Monday 29 August 2016

Sinead Moriarty: At last – a store that's honest about the real size of women

Published 12/11/2013 | 02:00

British MP Jo Swinson: posing with Debenhams' new mannequins PA
British MP Jo Swinson: posing with Debenhams' new mannequins PA

High street retailer, Debenhams, is making headlines with the introduction of a size 16 mannequin. It's a very positive move and long overdue. At last, a shop that understands its customers. Finally, a store that is being realistic about the true size of the average shopper.

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When shopping for clothes, many women view mannequins as the enemy. Mannequins are there to make clothes look good and shoppers feel bad. Nobody, with the exception of an actual model, has a body that remotely resembles a mannequin's.

Shop dummies don't have lumps and bumps like 'normal' women. They are literally clothes horses, designed to make the clothes look good. The typical size of a shop dummy is a size eight or 10. Women in Ireland, on average, wear a size 14-16.

A size eight mannequin is going to make everything look fabulous. I must try that outfit on, you think, and then you find yourself in the changing room looking at a completely different picture in the mirror.

I don't know of any woman who hasn't been in tears in a dressing room at some point in her life. I actually had to be cut out of a dress once because it was so tight I couldn't get it off. It was an experience I'll never forget, both for the humiliation of it and for the fact that I had to pay for the sodding dress, ripped and all as it was.

With research showing that women are three times more likely to buy clothes when the fashion models are their size, surely it makes economic sense to display the clothes on bigger size mannequins?

Today, 42pc of women's fashion sales come from size 14 and size 16 clothes. With figures like these, one can only wonder why it took so long for retailers to embrace bigger sized mannequins.

There has been some criticism about the fact that the size 16 mannequins in Debenhams have flat stomachs. But all in all the response to the Debenham dummies has been positive.

Debenhams' director Ed Watson said: "We've developed our own range of size 16 mannequins. We felt it was important to better represent what real women actually look like when advertising our clothes."

He's right. Customers are fed up looking at perfect bodies and airbrushed models. They want more honesty in marketing. Look at the recent M&S campaign, using 'real' women. In it they have used models alongside actresses, singers, campaigners and sportswomen.

The M&S ads portray women of all ages and creeds. This seems to be the current trend in advertising. Retailers are finally cottoning on to the fact that customers want to see someone they can relate to in marketing campaigns.

When M&S first used older model Twiggy, to front its ad campaigns back in 2005, she instantly helped boost profits. Women could relate to Twiggy. She wasn't perfect looking, nor was she tall and svelte. She looked, well, normal.

Women want to see clothes draped over models that have curves, that way they have some idea of what the clothes will really look on them. Isn't it better for your customer to be pleasantly surprised when they look in the dressing room mirror, rather than horrified at the sight before them?

A dress that looks like you imagined it was going to is something you will hand over your hard-earned cash to buy. The dress that looked good on the stick-thin mannequin and looked awful on you, is just going to send you screaming out of the shop.

Debenhams is urging rival high street shops to follow its lead. Let's hope that they do, so that shopping can become a pleasant and realistic experience where women feel good about themselves and no longer end up crying in dressing rooms, depressed and dejected about their size.

Irish Independent

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