Over the past twelve months I have spent a lot of time researching the British high street. My book, which looks at how clothes shops and customer service has evolved since the 1970s, features a lot of our best loved brands both past and present, so I have been forced – against my will – to spend even more time than usual thinking about shopping. Sadly, due to having to actually write about my findings, I haven’t had as much time to actually shop so I have lived vicariously through the promotional emails I receive daily by the inbox-load.
During this time there has been a lot of retail talk which has inevitably led to reminiscences about the high street of our youth. One Facebook discussion recalled those fashions of our childhood and the places we all went with our mums to buy them. In those days it would be unthinkable to imagine a world without C&A or Lilley and Skinner. M&S was for special occasion wear and if you were lucky, you might get the odd item from Hennes or Chelsea Girl – H&M and River Island as they are now known.
We have grown up with these brands and in some cases, they are still relevant today. Some have fallen by the wayside and others, such as Oasis and New Look have sprung up in their place. And it can be a dilemma because entering your fourth decade makes you think. Should I be shopping somewhere more grown up than H&M? Is it odd that I am buying clothes for myself and my five year old son in the same shop? At what age is one supposed to graduate to Jaegar and Jigsaw? A lot of the time it slips my mind that I am no longer twenty four, so rarely do I feel self conscious shopping in shops aimed at teenagers. Recently my twelve year old goddaughter and her friend admired my suede ankle boots and I proudly told them I’d bought them for £15 in the Miss Selfridge sale. It wasn’t until later on that I thought maybe I should have been embarrassed instead of pleased. After all, approval from the Insta-generation is hard won – and here was two ‘likes’ without me having to even log in. Perhaps it’s a genetic thing because my mum frequents Hollister and I’m quite sure the loud music and gloomy lighting is intended to keep the ladies of a certain age out.
I will always champion the high street, the British high street in particular because it is the best in the world by a long shot. I’ve worked in it, shopped in it, tested it and written about it. I’ve also cried in it (school shoe shopping), cringed in it (bridesmaid shopping) and laughed uproariously in it (most occasions with my friends Clare and Kerry). I’ve managed to hitch my carriage to someone who turns out to be my shopping soul mate (my ‘shoul-mate’ if you will) so I never have to worry about a sulky impatient man waiting on the pavement for me. It’s all looking pretty flippin’ good on my high street. This is my homage to it, even those shops you may have thought you were a bit old for now. Take a second look because you know, you just might be surprised. Some of those places we grew up with? They’ve grown up too.