Wednesday, 10 December 2008

Christmas Night out

The Christmas night out column is a staple piece in the fashion journalist's repetoire, ususally focusing on the dilemma of whether to go for timeless verstile lbd which can be accessorised for the season (this also applies now to black trouser suits) or to go frothy, promy and lacey. I have never yet read a recommendation for a Christmas night out outfit that offers advice on how to keep warm while drinking on the move through the streets of Glasgow which is really what I need to know most.
There is also the other issue; gauging just how "dressed up" to be. Spending the night with colleagues you want to look as if you have definitely made a bit of an effort, but go overboard and they will treat you like the certifiably insane freak they think you look like.
So this year I'm working on a look that combines safe daywear in muted colours (a grey marl jersey cowl neck) with a skirt which is a bit more dressy (a midnight blue M&S a-line cutie with embroidery round the hem) and black patent shoe-boots which I love from Clarks. All a bit safe, but stuff in which I will feel comfortable and girly and be able to stagger towards the taxi-rank come closing time.
And I have my first ever bona-fide fashion tip to share. All big bosomed girls will no doubt be aware of the Gok-commandment that thou shall not strangle thy breasts in an unflattering polo-neck. All very true; but I have practiced draping sheer scarves and chunky long necklaces to create a kind of virtual v-neck which I think works very well and which adds weight to the top if you have a large undercarriage as I have. So I will be wearing plenty of interest around my neck in a kind of pile em high type

Saturday, 22 November 2008

20% off day at M&S

Well I was driving into work last Thursday and a news segment came on BBC Radio Scotland saying that there was a 20% sale off at Marks & Spencer, hmmm, there are inponderables there already, but I'll skip over them and say that I was mildy excited about the prospect of some retail therapy. Great, I thought I could skip over in my lunchbreak and stock up on opaque tights.

IF ONLY. When I got to the Braehead branch there was a line of cars stretching out the car park near enough to the M8. I managed to park several miles away from the branch and when I got there was faced by the prospect of queues in the clothing areas that would take at least an hour to work through. In front of me there were people with shopping trolleys piled high with jumpers, pyjamas and childrens games.

What does this tell me? That people are insane to put themselves through this sort of panic buying for nothing, that an incredibly simple sales ploy like this can work wonders for M&S who must have sold ten times their normal daily stock on Thursday and that there will be plenty of fluffy slippers under the tree in the Renfrewshire area come Christmas.

I did manage to grab some knickers and a few pairs of tights and paid for them with some sandwiches at one of the much less busy food area tills. I did also strike me that even with the overwhelming demand they still did have stock available in my size and with plenty of choice. Good old M&S

Sunday, 9 November 2008

Ulla Popken

Ulla Popken
is a German label who have a couple of High Street stores in the UK in Sailsbury and Walton on Thames. They also have an online presence and mail-order business. Sizes available are generally 16-34 and some trousers are available in a petite length. In terms of pricing and where they are targeting sales I'd say they are somewhere in that elusive gap between cheap and cheerful Evans and pricey and fusty Elvi. Some of the items in the catalogue are covetable with plenty of good jackets, trousers and sweatshirts. Knits are ususally in a cotton/acrylic blend. Not everything is great so you'd have to do a lot of editing, but you could find a good bit of kit from here if you were sick of trawling the high street for wearable clothes. The company also offers a monthly newsletter with special offers and online only collections.

Friday, 31 October 2008

Boden-my luxury sleepwear

Whilst idling on the internet I bought these on impulse from Boden. £25 for a pair of pyjama bottoms! But I really am happy with them and thus can't begrudge the cost. Its also a good way to test Boden sizing,the 20 fits me well as they are comfy round the waist and hang well. I may try some clothes that I can wear outdoors. The fabric is gorgeous and cozy and the print is cute. They are like the wynciette pyjamas I remember from childhood, just a bit more stylish. Perfect to change into after a day in a business suit.

Saturday, 18 October 2008

N'est ce pas une plus-size boutique

Never again will I complain about the choice of clothes available on the British High Street. I'm just back from a week just outside Paris staying next to the enormous Val d'Europe shopping centre where I could barely find anything for wearing to buy.
The Shopping Centre itself is amazing. Over 200 shops including a huge Auchan hypermarket which had gorgeous food. Fantastic children's stores and great make-up places like the wonderful Sephora. There was also boutique after boutique including familiar names like H&M and Zara but the real draw for me was the plenty that I did not know. Here are a few: Bershka, Dorotennis, Un Jour Ailleurs. I was also excited to see a branch of Etam which was a great source of cheap clothes before it departed from UK stores about 10 years ago. However none of these places sold anything about what seemed to be a size 12. It was actually really noticeable that the shoppers there were overall smaller and slimmer than you see in comparision in the UK so I guess the demand is not there, but it was tres frustrating nonetheless to be stuck in fashion paradise without being able to buy anything. Such was the source of my frustration I for a moment seriously considered a cashmere sweater with a Minnie Mouse beaded front on sale in Disneyland Paris for only E138 up to size xxxl.
Not that I came home empty handed mind. I also visited the La Vallee Outlet Shopping Village connected to the Centre which has a truly mind-boggling range of discount stores including Missoni, Givenchy and Christian Lacroix. This is shopping as you actually dream about it. In the end I got a gorgeous Furla bag, though I also nearly splurged on a Marina Rinaldi dress from the MaxMara store.

Oh and Disneyland Paris was great too.

Tuesday, 30 September 2008

My New Winter Coat

So in the end instead of buying the Jaeger Coat I loved at £450 I plumped on impulse for a Black Pea coat from Principles for £79. Its a bit of an odd construction as it looks like a classic double breasted design but with an inner zipped liner with a funnel neck. Being optimistic I imagine this will encourage good posture as I have to hold my neck up when wearing it to avoid looking like a turtle. Because of this all the weight of the coat is in the front and may need constant adjustment to stop it riding up.
The store I visited was in Buchanan Galleries in Glasgow. About 1/3 of the display is given over to a Petite range. They seem to have the same styles in this range as the mainstream stock and I wonder why the segregation. Is it to make things easier for shoppers?
Having checked out their website plenty of the styles were available in a 20. In fact a well-edited selection. In the store however I could find very little to try on. This was compounded by the fact that sizes are not on the hangers and the clothes were not hung in the usual size order (8 at the front working up to the biggest at the back) The store seemed pretty tidy otherwise but there was no logic to the displays and I was starting to feel a bit awkward checking every label. An assistant did approach me to ask if I needed help and with the Jaeger debacle still fresh in my mind I asked if she new if they carried anything in a size 20. She replied that there may be some things but thought that most of stuff in this size was sold online cause people "prefer it that way".
Reader, I bit my tongue. Well actually I just grunted and continued searching coming up after about 30 mins with the coat and a green cardigan.

Saturday, 20 September 2008

Shopping at Jaeger-same old story

Went into the Glasgow Branch of Jaeger today and truly they have some lovely stuff. The store is beautifully laid out and the staff were friendly but not pushy. I liked a gorgeous grey cocoon coat and a sheer snake print blouse but none of the stock on display went above a size 16. I plucked up the courage to ask if they carried anything in an 18 and when the assistant on the front desk checked and said that yes in fact the blouse I liked was available in the storeroom. What I assumed to be the manageress then chipped in with the usual "we only have space to display so much" excuse. If this is the case why is it always the biggest size left behind? I interpret this as purely another way to humiliate larger customers by making them asking for assistance. Plus if noone knows the stuff is there it dosen't get sold so Jaeger can say in future there is no point selling it. This makes me soooo angry. I didn't try the blouse but I may go back for it. I think with a pair of heels and my Marina Rinaldi jeans this would be an excellent winter going out outfit. Grazia have a 20% off coupon for Jaeger in this week's edition which would make a good dent in the price. I'll think on it for a couple of days.
As a follow up I emailed Jaeger's customer service to ask if it was their policy not to display larger sizes and I tried to tell them why this is so discouraging. Their response was to tell me that they phoned the Glasgow store and spoke to the manageress about it. Crivens-now they will hate me in there. How can I possibly go back?

Wednesday, 17 September 2008


Its London Fashion Week and I've been following the excitement of most of the shows and the reception at No.10 hosted by Sarah Brown which seems to have been a success although I don't think Stella McCartney, Vivienne Westwood or Kate Moss were present and they are probably the three most influential people in British Fashion.
The show that has interested me most this week is that by Jaeger who have made a big impact in the fashion press over the last couple of seasons. There are some fantastic pieces most of which go up to a size 18 like a shaggy shearling coat or a techno dress that are on the very edge of my budget. Which is to say I could buy a coat or suit but then would have to just stay home and admire them for the next six months, still. But what really caught my eye was the designer Karen Boyd snapped on the catwalk at the end of the show. She looks a) fabulous and b) much the same shape as me. It shouldn't matter-only the clothes should matter, but my stars this gives me great comfort and hope. If a successful innovative designer can be a plus size then does that not mean that the high end of the fashion market can start making clothes for this market. Eh? Please.
I will fully investigate Jaeger in Glasgow and come back with a full wearability report.
Buying update-still no coat or boots for the winter as the red Wrap coat below is now out of stock and the Duo suede boots have not yet come into stock in black. However I have ordered the black and white ribbon tied duo shoes as I think they are reminscent of dancers shoes from 42nd street and it cheers me up to think of this.

Monday, 8 September 2008


Next is a source of never ending frustration for me. It is one of the most ubiquitous shops on the British High Street, and one of the most inviting looking. Better yet it claims to offer mainstream sizing up to 22 and most stores now have a least a small petite section. I think it is a shop that attracts tremendous loyalty from devotees. In a hangover from their 80's origins it offers a co-ordinated "lifestyle" in a way which no other mass market store can compete with. In their adverts often you find a male and female model literally matched up clotheswise which is something no other store does. I know of one person -married, with a small son who rarely buys clothes or homewares anywhere else. Commendably their "Directory" has always prominently featured models from a wide range of ethnic backgrounds, if not sizes.

However the designs it does sell are dreadfully pedestrian. Fashion led items are generally a season behind where everyone else has cottoned on to something. Witness this seasons emphasis on folky smocks. Next also has a touching devotion to cargo pants (they call them boarding trousers) which it features without fail year round. I think of these as their emblematic item these are essentially clothes made for wandering around shopping malls.

Where Next should score better is in office wear. They have the highest concentration of affordable business suits in the mass market. But for aliens like me there is a fundamental problem in their persistent failure to display any stock over a size 18. When you are an awkward size one of the last things you want to do is ask the (generally clueless) sales assistant for help checking the stock room and this has never gotten me anywhere in the past anyway and I'm told that I should just order from the catalogue. So much for impulse buying.

I do find this lip service to larger sizes really insulting. Next have recently introduced a small selection of clothes in a size 24-28 for sale only in their catalogue. But the items are not shown on a model and there is no business wear. Probably the best of the selection is a belted black jersey dress, but this is precisely the kind of thing that a buyer should try on before buying to get an idea of how it suits their body. (I tried on my first wrap dress in the wonderful Curvy Girl in Edinburgh after being persuaded by the assistant and immediately felt sexier)

Friday, 29 August 2008


Far more influential blogs than this one have written about Duo The Somerset based firm that are the only place I know of selling calf-fitting boots in a range to fit between 30-50cm. Prices are typically £150-£200 but the quality is good and my first pair has lasted two Scottish winters. This year I'm thinking of purchasing their Navarra style a suede flat heeled boot that nods to this winter's principal boy trend. The company seems to be thriving and have gone from a mail-order only business to opening several "fitting rooms" where you can be measured by a trained assistant and try on any number of styles to get a sense of how they fit. After years of boot misery I was very sceptical about the service and the fitting was probably one of the most pleasurable shopping experiences I've ever had. Now that I'm familiar with the range I'm confident enough to order by mail.

Duo have also branched out to sell width fitting shoes. This is another neglected market in the UK and they should do well. Though the styles could do with being a bit more contemporary as there is an over-abundance of the kitten heel to a degree not seen since the mid-nineties heyday of LK Bennet. Some styles like the Daisy pictured here are much more sucessful

Saturday, 23 August 2008

Suit Shopping

As mentioned above I spent today shopping for a new trouser suit. Never a pleasant task when you are wide of hip and short of leg. Nonetheless I'm happy with my final purchase from the very reliable Betty Jackson Black range from Debenhams. I got a very plain black jacket with a Peter Pan collar and matching trousers in hallelujah! Shorter leg length. The range goes up to a generously cut size 20. The Quality and finish of this range for the price (£120 for the suit) is exceptional) Its a healthy sign that there is hardly ever anything from this range on sale. I think it fills a real gap in the market for women looking for a design led range that is not too flimsy and wearable for formal occassions.
Other places searched included Marks & Spencer where there were a few choices in somewhat garish looking stripes. There seemed to be a more promising Autograph Essentials range but not in any larger sizes in the branch I was in.
Then there is Next. I'll probably have a full rant in a future post on the size range there but suffice to say today there were plenty of good looking suits but not available on the racks in size 20-22.

Wednesday, 20 August 2008


After the bile in my last post I thought I should turn my attention to writing about a clothing range that I like and one of my favourites is Wrap a UK based mail order company who produce four seasonal catalogues throughout the year mostly of separates in natural fibres. Their size range goes from 8-22 and they have different length options available for trousers and skirts.

This spotted silk pleated blouse is a good example of why I like their stuff. Its quirky and distinctive looking,without being garish; it could pass for a Jaegar blouse. Furthermore it is made in pure silk; this does mean it costs £99 but my guess is that any purchaser would get good mileage from it as it could be teamed with jeans (as in the picture) or with a black wool skirt or trousers for work and be a signature piece for at least a season.

I also love this coat and am seriously considering purchasing it for this winter. Its £169 so I reason a coat is good value as it costs less than two blouses. Its 100% boiled wool and has a neat combination of both 50's and military styling. It comes in charcoal as well as the red but I think this colour works really well.
If I'm going to order it I guess I should act quickly as the larger sizes go fast. If Wrap had a high street presence where I could go in and touch the clothes I'd probably have a wardrobe of their stuff.

I'm hoping to go out shopping for a trouser suit for work this weekend. I'm determined to pick something wearable off the shelf. I'm pretty sure that I'll exhaust and depress myself in all the usual places before ending up in Marks & Spencer, but we'll see.

Thursday, 14 August 2008


It seems to me that plus sized clothes specialists fall into a number of different categories; none of which merit the term wearable. Here are my definitions of how the market splits up:


I've lost count of the number of times I've been promised glamourous, fashionable clothes in extended sizing only to find on viewing a range of garishly coloured synthetics with ugly prints and elasticated waists. Anne Harvey and Elvi are the most visible contenders on the High Street here. the latter is the purveyor of the truly horrible purple T-shirt featured above. Yours for only £39 Stella McCartney fans! But this is the most prevalent style available for mail order too and even more upmarket retailers like Chesca push this look. Noone under 50 would wear this stuff and those that do look frumpy, so why is it everywhere?


Loose, flowing, natural fabrics in lots and lots and lots of layers. Thus giving the wearer the appearance of a mummy (not a yummy one) Specialist boutiques stock this look often pushing this stuff for big bucks claiming some kind of Euro-exclusivity.

Muffin tops
This term I apply to places like New Look, Dorothy Perkins and Evans. It is admirable that they do extended ranges of sizing in fashionable styles that are accessible and affordable. However, the flatter factor of low rise jeans or waist-skimming tops is something that many purchasers might want to take into account. There are also only so many lemon stencil print t-shirts you might want to buy every season before turning your attention to say a nice well cut jacket. You may be looking for quite some time before finding such an item in these stores.

Monday, 11 August 2008

Why Fashion for Aliens

This blog is my attempt to chronicle the difficulties that women who are non standard sizes have coping with the limited ranges that there are on the British High Street to dress themselves fashionably.
I'm a UK size 20-22 (US 18-20, Euro 48-50) and I have a reasonable amount of money to spend on clothes. I could drop about £250 on a Business Suit but I can find precious few places that will allow me to do so.
If things are difficult for me then I can't imagine how much of an effort it must be if I were less than 5ft tall, more than 6ft tall, or if I had a disability that affected the choices I made when I got dressed.
To the fashion industry we are fashion aliens; creatures as odd or exotic to designers as your average Latvian model might seem if she were parachuted behind the checkout at your local Morrisons. The fact that we are present in sizable numbers seems to count for very little because the industry likes templates that are easy to supply and stock in mass numbers so we are literally marginalised and "tokenised". Stores may claim to offer clothes in wide size ranges but in practice tiny numbers of the sizes at the top and bottom of the scale are produced and often they are not displayed or restocked after an initial sale.
In postings I'll try to find good sources of clothes and I'll name those I think are the worst offenders. I'll probably also use this as a forum for chronicling my own shopping habits.
I'd love any input from anyone that takes the time to read this stuff; mostly I'll just be grateful (and a little embarrased) if you do.