Sunday, May 19Royal Holloway's offical student publication, est. 1986

The Perils of the Perfect Dress

The summer is coming and this means the end of exams, the end of term, and, for many, the Summer Ball. As a fresher I have no idea what this is like but I do have ample experience of shopping for clothes, both formal and casual. And I can tell you that this is not an easy task, especially for women.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m sure men also have issues when shopping for clothes, particularly with gender stereotyping looking down on any man who actually enjoys shopping. But maybe it is this idea of shopping as a female pursuit that has made the experience for women so complex.

Allow me to elaborate. Firstly, clothes shops predominantly cater for women so we have the entire store to explore. Nothing is grouped by type of clothing, only by style or collection. That top you saw in the window – yeah, that’s almost guaranteed to be hidden at the back of the store surrounded by a plethora of skirts, jackets, and for some reason bikini tops, just because they are all related by colour or design.

And of course, you cannot just go into one shop and find exactly what you want. There’s New Look, H&M, River Island, Topshop, Miss Selfridge, Primark, Monsoon: the list goes on. You might be surprised to know that my Year 11 prom dress was purchased from the relatively unfashionable BHS, just because the more popular high street brands had nothing that suited my requirements. At the time, I had a condition called scoliosis which, amongst other things, meant that my hips weren’t level, adding another dimension to the type of dress I wanted. Two years on and I can show off my level hips but need to find clothes that cover the scar down my back. Fashion versus practicality is a big issue.

But thank goodness for online shopping. Now I don’t even have to leave my house to trawl through the high street and find the perfect outfit. Except then the sizing problem rears its ugly head. Because sizing in each shop differs slightly. I cannot count the number of times I have bought something online and then had to send it back and buy it in a different size because I estimated wrongly. Shops haven’t quite understood that not all women are the same shape or height and that we would find shopping a lot easier if sizes across the high street vaguely corresponded.

For me, my perfect Summer Ball dress actually came from Tesco, albeit a little too long. Luckily, I have a mother to alter it for me as professional alteration does not come cheap. The explosion of Facebook has left more and more people feeling that they cannot possibly wear the same dress twice: this is not really a problem with men’s suits. The average suit costs £100 at the cheapest, but that’s an investment. A savvy spender could maybe spend £100 on a decent dress/shoes/bag combo, but wearing the same outfit more than once or twice in a formal situation is considered socially unacceptable.

This style of women’s shopping doesn’t look like it’s going to change any time soon, but maybe it’s time for us to stand up and sort out our outfit prejudices. So what if I’ve worn this dress time and time again? I for one am not going to pay out my precious money just to wear something once, and I’m sure many of you will agree with me!

(I have blogged further on this issue here: