pay in the city, it is somehow still dirty. London is quite clean in comparison.

New York’s lack of racial integration was another thing that really surprised me when I moved here. In New York, I am black first and Amanda second. In London, I’m Amanda first and black second. I never thought about what that meant to me to until I moved here and felt the difference. London isn’t perfect in regards to racial equality, but it’s better than New York.

Dating has been another challenge in New York — I think because the energy of the city is so fast-paced. Striving for success is more of a priority than finding love. Plus, there are so many beautiful people here, so many options. Why date one when you can have two? A guy said that to me on a date once.

Last but not least, a train comes once every two minutes in London, and there is never any train traffic. In New York, a train shuts down every two minutes. MTA anxiety is a real thing.

What do you miss about London?

This is beyond sad, but I miss British television. The soap operas there are very intense and not as glamorous as American soaps. EastEnders and Coronation Street were my favorites. I also miss the food. There are many diaspora communities within London, same as New York I suppose, but there’s something particularly special about the food from these communities in London. Chinese food is so different there; it’s more authentic. I remember asking for duck sauce once during a trip in London after spending a summer in New York, and my local Chinese restaurant in London was like, what is duck sauce? I genuinely miss London when I’m in New York. I miss Portobello and Spitalfields markets on the weekends, the double-decker buses and the gray skies, which I love because they complement the architecture of the city. There’s a romanticism to it all.

What do you love about New York?

Despite the dirt and chaotic public transportation, New York is really a magical city. Things happen here that can’t happen anywhere else in the world. Dreams come true here, but the city tests you first to see if you deserve them. People leave anything and everything behind to come here, with nothing in their pockets besides hope in their hearts. That in itself stands as a testament to this city  — it’s very telling. New York epitomizes freedom and aspiration. I think that’s what keeps us coming.

Shop the Colour by Numbers collection.

Photos of Phoebe and Amanda by Edith Young at Chumley’s New York. Photos of Jasmin by Frances Davison at Zetter Townhouse. Styling by Harling Ross. 

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