Monday, 5 March 2012

Where angels fear...

Who recognises this retail haven?  For over 30 years I have tripped the light fantastic down these magical escalators with a couple of pounds burning in my pocket.  With an hour to kill last week, I went for a trip down memory lane.
There is still something about the entrance that makes me catch my breath with anticipation.
But what a shock was in store.
TopShop used to be somewhere that was affordable, and for that read, 'pocket money' prices.  If the average kid gets £5, or even let's be generous £10 pocket money (am I really out of date? how much is normal now?)
There would be nothing that they could buy with one week's money.
The quality of the clothes are probably worse than a couple of decades ago, although the design is undeniably better; lots of polyester and items that could be run up in 5-10 minutes, rather than requiring cutting, panelling or any intricate processes.  But the prices were approaching what you would expect to pay for garments that would last a few years not a couple of wears.
I completely get Primark, it is crap but cheap and relies purely on volume to stay in business.
Unfortunately consumers are used to such low quality that they pick up a garment in TopShop and think that it is better, it might be, marginally, but not four times better and yet it is four times the price.
I was toying with selling some of my older clothes on Ebay, but again this experience has made me rethink.  For £5 an hour my clever friend can restyle, pull in and totally reinvent any item, and the feel of the pure silks, cashmeres, wool crepe and silk jerseys are unlike anything that I could afford to buy now.

This was the 'last chance section' most of the items were singles, they weren't reduced, just the last of a range. It really felt like a jumble sale and yet people were shopping as if everything was 70% off (like it used to be!)
Primark style dresses that were not Primark prices!
A sea of polyester, no naked flames advisable here!
The shoes were pretty funky and a step up from anything that other fast fashion outlets offer.
I confess I did like this, I am always fighting my inner Alexis Carrington, but it was over 100 quid and 100% polyester.  I bought a pale pink silk chiffon one from David Fielden, which is almost identical and cost the same.

I thought this was quite Marni-ish, the detailing is pretty, but the rest of the dress was a bit cheap looking, with uneven hem etc. and it was eighty pounds.
These shorts are very Blumarine, they would look fantastic in the South of France (on an 18 year old), but they are sixty quid! What 18 year old can spend that on a pair of holiday shorts?!
The whole experience set me thinking about how the face of fashion retailing has changed over the last few years.
There used to be a huge difference between 'designer' and 'high street' fashion.  I think that may be the designer brands are very much to blame for the blurring.  Once the big investors came, they needed to get in on all of the action to satisfy annual financial returns.  Suddenly as well as their quality lines, they were into jeans, t shirts, trainers, track suits, anything where there was a market.  As a result we can directly compare and contrast, my 'designer' jeans, neither fit as well, nor last as long as a couple of pairs that I bought in Primark years ago.  If these had been my only experience of the designer brand I would therefore simply write it off and say 'Primark is better'.
If designers stuck to what they are best at and I was comparing the man-made fibre Primark maxi dress, to a pure silk floor length hand-embroidered evening dress with built in corsetry that cinches the waist and flatters the hips, there would be no comparison.
My biggest fashion buying power was in the eighties and early nineties, this was pre fast fashion and a time when we bought our clothes on a 'cost per wear' basis. Quality was important and there were lots of mid-range designer brands to satisfy the need for quality at a price that was affordable (most of which are now out of business).  I swear that even 'designer' prices during this period, relative to average incomes, weren't as crazy as today.  We used Vogue as a buying source, not just for daydreaming, and we were all doing entry level jobs.  Even the editorial credits in the magazine have changed since those days, a dress would be featured and alongside would be the stockists that were carrying it, which were just as likely to be in Harrogate or Tunbridge Wells or Oxford as they were London, ie the readers were expected to be able to go and buy what was featured.
And so we have a strange dichotomy, the editorial and marketing of designer brands promotes an unachievable dream, but the reality is we buy the entry level items, that are not as good as the high street and right off designer brands as 'not worth it'.
Meanwhile the quality of the high street is getting worse (but more expensive), as consumers acclimatise to the lowest common denominator and expect nothing more.
So where does this leave me?(particularly as weightloss is meaning wardrobe rethink yay!)

I am wearing Matalan skinny jeans £5 in the sale, Sergio Rossi Boots £100 (in the sale) and a jacket made in Thailand based on a Dior original.  It cost about £200, but all of the detailing is hand embroidered, with semi precious stones and gold thread, it is lined with silk and feels amazing on.  The trouble is, because of how well made it it is, it is completely different to anything else out there and I am not sure if it ever looks 'right'.  Let me know what you think and tell me about how you mix high and low to make outfits work for you? I need some tips!


  1. I totally agree with the high St not being what it was in relation to quality and I too miss the middle range as designer has become exorbitant and in my opinion not worth the expense unless money is no object. Occasionally u can find something decent at Zara (not polyester). Since loosing weight I have gone down the alteration route.

  2. Totally agree about Zara, quality-wise it is a different league to the lacklustre British stores, and it is cheaper!


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