Victoria Summerley: Town Life

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The Independent Online

It's the beginning of October. Which means it's too late, for those of us who are of average size, to buy winter clothes. The autumn/winter collections have been in the shops for a couple of months now, so if you are female and a size 14, you have about three minutes to buy that new pair of trousers, or polo neck.

It's always been a puzzle to me that, while researchers are always telling us that the average British woman has a 36in bust, or whatever, the retailers seems to insist on ordering equal quantities of each size. Thus Ms Average Brit finds herself jostling several other 36in busts in an unseemly struggle for a size 14 black jacket, while Ms Flat Chested waits smugly for the sales, when she will waltz off with a size 6 at half the price.

In fact, I'm surprised that there aren't monstrous regiments of size 14 women with 36in busts wandering the streets stark naked. Say Ms Average Brit lost all her luggage at Thiefrow during a security alert, where would she find a replacement wardrobe?

There are probably courses at fashion colleges on this method of retailing. They will feature on the prospectus alongside modules on How Not To Design A Jacket That Covers The Bum, and Advanced Skimpy Clothing For The Under-20s Only. And there must be a course that advises on Clothing In Ludicrous Colours. I've never been to fashion college, which is probably why, when I spot a pair of bright magenta trousers next to an identical pair in black, I know which pair will be marked down come January.

Sometimes, you find the same thing in children's clothes. Gap have never managed to get their American heads around the fact that your average British 12-year-old girl doesn't want to wear pink sparkly jeans at Christmas time like her five-year-old sister. (Mind you, Gap have never yet managed to get their heads around the fact that British shoppers can look up American prices on Gap.com and discover that they're paying £25 for something that costs $25 the other side of the Atlantic.)

Americans generally are weirdly strict about gender and colours, I find. They seem to regard anyone who wants to wear black as some kind of Commie Goth freak who probably votes Democrat and doesn't go to church. I once tried to buy my 14-year-old stepdaughter a pair of black trainers in Brownsville, Texas. For a moment, stunned by the look of horror on the shop assistant's face, I thought they were going to call the sheriff and have me run out of town. "No, those are for BOYS," she said firmly, tugging me away from the black trainers and towards some pristine white aberrations with pink sparkly bits and Disney logos on the other side of the shop.

Then there are the benighted retailers who only sell clothes in black if it fits in with that season's "colour story" (which usually involves some bizarre, turgid hue such as mustard or salmon). "Navy is the new black," the assistant will tell you with a bright, lipsticked smile. I've got news for you, lady - navy is the same old boring navy. Or "I hate black, don't you," they'll say, as they try to convince you to buy a pair of trousers in magenta tartan. "It's so ageing." Nope, I love black and who cares how ageing it is if you feel two sizes thinner wearing it?

Just looking at this season's clothes has made my heart sink. There seems to be a preponderance of leopard prints, which may look chic and ironic on the runway - and absolutely fine on a leopard, of course - but on anyone over 20 it looks like you're auditioning for a job as a Bet Lynch lookalike.

So, if you'll excuse me, I must rush off and buy myself another plain black size 14 top. After all, I've only got 17 and a girl needs to stock up.

* Regular readers will recall that my last column referred to the changes in Northcote Road, the main drag in SW11, and the independent traders who were under threat. Good news for fans of Lizzie's, one of the shops I mentioned. They have relocated round the corner to Webb's Road - number 71. The fate of the Northcote Road Lizzie's is still to be decided, so for a while there will be two. Hurray!

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