As the imported American discounting bonanza known as Black Friday approaches, I’m calling for a change of pace. Why not do your Christmas shopping with one of Britain’s most stylish independent boutiques this year?
Browsing and discovering are part of the thrill, as is taking in charming window displays and chatting to knowledgeable shopkeepers. Buying local should be “more fun, satisfying and friendly,” says Victoria Suffield, who opened The Hambledon in Winchester in 1999. And it’s easier. “We’ve done the hard work of choosing,” she says. “You don’t have to trawl websites and read endless reviews.”
The nation’s small store owners have been working harder than ever post-pandemic to create must-visit destinations in their local communities. The best shops have strong fashion, of course, but also offer stylish homeware, floristry, stationery, apothecary, sanctuary – and a buzzing social scene. There are exciting shopping experiences to be had – mulled wine nights and wreath making classes, as well as in-store parties.
At a time when many of our high streets look derelict and sad, small boutiques are shining. 58 per cent of Brits pledged to shop more locally in 2022 (according to a survey by IW Capital) and these business owners confirm that they are largely keeping up with the promise.
When I arrive at my local, Chelmsford’s Number Six, it’s minutes before co-owner Katy Arain appears to expertly talk me through her latest edit of Scandi and American labels, and to pop open the fizz. “It has been challenging,” she acknowledges. “But this year will be a proper Christmas season. Our door is open and we are ready to celebrate.” Here are 15 of the best boutiques around the UK to visit.
The 15 best boutiques to shop at this Christmas
Best for a party
Number Six, Chelmsford, nosix.co.uk
Regulars have been planning their festive wardrobes since the end of October. “People want to get dressed up again,” co-owner Katy Arain says of her seasonal fashion edit. Find embellished dresses and blouses by Stine Goya and a sharp selection of Paul Smith and Oliver Spencer upstairs for men. With a resident DJ and fizz for all every Saturday, the party atmosphere is guaranteed.
Best for magpies
Last Night I Dreamt, Southwell, Lastnightidreamt.co.uk
“We plan our Christmas window months in advance,” says owner Rebecca Gibbions, whose boutique is festooned with giant nutcrackers and gingerbread men. “It’s lovely to see young and old smiling as they walk past.” Inside is a treasure trove. The demi-fine jewellery is perhaps the best in the country, including exclusive pieces from big names such as Alighieri and Alex Monroe, as well as local discoveries like Hannah Bourn.
Best for sustainable gifts
Sancho’s, Exeter, sanchosshop.com
Founder Kalkidan Legesse’s gift guides are second-to-none, with sections dedicated to pre-loved gifts, as well as what to buy ‘vegan friends’, ‘zero waste warriors’, or those with ‘green thumbs’. The organic cotton socks and recycled cashmere jumpers would tick the box for everyone.
Curate, Marlborough, curateshop.co.uk
Owner Kat Jackson admits that opening a new shop in the middle of a pandemic was filled with risks. Yet in just a year Curate has made a mark on Marlborough, with its considered selection of Scandi and British labels. In collaboration with local florist Feather Moss, Jackson will host a wreath making and mulled wine shopping event, as well as a party in the store for the charity Julia’s House.
Best Christmas spirit
The Hambledon, Winchester, thehambledon.com
‘Treasures and Heirlooms’ is the theme this year. The Hambledon’s team offers advice on everything from how to display your Christmas cards to Christmas ‘tablescaping’. It’s a family affair too, as owner Victoria Suffield’s parents (now in their 80s) have made the garland over the door for the past 22 years and counting.
Best for fashion kudos
The Cross, London, thecrossshop.com
The renowned Holland Park boutique was founded in 1996 and stocks a rich range of statement dresses by labels such as Pink City Prints and Muzungu Sisters. The boutique display turns kitsch for Christmas with colourful pieces to buy. Most-wanted are the fun fashion character baubles by Cody Foster – will you decorate your tree with Ziggy Stardusts, Coco Chanels or Yayoi Kusamas?
Best for posh pyjamas
The Pantry Underwear, Cambridge and London, thepantryunderwear.com
From chic cartoon nighties by Karen Mabon to luxe silk sets by Hesper Fox, there is nightwear for every taste. If you’re thinking of giving lingerie as a gift, try British label Dora Larsen’s pretty rainbow lace sets.
Best for denim addicts
ALC, Edinburgh, alceshop.com
Adele Crombie’s ALC celebrates its 10th anniversary this year, selling jeans and everything you might style with them. Crombie’s range features the world’s best denim brands (including Paige, Frame and DL1961) and the store is known for having the friendliest customer service. If you’re not confident enough to select jeans as a gift for someone else, pick from jewellery, sweatshirts, mittens, hats and more.
Best for families
Crane and Kind, Sidmouth, craneandkind.com
Crane and Kind, an enchanting little pink shop by the sea in Sidmouth, has a famously beautiful edit of children’s clothing and toys – find rainbow knits by Halcyon Nights, or wooden toys by Janod. But it also caters to the wider family so you can cater to everyone in one fell swoop.
Best for a full day out
Caro, Bruton, carosomerset.com
You could spend days enjoying the Caro lifestyle. As well as the boutique, which stocks everything from ethical fashion LF Markey and Meadows womenswear to satisfyingly smart kitchen utensils, they also have a bakery and a number of bed and breakfast hotel rooms on site. Sign up now for their Christmas wine tasting event with expert Aimee Hartley.
Best for festive candle lovers
The Mercantile, London, themercantilelondon.com
This Spitalfields boutique smells fantastic. Alongside womenswear by People Tree and Stella Nova, it has an extensive range of British-made candles in Christmassy scents. Try Octo’s ‘Joy Of The Holidays’ (hand-poured in Dulwich), or St Eval of Cornwall’s Winter Thyme tealights. Hampshire brand Plum and Ashby have even designed specific scents for Christmas Day, Boxing Day and ‘twixmas’.
Best for a complete surprise
Sunshine and Snow, Bideford, sunshineandsnowshop.com
The selection is vast for an independent store. It’s the ideal place to browse for that person who you have no idea what to buy for. You might come out with a Gestutz dress, artisanal chocolates, a ceramic coffee pot or a David Shrigley tea towel. With hundreds of items under £10, the only guarantee is that you will never leave empty handed.
Best for country living
Wild and Westbrooke, York, wildandwestbrooke.co.uk
This family-run boutique specialises in British heritage styles, housing the nation’s favourite country-ready clothing labels such as Holland Cooper and Fairfax & Favor. Beyond the wardrobe, you can also buy the lifestyle. Fox prints by artist Zoe Olivia and illustrated pheasant mugs by Sophie Allport would make perfect presents.
Best for an eclectic mix
Bottega, Tarporley, Cheshire, bottega.co.uk
There is a distinctly bohemian feel here, as owner Sam Brightmore displays By Timo frilly collars and Leon & Harper tassel blouses, next to vintage-look curiosity cabinets filled with jewellery, neon WXY candles, slogan trinket trays and Quail animal vases. Since 2007 it has been a destination for style in the North West.
Best for accessories
Object Style, Manchester, objectstyle.co.uk
Who doesn’t love a ‘bits and bobs’ shop? This Chortonville store stocks all types of home and sartorial accessories, mostly from local makers. The wavy hair clips are made by Fison Zair in Sheffield, the butter dishes are by Manchester’s Noreen Collins. With many unique gifts under £35, these could be the chicest stocking fillers out there.