A super market for value and good quality
For bargain-hunters looking for fashionable clothing Tesco's range is hard to beat, says Constance Harris
In the current war of the value-clothing sector, as more cash-strapped customers flock to discount centres, what is determining the victor is not high-fashion reproductions, but actual fashion content.
By this I mean solid clothing. Clothes that are well-made and well-tailored as well as being functional.
Which is why I think of all the value-clothing stores we have, Tesco is winning the race. Which is extraordinary when you consider it is a supermarket chain first and foremost, and not a clothing company. It only went into the clothing business a few years back.
"I think Tesco has moved on a lot since I first joined it five years ago," Tesco clothing buyer Bozena Carty told me. "Back then, its fashion was very black, brown and basic. But the company has become much more forward in fashion. Now I think we can match, if not outmatch, a lot of the high-street fashion stores. We have quality, fantastic fit and style."
The shots on our pages today were taken at a mini fashion show and Christmas launch Tesco did in Ormond Quay's elegant No 10, where the company made it clear that it intended to be our one-stop-shop for all things Christmas, from award- winning pepper roast joints to 3D television sets.
"You can come into our stores and you can buy the whole dinner. Likewise, you can come in and buy the whole outfit. When you come to us for clothing, we want to have everything you need -- be it hosiery, lingerie, kids', men's, coats, dresses." says Bozena.
An important attraction for Tesco customers is the chain's value promotions: this week's specials, for instance, are a 50 per cent discount on some men's and boys' shirts, a basics top and leggings set for €9.50, and a three-for-two offer on nightwear.
"People come to us because of our price and quality. They want quality, but more than ever it is price," Bozena informs me.
Tesco's clothing label, F&F, is also always subtle: the supermarket is aware that people are sensitive to value labelling, so it doesn't overtly brand its merchandise.
When I talk to people about Tesco's clothing, they often respond that their local branch has not got anything.
Bozena explains: "It is to do with the size of the store. If you have a smaller store, then the clothing offer there will be mainly basics ... socks, briefs, baby vests, that kind of thing. A good guide is to look for Tesco Xtra stores -- they have the best range of clothing."
Tesco women's wear mainline ranges are from size six in some styles, but mainly eight to 22, with shoes from size four to eight, including a new, wider fit. The designated plus-size range, True, is 16-28. Why the overlap in sizes, I asked.
"The True cut is roomier. Some people buy into bigger sizes because their bust might be big, but that doesn't mean the rest of them is. True is for someone who needs more on the arms, back and such. It is a very comfortable range."
True is a reliable range of funky tops, jeans and on-trend dresses.
Tesco's menswear is always worth a look. "People don't think of us for menswear because they aren't aware that we do it. But I think it is among the best of what we do," says Bozena.
From on-trend, waxed denims at just €15, to boot-cut,
skinny and straight-leg jeans, to this season's Steve McQueen-style jacket, to funky T-shirts and party shirts, the brand looks after guys. They do a tuxedo suit for €66, with a shirt, dickey bow and cummerbund set for €17.50, making it nearly as cheap to buy as to hire.
Clothing starts at 28-inch waist, up to 48. Men's shoe sizes range from seven to 12. Work jeans cost €9.50 and an entry-level suit sells at just €29.50. There is a higher-end range of suits by Duncan Bannatyne (jacket about €51, trousers, €30) and a special travel suit (jacket, €40, trousers, €18.50) designed for men who are on the road a lot.
Kids wise, Tesco is one of the few stores that does school uniforms for children up to the age of 16 and stock basics all year round. It also does some Fair Trade cotton shirts in its school uniform, as well as mainline, ranges.
"Tesco was one of the founder members of the Ethical Trade Initiative. We do a lot of work to ensure that our factories and suppliers are compliant. We do both unplanned as well as advised checks." Bozena says.
Womenswear for this season is very influenced by the Forties -- smart, feminine tailoring and knits. There is also Fifties glamour on offer. Colour is very big, especially for party wear.
There is also a nice Seventies-influenced look going on -- cord, A-line, skirts, tailored patch-pocket jackets, chunky scarves and tights and knee high boots.
Ultimo creator Michelle Mone has for a long time done a range called Diamond Boutique for F&F lingerie. This winter, it launches a new range with her -- Bra Queen. It caters for sizes 32A to 38F and up to a G-cup in some ranges.
Tesco employs 14,000 people around Ireland. It is growing and the company has been innovators in energy-saving, low-environmental-impact building.
Next year it hopes to open its first carbon-neutral store in Ireland.
Several times a year Tesco recycles free of charge, old, small, electrical goods. So far it has recycled 70,000 old TVs. It is also involved in local community projects -- such as the St Vincent de Paul.
Shopping really is changing. Thankfully, what we can expect is a lot more value for our money.
All clothes featured are from F&F at Tesco, available from selected Tesco stores nationwide
Photography: Fennell Photography
Models: Morgan the Agency and Face of Tesco competition 2011 winners
Hair: Ivy Sullivan
Make-up: Barbara Daly at Tesco
Sunday Indo Living