Why the Average Woman Finds it so Hard to Shop

This is a more serious post than usual because I wanted to stand up for the “average, normal” woman! While I do work mostly online with my clients, I also plan on regular trips out to see what is in the shops. This means I can look at quality, fabrics and sizes “in the flesh”. A couple of Fridays ago, as I was due to be at the O2 in the evening for a concert, I decided to spend the night at a hotel close by and go for a shopping trip in Canary Wharf. The shops in this area serve predominantly working women who are short on time and although they may well be buying clothes for work, their lunch break might be the only time they get to shop for weekend and holiday clothes as well. Liz was with me and as we are different sizes and body shapes it is useful to see how pieces fit on us.

After my shopping experience at Canary Wharf, I have to say, if I were working there full time I would be depressed about the prospect of trying to find clothes there during the working week. But this applies to much of the High Street too and here is why.

Canary Wharf has a lot of the well know high street stores – mostly of the mid to higher end – but no department store. We started in Hobbs, whose sale had just begun. On the plus side they had all sizes out, although nowhere near as much in a size 16 as a size 10 or 12, so does this mean they aren’t stocking enough in a 14 -18 because they have sold out as there was plenty of sale stock left in smaller sizes. On the down side the shop was really hot (it was a very warm day) and part of the changing room area had been taken up with a rail holding more stock. Consequently the changing room I was in felt very dark and hot and I didn’t actually try everything on because I needed to get out of the store as quickly as possible. Liz found quite a lot in her size and despite it being very busy the staff were really helpful and this is typical of my experience of Hobbs when I visit them locally to me in Reading or Windsor, the staff are knowledgeable and keen to help you create outfits. I think in a location where the shop is likely to be at its busiest during the lunch hour though, there needs to be more changing room space and possibly some air conditioning.

What we liked at Hobbs:

 

We passed by Zara – not a lot fits me and despite being a Blogger I don’t really want to wear the same “must have” dress or top that everyone else is wearing. The quality has also suffered in the last few seasons too.

Reiss was another shop we didn’t go into and I am sad about this. I love Reiss and frequently use them in client’s capsules but with their clothes stopping at a size 14 they just don’t cater to a large busted and curvy body. If you are small though I would definitely recommend you check them out as they start at a size 4 and they do beautiful work wear and some gorgeous dresses.

So on to Cos. Here we had great success. Not only is their sizing generous they also had some great colour choices and by this I mean some unusual colours that you might have in your colour palette but haven’t been able to find anywhere else. There is also plenty of navy and black. However, I would say that their clothes are predominantly more casual than business wear and if you are small you might find many of the styles would drown you. Liz found a few pieces but for once I fared better than her and found loads that I liked and that fitted me. The shopping experience was really good. The changing rooms are spacious, cool and the staff are friendly and helpful and best of all, the prices, for the quality are very good.

Your best colours

One of the tops I bought in Cos

Necklaces // Bag // Shoes //

Next up one of my favourite brands; LK Bennett. I have to start by saying that I do really love LK Bennett and their stores are always immaculate to visit with large changing rooms. However, and this is a biggy, I rarely shop in their stores and tend to buy online. The reason being, their policy of only displaying small sizes. Unless you find an item on a sale rail you will almost never see a size 16 or 18 (yes they do go to a size 18, just discovered one new season dress in a 20!) out on the shop floor. Because of my job I will happily ask an assistant for a size 16 and in general they are equally happy to find it for you. But I don’t think you should have to ask. We don’t want to feel like we aren’t welcome in a store or intimidated into having to ask for our size, I really don’t understand the logic in this, if you don’t want to display a size 16 or 18 why stock them? Because all you are doing is making your customers feel bad and I would imagine that LK Bennett are losing sales from those women who don’t know they stock above a size 14 because it’s not out on the rail. I did ask for a couple of pieces in a size 16 and whilst the items do come in the size the store didn’t have them. Again this sounds like not holding ebough stock because I don’t believe there are no women working in Canary Wharf over a size 14!

What we liked at LK Bennett:

 

We stopped into Whistles where Liz found several items she liked and with the sale already on there were some good bargains to be had. But… yes you guessed it I found one item out on the rails in a size 16. The two members of staff didn’t acknowledge us as they were busy chatting to each other, so probably not somewhere you would feel comfortable asking for other sizes.

By this time, feeling a little despondent, we arrived at The White Company. Again not really somewhere for work wear but definitely where you might want to shop for weekend wear. And what a pleasure it was! Stock out in all sizes and probably as many 14s and 16s as 10s. Large and very comfortable changing rooms, in fact mine was more like a room than a cubicle, with huge mirrors and plenty of light. Plus very helpful staff, high quality and not excessive prices. I found plenty here that I would want to buy.

The White Company Boyfriend jeans // Linen top // Bag // Shoes //

What we liked at The White Company:

 

So my question to retailers is this, why does a woman (actually a typical British woman) who is a size 16 have such little choice? And if you do stock a size 16 or above, why does she have to ask for it? Why can’t it be out on display?

I think that other than convenience this could be a reason why footfall in stores is going down. We don’t want to be intimidated. I can happily order my sizes online without being made to feel uncomfortable. Brick and mortar stores are suffering as online orders increase so shouldn’t shops be trying harder to get us in there and buying?

And if you are looking for brands that go beyond a size 16 or below a size 8 here are a few that I regularly use for my clients:

Boden – Sizes 6 to a 22 with many in short and long lengths too.

Pure Collection – Sizes 6 to 20 with some short and long lengths.

Marks and Spencer – sizes from 8 and up to 24 in some styles, short, medium and long lengths and Petite and Plus size ranges

Coast – Some styles to a 20 and a Petite range for gorgeous occasion wear

Navabi – A good range of brands and budgets starting at a size 14 with styles up to a 32

Mango Violetta – The plus size range from Mango with more on trend styles to a size 26 in some styles (check out the beachwear for some lovely swimsuits and bikinis)

Reiss – see above – start at size 4

What are your thoughts on this – have you had a bad experience finding your size? Is there anyone I’ve missed who does a good range of sizes?

19 Comments

  1. Carol M
    June 23, 2017 / 7:20 am

    This was a very interesting post and you are so right about lack of choice on the High Street. My bugbears are the lack of standardisation in sizes between brands and the failure of most manufacturers to recognise that many women’s body shape changes as they get older – for example, many women post menopause develop a larger tummy so they have to buy a larger size to accommodate it; but then the garment is often too big in other areas of the body. With an ageing population in the UK there is a vast untapped market out there for well cut, flattering clothes at reasonable cost; retailers are certainly missing a trick.

    • Maria
      June 23, 2017 / 3:28 pm

      I totally agree about the standardisation of sizes Carol, it is the one downside of buying online because you have to check the measurements of every garment and that isn’t fool proof. I find it so frustrating when you find something that fits and naively think that another item from the same brand in the same size will fit and it doesn’t. And yes the change of body shape needs addressing too. Thank you for your comment 🙂

  2. Alison R
    June 23, 2017 / 12:03 pm

    100% agree with Carol M, she took the words right out of my mouth. I have put on weight in the last couple of years and it has predominantly been around my belly but most size 16s assume that you have a perfect shape AND a six-pack rather than allowing for the tummy

    • Maria
      June 23, 2017 / 3:30 pm

      Hi Alison, It is definitely the tummy area that is the problem and it’s not as if it’s not a well known fact so why it isn’t considered I don’t know 🙂

  3. Rosamund
    June 23, 2017 / 12:47 pm

    I used to shop at Viyella and Jaeger, being a tall over 65 with a thickening waist these brands were my perfect size. Viyella has now gone into receivership and Jaeger is also in administration having changed their style to short skirts and younger styles. I have now found Boden and Lk Bennett. Fashion for the older woman is generally more expensive than the younger woman. My daughters are horrified at the prices I have to pay. Considering we are all living longer and often we have more disposable income. I am surprised that there isn’t a ready made fashion house for us.
    Department stores didn’t help Viyella and Jaeger, by dropping the concessions in favour of younger brands.

    • Maria
      June 23, 2017 / 3:33 pm

      HI Rosamund, I think it is a huge shame about these brands. I was quite surprised about Jaeger because they had moved with the times but still did some lovely quality classics too. And it does seem crazy that women who want to shop and can afford to do so have so few options:)

  4. Beth
    June 23, 2017 / 1:25 pm

    H Maria,
    I have problems with going to shops too. I’m partially sighted and some changing rooms are really problematic. Shopping online is more convenient but it’s so nice to go and browse.

    • Maria
      June 23, 2017 / 3:35 pm

      I agree Beth. I do most of my shopping online and of course for my clients too but I do like to get in the shops on a regular basis to see and feel the clothes to make sure I am happy to recommend them. Having shopped in department stores in the US where you have a huge changing room and are offered a bottle of water I think some of our stores could improve the shopping experience with some small and simple changes 😉

  5. Suze
    June 23, 2017 / 2:25 pm

    Totally agree. The number of times I’ve fled from changing rooms, hot, bothered, in tears even, is countless. My menopause was complicated by illness. My weight soared. At a 100 kgs, I stopped weighing myself. Where I found comfort and style was at Oska, Marina Rinaldi and Elena Miro, supplemented by bits and pieces from elsewhere. Not cheap, but good quality with timeless style, I was so demoralised, I was prepared to buy anything that fit.

    On returning to my normal 14/16, I still check Marina Ronaaldi for coats, while Oska forms the base of my wardrobe. It’s not all loose styles and their colours are lovely. I still also shop at Uniqlo, Sainsbury’s, H&M and easy to wear Phase Eight, for what I call an ‘old lady dress’. They’re comfortable, flattering, hide your tum, easy care, non iron.. Anyway, at 71 it’s allowed.
    BTW, the staff hired by these brands have always been kind and heplful, though these days, I buy quite a bit on line.
    A very plus size friend swears by George at Asda. She orders tons of stuff to be delivered to her nearest store. Goes in, tries it all on, takes what she needs and finds the whole process efficient and easy. She looks terrific and ays the staff are friendly and helpful. So it’s not all pain, but you do have to search out tiny corners in the market that work for you.
    My pet hate is sizing. I would have thought it was possible to standardise sizes within a brand, if not the whole market.

    • Maria
      June 23, 2017 / 3:41 pm

      Hi Suze, That is really interesting. I had two shops several years ago and one of them focussed on size 16 plus and 2 of the brands I stocked were Elena Miro and Oska! Both great quality but as you say not cheap. Elena Miro told me that they don’t just make a garment in a larger size but that they redesign the shape of it as well which many brands don’t do. Being Italian as well they had that gorgeous Euro Chic look too. If you like Oska you may also like Sahara and Masai too. Sahara have their own stores and some concessions in department stores and the Sahara stores usually stock Masai and Oska too. Good to know about George at Asda in the more affordable price bracket too 🙂

  6. Elanor
    June 23, 2017 / 3:14 pm

    I like some of the Gorgeous range in Debenham’s, especially the swimwear and lingerie

    • Maria
      June 23, 2017 / 3:42 pm

      Thank you for that recommendation Elanor, I will check them out 🙂

  7. Jenny Robins
    June 23, 2017 / 3:20 pm

    Great post! My pet hate shopping wise is trousers. I am pear shaped with short legs so it’s tricky to find the right pair. This means that I must try them before buying and I hate changing rooms. I tend to grab an armload in Debenhams and head to try them on. It’s the only time I’m confronted with a 360 degree view of my cellulite – a demoralising experience!

    • Maria
      June 23, 2017 / 3:44 pm

      Oh Jenny I do sympathise! Your best shape for trousers is something with a straight leg rather than a tapered trouser, because then if it fits the waist the line should fall from the hip. I would also suggest if trousers are big on the waist in order to fit your hips get a little tuck put in the waist if you find a pair you love 🙂

  8. Amanda
    June 23, 2017 / 8:17 pm

    My biggest problem is finding smart work styles that can be worn with flat shoes, as for finding shoes to fit my wide feet with bunions without looking as though I am in my dotage I despair!

    This weekend I will be going back to making my own shift dresses for work wear, that way I can get something that fits me without the trauma of a shop changing room!

    But thank you all for your ideas…I may still venture out!

  9. Helen Clark
    June 25, 2017 / 8:18 am

    So true … I am a size 18 and work in Canary Wharf. I always have to buy and have delivered to store for anything I am interested in, try it on and return anything that doesn’t fit – mostly Hobbs or Jaeger. The best place is the Waitrose Home store. The second floor stocks women’s fashion. John Lewis collection, Damsel in Dress, Phase Eight , FCUK and a few more. I always shop FCUK at John Lewis as they have stock XL which the shop in Jubilee Place, also on the estate, rarely does. It is difficult to buy smart workwear in Canary Wharf!

  10. Mandy Jewell
    June 25, 2017 / 11:19 am

    A great post Maria! Thank you for sharing your research with us. My two main issues are consistency of sizing, as previously mentioned, and also the cut of garments to accommodate bigger tummies and bigger busts, which even us petites have! M&S win on the bigger bust issue, with their ‘fuller bust’ range, and also their ‘no peep’ shirts and blouses. Unfortunately the ranges are limited, and many other tops are loose and baggy to comply with the ‘one size fits all’ mentality. On the sizing issue, I went into M&S last week, and there was a significant shortage of size 10, which I was surprised at. M&S sizing has definitely changed though, their size 8 is the new size 12 (how can someone with 36DD boobs fit into a size 8?), which makes us feel better, but doesn’t help in the changing room!

  11. Quietgirl
    June 30, 2017 / 12:12 am

    Fascinating. I live in the states and many of us are above size 12. I am wondering if the lack of garments in the sizes you mention might account for the trouble that bricks and mortar stores are experiencing. I hadn’t thought about it before as I wear a smaller size. I can easily see from your article, how frustrating it must be to try to shop when there are no clothes in stores to try on! It would explain the rise of online shopping. It might also explain the tee shirt that we saw on nearly everyone in the restaurant on Saturday night. Anyone can wear one because it stretches and isn’t fitted. Thanks for the insight.

  12. Samantha
    July 1, 2017 / 10:55 am

    Great post Maria. I take a size 10 or 12 but still find shopping a frustrating experience. My issue is my height. I’m 6ft with a 36inch inside leg and arms about 4inches longer than average. So far I know of 1 high street shop (long tall sally) that will cater for me. Thank goodness they are now stocking younger styles (when I started going there at 16 their styles were more suited to the older lady). There are a couple of high street stores that do a tall range, but no one seems to stock them, so it’s online ordering again.

    As an added bonus I only take 30C bra – again very few places stock these. Most places seem to presume we are all a 32 to 36 or 38 back. I’m so glad a Boux Avenue opened locally to me. They have such a great range. Not cheap though.

    Plus point, I’ve been very pleasently surprised how long the wedding dresses are 🙂 so far there’s only been 1 that is too short! I’ll have to wear flats, but I’m ok with that.