I went clothes shopping last week – hoping to find a way out of the 60 denier black tights trap I’ve been stuck in for the last five years.
But I couldn’t identify with anything. All around me there were girls in Cressida scrunchies, fluffy knits and hi-top boots. I felt all at sea.
I headed straight to Topshop – the undisputed honcho of the high street. Toppers has been a trusty companion over the years: a true stalwart of my wardrobe. These days it’s gone a bit teenagery but it can still pull it out of the bag when it needs to. Need some work trousers? Head to Topshop. Going out dress? Head to Topshop. Want a crop top emblazoned with sparkly pineapples and luminous tassels? Head to Topshop.
I think it’s fair to say that as far as relationships go, Topshop and I aren’t quite what we once were. But every now and then, a little gem jumps out at me – this burgundy number for instance – and faith is fully restored. I love Topshop.
Have you ever been to Cos? You’ll find stores dotted around London although its roots are firmly based in strange Scandinavian design. It’s completely wacky and I want to love everything in there.
But literally every item makes me look like I’m wearing a giant sheet of cardboard. Go and try it out. I promise you that any dress in there will instantly transform you into a huge cereal box. It’s the strangest shop in the world. Same goes for American Apparel. If you’re in the market for a velvet crop top and some high-waisted shiny leggings, Apparel’s your place. Apart from that, I just don’t get it… and probably never will.
Good old H&M. Back in the day, it went by the more convivial name of Hennes – the elusive pearl of Oxford Street that regularly cropped up in fashion magazines but seemed completely out of our reach before it crept up North. These days, they seem to have adopted a ‘stack ’em high and pile ’em in’ policy. The prices are still cheap but so is the clothing.
My cool friend SLJ once took me to the store in Camden, circa 2009, and I was momentarily on board with it all. But the Leeds store is a different beast altogether: a dark basement of tat. I went in last week and it was a sordid affair: rails stuffed with too many garments and a mind-boggling mush of knitwear that would leave Mary Portas in a cold sweat. I set my sights one jumper I quite liked and briefly toyed with the idea of wrestling it off a mannequin. But then an overwhelming urge to get out of there overtook me – and I fled, gulping in air as I got back to street level. I doubt I’ll be back.
Dear old Mango. I loved Mango. It was my go-to place for super-long trousers back in the mid-noughties. I have fond memories of snapping up a brown leather biker jacket from there too, which I wore to death and still lurks in the recesses of my wardrobe somewhere. But like all Spanish lovers, Mango was a short-lived romance. The clothes became tacky; the material cheap and clingy. Mango recently made its debut in Leeds much-vaunted Trinity shopping centre but I haven’t been in for years. Are its trousers still super long? Who knows. Maybe it’s time to take my long shanks back in there.
There was a time when I could walk into Zara and want nearly everything in there. I used to head down to Zara in the out-of-town White Rose Centre after work sometimes. It was desolate and I’d have the whole store to myself. I snapped up all sorts of long-term investments: a much-loved black Audrey-style dress, a Prada-esque skirt that’s still going strong… Those were the days. But in the last couple of years, Zara’s become a slightly tired scene, with mismatched garb sardined onto rails. I think it might have lost its way – or maybe I’m out just of the loop.
Who didn’t want to wrap themselves in a twisty bin bag dress held together by safety pins and head to Back To Basics when they were 21 years old? Enter All Saints. Remember that phase around 2001 where you started distressing your jeans with a cheese grater and spraying them with silver paint? Maybe it was just me. But All Saints have been doing it for years and then charging you £80 for the pleasure.
The problem with All Saints is it’s stuck in a noughties time warp. The grungy, distressed look went out of fashion about 10 years ago but All Saints is gamely sticking with it. Those Singer sewing machines have been adorning its window for about five years now (excuse the lamppost) – but we’ve long since parted company.
I never really got on board with River Island and I’m not quite sure why. It had quite a presence on Preston high street back in the 90s. We’d congregate at the back in the shoe section and mull over the different pairs of Kickers. But strangely, I can’t recall ever buying one garment from there. Now Rhianna’s on board, I thought I’d pay a visit. I was greeted by an array of gold sparkle, tartan and black fluff. It was a bit overwhelming. I couldn’t wait to get out. Sorry River Island, I’m afraid the island ferry has sailed.
Morgan, Morgan, Morgan… The very name fills me with nostalgia. Who could forget Morgan’s signature logo – that little red heart that oozed Parisian catwalk and class? Didn’t it even go by the name of Morgan de Toi at one point? Classy. It’s hard to believe it now but in 1998 Morgan could do no wrong. It was the essence of sophistication, with its matching floral two pieces. My friends and I would finish work on a Saturday and head straight to Morgan to spend our wage on a new dress for a night out at Preston’s infamous Tokyo Jo’s.
I can still picture the layout of Morgan: the colour-coordinated pieces hanging nearly on those wooden hangers; the tailored leather jackets; the mix of pillar-box red, oatmeal brown and marl greys. I think I might even be able to smell it. Am I getting carried away? Probably. Morgan was a true love affair of the late nineties – which made its subsequent downfall in the noughties (along with Kookai – yep, remember old Kookers?) all the more staggering.
Jane Norman. Who is she? She’s the girl at school who you kind of knew but never actually spoke to. I think our paths might have crossed once. I went into the Jane Norman store in Sheffield in 1998 and bought at bargain beige coat in the sale. It made me look like Arthur Daley. I kept it in my wardrobe for years and would wheel it out occasionally, to check if it still made me look like a secondhand car dealer. It did. What became of Jane Norman? I think she might have been crunched out in the recession. I wish I cared. But I didn’t even notice she’d gone.
Whistles/ Reiss/ Ted Baker/ Karen Millen – all stores with delusions of grandeur. Sure, they can pull out the stops when they want to (hello much-coveted Whistles navy jumper dress with a leather top) but they always seem to be punching above their weight: designer prices for a high street tag. Have you ever bought anything full price from Whistles or Reiss? Not me. You’d have to either marry an investment banker or sell a kidney. I usually wait til the inevitable 50 per cent off sale and then swoop and grab.
Actually, I lie. I waltzed into Selfridges the other month and – quite out of character – frivolously bought a dress from Ted Baker, and one from Karen Millen. I must have been in a daze when I went to pay because when I got my credit card bill the following month, I genuinely thought I’d been robbed. I was half-way to picking up the phone to Natwest to report retail fraud until I went to look at the price tags on said dresses – and realised that the only crime that had been committed was me setting foot in there in the first place.