Main contenders for our custom include the by now familiar names of Next, Racing Green and Lands' End, with smaller or newer companies adding to the choice: Xtend, Boden, Kingshill and Wealth of Nations.
To be successful, catalogues must offer attractive, well-made clothes and accessories at realistic prices. They need to convince us that the paperwork is uncomplicated and the service will be good. Unwanted items should be able to be returned with the minimum of fuss.
But problems do arise from mail order shopping. Next promises excellent service, but just try ordering a catalogue. By the time I received mine I had forgotten I had ordered it. A colleague had a similar experience with Xtend.
Boden, a small clothing company specialising in good quailty, reasonably priced clothing, was set up 18 months ago. Johnnie Boden recognised the logic in mail order catalogues when, as an investment banker, he was sent to New York. He was so impressed with the easy way to obtain quality garments without having to go shopping that he set up Boden, which has grown well in the recession.
After initial problems when it did not deal directly with customers, the company now does everything itself, from designing and commissioning products to dealing with customers and dispatching orders.
This is the biggest and best-established of the new breed of catalogues. Women's clothes, menswear, clothes for children, accessories and home furnishings are all available. Prices are mid-range.
Best buys: clothes for babies and toddlers are colourful and reasonably priced. Stonewashed denim dungarees (M14077) pounds 12.99 (6-9 months), pounds 13.99 for 9-12 months, 12-18 months, 18-24 months; cotton floral print sleepsuit (M14130) pounds 7.99 for baby.
Delivery: by its own courier service and goods should be dispatched within 24 hours from receipt of order. Clothes often arrive on hangers.
Telephone: 0345 100500. Catalogue costs pounds 3.
This small company specialises in a few lines of clothing and accessories for men, though with its latest catalogue it offers some womenswear.
Best buys: comfortable basics such as aran sweater, pounds 45; range of bold ties, pounds 26; multi-purpose (men's or women's) poacher's jacket, pounds 90. Catalogue has a personal feel with garments modelled by the family and their friends.
Delivery: usually within five working days.
Telephone: 081-964 2662.
The company was founded by David Krantz of Blazer. Despite the fact that the name sounds 100 per cent British, Racing Green sells casual, American-inspired 'dress down' style garments.
Best buys: showerproof parkas, pounds 59; basic short-sleeved T-shirt, pounds 11; cotton roll-neck, pounds 20; men's chinos, pounds 39; men's denim shirt, pounds 35; women's chambray long-length button-through dress, well-priced at pounds 35.
Delivery: allow 10 days, but dispatch usually within two days of receipt.
Telephone: 0532 382400.
Billed as the British Designer Collection, it reaches out to career women who like to buy 'investment clothing' - well-made classics to wear year in, year out. Collections are from Caroline Charles, Paul Costelloe and Amanda Wakeley. It is the most upmarket of the catalogues with prices ranging from pounds 25-pounds 380. Expect to pay pounds 188 for a classic-looking black linen short-sleeved dress with matching belt and full skirt. Bags by Anya Hindmarch have the sort of attention to detail and style that you would expect when paying pounds 170-pounds 310.
Delivery: within 48 hours. Catalogue pounds 3.50, refunded on first order.
Telephone: 0494 890555.
This is the latest contender in the big league catalogue stakes. The company calls its publication a 'magalogue', which is quite apt as it would not look out of place along with the glossies in a newsagent's.
The emphasis is on fashionable casual clothing for men and women. Attractive adverts seem to promise more than the catalogue delivers, but its prices are keener than Next.
Best buys: ribbed women's vests, two for pounds 10; seashell-patterned, scooped-neck, low-back swimsuit, pounds 18; and unisex plain cotton crew neck sweaters, pounds 18.
Delivery: aims to deliver within seven days, or pay pounds 3.25 for the express service and order will arrive by the next day.
Telephone: 0345 556644.
A huge US company (its net income in the US for year ended January 1992 was dollars 28.7m). It deals with uncomplicated basics in casual clothing for men, women and children. Accessories, shoes, soft luggage and products for bed and bath also on offer.
Best buys: turtlenecks (with Lycra added for shape in cuffs and neck), pounds 16; denim jackets, pounds 49.50; chinos for men, pounds 32. Its swimwear, from pounds 37, has precise fittings as torso measurements are included in the sizing.
Delivery: two weeks, though it tries to dispatch within 24 hours of order.
Telephone: 0800 220106.
WEALTH OF NATIONS
Mini-sized catalogue featuring a small collection of attractive hand-made clothing from around the world. Many items can be unisex. Miniature versions available for children.
Best buys: Mexican embroidered white shirt cut for men and women with vertical panels of colourful embroidery, pounds 40 (child pounds 20); Hungarian cotton shirt for men or women, basic cut but with intricate pleating and gathering at the front, pounds 35 (child pounds 18); Indian brocade waistcoat with 40-year-old fabric in emerald or ruby with gold thread, pounds 55.
Delivery: normally within 10 days.
Telephone: 071-371 5333
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