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Britons at bottom of the style league

BRITONS are still a nation of scruffy dressers in comparison to their Continental neighbours, the study found, writes Helen Nowicka.

In style terms the Italians lead the seven nations surveyed, spending 9.4 per cent of their 1992 household budget on clothes and footwear. British shoppers come last, spending 5.6 per cent on new outfits.

Helen Doherty, senior European analyst with Mintel, said the Italians tended to buy fewer, more expensive outfits.

'In Britain's defence, I should point out that the volume of relatively low-priced clothes imported from Asia and the current recessionary trend of discounting have kept prices down,' she said.

Even if Britons had more money, most would put it towards holidays, paying off debts, home improvements, cars or bank savings. However, one area where the British can claim supremacy over the rest of Europe is in underwear - we are the only nation more likely to purchase under garments than outer clothes.

The largest proportion of European household spending goes on rent, fuel and power, with food, drink and tobacco second. Miss Doherty said she had been surprised to learn that the Belgians spend most on eating and drinking.

While Britons spend 16.6 per cent of their budgets on food and drink - the second smallest among the seven nations - Belgians spend 21.5 per cent, partly because they drink the most alcohol at home. The French eat the most convenience foods, the Spanish spend the most in restaurants and cafes and the Dutch buy the most fruit and vegetables.

The British have the strongest love affair with their cars - three out of four commuters drive to work. Public transport is most popular in France, where it is used by 21 per cent. More than a third of all Europeans spend over an hour travelling to and from work, with workers in Italy, Germany and the United Kingdom having the longest journeys.

Leisure activities account for 10.7 per cent of the household budget in western Germany, followed by the UK, with spending at 10 per cent. Evening classes are a minority hobby even in Britain, where they are most widely attended by seven out of every thousand adults. By contrast, 83 per cent of all European adults watch at least an hour of television a day and 56 per cent regularly listen to the radio.

(Graphic omitted)