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Here are all the posts in our Forum/Blog on the topic of Emma Plus: philosophy...

Sue Martin    Monday 04 June 2018 at 22:27

 Post #499 

Subject: Where are you now?

Hi Emma - only just discovered that your lovely little shop has gone - so so sad. I think you have achieved a wonderful dream and proved that plus size quality wear is definitely wanted - but as I know only too well it is a tough old market and sometimes it can just get too tricky. It would be wonderful to hear from you after all these years and to exchange views on the market we have both been in. Much love - Sue x


 emma    Tuesday 05 June 2018 at 13:09

Hi Sue,

How lovely to hear from you after all these years! Yes, it would be great to 'chew the fat' about everything. I'm so glad that you got in touch.

I really enjoyed the shop-which ran in my hands from 1994-2016 (after your celebrated tenure as previous owner): quite a good innings, I think. I loved the clothes, I loved trading in the North Laine of Brighton, but most of all, I loved the customers, many of whom are, and always will be, good friends.

Let's chat soon?



 Sue Martin    Tuesday 05 June 2018 at 13:50

Hi Emma
Quick response! Could you see my email address or not? Let me know
Sue x


Emma    Thursday 03 March 2016 at 18:08

 Post #468 

Subject: Shoptiques.

For those of your who have been awaiting this news with bated breath, I can announce that we are officially now selling online.

It's quite odd to look at our clothes in the Shoptiques format-they have a host of rules that are necessary to make their website, which encompasses thousands of small boutiques, look cohesive and simple. We've had to carefully photograph our clothes from certain angles (front, side and back, naturally), crop the backgrounds off, remove extraneous accessories (it almost goes against my religion to picture a top without a scarf or necklace, for instance), and -worst of all-crop off part of our model's beautiful face. However, I think that the whole thing has been more than worth it.

We will be adding more and more products to our little shop as the weeks go by, and I hope that we will be able to offer a great service to those customers of ours who, either by preference or necessity, wish to buy their fashions online.

Our address within Shoptiques is: www.emmaplusonline.com


Emma    Monday 22 February 2016 at 08:53

 Post #467 

Subject: Shoptiques

The model has been recruited, the stock has been selected. Our shop has been turned into a part -time photographic studio. The photos have been taken, selected and edited. We are now on the starting block for a new way of trading.

I've been on record for years as having reservations about selling online -there are a number of disadvantages. In my opinion, there is simply no comparison with actually being able to come into a fashion shop, try everything on, and make an informed choice as to what to by.

''Being able to come into a fashion shop '' is a bit of a rub. Not everyone, at every time, is able to come into our little shop, here on the south coast of England. For these people, buying online is not a choice, but a necessity.

However, there has been an enormous growth in the other kind of online shopping -people who DO choose to shop this way, simply because they enjoy it. Sitting at home, (perhaps furtively ) at work, or sipping coffee in a café, browsing the Internet for something gorgeous for the weekend -it's the modern way of life.

Luckily, many of my initial objections to selling online appear to have been met by the American website, Shoptiques. It's a company that really knows it's stuff. It deals exclusively with small boutiques like ourselves, and provides the practical solutions that allow us to maintain the exclusivity, quality and choice that we feel is so important.

I'm very excited about it, and really hope that it works for us. Diversity and equality of opportunity in the world of fashion is something that we are passionate about. Shoptiques should help us enable more women access to better and more fitting fashion, no matter where they are, or how they choose to shop.

I will keep you posted as to when we go live!


Emma    Friday 31 July 2015 at 13:22

 Post #447 

Subject: Pride of Brighton

One of the marvelous things about living and working in a place like Brighton is the amazing variety of things going on. Everyone knows about the London-to-Brighton bike ride (where hardy souls make this energetic journey in aid of the British Heart Foundation), the London-to-Brighton Vintage Car Run (which has been going even longer than I have been here), and Brighton Festival, which provides far too many art events to mention here.

Less well known are the myriad other events: the gathering of Minis (just one instance of such vehicle gatherings, of which there are many), or the coming together of political parties, the large number of different conventions, meetings of particular breeds of dogs, nude cycle rides, march of thousands of zombies, design fairs, concerts, outdoor theatrical productions.....I could go on and on.

This week we are looking forward to our astonishing and joyful Pride weekend, which, if I am honest, I can no longer describe as a festival of all things gay (because it has been enthusiastically been taken up by what seems like the entire city). This is now a celebration of colour (in every sense!), vitality and diversity.

It's not strange, then, that we at our shop are also caught up in the happy vibe: colour, vitality, and particularly diversity (a very important concept in the plus-size industry, where we rebel against the forces that are trying to condemn anyone who doesn't fit neatly into a box)are our watchwords.

We just hope that, in between walking our Brighton streets and marveling at the sights to be seen, we can tempt people to come and have a little peek into our store. We've started getting our new stock in now, and this, alongside some fantastic summer Sale bargains, make it a worthwhile diversion.....


Emma    Saturday 12 April 2014 at 15:39

 Post #396 

Subject: Our Birthday Celebrations

There are moments in life that really stand out, and today is one of them. I can honestly say that I will remember it forever.

I simply couldn't believe how many of our lovely customers came today to help us celebrate our 20 years in existence.

Women were queuing at our door before we were open, and, when we swung the door wide, everyone poured in, and a kind of happy melee ensued.

It didn't take long before our ladies were perusing our gorgeous, colourful summer collection, and selecting items for closer inspection. For the first time ever, we had to give out numbers to people waiting to go into our four changing rooms. It has been one of our best days ever.

Some people brought us cards, some chocolates, some plants, flowers, and other gifts, but all brought us their best wishes.

There was a wonderful feeling of esprit de corps amongst customers who chatted to each other and to us as old friends, which most of us are.

In return, we proffered bubbly, punch, nibbles, and a birthday cake (see picture, right).

I think we are very lucky to be able to work in a place where we deal with such lovely people, and I hope that we will be able to serve our community of like-minded plus-sized fashionistas for many years to come.


 Kim P    Sunday 13 April 2014 at 12:49

Hi Emma
Big thanks to you and all the super ladies at Emma Plus for hosting such a great event yesterday. The window display was lovely and the food and drink provided very much appreciated. The cake was delicious! It was exciting to enter the shop and be greeted with a goody bag; I am delighted with the contents! What an achievement it is for an independent retailer to be in business for 20 years and still going strong. I can honestly say the day I first walked into Emma Plus drastically changed the way I dressed and viewed clothes shopping and all for the better. Here’s to the next 20 years!
As usual the shop looked beautiful with so many wonderful clothes to see and try on. I think this must be one of the best seasons’ collections and with new designers complimenting the tried and trusted it was fun to look through all the displays. The event was so popular I was in awe at how hard everyone was working to make everything run smoothly. The shop was buzzing and everyone had a super time. Kim even had time to show me the latest collection of waistcoats.
It was lovely seeing Jackie and Jaq again, both looking great. In fact seeing Jaq trying on a gorgeous linen coat prompted me to try it on myself and I ended up buying one! I am also delighted with the gorgeous Verpass and Nanso summer tops purchased. I can’t wait for the sun to start shining so that I can wear them.
Thank you again for your generosity and hospitality; it really was a fabulous day.


 Kim P    Sunday 13 April 2014 at 14:53

Just putting my purchases away and I didn't buy a Nanso top at all, it was KJ Brand haha! I'm not very good with labels, the "Verpass" tops I was talking to you about yesterday were NP! Never mind, whatever the label they are gorgeous tops.


 Emma    Tuesday 15 April 2014 at 11:14

H Kim,

Thank you so much for your lovely comments. Yes, I am still recovering from the weekend, which was amazing.

I can't help feeling that we should have a birthday party every year!

I'm so glad that you found some lovely items: yes, I do think it's the best ever summer season. The colours this year are unique and beautiful.

I am looking forward to-perhaps not the next 20 years: that may be a bit too much, even for me-the next 10 years of Emma Plus!


Emma    Saturday 25 January 2014 at 17:00

 Post #384 

Subject: Task Versus Job

Here I am again, contemplating my new buying season. By the end of next week, I will be up to my ears in buying our stock for Autumn/Winter 2014. The last moment before I see the new collections is always an expectant time for me, and one during which I try to think about my priorities.

If I want to really analyse what it is that my customers want, I had better do so before I go and look at the collections. This is because I am a girlie, meaning that, once I have had a glimpse of all the gorgeous, shiny new things, thoughts from before will be gone from my head. And once they have gone, they will not be coming back!

However, I do believe that if I see lovely things that surprise and delight me, and completely take over my desires, I may as well simply buy them, and forget all about the specifics of what I thought I was looking for. This would be because, if the new styles have had that effect on me, then they are bound to have the same one on my clients.

To express it as an example, let’s say that I have a customer - shall we call her Ms Smith? - who is looking for a dark grey sensible business suit. You know the kind of thing: a flat, workaday woven fabric, in a colour that’s practical, with a simple, practical cut. I promise that I will try to find her one, and I go out to look for something along those lines.

As soon as I take one look at the collections, however, I am blown away by a gorgeous trouser suit in a delicious soft tweed in a midnight blue colour, in a modern style that oozes sophistication. So this is what I buy. When Ms Smith comes into our store, what do you suppose would normally happen? Well, all my experience would tell me what to expect. This would be that she would walk in the door and ask me whether I was able to source her the grey suit she had been seeking. When I tell her I had found her something else entirely, there would be a frisson of disappointment that crosses her face. Yet when I show her the beautiful midnight blue soft tweed, a look of ecstasy would sweep from ear to ear.

Of course, it’s arguable that perhaps I should source the customer that workaday suit anyway, just to be on the safe side. However, my passion tells me that, once she has seen the gorgeous new design, that will be what she opts for every time.

I was trained that, in every occupation one should remember what is your job, and what is your task. And then you should always emphasise that your job should take precedence over your task. In this example, my task is to find Ms Smith a grey, workaday business suit. I don’t denigrate the task: it’s a very important thing to try not to let my customers down, and to take seriously my promises to them. However, my job is to find Ms Smith something that she loves, and help her style herself in a way that seriously enhances her life. This job must always take precedence over any task.

All I have to do really is look forward with hope and expectation that the designers will have found things that will delight and surprise me.

I am looking for things that are life-enhancing, and they haven’t let me down before.


 Kim P    Thursday 30 January 2014 at 22:13

This is where independent specialist retailers who know their customers come into their own. Good luck with the buying decisions, there will be nothing drab ordered I'm sure!


Emma    Thursday 03 October 2013 at 11:55

 Post #370 

Subject: Tribal fashion

While preparing for next week’s Emma Plus Fashion Show (taking place, of course, at the store in Brighton on 12 October at 2.00pm), I found myself cogitating on the subject of ‘fashion tribes’.

There is no shame in not knowing what a fashion tribe is (in fact, I almost think less of myself because I know about this kind of thing). To the uninitiated the term refers to the different groups that most fashion-conscious women fall into when developing their style.

One very common tribe among plus-size women is the ‘Medieval Robe’ dresser. You may not have consciously noticed this kind of woman, but chances are that you have seen her. In the summer she wears almost full-length linen dresses with long coat-like jackets over the top. Trousers are always full and tops rarely finish above the knee. She loves handkerchief hems, often with the pointed edges of her tops almost scraping the pavement as she swishes along. In the winter she will often wear knitted serapes and long knitted jumpers with huge cowl necks - and she teams it all with scarves and snoods. Colours are purple, beige, terracotta and mustard.

A close 'relative' of hers (although both would be horrified to hear me say this) is the ‘Japanese Modernist’. She wears ‘architectural’ clothes, with a futuristic twist. In the summer she will wear heavily textured linen (almost seersucker), often cut into asymmetric shapes. She may well have a long sleeve on one arm, and an elongated collar hanging over the other. One side of her outfit looks like a dress, the other side rises to reveal a trouser leg. What she shares with the ‘Medieval Robe’ woman is an unwillingness to display her body; clothes drape and flow around the physique creating ambiguity. Colours are strict: black, white, beige and red are the only shades allowed under any circumstances. She will often top-off her outfit with a severe pair of spectacles.

At the other end of the scale for dressing is the ‘Yummy Mummy’. She is usually in her thirties or forties, and lives a very busy life. There is no way in the world she would have time and space to cope with a robe, or a long collar dangling over one elbow. Her clothes are pretty, but incredibly practical. In the summer she wears a cotton jersey dress teamed with a pair of cut-off leggings. A cheerful print with a splash of colour (often picked up in her jolly choice of shoes - usually Fitflops or Crocks - or a colourful handbag) never goes amiss. In the winter she will wear skinny jeans teamed with a colourful knit and waterproof jacket, plus ankle boots. She is eclectic with her colours; she wants to wear what suits her, but she has a penchant for spots and Breton-style stripes.

Among my customers are a disproportionate number of ‘Luxe Euro’ women. These are ladies of impeccable taste. They abhor what they refer to as ‘shapeless’ clothes (there is no overlap whatsoever with the ‘Japanese Modernist’ or ‘Medieval Robe’ women), and they are obsessed with the tactile quality of garments. They can smell quality from ten yards, and their fingertips can detect cashmere while they are still several millimetres above the fabric. They will not buy anything unless it fits to a T. Not all these women possess the financial resources which you would expect to facilitate this kind of taste, but no matter... they simply become past-masters at sniffing out the truly gorgeous bargains, and they buy clothes that give them a lot of use. In the summer they will often wear a high-quality linen blouse, teamed with impeccably cut, toning trousers. In the winter they will emerge with the most gorgeous Italian cashmere winter coats known to mankind, teamed with printed silk scarves. Many of these women prefer the Italian palette: navy, beige, red, charcoal, pale grey and bright coral.

I could go on all day (there are so many different types), but I have a Fashion Show to arrange... Hopefully, it will hold something for all those who attend - whatever their particular fashion tribe.


 Kim P    Friday 04 October 2013 at 23:22

Hopefully Kim will be modelling for the Waistcoat tribe!


 Emma    Saturday 05 October 2013 at 15:04

Hi Kim

Funnily enough, this is the waistcoat that Kim is going to get!


Emma    Saturday 22 June 2013 at 17:08

 Post #359 

Subject: Hot tips

I have reached that very delicate time of year: when I prepare for my annual holiday. I will be going away very soon and, like all fashion-obsessed people, I am spending the week or so before my journey thinking about what I am going to pack.

I’m staying in England - travelling up to gorgeous East Anglia - so this makes the decision potentially troubling. The big problem is weather. If we, like most other countries, had climate rather than weather I would find it relatively easy to know what to slip into my case. If I were, for instance, going to Australia in the summer (and I have done this in the past), I would know to bring all manner of warm-weather attire. The difference in temperature between the hottest day and the coldest may be as extreme as it is in this country (it was when I was there), but only insofar as it was always hot. The temperature ranged from warm, pleasantly warm, warmer than warm, hot, unpleasantly hot, to searing. Like most plus–sized women, once I was in my ‘hot weather’ attire, there was nowhere else I could go, wardrobe-wise. If I had been a teeny little woman I may have worn, on the coolest days, a fresh summer dress with a little jacket over the top, and on the very hottest days I may have reached into the bottommost-recesses of my case and picked out a pair of high-cut hot pants, and teamed them with a bikini top. Let’s just say this is not going to happen for me. On the coolest days I would wear that little dress and jacket, and on the hottest I would probably take the jacket off.

So packing for a particular climate is easy, and for us plus-size women reasonably uncomplicated. However, all bets are off when you are talking about the mixed bag of weather that we enjoy here in the UK. It’s quite possible that, in one week, I could experience a heat wave (on previous visits to East Anglia it has been 30 degrees, which for me counts as one), a rainstorm (there actually was a genuine tornado in Southwold while we were there once), perishingly cold (the wind comes straight across the sea from Siberia), drought (I saw a dust-devil storm in the countryside), and just about everything in between.

One of the main problems is prediction. It may be very hot on one day, or all week (necessitating many changes of clothes). It may be cold every day (meaning that the little jumper thrown casually into the case becomes the one everyday staple and I spend the entire week in it). The rain may be incessant. (On one notorious UK holiday I spent the whole week either in the rain becoming soaked, or in various teashops drying out. One day I realised that everything I had with me was soaked through, so I hit upon the ‘bright’ idea of finding a launderette and putting it all into the dryer. The deadly combination of spending days whiling away the hours in a cake-infested area, and having my clothes tumble-dried in temperatures they had never been exposed to before, led to a situation where everything was suddenly too small for me! It was not a happy time.)

However, even with all these considerable difficulties I know that I will be able to pack well and effectively. You don’t go on as many UK holidays as I have without building up a certain amount of expertise! So here is my list of vital UK holiday clothing:
  • Pair of shorts/cropped trousers

  • Pair of jeans/casual trousers

  • Pair of smart trousers

  • Casual day dress

  • Smart casual dress

  • Evening dress (not too dressy)

  • Shrug

  • Couple of casual T-shirts

  • Couple of smart/casual tops

  • Couple of blouses both casual and smart/casual

  • Couple of very pretty tops

  • Evening blouse

  • Swimsuit

  • Sarong

  • Rain jacket/coat

  • Casual jacket

  • Smart jacket

  • Scarf/light shawl (pretty cotton)

  • Jumper or knitted jacket.

As a fashion professional I could tell you that bringing these functional and pretty clothes with me is the only reason why I have a lovely holiday. But this would be a lie. I have a wonderful holiday because the UK is fabulous, and there are always lots of things to do and see!

However, knowing that I have brought the right clothing with me to help me to relax, feel attractive and confident about my look in an effortless way certainly doesn’t do any harm!


Emma    Saturday 18 May 2013 at 10:57

 Post #357 

Subject: The times they are a-changing...

The times have changed quite considerably since I first opened Emma Plus. In those days we tended to sell clothes to women in our own immediate area. No-one spent more than, say, half-an-hour’s travelling time to buy clothes. We sold to women in and around Brighton, with the odd person coming from the rest of Sussex.

This localised selling happened in all regions of the country, and had two detrimental effects on plus-size designer fashion. The first was that the shops that existed in those days were kept artificially small. ‘Bonsai’ shops, I call them. Because we didn’t have very many customers, we could only buy a small amount of stock. Because we only had quite a small and limited range, it really wasn’t worth a woman investing her time and effort travelling some distance to get here (in fact, when someone who lived far away from us telephoned, asking whether it would be worth her while travelling, we would usually advise her not to do so; it wasn’t that we didn’t believe in our stock; it was just that, after taking half the day to get here, a customer would generally prefer to have a choice of, say, more than two bottom halves, three tops, one dress and a coat in her size!). This, as you can imagine, was a vicious circle.

The other detrimental effect on plus-size fashion was a lot worse. Twenty years ago there really was very little product available in the size range that we cater for. Buying online had not been invented, catalogue selling tended to be quite abysmal, and many weren’t lucky enough to live in the catchment area of a designer plus-size store. The high street just had a tiny selection, mainly from one particular chain, whose offer was very unimaginative. The result was that most plus-size women, unless they were gifted designer/seamstresses in their own right, looked under-par most of the time. People don’t remember this now, but it was an accepted fact that plus-size women looked a lot older than their real age, less stylish, and almost completely sexless. If the plus-size woman of today could see the kind of offer that we were presented with in those days, there would be a riot. I think that even those of us who lived through that time hardly believe it now.

Clearly, how you present yourself has a great impact on your social standing and personal confidence. When it was difficult to find clothing that accurately represented how you felt about yourself, and how you perceived your social standing, it was very detrimental. For example, I was told this story by one of my customers that illustrates my point... She was a highly successful businesswoman and mother of young children. Her work was brilliant, and her company had reached the stage where it was going to be floated on the Stock Exchange. Unfortunately, as a busy woman with a family, she had very little time to travel the country trying to find the clothing that she really wanted. Instead, she bought everything on the high street, which created a look she didn’t feel happy with, but she tried to convince herself that it wasn’t important. Surely, it was her professionalism and knowledge that was most significant in the boardroom, not the way she presented herself?

One day she had to go to the City to discuss the floatation. She walked into a room to meet with several ‘men in suits’ for the first time. As she entered, and approached the table, several of them looked up and, assuming that she was the cleaner, asked her to tidy up part of the room ‘before the client arrived’. She was humiliated, and understandably felt very undermined. It’s very difficult, even for a confident person, to come back from that kind of start to a meeting! She vowed that, no matter how much effort it took, she was going to present herself in the way she felt comfortable with in future.

To say that the impact of the internet has had unexpected consequences in almost every walk of life is something of an understatement. I, for one, never really anticipated how it was going to affect my industry. For the first time we can now get national recognition for what we do, and encourage more and more women to come into our store to buy from us. Today, if a customer telephones and asks whether it is worthwhile travelling to get to us, no matter how far they were contemplating, I wouldn’t hesitate to say yes. Occasionally, women ask if it would be worth their while undertaking a two-hour trip, and these days I am quite bewildered... Two hours? Why, of course, that’s no distance!

This has meant that our stockholding has increased exponentially, and we find that we have more beautiful clothes in a wider variety of sizes and in greater quantity than ever before. And what is being offered to us by the designers is getting ever more exciting and gorgeous. For about 10 years I found myself saying ‘wow... this is the best season ever’, with a tone of surprise every season. Now I understand the mechanism of how our industry works I take this situation as a given. Of course it’s the best season ever, every time! It would be a bit of a let-down if it wasn’t, considering the reasons why the industry should be improving year on year.

The next aspect of the internet revolution has also got into swing... the empowerment of the customer. Nowadays, bloggers and reviewers are trying to take some of the bother out of all this travelling. They are aiming to find out everything they can about the plus-size shops out there, and to give recommendations, warnings, and general feedback - not only to the store owners, but to the customers who can then have an informed choice as to whether they wish to get into their car or on to the train, and trek to a shop that may be some distance away.

This is a democratic development; hopefully we will now see the real power of the consumer. The shops that are worth visiting will get more popular, and those offering a disappointing product or service will either have to shape up, or will go. I strongly believe we should welcome the ‘Trip Advisors’ of this world, and encourage the bloggers and reviewers out there. We can’t blindly accept what they are saying, but I do think they will have a vital part to play in the future.

This is why I was so delighted to see that one of the most popular plus-size bloggers, Boombands Em (pictured, above right, with Anna Scholz and me), had written such a generous and enthusiastic review of our recent ASD (http://boombands.blogspot.co.uk/2013/05/emma-plus-at-brighton.html) on her blog, and Tweeted about us, too.

I’m very grateful; I don’t think many folk realise just what a hugely positive influence on our industry people like Em have, and how much we can all benefit from it.


Emma    Thursday 02 May 2013 at 11:54

 Post #354 

Subject: Anna Scholz Day #3

We are still both high and exhausted after our Anna Scholz Day on Saturday. Having had these days before (this was our third ASD), we thought we knew what to expect. On the day of the event the shop looks very different after the special delivery of Anna Scholz items has arrived, and it feels different, too: it’s very unusual for all of the women who work here to be present, all at one time. There is always a buzz as we gird up our loins for the busy day ahead.

At the beginning of the day, before we are open, there is a pregnant pause. We gather together to have an early morning coffee, and to examine our handiwork. The shop floor looks great, with the Anna Scholz collection providing a riot of summer colour, and new shop floor displays created to showcase the event. The window display has been carefully devised to give maximum impact. The dainty nibbles (courtesy of John Lewis) are ready on their plates, and the fruit punch is already in its bowl. All the decks are cleared, and the pin-cushions are stuck full of pins. Outside, the sun shines brightly.

Then it’s opening time... We turn the ‘open’ sign on the door, and the key in the lock. And almost instantly the shop is full of people. Within minutes you can hear the laughing and the giggling. People are trying on colours and looks that they have always wanted to try, but they just didn’t KNOW they wanted to try them! Women move in and out of the changing rooms - a kaleidoscope of colour and pattern.

The day goes in a whirl. This particular ASD was the busiest yet. Personally, I had no time to think about anything for about seven hours: it is a kind of meditative experience. I am lost in the moment, and my head is cleared of everything except what is in front of me. Not being at all sporty, I guess this is what it must feel like to compete in a sporting event. I actually think this kind of thing is good for me (and the other members of staff) psychologically. I am certain it is very good for our customers, who, quite clearly, are having a blast.

At the end of the day we have waved Anna and Darren off, sat back down on our sofa, almost too tired to start on the journey home. And we all feel happy and grateful that we work in such a lovely job.


Emma    Saturday 20 April 2013 at 16:14

 Post #353 

Subject: Anna Scholz

I have been cogitating on the designer, Anna Scholz. Not surprising, because next week we are hosting our third Anna Scholz Day on Saturday 27th April, where the designer herself will visit our store, meet her customers and bring much of her range with her.

It’s always a great day. We have lots of scrummy nibbles and drinks, oodles of fantastic Anna Scholz clothes, loads of happy customers and, of course, the lady herself - a beautiful, charismatic presence.

Many times I have had people ask me why I love Anna Scholz and her oeuvre so much. In order to explain this phenomenon I will have to go back to the beginning...

I started working at this store 23 years ago. It was then, just as it is now, a proper plus-size shop. When I say ‘proper’, I mean that it has never been one of those irritating shops that call themselves ‘plus size’ but start at a size 12 (why?) and go all the way up to a size 22 (surely, this doesn’t even count as a plus-size these days?). When I first came here we stocked fashions from a size 16 up to a size 26; nowadays we stock mainly between size 20 and 32.

Back then, it was very difficult to find really lovely clothing in those ‘proper’ plus sizes. The main reason was good old-fashioned prejudice. Against all the available evidence it seemed that our own plus-size industry had decided a number of things about its customers. It had decided that we were elderly (or middle-aged in a particularly frumpy way). It had decided that we were dowdy (dull and lacklustre). It had decided we were sexless (heaven forbid that we showed a bit of femininity). It had decided we were shapeless and wanted nothing more than cover-ups. We were supposed to lack the energy to bother about fabric care (there was a disproportionate amount of ‘drip-dry’ clothes). We weren’t prepared to spend on our clothing. And, more than anything else, we hated colour.

I’m not saying that it was impossible to find lovely clothes back then. It was just very, very difficult. And they were few and far between. It was a difficult time for our shop.

I will never forget the first time I saw Anna’s collection. It was at the huge clothes fair that used to take place at the NEC in Birmingham and it was in February 1994. I had seen a picture of one of her dresses, and I had already decided that I was going to look her up if I got the chance. I walked on to her stand at the exhibition, and the rest is history: my shop has never been without an Anna Scholz garment from that day to this.

Anna (as far as I know) was the first plus-size woman to have her own fashion line, and it showed. She didn’t need anyone else to tell her what larger women wanted. She was young, vibrant, attractive, driven, enthusiastic, uncompromising, skilful, and anything but apologetic about her size (she is still all of these things). Her clothes were a revelation, and we couldn’t get enough of them.

Looking around today it’s easy to think that she is just one among many designers producing fashion-forward, sexy, joyful, colourful clothes. Yet she was the first, and still the best. And she has been a powerhouse, turning out fabulous items that have been a joy to consumers and an education to our industry for the past almost two decades.


 Kim P    Wednesday 24 April 2013 at 18:43

I hope everyone has a great day on Saturday, so many beautiful designs to choose from! They are always great fun and I am sad to be missing it.


 Emma    Thursday 25 April 2013 at 13:18

Hi Kim

Thank you very much... We're sorry you can't make it.

We've already had the delivery in and we're trying it all on, stomping up and down, pouting, squatting, swinging our hair around and posing girlishly - just like the models in the photograph!

Emma    Tuesday 02 April 2013 at 17:22

 Post #346 

Subject: Idealism

I was going through the airport duty free section when I noticed an advertisement for a new type of foundation. I had wandered into the cosmetics department, looking for some top-ups for my make-up bag. It pleased me greatly to see this new formulation, which offered what seemed an almost limitless number of different shades. Gone are the days, it seems, when there were only three or four shades of human skin that warranted matching make-up. A few years ago only some lucky women were ‘worth that’ it seemed.

However, I have always known that, whatever the range, even if there are a thousand different shades of foundation on offer, I will need to have either colour number 1 (the absolute palest) in the winter, or number 2 (after I have a particularly impressive tan at the end of the summer). Yes, I really am that deathly pale!

I think it is a generally accepted fact that any skin looks a bit better with a bit of melanin in it, but I am happy to accept my ‘shortcomings’, just as I accept the fact that I do not have a waist. When I was younger, I was annoyed with my faults, but I have long ‘forgiven’ my body for not being exactly what I would like it to be.

I remember listening to a record as a child that suggested that the world would be a much better place if it comprised ‘one big melting pot, turning out coffee-coloured people by the score’. I was appalled. Of course, if there were such a scenario, then I (and my snow-white legs) would personally have a lot to gain, but I felt, even as a young child, that the world would be greatly impoverished in the process.

It seems to me that there are forces always at work that try to cajole us either into all being the same or into feeling ashamed or inferior because of our diversity. Women with whiter than white skin like mine often slap on layers of self-tan, even while some of our sisters bleach their skin to try to achieve that elusive café-au-lait beauty. Some women try to straighten their hair, and, for hundreds of years, some have squeezed their figures with corsets in the course of giving themselves the required body shape.

Actually, I think these forces are very strong, have always been there, and are probably more powerful today than they have ever been. We are continually subliminally (and sometimes not so subliminally) told we have to have one type of hair, to be a certain age, a particular height, a type of body shape, no more than a maximum weight, and yes, a certain shade of skin. If you are any different from this then you are a failure, and you cannot ever achieve beauty.

Maybe it’s just because I am a contrary type of gal, or perhaps it is because I have never personally fitted into to these ‘ideals’, that I have never accepted them. Or maybe it’s because I have observed that they have absolutely nothing to do with actual beauty. They are just a form of bullying. If you don’t believe me, I can prove it... Just sit in a coffee shop and watch the people going past. Look at their faces, their bodies, and their general appearance. Men and women; I defy you to really try to tell me that it is only those who fit into the accepted cultural norms of attractiveness (those rules about height and weight, colouring, body shape etc.) who are beautiful.

I refuse to feel badly about myself, just because my legs could be used as beacons, warning sailors not to crash on the rocks. Nor do I feel particularly ashamed because my measurements are more or less all the same - all the way down my body - so that I am always in danger of my skirt falling around my ankles.

When women come into my shop I often see a strange phenomenon. I see beautiful women dressing as if they think they are plain. When you talk to these customers they often say that they strongly believe that they are not attractive. It seems odd, because it’s hard to understand how they can avoid having noticed how lovely they look. Don’t they have a mirror? I cannot always change their point of view, but, by golly, I can provide them with the clothes they need to dress to their best.

I strongly believe in the beauty of the diversity of human beings. No matter how strongly the forces that try to shape us all in the same mould (and try to make us feel inferior if we don’t ‘shape up’) press down on us, I will do my best to make my store a haven from those pressures.

It’s my belief that is what a plus-size store should be. Because if it isn’t about this, what on earth is it for?


 Kim P    Thursday 04 April 2013 at 16:31

Well said Emma!

BTW, those two lovely grey dresses I bought for work are a great success. Had several compliments and I am so pleased I was lucky to be able to get them both. Thank you!


 Emma    Friday 05 April 2013 at 11:08

Thanks, Kim!

You looked fab in those dresses: so glad you got them!

Looking forward to seeing you on the ASD!?


 Kim P    Wednesday 10 April 2013 at 18:06

Sadly can't now do the ASD but our conference is in Brighton again this June so will be sure to pop in then!


Emma    Monday 04 March 2013 at 23:17

 Post #344 

Subject: Anna Scholz A/W 2013

I think that regular readers of this blog will already know what this post is going to be about... More than anything else, I am a creature of habit, so it can be predicted with some certainty that once my buying has finished I will be turning over in my mind thoughts about my favourite designer, and putting pen to paper (or fingers to keyboard).

Of course, it is always exciting to see the Anna Scholz collection every season. She, more than any other designer, is the inspiration for much of what we try to do at our shop. I like unapologetic, celebratory clothes, that are fashion forward, sexy, self-confident and joyful. I want fashion that is well-cut, flattering, colourful, creative and original. Of course, I get these qualities from the other design houses that we stock (I wouldn’t bother to buy from them if I didn't), but it is Anna Scholz that takes all of these qualities in each season and runs with them. She is the only collection that I have stocked continuously from the time that both she and I first started our businesses.

So it is always with a feeling of anticipation that I go along to my buying session in her large, airy rooms in London. I have never come away disappointed... but some times I come away angry. And this was one of those times.

Perhaps I should reassure readers that my anger didn’t stem from any kind of disagreement. Anna and I did not have a spat over whether orange or teal was the colour du jour. Nor did her right-hand man Darren spill coffee in my lap. And her little pooch, Frieda, did not shed dog hairs on my Alpaca coat. No, this was a completely different kind of anger.

I have mentioned before in my blogs that I can get very cross indeed when I am buying, and I particularly love what I see. I am like a spoilt girl (Violet-Elizabeth Bott, from the Just William books, I think). I see something I really love, and I just want it. I want it now! This is how I felt with several items in the latest Anna Scholz collection.

Just walking in the door, my eye fell on a lovely leather jacket that was softly calling to me. It was gorgeous: a typical Anna Scholz cut with all the designer trimmings and more, plus a really beautiful fit. Available in black or crushed raspberry, it was a real, classic leather jacket, zipped and tailored, but with fabulous fashion-forward detailing on the shoulders.

How I would have loved to have walked out of her showroom right then wearing it. To be honest, I would really like to be wearing it right now. I don’t think I would ever want to take it off. Sadly, I had to say goodbye to it, and wait six more months before I even see it at again - because, of course, this was the Anna Scholz Autumn/Winter 2013 collection. I will have to wait what will seem an eternity before I can get that jacket. Gggggrrrrrrr.

Leather did seem to be the icing on the cake of many of her designs for the autumn. I particularly loved a little boiled wool coat with faux leather trim and sleeves, which I would want to wear over one of her new tunic dresses. There is one, in particular, with a small herringbone tweed that would combine into a kind of twin-set, for wearing either with opaque black tights (and which would look super with little boots) or leggings (see picture).

Anna had devised a whole forest of these tunic dresses. I fell in love with several - including a gorgeous georgette layered one in black, which would look very sophisticated for an evening do. Another had a subtle geometric print, and a line of sequins running down the front. They felt so girly, and yet also so grown-up and sassy.

As ever, there were plenty of Anna's lovely signature stretch silk dresses, in different lengths and prints, and all manner of beautiful tops. More and more I am noticing little tunics, both as tops and as dresses.

The colours were black, olive, pink, lime, teal and purple - while the looks were both retro and modern. The fabrics were her stretch silks, leather (both faux and real), tweed, boiled wool, and various jerseys.

I will try to put any frustration to the back of my mind, however, because we have the Spring/Summer Anna Scholz collection in our store right now. And it is a dream! In reality six months will pass in the blink of an eye, which is about as much time as it will take me to lay claim to the leather jacket when it's delivered.


Amanda    Monday 25 February 2013 at 18:07

 Post #341 

Subject: Why can't there be a happy medium?

Hi Emma,

I enjoy reading your well written Blog and often agree with your take on plus-size fashion as we seem to share a passion for Anna Scholz clothes. I've been reassessing my buying habits lately as the AS collection is so expensive, especially the tailoring pieces. I'm not saying they're not worth it - just sometimes out of reach. There is something to be said for the every day pieces that perk up your wardrobe and don't mind a daily wash, not everything can be top-end. However, it does spoil you for the alternatives when the cut of Anna's clothes is sooo flattering. So why can't there be a happy medium, a well cut top in a poly fabric instead of silk for example? It still feels as if we're grubbing around trying to find the same buying opportunities as the rest of the market - ho-hum.


 Emma    Monday 25 February 2013 at 19:06

Hi Amanda,

Thank you for your kind words, and for your interesting post. As ever with the best posts, the discussion resulting from it becomes quite complicated relatively rapidly.

When it comes to Anna Scholz clothes in particular (and, in fact, designer clothes in general) we at Emma Plus only sell the medium to high end of the range. This is mainly because it would be economic suicide for us to try to compete with the very large retail concerns that are able to throw their weight around in the more-reasonably priced end of the marketplace.

For example, if I were to try to stock a jacket of my own devising, deliberately designed to be a very economical piece, I would pick, say, a very modest well-priced simple cut, in an everyday fabric. I would approach a manufacturer to produce my idea. Sadly, as I am only a small concern, I would probably only be able to ask the manufacturer for, at most, twelve of those jackets (in assorted colours). If the factory was only selling to me, they wouldn’t dream of just making 12 garments (unless I were to pay to have each individually made by a seamstress, which would put them easily into the Anna Scholz price range). The factory would only be able to sell me those 12 jackets if someone else was buying the other 188 (or however many they would need for a run). There are not enough small independent stores in this country to fulfil that order, so the factory would have to approach the large companies, like Simply Be or Evans.

If a large company became interested in the item, it would probably be able to order hundreds of them, but would, in all likelihood, demand a huge discount from the factory. They would then be able to sell that piece at a lower price than I could manage. By this stage, the jacket would be virtually unrecognisable from my original plan: a far lower quality than I would want to stock anyway, because any of the large companies would demand changes, resulting in the type of product that we all complain about. Actually, this everyday jacket would have become the very type of garment that Emma Plus was set up to offer an alternative to. On present form, this would mean tawdry fabric, boring, frumpy styling, bad cut and depressing colours.

In my opinion, there is one main problem in the plus-size womenswear market. It isn’t that stores like ours don’t sell more affordable clothes. We are a designer shop, and if we were a mainstream-size designer-wear store, no-one would be wishing us to sell more everyday affordable clothes. People would simply see us as part of the wide tapestry of clothing that is available. Yes, our clothes are meant for every woman, but perhaps not for every day.

The problem is clearly the complete dearth of middle-price plus-sized clothing. In order for this kind of clothing to be available, it would have to be provided by big companies (for the reason I have outlined with my example of the jacket). It is a national disgrace that we, the plus-size female consumer, can buy the kind of clothes available in Evans (roughly equivalent to BHS), but cannot buy clothes equivalent to, say, Cos, Hobbs, Jaeger, Karen Millen, Jigsaw, or any of hundreds of stylish, tailored middle-range clothing that is available to the mainstream sized woman. Why is this? This is not a rhetorical question. I really mean it: for heaven’s sake, why is this? Surely, there are way enough plus-size women in this country to make such a concern a great success. I will state here and now: if there is someone out there wishing to start one up, I would be happy to offer my services as a consultant.

I would also expect some of the very best designers, like Anna Scholz, to jump at the chance to design for such a store, which would broaden their customer base, and make interesting, exciting, and well-designed clothing available for every woman, every day.

By now, Amanda, you may be wishing you hadn’t raised this subject with me: as you can tell, it is something of a bug-bear to me, and it does tend to raise my blood pressure! But I am very grateful you mentioned it, and gave me the excuse to get onto my hobby-horse about it yet again!


 Amanda    Tuesday 26 February 2013 at 16:32

All I can say is here-here! I totally agree. My particular bug-bear is good jeans now that Jessica Svoboda has thrown the towel in. I even spoke to Winnie about it at AS (she's a treasure) and she explained much the same conundrum to me as you have with the jacket. Have the fashion industry really missed a trick or is there no market for it as it's hard to imagine that no budding entrepreneur (maybe of the curvy variety) would have plugged the market?


 Emma    Wednesday 27 February 2013 at 10:47

Hi Amanda,

I think you have hit the nail on the head there! In my opinion, jeans are the best prime example of why plus-size women need actual shops, positioned in actual space in order to try them on! We have loads of lovely jeans, but as yet I am not thinking of trying to sell them online, because usually a new customer has to have a jolly good trying on session before both she and we know what are the correct jeans for her.

Jeans are so complicated that we have to stock loads, in all different shapes. We range from Elena Miro snug ones, NYDJ high waisted, NP (every different shape you can name, tending to be snug on the thigh), Brand (an assortment of different styles, particularly good for the larger-thighed woman), and so on.

I do believe that the high street is crying out for a shop that sells this kind of thing: completely different from the flaccid, cheap one-shape-fits-all jeans that are available online in the main.


Emma    Wednesday 20 February 2013 at 18:28

 Post #340 

Subject: Future shock?

Customers particularly interested in fashion will probably already know that London Fashion Week is happening at the moment. It’s existed since 1984, and is a well-established date on the international calendar of the clothing industry, providing a platform for fashion designers to show their wares in the UK.

What has never been provided within this event, however, is any kind of platform specifically for the plus-size fashion business. So I was fascinated to hear that this was the inaugural year for the British Plus Size Fashion Weekend, founded by renowned plus-size blogger Remi Ray, and timed to coincide with the beginning of Fashion Week.

I decided to make the pilgrimage to Shoreditch Town Hall, a mid-Victorian monolith of a building, whose shabby-chic interior offered an impressive backdrop to the event. I am used to going to the kind of industry happenings that are for insiders only - basically buying events strictly for doing business. In the kind of fashion shows that I have been attending for the past 20 years, the public is certainly not entertained. They tend to be non-controversial, rather swish occasions set in plush environments, comfortably insulated from the outside world.

This new show exploded on to Shoreditch with an unashamed enthusiasm, energy, and overt point of view that I have never experienced before.

My day there began when I arrived mid-afternoon, and joined the throng of women looking over the sponsor’s stands. I was interested to see the range of clothing of the kind that we wouldn’t normally sell in our store. These are clothes, in the main, sold directly to the customer, either through small independents online, or with the large retailers like Simply Be or Evans. It fascinates me to see the difference between the kind of fashion they provide for an event like this (which showcases the designer-led capsules that they would bring to a full-on fashion affair), and their mainstream clothing.

The main part of the big plus-size retailers’ offer is relatively pedestrian, but when the big companies go in for designer fashion it is very youthful. The quality is low, and this complements the particular type of edgy fashion, which is possibly only intended to last a single season. There is a vibrancy and excitement about the styles which is infectious. However, I can’t help feeling that a store owner like me had better tread carefully, and not be too seduced by the youthful enthusiasm of the looks. The kind of woman who buys a pair of silver leggings, and teams them with a cropped top, or pops a transparent chiffon cape over a bra and hot pants, is unlikely to purchase such items in my store!

It was during the fantastic catwalk show later that evening that this miss-match between different plus-size fashion aesthetics became most evident. It really was wonderful to see a proper plus-size catwalk show. Having been to too many fashion shows even to begin to count, over too many years to admit, I can honestly say I have never seen one before. Yes, I have seen shows that have a few plus-size women here and there, and I have seen ‘mainstream’ fashion shows that have a section for a plus-size designer. Online, I have watched the lovely Elena Miro catwalk shows in Milan, but this is the very first show I have witnessed myself, and it was a revelation.

Designer Anna Scholz’s clothes were there (see picture), and her collection was truly superb. I would argue that she knocked all other designers out of the park with her offer. However, that is just my opinion, and she represented just one end of a very diverse spectrum.

I have always believed that women who take the time and effort (and spend the money!) to shop in a store like mine, wish to purchase something that they will get a lot of use from. So I have tried to avoid flash-in-the-pan styling, no matter how inviting it might appear at first sight. This is because our clothes are made to last and to treasure, and it would be a shame if the style dated after one or two seasons.

I have also always thought (and my thinking was so ingrained that I have to confess that I simply took it as a given) that our clothes should be flattering, and that they should make the most of our assets, whilst unashamedly hiding our weaker points. This, more than anything is what we stand for, and where a designer like Anna Scholz takes prominence.

Looking at the different kinds of fashion on the catwalk, however, I was struck by the fact that my own views are just that: views. They are there to be disagreed with. If this show is to be taken literally, there is seemingly a huge wave of young, large women charging forward into the future with a whole different aesthetic. They want style, and they don’t care if they show off their bodies. They want looks, and they don’t care if they last. They want fashion, and they want it in quantity. They want it now, and they don’t intend to save up for it. They want what they want, and they don’t mind whether they look thinner of fatter wearing it. If you have a problem with their clothing not looking flattering enough, then it is your problem, not theirs. They have attitude and not a little courage.

There is an argument that what is seen on the catwalk should never be taken literally. The looks are designed to be controversial and argumentative. However, these weren’t haute couture catwalk looks: they were all commercially produced items that someone out there is selling.

I’m still digesting this new information. It has yet to be shown whether this is something that I am going to have to take on board in the future.

One thing is certain: it did me good to be drawn out of my comfort zone and to see a different point of view.


 natashasimpson    Thursday 06 June 2013 at 09:33

Wow amazing size plus fashion.
Sounds like amazing.
Dressing sense is amazing like from excel clothing....!!!


Emma    Thursday 10 January 2013 at 18:08

 Post #330 

Subject: Game for a laugh

I think there are two basic kinds of humour, and a couple of ways they can be described. Some people call them 'intentional' and 'unintentional', but I guess I am a bit more brutal when I refer to them as 'laughing' and 'being laughed at'.

This is particularly true in the world of fashion. Sometimes the doubt about whether the originator of the humour is doing it on purpose or not becomes so acute that the situation is almost intolerable. That’s one of the reasons why I try to avoid too much humour in my own fashion life.

I remember my old boss delivering new stock into the shop some years ago. I was busy tearing open some of the bags, revealing the gorgeous German knitwear, when she casually remarked that she had ‘only bought one of a particular style of jumper, because it probably wasn't to everybody’s taste’.

I knew instantly which jumper she was talking about. It was a lovely soft grey knit... but appliqued on to the front was the picture of an elephant in realistic detail. For some reason - even by looking at it for only an instant - I already knew what was on the back, and I slowly turned it round, dreading what I was going to see (my boss had an lively sense of humour). Yes, it was the rear end of the elephant, rendered in perfect detail. I could only imagine how these nether regions would sway elegantly from side to side as the wearer walked away.

I'll be honest: I was flabbergasted. I knew that many of my customers had the most superb sense of humour. Working here is often a hilarious experience. But, although I would hate to think that I take myself too seriously, there is a line over which I would not wish to tread. Surely, wearing a wrinkly elephant’s bottom over my real (perfectly un-wrinkled derriere, of course!) would be my own personal – ahem - bottom line. As a larger woman, perhaps I am a little over-sensitive about these things.

Sadly I put the elephant jumper out on to the shop floor. In my mind I already knew the life-history of that jumper. It would hang in the shop, and women would come in and admire it. The front was attractive, and the fabric was soft. The style was elegant and the fit was good. However, I thought customers would merely laugh and pass on by. They would have too much dignity to wear it. Or perhaps they would wonder if, whilst running errands in that particular outfit, they would be the one doing the laughing, or the one being laughed at. After a while the end of the season would come, and the jumper would be put into the sale. It would then be sold off at a discounted price to a woman who was a dab hand with an unpicking device. Why my boss had spent good money on such a loser was beyond me.

After the jumper had been there for about 20 minutes, a customer walked in. Seeing it, she grabbed it and dashed to the changing room. I could hear chuckling. After a couple of seconds she came out and stood in front of the mirror, laughing herself silly. Paying for the piece, she was still gleeful. As she walked out the door her last words to me were ‘my husband is going to love this!’. The jumper had lasted all of 30 minutes in the shop.

A few years later, having learned my lesson (that other people aren’t necessarily as po-faced as I am), I invested in some humorous Anna Scholz pieces. The first was a T-shirt, with the legend, spelled out in shocking-pink rhinestones, ‘Silicone?’, right across the bust. Obviously, this T-shirt was designed for the well-endowed woman. Later, I bought some Anna Scholz T-shirts with pictures of dogs and cats on the front, tricked out in jewels and looking really hilarious and kitsch. These items have always sold instantly.

Very soon I will be going on my usual buying trip to Germany. When I arrive in my hotel room after a long day’s buying, I will usually turn on the ‘fashion channel’ on the TV. There, if I am particularly lucky, I will see one of the really good men’s fashion shows. I promise you, the hilarity these shows provide is tremendous. There are men wearing teeny, tiny shorts. There are some wearing planks of wood arranged all around the body. And there will inevitably be some with something huge and absurd on their heads (and hands if you're lucky). And all the while they will stride forward with a look of seriousness and great purpose.

Staring into the haughty faces of the hunky male models, I find that I am back again to my perennial question, which can - now I come to think of it - be put a third way: ‘Are they really being serious, or are they having a laugh?’


Emma    Saturday 05 January 2013 at 15:47

 Post #329 

Subject: Here for the present

You know the scenario - I think we’ve all been there - someone very dear to you has dug deep in his or her pocket to buy you a lovely gift, but it really hasn’t worked for you. What do you do?

I remember once opening a Christmas present from a close friend, and, to my surprise, I saw it was a top from the designer range, Ghost. There is no doubt that the woman who had given it to me had managed to choose something that was both pretty and fashionable. Unfortunately, there were two problems with the gift. The first one was that I worked in fashion, and already had access to some of the most gorgeous clothes anyone could ever want. The second was that I was a plus-size woman (still am!), so the likelihood of finding something that would fit me in a mainstream collection was miniscule (like many of Ghost’s clothes).

My friend excitedly pestered me to try it on. I didn’t want to, because I felt embarrassed, but in the end I did. It was massively too small. My friend, who is normally a sweet person, and not one to deliberately offend anyone, blurted out: “But I got it for you because it is enormous!”. This did not in any way mitigate my embarrassment at that moment. I don’t know why, but for some bizarre reason it only served to make matters worse.

In a situation like this, the answer is obvious and inescapable: the item just had to be taken back and swapped for something else (a gorgeous scarf in this case). However, what happens when it isn’t as clear cut?

I am both sentimental and unsentimental about presents. I am moved by the thought and care that goes into the gifts, and I would like to remember the giver, but I don’t cling on to the particular object if it isn’t suitable. Years ago, my old boss gave me a clock. It really wasn’t my style (far too opulent and decorative), but I know she spent quite a lot of money on it, and I wanted to remember her generous gesture. I went back to the antique shop, and swapped it for (of all things!) a super wardrobe (yes, I really think there must have been some mistake, because the wardrobe - which was very large - was gorgeous, and precisely the same price). To this day when I use this cupboard (which I do, every day), I remember my old boss fondly, and mentally thank her for my good fortune.

Perhaps - had she known that I had taken back the clock - she would have been offended; I hope not, but we shall never know, because I wouldn’t dream of telling her. However, how much better is it that I have something that enhances my life, that I will keep for ever, rather than a clock which, at best, may have lived out its days in a drawer?

I’ve said before that I think that a really good gift voucher (by which I mean one of a useful amount, in an unusual store that is packed with items that will appeal to the receiver) is a wonderful present. Just today, we had a woman in the shop spending one of her Christmas presents, and there were smiles all round.

However, some people will never give a voucher. A very wise friend once told me that she always encouraged her husband (through determined, continuous hinting - he was apparently a simple soul) to buy her presents from a shop that she had already ‘scoped’ out in advance. This way, he at least stood a chance of obtaining the right object. And if he didn’t, it was easy enough for my friend to make an exchange.

By now, you will already have guessed that I don’t believe in hanging on to most inappropriate gifts. I’m not heartless: some lovely little piece of art or craft, lovingly created by a six-year-old, deserves to be kept, at least until the child is such an age that he/she will be mortified by the sight of it (I had to go through this myself, so I don’t see why the next generation is going to get away scot-free). Similarly, the old wooden money box, made by my grandfather when he was seven, and given to me by my mother, will always be in my possession.

Someone said the other day that we have so many things, and we have to become curators of our own lives. I agree with this. I want, overall, to have fewer possessions, but more items that are precious, gorgeous and appropriate. The sad fact is this does tend to mean that most of my things really do need to be self-chosen...


Emma    Wednesday 26 December 2012 at 10:29

 Post #325 

Subject: EMMA PLUS WINTER SALE starts 28 December

So I was in a shop just round the corner. It wasn't a shop I normally frequent, as it was a 'proper' sports clothing store. You know the kind of thing: micro-sized cycling shorts, with the little bra-type tops that ultra-slim women choose to wear when they are feeling the burn down the gym. Everything, in a nutshell, that doesn't interest me at all.

However, I was on a mission. I had received valuable intelligence, via a text message from a friend, that this store had Fitflops at half price! Fitflops (the stylish, comfortable, practical footwear of choice for the retailer with - how shall we put this? - rather shop-worn feet) at half price! It was certainly worth my squeezing past the shocking pink micro-bras to get to those. My feet thanked me as we walked away with a gorgeous pair of soft leather ankle boots.

I love good sales. Who doesn't? I like them from whatever angle I look at them. It's lovely when, as was the case with the Fitflops, I am a customer able to find something that is new stock, useful, perfectly fitted to me, of a style that pleases me, and I'm being charged a massively discounted price.

But it's also lovely for me, as a retailer, watching my items disappearing out of my store. You see, we clear everything, every season, during the very exciting run-up to the new season's deliveries. We have huge deliveries on order, and we need to make space for all that lovely summer clothing.

The fact is it's possible that the cold weather has hardly begun yet (I have an inkling we are going to be experiencing the chill just a little bit more before we start to feel the warmth of spring), so the winter items that we're now 'clearing away' are essential, gorgeous clothing that will see a lot of action before this winter is out. Yet, in the fashion business, it just has to go! It's one of those happy incidences where the customer and the retailer are in perfect harmony.

People who already know about our wonderful sales will alreay be preparing for the opportunity to come in and get some really lovely bargains. For those of you who have never indulged, I recommend it as a fun and profitable way of spending part of your Christmas leave, if you have the time.

The Emma Plus Winter Sale starts on 28 and 29 December (this Friday and Saturday) at 10.00am. Don't forget, if you park in the adjacent NCP car park and spend £100 or more in-store, you will have two hours' free parking.

We look forward to seeing you!


Emma    Thursday 15 November 2012 at 13:31

 Post #322 

Subject: Feel the Fear

I was thinking about the title of a well-known self-help book that had been published in the 1980s whilst I was chatting to a woman who had just opened up her own fashion shop in the Brighton Lanes. I’m not a great reader of self-help books, but I remember the title of this one, which resonated with me. The name of the book was ‘Feel the Fear and Do it Anyway’.

The new shop owner and I were laughing about how similar our experiences were. She, like me, had worked in the same store for a previous owner, whose company had come to an abrupt end. She, like me, had not really wanted to be her own boss at that time of her life, but could see a wonderful opportunity to fix the business - and create something fantastic. Both of us had taken a risk and changed our lives.

We both agreed that the experience was the single most terrifying of our lives. We weren’t silly; we hadn’t expected it to be easy, but nevertheless didn’t realise just how daunting it would be. No-one knows what is involved with starting a business until they have done it for themselves.

It’s just so complicated. The best analogy I could give is trying to fit the pieces of a jigsaw puzzle, with only the most fleeting of ideas about what the finished picture is supposed to look like. And all the shapes have to come together at exactly the same instant: they have to be thrown up into the air, and then simultaneously snap into place as they hit the table. If you made any misjudgements, the whole thing - with all your love, time, effort and money - just turns out to be one enormous mess.

However, I was able to reassure this new entrepreneur that - for me at least - it was the best thing I ever did, and I have never regretted it. There is nothing quite like the fashion business, and the joy of having your own shop is incomparable. It’s a cliché that if something is really worth having, it’s worth taking a risk for - but true nevertheless.

I have a customer who told me a very interesting story about a dress she bought in my shop. She was, at the time, one of my larger clients, and a very beautiful lady, with an hourglass figure. She saw, and fell in love with, a lovely bright red Anna Scholz full-length evening dress. We altered it to fit her perfectly, and she looked resplendent in it when she sallied forth to her ‘posh do’. This lady is not silly, either, and she knew that it takes a bit of courage for any woman to wear a red dress to a party, and was aware of the fact that she was going to have to carry it off - or it would end up being a mistake.

Upon arrival, however, things were a bit more complicated than she had envisaged... every other woman there was wearing black. This was enough to make her feel insecure, but the fact that she was far and away the largest person there, only added to her feeling of self-consciousness. She had no choice but to continue with her evening, try to relax and let herself enjoy it; it was not possible to run home and get changed into something more ‘comfortable’, and anyway, she knew she looked good. She was being herself.

After a little while, she realised that a small gaggle of waitresses, huddled in a corner, were looking at her and whispering. This, again, gave her pause... but she decided not to let it spoil her evening, which she was actually beginning to revel in. Then one of the waitresses came over.

“Excuse me”, she said, “I’m so sorry to approach you, but all of the waitresses wanted you to know that you look beautiful and stunning”.

It’s not just silly, reckless people who take risks; many very wise people decide to break free of what is safe - and sally forth into something a whole lot more risky, but which provides far greater reward. If you don’t do this then you are forever imprisoned by the walls of your perceived limitations.

Fashion often gives us these opportunities. Some people say that fashion is trivial: I don’t accept that at all. I think it is a transformative force in the lives of women.


Emma    Saturday 20 October 2012 at 16:58

 Post #318 

Subject: Wisps of hatred

I think it’s a Honda advert that says in effect ‘hating is good’, but I am not copying that idea in this blog. In fact, I think I had this philosophy long before they broadcasted it. The reality is that I do believe the application of a little bit of hatred now and again can be useful.

There are people who are average height, small in size, and with ‘normal’ length (and width) legs. They don’t have any particular allergies or reactions to fabrics. They can wear most colours, and they don’t get too hot. They can be relaxed about their style; if they wear an unflattering garment they will never end up looking like the business end of a bus. This lack of jeopardy may result in them not noticing other people’s fashion faux pas either. It’s possible that these people have no fashion frustrations whatsoever.

However, fashion - for me - is full of wisps of hatred, which - when judiciously applied - I believe can have a positive effect. For instance, I like to make a little list of fashion stuff that I really, really hate, and I try to use this list when I am doing my buying. Part of it goes something like this...

I hate trousers that lose their shape. It’s not nice when any garment does that, but trousers seem to be worse than anything else. If the fabric is too flaccid, then there are just so many things that can happen. The trousers can bag at the knee (horrible). They can gape at the back of the waist (annoying), they can fall down (inconvenient), but - and this is much, much worse - they can develop a droopy bottom without any help from me. This is Not a Good Thing. No, seriously, it really isn’t.

I can wear wool, but a pet hate of mine is when wool touches me anywhere on my neck. The second it reaches my skin in this area I develop a very embarrassing red mark. No-one else in the world notices it. But I just hate it.

I hate (and I am now becoming quite passionate) trousers that are low in the rise. I have a pair of very spritzy trousers that would be perfect were it not for this incredibly irritating feature. They are uncomfortable, my stomach bulges over them in an ugly fashion, and every time I bend over they fall down. It’s not that I want to donate them to charity (or even put them into landfill). No, it’s gone much too far for that. I want to ceremoniously tear them seam from seam. Then I would like to burn them, and throw the ashes off the end of Brighton Pier. I’m still not sure that would be sufficient though.

On other people, I hate it when things are not the correct length. It’s easy to see when a skirt is designed to be knee-length. So when it is on a shorter woman, it should be shortened to be on her knee, not hanging around, being neither one thing nor the other. The situation becomes even worse when sleeves are involved.

Similarly, we all know if a pair of trousers is styled to be that ‘ankle-grabbing’ design. If you are tall, pretending that your trousers are ‘meant’ to be this short doesn’t fool anyone. Yes, there is a current vogue for youngsters to wear jeans far too long (and have them fray on the ground), and that’s all well and good. But if a shorter lady is wearing trousers too long for her, they just look scruffy, and I find that very annoying.

I hate what I call ‘leggings worn as trousers’. In my opinion, leggings should be worn with a longish top. With a bottom and legs like mine, it’s essential to watch the length of a top, but even if you are my niece’s age, when the top can be very short indeed, it should nevertheless always cover one’s bottom. This is because leggings are a half-way house between tights and trousers, and if they are worn with a (for example) waist-length top, it simply looks like the unfortunate woman has left her house in a hurry and has forgotten to clothe her bottom half. Even if the woman concerned has the most beautiful pert and well-toned derriere (and even if she is very young), there is a scintilla of embarrassment there; surely the whole look is just far too much information?

Actually, I could go on all day about my fashion hates. But there is one thing that makes me very happy about this whole subject. It’s that I am in a position to do something about these issues when it comes to stocking my shop. And my own pet hatreds can inform me in my approach to my customers.

For instance, if someone tells me that they cannot wear any man-made fibres, I am the very last person in the world to try to fob her off with excuses. How would I feel if this was the response when I was trying to get something that didn’t make me look like I was wearing a red polo-neck under my clothes? From personal experience, I know that when people say they really need something, they mean it. And this has to be remembered at the buying stage. So when I'm buying I am always looking at the fabric composition of garments, and trying to hunt down the correct mixes. There are so many different garments on the market that it is not beyond the wit of a shop-owner like me to find what my customers need.

So when a particularly tall woman comes into my store, I don’t try to sell her trousers that could pass for long enough. Even the thought of doing such a thing makes me furious! No, I will do everything I can to get the correct, long lengths of trousers. Suppliers will nearly always be found that produce the differing lengths we need, so the problem can usually be easily solved with a little bit of effort. No compromise, no irritation!

I like to wallow in my fashion hatreds partly because it feels so good to be able to eliminate as many of them as I can. Every time I find a solution to a particularly irksome fashion hate, it feels extremely satisfying - like scoring a direct hit in a game.


Emma    Saturday 13 October 2012 at 13:44

 Post #317 

Subject: Glass half full

Anyone reading my blog for more than a minute would already know that I am a ‘glass half full’ sort of a gal. So, for instance, if it’s raining, my first thoughts are that it will be good for the garden and it will be sure to clear up in time for the weekend. And if the car park next-door is somewhat expensive... well, it means that you can always find a parking space there. And as it’s about a minute’s walk away, who wouldn’t want to pay a bit extra for that convenience?

I guess this attitude spreads to every part of my life, which is just as well, as I have read research that shows that having an optimistic turn of mind is actually rather good for your health. So I do my best to spread this philosophy around.

This is the time of year when we see a particular kind of customer. Unusually, it isn’t the pursuit of clothing that draws her into town. It’s something else altogether; for this is the time of year when the new students first come down to Brighton.

Brighton is a university town, and we attract students from all over the country. When the green and squeaky-clean ex-schoolchildren or newly-formed adults first move into their fresh accommodation in the autumn, Mum and Dad are often in attendance. It’s an exciting, challenging time for the whole family - particularly if this is the first child to have grown into young adulthood, or indeed if it is the last baby to have matured.

It can be heart-rending, but we tend to see rather a few ‘glass half full’ parents coming into our store. These are people who, far from going into a nose-dive at the complex of emotions stirred up by the life-changing events, look around them to see what good can come of it. They may live quite far away, and have had no previous knowledge or experience of our shop; they may not ever have known that we are here. But when they discover they are going to make a trip to a strange city, they go online and start Googling plus-size stores - just on the off-chance that something nice may turn up. And when they read about us, somehow they manage to fit in a soupcon of retail therapy.

I love meeting these customers for the first time, as I do with all new clients. It’s so good to see the looks of surprise and delight when women realise that, not only do we have what they want, but we also have it in their size! Sometimes people who have always had to wear extra-extra-large clothes find that they are now described as a medium.

It’s truly lovely to see how poignancy turns to delight when a mother realises that if she is just going to have to visit Brighton frequently over the next few years, then that means a visit to a designer boutique. But hey, what can you do? Things start to look an awful lot more cheerful all of a sudden.

I have women from all over the country whose offspring now have school-age children of their own, but who still feel the need to do their annual visits to this city. These visits have become a regular part of their lives.

That’s the kind of serendipity that happens when you make the best of things.


Emma    Wednesday 10 October 2012 at 11:27

 Post #315 

Subject: Olivia

There is no formal training in what we do ('Independent Designer Women's Fashion'), and this may well be the reason why so many start-ups in our industry fail within a very short time of starting.

I have always been aware of the fact that I was incredibly lucky in having been trained by a wonderful woman called Tricia Conroy. She was my boss, early on in my tenure here in this shop. Trish was the one who took me to the fashion shows, and made me understand about buying all the different collections for the changing seasons.

I had previously had lots of experience in 'Big Retail' (those large high-street concerns), whose management training was very useful to me, but it was Trish who gave me the responsibility to work out budgets, recruit staff, and run the whole shibang for myself, which is something that you never have to do when you work for a large concern that has its own ordering team and HR department! There is only one way to learn all the ins-and-outs of our very particular little industry, and that is to be here in one of these small shops.

I will always be grateful to Trish, and I have, for some time, wanted to help someone else in my turn. This, after all, is the only way of paying back for what someone did for me.

So during Jaq's career break, I have leapt on the opportunity to train a very promising young aspiring independent retailer, Olivia Hernshaw.

I will give you her self-portrait, in her own words...

My name is Olivia, I am a recent graduate from the University of Brighton where I completed a Master of Design degree in Fashion design with Business studies. I designed a collection inspired by the Japanese concept of ‘Ma’, which refers to the space between the body and clothing. Movement with in clothes and the contrast of sculptural and fluid silhouettes drives my designs. All of my garments were cut mainly from circles and curves creating oversized garments with a focus on drape. I am both a designer and a seamstress, having made my own designs as well as working as a seamstress for other companies. I love fashion, cooking and shopping and have already fallen in love with the designs stocked at Emma Plus! I am really enjoying my experience here at Emma Plus - I hope to achieve a great deal with my time here. I am looking forward to getting to know all the customers and learning what your clothing likes and dislikes are to help find you the perfect garments. My aspiration for the future is to open my own shop, selling my own designs, and I am very fortunate to be in the current position to learn a great deal about the independent retail industry from Emma and her team of talented staff.



Emma    Friday 27 July 2012 at 18:30

 Post #304 

Subject: Whirlygig

It has to be said, I am quite an argumentative person. Who could be more argumentative than someone who, even when re-reading her own words, disagrees passionately with them? That’s me!

When I was re-reading my last post about buying for next summer, I found that I just didn’t agree with me, and felt the urge to put the opposite point of view.

In my last post (to jog your memory or save your time if you have not read it yet), I was talking about what you could call ‘practical’ fashion. I was looking at the weather we have had so far this summer (and the last, and the one before that), and thinking about the kind of clothing that has recently proved to be the most useful. Then I was intending to get more of those kinds of hardworking, everyday items. You know the sort of thing... lovely, comfortable trousers, teamed with smart little jackets and pretty tops. How very practical, comfortable - and sensible!

Oooeer. That’s a word that brings me up short. Sensible? Has it really come to this, that we (calling ourselves a fashion store) start thinking about buying sensible clothes? How hideous! How very pedestrian! Isn’t fashion about something a whole lot more than simply dressing yourself? Isn’t it really about beauty, passion, gorgeousness and lust? Aren’t the clothes we wear a whole lot more than simply covering us up in a practical, workmanlike way? Aren’t they transformative? And if they are transformative, wouldn’t it - on the whole - be so much better to be transformed into something stylish, lovely, individual and original, than into something sensible?

What if news of my awful lapse got out? Gather round, everybody, and see the Emma Plus Spring/Summer 13 collection... it’s wonderfully sensible! It would ruin our reputation.

So how have I suddenly recovered and seen the light? In the week or so since I wrote that last piece, three things have occurred to make me regain my usual fashion mojo. The first thing (the elephant sitting in its familiar spot in the corner) is that the weather has completely changed. Walking down the road just now, I felt like I was abroad. The golden sun was filtering down, and there was a kind of summer spirit shimmering in the air that made Brightonians look different from a few weeks ago. Back then we appeared thoroughly British: damp, earnest, nose-to-the-grindstone folk, manfully struggling through the mizzle to get to work. Today, we all looked like sophisticated, relaxed, suave Europeans, stylishly sashaying down the avenues, casually selecting a picturesque roadside café in which to start our torrid affair with a handsome Gallic... sorry. Starting to get carried away there! Still, I think you get the overall picture. What a difference a bit of sunshine makes!

Another thing that has happened since I wrote my last blog is that I have started to receive brochures from the various collections I buy from. It’s early days (I haven’t, for instance, seen the Spring/Summer 13 Anna Scholz brochure yet), but the omens are good. More than that, they are exciting!

Looking at the brochures I’ve had so far I’m seeing colour; beautiful turquoises, cherry pinks, emerald greens and cobalt blues. There is texture: soft, tiny crinkle linen weaves, chiffons, rich swirling jerseys, and delicate lacy effects. In dresses there are drapes that swirl around the body as if caught-up in a summer breeze, and gorgeous tops and jackets with plenty of volume. There are prints (some of the best I have seen: abstract, or near-abstract sophisticated flower designs) in bold, life-affirming blocks of colour.

Suddenly, looking at the pictures, I realised that (for example) what I really needed in my life right now was a pair of stretch skinny cherry pink jeans. Who knew that? Luckily, Brand did.

The final reason for my abrupt change of heart is that the buying season has crept up and is now thundering down on us like the tornado in the Wizard of Oz. I am caught-up in the whole fashion whirligig that spins us rounds and deposits us in a completely unexpected place every season. It’s better than any fairground ride.

Funnily enough, a close look at many of these exciting items also reveals something quite odd. Many of them - like the aforementioned skinny Brand jeans (seen above right with a sleeved, pretty little top) - also happen to fall into the ‘sensible’ clothing category. On second thoughts, perhaps I’d better not mention that.


Emma    Saturday 21 July 2012 at 10:40

 Post #303 

Subject: Spring/Summer buying...

It’s that time of year again... buying time! It’s a time for excitement, planning, anticipation... but also a time for reflection. What, if anything, have I learned from the summer of 2012 that I can take with me when I am purchasing the collection for Spring/Summer 2013?

Well, the elephant in the corner does appear to be the weather. For about three years now, in early summer, periods of lovely sunshine have been few and far between. Situated above the jet-stream (rather than the usual position of below it), the UK has been colder, wetter and windier, at least until mid-year. Things often seem to warm up only later on in the summer.

So I was thinking about the criteria I need to consider when I am doing my buying for next year. Of course, there are many of the same issues that we always have, and will continue to think about (probably) for ever more. For example, I will be thinking about summer weddings.

As long as there are human beings, there will be love - and if there is love, there will be summer weddings! Weddings are easy to buy for. Yes, I have to use every ounce of my experience and knowledge to source items that fit and suit my customers. But other than that, buying for weddings is a no-brainer. No-one is silly or wise enough to second-guess the weather when buying an outfit to wear to a summer wedding. The fact is, regardless of how the rest of the year has been, it’s always going to be sunny on that one special day! And, in any case, you are going to wear that gorgeous outfit come what may!

For weddings, it's pretty, colourful, comfortable and suitable outfits, in ‘this season’s’ colours and styles, that my customers are looking for. Obviously the first range to look at for this kind of thing is Anna Scholz.

Then there is work-wear. Again, this tends to be largely eternal to what's going on in the atmosphere. Women are involved in every profession, and each has its own sartorial rules. However, most occupations these days do not have a proper dress-code. Most women wear smart-ish everyday clothes to work. So when I talk about ‘work-wear’ in particular, I’m talking about the kind of clothing you would only wear to work. Suits, mainly, or smart jackets and dresses. Again, this is a no-brainer. The environment in the average British office hasn’t really changed all the time that I have been in this profession. So buying it is all about finding out about the latest styles, fabrics and colours, and sourcing some great, invaluable items. I’ll be rifling through the Marina Rinaldi collection for the lion’s share of this kind of garment.

No sea-changes there then. So what will be different next summer? I think it will be the ‘everyday’ clothes that will be subtly different. In my opinion, many women will - either consciously or subconsciously - be looking at those items that they find have been the most useful during our recent wet summers, and will want to wear more of the same.

We have been selling lightweight trousers very well recently. And no wonder, because - during odd weather - it is very difficult to know what to wear, and a good pair of summer trousers, teamed with a great little jacket and lightweight top, is so useful. It also side-steps the vexed question of whether or not to wear tights! When rain is falling from the sky, it feels wrong to splash through puddles with bare legs (and, er... sandals?). Yet to wear tights and proper shoes, or boots, looks so wintry and feels so hot. A light pair of trousers worn with sandals or summer shoes is just the ticket in these situations.

I shall be looking to collections like Brand (who do super ultra-cool trousers), NP (whose trouser expertise is second-to-none), Verpass (who always have great trousers), and various other ranges to help me with the great summer trews.

A good lightweight casual jacket is a very useful thing in this weather. You know the kind of thing: neat and shapely, perhaps in an interesting colour or fabric, and made of stretch cotton. If you get caught out in a very heavy shower, it won’t keep you dry (we’re not talking about rainwear here), but at the same time it will not be ruined. And the rest of the time it looks flattering and feels summery and comfortable. It’s so useful you will not take it off when you come inside, and most of the time it will be great for outdoors, too. You put it on and you are good to go. Personally, I just adore Elena Miro's little jackets (see picture, right), so I will go hot-foot to their showroom and snuffle them out.

Underneath that jacket you will need a lightweight top. Colourful, with a bit of femininity, and cool - made from a practical, washable fabric. It will have to have a sleeve, because you may well have to take your jacket off when the going gets hot (which it could do; even in the rain it can feel uncomfortably warm).

Of course, a must-have is a jolly good raincoat. While we have been having all this wind, an umbrella offers little or no protection from the downpour. It really isn’t good enough if we are going to be getting repeated rain to have an old sports coat, or dog-walking raincoat that shows a sorry face. Nowadays, we may find a lot of use for a summer raincoat, and it had better look the part - and earn its keep.

Lastly, I have to remember that (hush, because I am whispering this now), it is actually possible that we will indeed have a long, beautiful, sunny summer next year. I have to be prepared for this, too.

This is the joy - and the challenge - of fashion!


Emma    Friday 22 June 2012 at 11:42

 Post #299 

Subject: People

It was only half-way through the conversation that I realised what I was really saying. A friend and I were chatting, ostensibly about travel. I am not a particularly well-travelled person, but I have been on a few really interesting trips, and always feel that I have gained some kind of knowledge (however small) that's unique to the country I have visited.

My modest experience of Italy has shown me that it is a particularly beautiful country. A lovely climate, amazing architecture, and really beautiful countryside and coastline. However, more than anything, what I enjoyed most about the country were the wonderful people I encountered. It strikes me that the Italians have an age-old tradition of professional hospitality that means they really know how to make you welcome.

Later we were chatting about India, where I had made a business trip for about 10 days some years before. I did think the country was amazing... a really unique and special place. But, more than anything, I thought the people I had dealings with were exceptional. I had to use a conscious effort of will not to burst into tears when I was saying goodbye at the airport. I found a kind of fellow-feeling and empathy among my colleagues there that was so wonderfully warm.

I have also been very lucky to visit Australia, to visit some well-loved friends who have emigrated there. I thought the country was truly eye-opening. How could it be that one country - with a modest population - could have such an embarrassment of riches? However, no matter how incredible the environment, it was the people that stood out for me as the major attraction. I found them generous, quirky, independent, friendly, and incredibly funny.

Similar experiences seemed to be repeated, always with a slightly different emphasis... the locals I met when I visited Spain were so welcoming, and I really appreciated the way they went the extra mile to help when I was just a stranger to them. I would have thought that many Greek islanders, living on their tiny, perfect islands, may have seen enough big galumphing English people to last a lifetime - yet they couldn’t have been more friendly and lovely, and appeared genuinely delighted to see me.

When I visited Finland, I was moved by the way we were entertained to the utmost, and with such obvious good grace, by the wonderful, civilised people we encountered.

It was at this point that I realised I was beginning to sound like a broken record. I just seem to like the people, wherever I am! Couldn’t I just stay at home? So I started to think about the people of Brighton, and – guess what - I came to the conclusion that Brighton people are marvellous too! They are funny, weird, creative, clever and very, very friendly. And we have wonderful sights to see as well (such as our Royal Pavilion, top right). If only we had Italian weather - then there would be no point in going anywhere else!

If you're in the fashion industry, you may think you are in the clothes trade, but in fact you are in the people-business! If you don’t like people, you will probably not enjoy this kind of work, and you'd better find something else to do for a living.

One of the wonderful things about the travel business is that it is another industry where you really do need to be a ‘people person’. Hotels, shops, restaurants and visitor attractions have to be run by ‘people who like people’... otherwise they would end up acting like Basil Fawlty, and that would certainly be bad for trade!

So travelling naturally gives me the opportunity to come across like-minded people who are glad to see me, and with whom I find myself bonding.

From these musings, you may be able to guess why my mind has been concentrating on this subject. Next week I'm on holiday (nothing exotic; I’m going to East Anglia). I’m confidently expecting to really enjoy the experience.

Weather permitting, of course.


 Haley - Hautespot for Style    Thursday 12 July 2012 at 11:34

Emma plus is awesome. Liked it.



Emma    Thursday 31 May 2012 at 17:14

 Post #295 

Subject: Arms and the woman

As the summer begins to make itself more apparent (little by little), an age-old problem starts to rear its head. What to do about our arms?

Readers of this blog will know that I am from a ‘large’ family; I am not a ‘first generation’ large woman. My mother was large before me (as was my father, and all of my siblings, actually!). So from an early age I became accustomed to my mother bemoaning the state of her arms.

Mum was a piano teacher, accompanist, organist and pianist - so you would think that she enjoyed about as toned a pair of arms as it would be possible to possess. She had to use her arms, exercising them in terms of posture, strength and control for many hours at a time, several days a week for decades. She was a lovely-looking woman, blessed with beautiful skin; there was not a single blemish or stretch mark on her gorgeous, brown, silky arms.

Yet the size and shape of those limbs drove her to distraction. As a child I could never see the problem myself: her arms were smooth and perfectly formed to my eyes. Yes, she did have quite unusual ‘half a tennis ball’- shaped pads right on her elbows, but I found them absolutely gorgeous (I used to play with them when I was little!).

Mum always wanted sleeves in her dresses and tops, and yet, with summer clothes, found these difficult to source. All the pretty things were sleeveless. How things have changed! (That was a sarcastic comment by the way.)

Roll forward 40-odd years and here am I, with a somewhat sub-standard pair of arms. Not sub-standard in the truly important things of life, you understand. I can, for instance, use my arms perfectly. I have good, robust, strong, flexible arms - for which I will be forever grateful. However, they are not things of beauty.

My main arm problem is that recent weight loss has left me with a flange of skin which is totally unsuited to my lifestyle. If I were, for instance, one of those monkeys that jumps from treetop to treetop stretching out its arms and using a parachute of skin to float in the air, these limbs would be perfectly suitable! In fact, should I ever find myself falling from a great height, I may well be able to save my life by breaking my fall with my wonderful 'wings'.

However, it’s not something that I find myself needing to use on an everyday basis.

So when I am out and about, like my mother before me, I have a tendency to make sure that I wear sleeves. But I have discovered a very interesting thing about arms...

When I am in the shop, as it is a ‘large woman’s space’ I don’t really mind about showing my upper limbs, and in the warm weather will often walk around in the sleeveless items that are often still the most pretty (nothing really changes). When I do this, at least once a day, I get complimented on my ‘lovely arms’, with customers often stating that they envy my being ‘able’ to go sleeveless.

When this happens, I usually make sure that I let the women get a very good close-up of my arms, at which point every single one of them has had to admit that their own arms are far more attractive than mine (I believe in being honest and never get offended at hearing the plain truth). But my point is this: they have to be very close up and looking intently before they realise the truth. Were it not for my insistence that they do it, this close-up inspection would be something that would be almost impossible.

It has taken me years to realise something that I was very resistant to admit: people just don’t notice most supposed defects in other people! In fact, people may well not see very much, and when greeted with a good outfit, worn with confidence, will simply make a positive assumption.

Often, even the most beautiful woman has some part of her body that she doesn’t particularly care for (and amongst slim women, it is often arms, actually!). Most of the time there will be a grain of truth behind this insecurity. Yet a wise and attractive woman will make her body look as good as it can - as a whole.

The onlooker will then take in the overall image, and if it is a lovely one, fill in the blanks with something quite attractive. That makes the most logical sense.

I am not saying “Hey! I’ve found out the cure for all your insecurities! Just ignore them from now on and they will go away!”. No, my advice is merely pragmatic. Disguise your weaker areas, but don’t beat yourself up about them, and don’t lose out on looking really good because of a personal obsession. Don’t refuse to buy the outfit of your dreams because the cami is sleeveless, and there is a one-in-a-hundred chance that you may have to take your jacket off for ten minutes. (During which time, precisely no-one will notice your arms!)

Instead, buy something you love. Make yourself look as gorgeous as possible, slap on some self-tan and step out with your head held high. You will look fabulous...


Emma    Friday 18 May 2012 at 15:51

 Post #292 

Subject: Seasonal wedding ranting...

It’s ‘wedding time’ of year again, and already we are seeing the same issues that plague us every year. As an innocent optimist, I am hoping that if I can put some of these problems and solutions on to my blog, this may do something to create peace, harmony and happiness throughout the land (I’m nothing if not ambitious!).

Before I start my seasonal rant, it might be in order to put forward my credentials, in the hope that this may make my words seem just a teeny bit more convincing than if I were a random woman working in a clothes shop, trying to set herself up to give advice to innocent passers-by in cyberspace. I’m not one of those, of course!

I have been working here at the shop for 22 years now, and we are a business that specialises in special occasions. Our clothes have conducted orchestras, met the Queen (many times), attended Ascot, received awards, held presentations, been up for election, sat across board tables and judicial benches. But, most of all, our outfits have attended weddings. Many, many weddings!

So over the years my colleagues and I have garnered all kinds of knowledge and experience, which can be of great help to those attending a wedding. There certainly does seem to be an epidemic of problems associated with dressing for such events these days. These are new problems; they did not occur until relatively recently and, unlike many other wonderful modern innovations, they are extremely unwelcome developments.

At the risk of seeming bombastic (let’s call a spade a spade, I am feeling bombastic about this right now!), I think I will simply provide a list of bullet points that, in my opinion, would be well remembered if you are in the throes of bedecking yourself for this most celebratory of occasions.

1) If you are the mother of the bride, then no-one (that's no-one, not the bride, not your husband, not your auntie Noreen nor your neighbour’s favourite niece) should tell you what to wear. Period.

2) If you are the mother of the groom, after discreet, polite and somewhat distant (there is really no need to get too involved with any other person) liaison with the bride’s mother - who takes precedence - no-one should tell you what to wear.

3) Colours cannot be ‘bagged’. Obviously, no-one wants to wear exactly the same outfit as someone else. Other than that, everyone should wear the outfit that they like the best. The only exception is that there should be ‘clear blue water’ between the two mothers’ outfits. This is something that is easily avoided (see no. 2).

4) The idea that someone lower down the pecking order than the parents of the two protagonists should seek to ‘bag’ a colour is simply outrageous.

5) If someone further down the pecking order wishes to wear exactly the same outfit as one of the mothers, for courtesy’s sake, she should give it up, and choose something else. There should be no question of the mother having to cede to one of the guests, even if the other woman ‘got there first’.

6) No rule of politeness has been broken by refusing to comply with another’s instructions on one’s outfit. In fact the contrary is true. It is exceptionally rude to tell someone else what to wear... even if you are the bride.

7) You will always look better in an outfit that you like. It is your duty, as a woman, to look your best at all times... particularly at a family wedding.

8) When you arrive at the wedding (even wearing the ‘verboten’ colour) looking fabulous, everyone will be extremely happy, and no-one will ever take offence.

9) The best defence against other people's attempts to bully you into wearing what they decree, is to wear what you want and look fabulous. Looking fabulous trumps everything else.

10) The rest is silence.

It may be an idea to discreetly print off this blog, and leave it carelessly on the table when the bully is taking tea with you. You may even wish to slip a copy into her handbag as she leaves, so that she can read it at her leisure. It will give her something constructive to do with her time.


Emma    Saturday 05 May 2012 at 12:34

 Post #287 

Subject: Anna Scholz Day 12th May

There was a time when plus-size women’s clothing was never designed by plus-size women. What am I saying?... the fact is that the lion’s share of plus-size women’s clothing is still not being designed by plus-size women! This can create problems of perception within the industry.

Until relatively recently I was told by agents, pretty regularly, that larger women ‘didn’t like to show themselves off too much’ (by the way, in our industry, quite a few agents are men - but we would get this kind of comment from the female agents as well), so, apparently, we hated to show any cleavage. These agents often went on to explain that this was the reason why larger women didn’t want fitted clothes, preferring the baggy look. And, as luck would have it, they didn’t like colour either: black, dark grey, brown, navy... these were the order of the day.

I’m quite a strong person, but I don’t see the point in being actively offensive, so I would bite my tongue when greeted with comments like these, and simply quietly and politely tell the agents that what they were saying was mistaken. In reality I was maddened to the extent that I would want to burst forth with my opinions about how you would have to be wilfully deluded not to notice the huge number of beautiful, sexy women desperate for something to wear that didn’t make them look ready to take up holy orders.

On one occasion, however, the discussion (which had been continuing in the vein for a few minutes - a few minutes too long in my book) was taken out of my hands. There were actually two male agents in the shop: my agent and his boss, the ‘national manager’. I was politely trying to convince the men that, after (at that time) spending about five years dealing on a daily basis with larger women (and being one myself), I didn’t really need a masterclass from these two gentlemen on what we wanted. But they weren’t having any of this. Neither man had apparently ever met a plus-size woman who wanted to dress sexily.

Then, suddenly, the curtain of my changing room was whipped back, and the lovely lady who had been within (trying on a blouse) issued forth like a ship in full sail. She did not feel the need to pussyfoot around the subject, and told the two of them in words of one syllable what she thought of their point of view, and their so-called experience of larger women. Let’s just say that those two gentlemen were never able to boast about their knowledge of plus-size women again. Not without carefully checking behind every innocent-looking curtain in the vicinity, that is!

This story leads me on to my preoccupation this week: the visit of the fabulous plus-size designer, Anna Scholz (pictured), to our store... an event that is happening on Saturday 12th May 2012.

Anna is a beautiful plus-size woman herself, who started her line when she realised that the sort of clothes she required were simply not being produced. From the very beginning Anna has been entirely true to herself. Regardless of how her own size has varied over the years, she is, and always will be, able to see the world through the eyes of a larger woman. She wanted to create clothes that enhance the body, revealing the attractive assets that most of us have, while providing an extremely flattering silhouette.

She is innovative - she was the first in our industry to use stretch silk, and this material (which she uses to fantastic effect) remains one of her signature fabrics. She is bold - she uncompromisingly creates sexy clothing; her attitude is that women are beautiful... and size has nothing to do with it. She is celebratory - I have never seen a designer more prepared to use gorgeous, singing colours.

Other designers now follow behind Anna. That is her contribution to our industry. It is incredibly helpful that people realise that there are ample (in every sense of the word) women out there who want to look very, very good. But it is not easy to be able to recreate that celebratory, uncompromising and bold aesthetic, because to be able to carry it off, first and foremost, you need to be able to get the fit right. She's a tough act to follow.

So Anna Scholz was the catalyst that set off a massive change in our industry. No-one any more attempts to tell me that plus-size women are not interested in looking gorgeous. If they did, they themselves would know that they sound like dinosaurs. How did Anna manage to achieve so much?

Arguably, it all started with her being a larger woman herself.


 Kim P    Sunday 06 May 2012 at 19:46

Looking forward to next Saturday and seeing all the gorgeous clothes. I love my Anna Sholz dresses and tops and I was living in her leggings over the winter. They are so well made and the colourful prints are stunning. Web photos rarely do them justice.

As you know I am not keen on too low a neckline but the beauty of buying from Emma Plus is the ability to have clothes altered professionally ( and often FOC ) to suit customers wishes so everyone is catered for!


 Emma    Tuesday 08 May 2012 at 13:10

Hi Kim!

So looking forward to seeing you this coming weekend! If it's anything like last time, it will be a blast!

Yes, I think your reply has pointed out a bit of a problem with my post about Anna Scholz, which left the impression, firstly, that she is only about flashing a bit of cleavage, and secondly, that this is the only way to look fabulous and sexy!

That would be wrong on both counts, of course! Although no-one does decolotage quite like Anna (and I mean no-one!), she is also all about every aspect of looking fantastic, encompasing all different looks from understated, through classic, to demure, and items such as business suiting, knits, coats, trousers etc, do also form part of her line...not just sexy low-cut tops and dresses!


Emma    Thursday 26 April 2012 at 18:00

 Post #284 

Subject: Plus fashion

So farewell then (at least for now!) Evans, Brighton. You have been here for a long time, and will be much missed. It was rather a shock to the system to hear that our local Evans is closing down tomorrow.

Over the years there have been many other plus-size stores here in Brighton. When I first started in 1990, Evans was on the high street, and nearby in Brighton Lanes there was a lovely designer shop called Park Plus. Round the corner from us was a 250-year-old department store called Hannington’s - which stocked various ranges that crept towards the plus-size mark (at the most around size 20). Later on, Hannington’s opened an Elvi department - specifically for plus-sizes. A short way along the coast in Hove was the grandmother of us all: a lovely shop called Dresswell, which, although it was not a specialist plus-size shop, stocked some larger sizes.

Shortly after I came here, a new store, Box 2, opened-up a stone’s throw away, selling designer plus-sizes.

Back on the high street, and some time later, we were told that a new, slightly more up-market high street shop was opening, and it was to be called Ann Harvey. It was an unfortunate time for them to open, starting off as they did in virtually the same week as near namesake Ann Summers - which caused much confusion, consternation and not a little hilarity when various mistaken customers blundered into the wrong new stores. (For the uninitiated, Ann Harvey sold, at the beginning, rather pretty plus-size clothes, whereas Ann Summers is an - ahem - intimate apparel and adult toy store!)   Also on the high street was a shop called Etam, which momentarily opened a plus-size department. Later, another plus-size high street store, Rogers and Rogers, opened in our nearby shopping centre. We also benefitted from one of the largest plus-size departments of H&M stores in the country.

A little later a store called Hampstead Bazaar opened, selling a layered look that many plus-size (and small) women wear, and, in a similar mould, The Glass House boutique also opened nearby. About this time a new store called Cinnamon, which specialised in plus-sized designer wear, opened in Burgess Hill, and then rapidly expanded into Brighton.

In those days many locals regularly made the trip up to the big London stores to supplement their wardrobes. Liberties had a gorgeous plus-size department, as did Harvey Nichols, John Lewis and the really big players in the field: Harrods and Selfridges.

One by one I have watched these stores close down or otherwise pull out of the market. Various offerings have diminished and become something else: I believe that Elvi, Ann Harvey and Box 2 are now available predominantly online. Rogers and Rogers has gone into out-of-town discount fashion store, Matalan. Our H&M plus-size department has massively diminished, and cannot even be called a shadow of its former self.

Many have simply gone: Hannington's, Park Plus, Cinnamon, The Glass House, and now Hampstead Bazaar have all disappeared, and after 60 years of trading, Dresswell of Hove closed down late last year.

I was surprised when Liberty's closed its plus-size offer; less so when Harvey Nicks did not continue with it. That John Lewis, Harrods and Selfridges no longer have plus-size departments is nothing short of a national scandal.

The biggest shock of all, however, is the closure of our local Evans - a monolithic high street presence in the plus-size market, and one which I never dreamed would disappear from Brighton’s high street.

As of tomorrow, Emma Plus is the last plus-size women’s fashion store in this city. As I said to someone yesterday, I feel that we have been on a journey, and one by one our travelling companions have disappeared.

An economist studying the situation here would no doubt conclude that there can be no requirement for plus-size fashion in this city. Perhaps we, as a population, have been shrinking in size? Maybe fashion has ‘gone out of fashion’? Perhaps plus-size women don’t really want or need to look fabulous? Or maybe there is something particular about plus-size women that mean they don’t need to try things on in order to see if clothes suit them, and are perfectly able to select items of clothing by looking at photographs online?

Every day beautiful plus-size women come through my door and prove these ideas wrong. Why the high street (and, to be fair, many designer stores too) have retreated from this vital, expanding market is bizarre and needs urgently to be questioned.

Professionally I enjoy the extra custom that being a ‘sole trader’ in this field affords, but as a plus-size woman myself, I am furious and bewildered.


 Nicola    Sunday 29 April 2012 at 12:48

Hi Emma

I think what you have said here is very interesting and also a reflection of the failure of the high street, both high and low end, to cater to larger women's needs.

I think that the key is in the service, or lack thereof, from the larger stores such as Evans and Harrods. Having shopped at both the thing they have/had in common were their failure to provide a good level of service. In the case of Harrods the assistants were cold and offered no useful advice (more interested in selling than find the best for their customer). In Evans the service was non-existant with disinterested staff.

The result - you went away with clothes sure, but they didnt make you look good and left your self-esteem at rock bottom, and in the case of Harrods an empty bank account toboot.

The uniqueness of your store Emma is that you provide, along with a great range of clothing, sound & honest advice, which leaves you with happy customers who feel good about themselves.

The tradgedy of the closures of all these stores is I feel larger women are being humiliated off the high-street and onto the internet where they can remain anonymous. Younger women in particular are going on-line and are losing out on the guidance and advice of professionals like yourselves.



 Emma    Tuesday 01 May 2012 at 15:24

Hi Nicola,

thank you so much for your lovely comments, Nicola! I think there may well be a chicken-and-egg situation here. You would suggest that it is the lack of good customer service that has done for these stores, whilst I would stick to my own personal hobby-horse of the lack of good fit in the plus-size market!

However, we are perhaps just both reflecting the fact that the customer is in dire need of help in order to get a fit and a look that is right for her. Let's be honest, with the horrendous fit that is available for most plus-size clothing on the high street, the consumer needs all the help she can get when sourcing her wardrobe!

Without that help, she may just as well buy online, because she is never going to find things that really fit her well anyway!


Emma    Thursday 12 April 2012 at 11:39

 Post #279 

Subject: Trouser Day 21st April

We've decided to burst forth this spring (actually, we always burst forth, not just during springtime but at any time of the year... but I digress) and ‘go for it’ with an emphasis on really fantastic events.

I feel sure that any right-thinking plus-size woman would agree that one of the great struggles of modern life is the eternal quest for the perfect pair of ‘good trousers'. Trousers are a particular problem, not just for plus-size women, but for all of womankind (and perhaps mankind for that matter). There are so many variables in the proportions of the lower portions of the human body that it’s a bit of a wonder that anyone would ever undertake the thankless task of creating a pair of good trousers. I use the term ‘good trousers’ to mean not the kind of trousers that are bought in a sale, or picked up in a budget-priced high street store, or online, scooped up amongst the bewildering array of styles - all of which are displayed in photographs on generically-shaped models. These are simply ‘will-do trousers’, which will spend a short but useful life providing leg-coverage during the routine tasks of one’s everyday life... shopping in the supermarket, walking the dog, housework, doing a spot of gardening - that kind of thing.

No, ‘good trousers’ are quite a different beast, and cannot easily be picked up in such ways. I can honestly say that I have never heard the phrase ‘these trousers fit me beautifully, are incredibly flattering, lasted for ages and feel gorgeous... I picked them up online’. It’s not that I don’t think such an occurrence is possible; one look at the internet will immediately make you understand that, with the vast scale of humanity, virtually anything is possible - from a cat that speaks to a man capable of summersaulting from the top of one building to another. It just means it isn’t really all that likely.

Good trousers are a treasure. You slip them on and feel confident about your nether regions. You can put them on and forget about them. But if you were not inclined to forget about them, then thinking about them would give you nothing but pleasure. They look good, they feel good, and they have no vices (like a visible panty line, showing your cellulite, riding up, being baggy on the bum... the list of ‘trouser problems’ goes on).

A really good pair of trousers will take you into the office on an important day. You can wear them on a date, or out for lunch with the girls that you haven’t seen since you left school. They will see you through the tough times (when you don't have time to do the ironing, but still have to look 'put together') and the good (effortlessly looking smart at a moment’s notice). They will be your secret weapon, and your quiet, useful little friend that will stay around for years. They are quite literally worth three times the price that you'd pay for your high-street trousers - and a whole lot more!

And, of course, if you choose to also wear them to walk the dog, do the gardening or suchlike, then there will also be life left in them for that when they grow old!

A pair of good trousers should, first and foremost, fit you superbly. Until recently it was a bit of a mystery why this presented such a problem. The top designers were doing their best. They were cutting the trousers as perfectly as they could in order to fit the body shapes that they had identified. And yes, for the lucky women who enjoyed these body shapes, there were always superb trousers to be had. Yet there were very many women who found those trousers unsuitable. Routinely women would tell me that they just ‘didn’t suit trousers’.

Then of course there was the problem that one range tended to vary in shape from another. Some suited the slim-waisted bigger-bottomed woman, some the snake-hipped lady with the wide waist. How on earth was the customer to know which range was going to suit her best?

During the past 20 years the plus-size industry has expanded and improved immeasurably. More ranges have come on to the market, there is more choice, with the look becoming more directional and varied. Suddenly not only were there a host of different ranges from which to source trousers, but there was a greater selection of looks. It was all only serving to become more bewildering - but luckily, at the same time, independent stores were also improving and trying to develop an expertise in the whole area of body shape.

Recently, some manufacturers, like Finnish company, NP, for example, did widespread studies of body shape as it applied to trousers - and the reality started to emerge from the gloom. Not only were we in the plus-size industry able to identify what shapes of trousers would suit women with any number of different body shapes, but we were offering the differing shaped trousers to satisfy these requirements.

Hence the advent of our ‘Trouser Day’. We have had a couple of these events before, and they have been some of the most successful days we've had in our store. We assemble the biggest selection of trousers we can, and we identify which body shapes will suit which trouser styles. Then we train our staff and ensure that the most knowledgeable will be in the shop on this day.

Trousers are sorted into different groups, and our customers are fitted properly with trousers that many could never imagine would look as good.

On this day there will be refreshments and a prize draw, where a lucky customer will win a pair of trousers. Moreover, when a customer buys one pair of trousers they can then purchase a second pair at half price (exclusions apply). This generous offer is almost unheard-of at this end of the season - when choice is so wide.

The atmosphere buzzes on our Trouser Days and most customers find it a sociable and pleasant way to pass a Saturday!

Anyone spending £100 or more on the day will also get a ticket for two hours’ free parking at the NCP car park, adjacent to our shop.

Emma Plus's Trouser Day is on 21 April 2012, between 10.00am and 5.00pm. We really look forward to seeing you in store!


 Kim P    Friday 20 April 2012 at 19:10

Good luck with the day! A fantastic opporunity to buy flattering and comfortable trousers which as you mention is not something easily achieved in larger sizes. Some of my best buys fron you have been various wonderful trousers by Brand. I know the Trouser Queen aka Kim will be in her element! Can't make tomorrow but hope to pop in again soon.


 Emma    Saturday 21 April 2012 at 17:03

Hi Kim

Thank you for your lovely words of encouragement! I am here at the end of the day in the shop, tired, but very happy!

We had a wonderful Trouser Day... We were very busy and sold dozens of pairs of trousers to very happy customers.

I love these events; we always have a really lively, pleasant atmosphere here.

Now, the next event to look forward to is Anna Scholz Day...!

 Kim P    Saturday 21 April 2012 at 23:02

So pleased everyone had a great time, very hard work for the Emma Plus ladies but must be so satisfying seeing the joy on customers faces when they have found their perfect trousers.

I noticed the Anna Scholz event on the 12th May. Very exciting news!


 Emma    Thursday 10 May 2012 at 18:16

Just a quick update...we held our 'prize draw' for our Trouser Day event. All those who went in for it were placed in a jar, and a friend of Emma Plus (my old schoolfriend, Clare!) pulled the winner out. The winner is Debbie Bright.

Debbie is now the proud owner of another pair of Emma Plus trousers!

Emma    Saturday 03 March 2012 at 17:18

 Post #273 

Subject: Top two...

I was reading a magazine last weekend, and I came across an article about how it is very revealing to ask people for the top two things that they feel are most important about their profession. It is supposed to be a useful discipline to impose on someone trying to evaluate their occupation, and gives unexpected insights into other people’s lives. Asking for three important aspects would apparently just unnecessarily spread out the choice and asking for one wouldn’t give enough balance.

Working on the understanding that this sort of thing is essentially nonsense, yet fun, I started to think about the top two main things to remember about what I do for a living, and immediately came across an unexpected hurdle. Depending on who is asking the question, it’s hard to say exactly what I do for a living: there are quite a few occupations that I can say I involved with.

For instance, I could say I am a shop keeper (top two things there: Buy the correct items for your clientele-that you would want for yourself-…and Don’t forget that your customers are for life!). I could say I am the director of a small business (Never forget exactly what function your business is meant to perform… and Keep looking afresh at everything in order to keep up with changing trends and situations).

I could say that I am in a service industry in a holiday destination (Make everyone who comes into your sphere feel really welcome… and Try to and take seriously what it is that people want , because it matters). I am also a plus-size specialist (You will find that your customers are grateful that you are there, but never fail to be grateful that they are there… and Fit is everything: if it doesn’t fit, throw it out).

It’s possible to argue that I am in the art and design business (Don’t buy something just because it is trendy: buy what is beautiful …and Make full use of the wonderful talents of the designers to help make sure you never get stuck in a rut).

However, I would say that I am in the fashion business, and I think the two most important things about my job are these: Women are beautiful. And this means women from every walk of life. Young, old, tall, short, larger (even smaller women, I have heard, can be very attractive!); the media may discriminate, but Mother Nature does not. …And my second vital point: Every one of us is unique in an infinite combination of different ways.


Emma    Tuesday 14 February 2012 at 18:20

 Post #271 

Subject: Getting what you really, really want...

In my last blog I was just about to go off to start the first of my buying trips. Well, I’m back from that now, but I am still up to my neck in Autumn/Winter 2012 buying. Although I have seen and bought some gorgeous items, it isn’t over until, as they say, the fat lady sings (that would be me then - singing for pure joy, because what I have seen so far has been lovely).

I asked, on my previous posting, what it was that women were wanting me to buy. I had a couple of answers on my Twitter page (@emmaplus). One woman begged me “please can we have sleeves - small ones, lace ones, long ones, cutaway ones – anything, but plus-size fashions need arms!”. Another wished I could obtain clothing: ”that fits big boobs but doesn't look like a tent around rest of body!” With these words, and others, ringing in my ears I sallied forth.

I have a little saying that goes like this: “Something’s best points are often their worst”. I guess this is just another version of the old adage “it’s an ill wind that blows nobody any good”. Anyway, there's something in my business that provides both the best thing and the worst thing about my job. This is that I do not design my own stock - but instead choose from designs offered to me by others.

On the bad side, were I to be designing my own collection I wouldn’t hesitate to say “let there be sleeves” and decree that every dress and top produced this season should have one of an array of sleeves. As my correspondent says: “small ones, lace ones, long ones, cutaway ones”... but never without! If only it were that simple. The fact is I don’t have any direct say in what is produced by the fashion houses. I just get to buy the results of their genius.

However, this situation also creates what is most fabulous about my job... namely, being the beneficiary of all that genius! Every season is a surprise, and most are a real delight. If I were asked to design clothes every year, I'm sure I would soon run out of good ideas. But this is a neverending conveyor belt of creativity and innovation. I just don't know what I am going to find next.

So I have been looking around, and have seen a number of gorgeous dresses and tops with sleeves (those women reading this who have their fashion-heads on will know that, as a winter collection, the sleeve thing is much less difficult).

When I was at Marina Rinaldi, I bought some lovely jersey dresses, all resplendent with long sleeves. And I was thrilled to see that they had produced a gorgeous light, soft tweed suit that included not only a lovely jacket, but trousers, a skirt, and – yes - a matching dress... with sleeves! That makes the hit-rate of this outfit extremely high. Business suit... tick. Soft and wearable... tick. Versatile... tick. Sassy... tick. Sleeves... tick.

Because I am so excited by this development, I am breaking several fashion laws* and putting a picture of me trying the said outfit on, right there and then in the Marina Rinaldi showroom (see right).
* I will list the laws I am breaking: firstly, I am trying on a dress in easily one size smaller than I require. Secondly, I have it on over the top of my leather leggings and various other garments (I just couldn’t take them off in the middle of their display, with people walking past). Thirdly, it is not a very good photograph. It’s blurry, so my IT specialist will probably be disgusted with me putting in on our forum (I was going to say something about it! - J.). Fourthly, my hair: just look at my hair!

But at the very least, I think we can see that I am not a vain person, and am quite able to show you an unflattering picture in the service of getting you to see this dress! But this is not an unflattering style of dress - particularly if one makes an effort to get the correct size and take off one’s previous outfit before wearing it! It also achieves the objectives of my second correspondent; it would fit beautifully over a larger bust, and - in common with almost every other Miraldi outfit - shows no tent-like qualities whatsoever...


 Nicola    Saturday 18 February 2012 at 12:32

Hi Emma

I love the look of the suit you're wearing in the picture. It's left me chompong at the bit to see what next winter has in store for us. I loved this season's selection so much it's hard to imagine it getting any better.

I have attached a photo of me in my Elena Miro gilet, I love how soft it is. As you can see I too was having a bad hair day!

Looking forwards to seeing you all in the Spring.


 Emma    Saturday 18 February 2012 at 13:06

Hi Nicola

Thanks for the photo... Brynn looks hale and hearty, enjoying his dinner! I hope you are all very well.

Yes, I love that Elena Miro gilet, and I have enclosed a sneaky peek of a gorgeous Elena Miro jacket that I have ordered for next season. It's just as soft as the gilet you are wearing, but thicker (like a coat). It has a bit of a trompe l'oeil effect, in that it looks like a waistcoat worn over a knit, but is actually all one piece. It is beautiful.

But enough of this Autumn/Winter 2012 stock talk... we are now getting superb summer pieces in. I think there may be plenty for you, Nicola. Is there anything you are particularly looking for?

As for your hair... it's better on a bad day than mine ever is at its best!

 Nicola    Sunday 19 February 2012 at 13:05

Hi Emma

I love the look of that Elena Miro jacket!

Regards this spring/summer, like this winter, I need to re-stock my entire wardrobe. I need items which are flexible enough to be worn for work or casual. My linen shirts are all looking a bit tired now, I would love some new ones, especially if they are somewhat tailored (like the Marina Rinaldi 3/4 sleeve blouses I got a few seasons ago). Trousers are a must, I really like the KJ Brand trousers I got this winter, not too baggy but not too tight on the thigh either.

Let me know when you think the best time is to come over. I have a bank holiday in mid march but I don't know if that would be too early.

Here's another pick of Brynn showing off his Welsh rugby shirt while we watched the 6 Nations last weekend.


 Emma    Monday 20 February 2012 at 15:28

Brynn is such a happy baby! He really does have such a definite personality already, and always has had!

There will be plenty for you to see in mid-March: there already is, actually. Most of our lovely new Brand trousers are in stock, and we've had some fantastic items in, from Elena Miro, new (to us) Danish range Carmakoma, Nanso, and loads more.

We haven't had our Marina Rinaldi deliveries in yet (see photograph of some of the items we have on order), but we are expecting them very shortly, and there is a lot there for you in particular, Nicola. This should all be delivered well in time for your March holiday..... Hope you are able to make it.

 Kirsten James    Wednesday 22 February 2012 at 17:12

Lovely Emma! However, I am anxiously awaiting the Anna Scholz full report as only you can give it! Glad your trip went well. Thanks,


 Emma    Friday 24 February 2012 at 16:27

Hi Kirsten!

Thank you for your remarks and interest! As soon as we have seen the Autumn/Winter 12 Anna Scholz collection, I will write a blog, and fill everyone in!

In the meantime, we have had most of the superb Spring/Summer 12 Anna Scholz dresses in, and they are just a joy to behold. Really, this is the best ever season for Anna Scholz dresses, which of course means that it must be one of the best plus-size dress collections of all time!

The image I have here is a gorgeous selection of the Autumn/Winter Marina Rinaldi looks. There is the aforementioned business suit (with dress), as well as a couple of lovely dresses, a coat to die for (with little tufts of texture in a stylish weave), and some yummy jumpers and knitted jackets (Marina Rinaldi always uses such fantastic fabrics: the knits look almost hand-knitted in yarns that feel like you could curl up in them), with matching scarves.

One that particularly sticks out is a wonderful super-long knitted jacket (almost a knitted coat-dress), in a dense, soft knit with teeny tiny sequins scattered throughout. So sumptuous, luxurious yet subtle.......mmmm

Emma    Saturday 14 January 2012 at 15:08

 Post #267 

Subject: Curvy?

I was reading an article the other day about modern politically correct language. It seems that many terms for people that were not acceptable in the seventies are now perceived as reasonably harmless. There are passing trends, not just in clothing, but in language!

In my business my preferred term for us larger women is ‘plus size’, or simply ‘large’. I cringe when I hear a larger woman described as ‘big’ (men are ‘big’, women are larger-sized... to me, there is something so unfeminine about the word ‘big’), and I find myself reeling back when I hear the phrase ‘big girls’. Although I have quite a few customers who merrily call themselves big girls, it brings to mind the term ‘big girl’s blouse’, which I take to mean something somewhat pathetic and useless - characteristics alien to my customers. Also, the use of the word ‘girl’ to describe a full grown woman has an infantilising effect; not really the kind of thing that sits well with sophisticated fashion.

The term ‘plus sized’ seems to have very little wrong with it. If something is ‘plus’ or has ‘plus points’ this is entirely positive, in the same way that ‘minus’ and ‘less’ seems to simply diminish the object. However, I have heard women complain about the term, because they feel that it tip-toes around the fact that we are larger, and is somewhat patronising. No wonder sometimes people don’t know what to say for the best!

You may ask why, on a fashion blog, I am even occupying my time in discussing such an esoteric subject. Well, it’s my belief that what you call something can actually have an impact on how it is treated. Years ago, when I was a large schoolgirl growing up with a large sister and mother, most clothes available on the high street in plus sizes were called ‘outsize’ clothes. And yes, the styles existed in a world outside fashion. They were completely different from the clothing available to smaller women. We were standing on the ‘outsize’ of fashion, peering in, and that was a frustrating place to be! Even today, there are archaic ranges being marketed to us plus-size boutique owners under the description of ‘outsize’ clothing, and they are simply horrible clothes. It seems the name they give their fashion speaks volumes about what they are peddling!

I have a bit of a problem with the word ‘curvy’, which seems the almost ubiquitous word to describe larger women these days. And funnily enough, it is the same basic reason that I have against the word ‘outsize’, albeit in the opposite direction. Whereas the latter word is an insulting term for the larger woman, I feel the former may in fact gloss over the shortcomings of the shape of some of those women. Saying a range is for the ‘outsize’ woman encourages the ‘designer’ (I am somewhat reluctant to use that word, but you know what I mean) to have a prejudice about the customer - stereotyping her as a woman with no sexuality, no style and no figure to speak of; lumping (excuse the term!) everyone in as the same.

However, I feel that the use of the word ‘curvy’ can do the same thing... but in the opposite direction!

In my opinion, a ‘curvy’ woman is a woman (of any size) that has one of a group of body types. Usually they have an hourglass body shape, although they can be a moderate pear shape, or a large-busted woman.

What they simply cannot be is an apple shaped woman! I say this as an apple-shaper myself. The reason for this is simple: it is very rude (the old fashioned word for ‘politically incorrect’) to refer openly to something that is to the detriment of someone present.

It is not detrimental to refer to the womanly curve that flows over a bust, and in to a smaller waist, before gently expanding to describe a feminine derriere. Yet I feel that it is rather rude to refer to a curve that goes out from under the bust, extending ever outwards until it reaches the meridian of the body, before returning, like the underside of a lollipop. Not all curves are good. Please, I would prefer it if you don’t notice my ‘curve’ (an apple shaper does not have ‘curves’ she has just one curve!), and if you do, I would be quite happy if you don’t mention it - in the same way that I wouldn’t overtly mention that your husband has lost his hair.

The term can also rub salt in the wound of the large number of women who have a straight body shape... those women that I refer to as ‘athletic’ build - although they can also be called ‘column shaped’ - while many women with the ‘well-proportioned’ body shape, who wish they had better definition, also feel excluded.

So it galls me when the word ‘curvy’ is used as a collective noun for all plus-sized women, when it actually only describes the lucky few! And, like the unfortunate situation with the word ‘outsize’, it can actually have some kind of effect on the brains of the designers.

There does seem to be a positive glut of designers creating fashion for the ‘curvy’ woman. This is, of course, a good thing. But readers of my blog will know that I am obsessed with diversity and trying to fit all equally well. I think it’s all too simple for a designer to say ‘I like women who have a real ‘lady’ shape, whatever size she is, and that’s the kind of woman I am going to design for. If there are women out there whose figures have anything beyond a moderate degree of imperfection or are out of proportion, then let them go buy another collection'. Unfortunately, there are all too many designers who feel this way.

In fact, the real art of dressing us larger women is to understand our imperfections, celebrate our deviations, and to flatter our forms, whatever they are. My business is all about diversity and (to use a very old-fashioned PC phrase) equal opportunities! I’m glad to say that there are still many designers who really understand larger women, with their various silhouettes, and provide gorgeous, accessible looks for everyone. Designers like Sallie Sahne (pictured above right: a gorgeous soft jacket from the Spring/Summer 12 collection) or Anna Scholz even manage to bring out the attractive curves in women who didn’t think they had any! That is a game worth playing!

Certainly many plus-size women are curvy, and I’m exceedingly grateful that they have some lovely designer collections. However, I am acutely aware that they only form part of the population of larger women, and it is our job to style each and every woman who enters our shop.

With that in mind, we will be fitting clothes to women who are plus-size, curvy, larger - and even those who are big girls!

Sadly, 'outsize' women may want to look elsewhere!


Emma    Friday 30 December 2011 at 12:38

 Post #266 

Subject: Sixtyplus!

I was just browsing the internet (as you do, during these long holiday days!), and had another look at the Sixtyplusurfers site, and was delighted to see that they have mentioned Emma Plus.

Perhaps I would say this(!), but it does seem that this is another indication that this is a very interesting site, full of useful information that ranges across a wide subject base. I really was delighted when I browsed the site - which, apart from the shopping information, had recipes, travel, IT advice... It's about time there was an online destination like this, specifically aimed at the sixty-plus person.

I believe that this kind of independent site is going to help promote the businesses that are giving the best service to their customers. This has got to be good news for everybody! I really do wish them well.


 Victoria Hollis    Monday 02 January 2012 at 00:40

This is such a great article. I know a fair few ladies who use this site. It's a good way to look for impartial advice in a lot of cases.

And I just thought I'd share this totally gratuitous picture of me at the Curves in Couture show with the AMAZING plus model, actress, photographer Velvet D'Amour. As you can see rocking the Anna Schols hot coral dress and lace jacket from S/S 11

 Emma    Monday 02 January 2012 at 17:25

Hi Tori,

Great to see one of your pictures from the Curves in Couture Show, which showcased some of the best plus size looks around.

I have long been hearing about Velvet D'Armour, a legendary figure in the plus size beauty and fashion world.

I love you in the Anna Scholz coral-a really gorgeous look....


 Rozi Desouza    Tuesday 09 October 2012 at 12:41

Hi.. i have visited the site which you have suggested. Sixtyplusurfers is really very good site and there are so many useful thing in it. Thanks for sharing this with us.


 mandy    Tuesday 04 November 2014 at 09:05

hi im on your website but cant seem to see any clothes for sale can you give me the link to veiw clothes please thans


Emma    Wednesday 14 December 2011 at 15:34

 Post #263 

Subject: Fashion democracy...

I find that I now remember rather little of what I was taught at school; I think that, for me at least, I am more likely to be able to use the skills I gained during my education, than to recall facts or specific lessons.

However, one particular statement made to me (during an economics lesson, of all things!) did stick very firmly in my mind. We were told that every time we purchased something, we voted. My teacher (a wonderful, inspirational man) taught us that even though we were only called upon to vote in parliamentary elections every 4 or 5 years, we were able to express our preference several times a day by carefully picking out what it was that we wanted to spend our money on. His point was a brilliant one: if you don’t like the company or the product, show your disapproval by removing your hard-earned cash from their premises forthwith - thereby (hopefully) concentrating the minds of the business owners on what they can do to improve their relationship with their customers.

Of course, my teacher’s argument continued that the converse is also true: if you welcome how a company is run, and enjoy their product, it is worth going the extra mile to endorse their service with your custom.

His message really went into my head, and I can honestly say that it is one of the few lessons that I had during my childhood that has had a daily influence on my behaviour. Some people may think I am an obsessive, but I will always seek out companies that I approve of, or ones whose products I really like, and make an effort to patronise them when I can. And I know I am not the only one: almost on a daily basis I have evidence of my own customers acting in this way.

I remember when I first opened a shop under my own name (almost 18 years ago now). I had worked for the previous two owners, before making the daunting jump to take it over for myself. I had built up good relationships with my customers, and had promised that I would try to continue this when the shop re-launched after its refit. One morning, half-way through the building work, whilst the shop was still closed, I found a note had been pushed under the door. It asked me to put a sign in my window to tell the sender when I was re-opening, because the lady was intending to come in immediately, and ‘buy something, even if I don’t like anything!’ The note was signed by a long-standing customer of mine!

These days when I see customers who have travelled all the way over from Wales, up from Cornwall, or down from London - or made the trip from Norfolk, Essex, the Midlands, or whatever - I am driven to think about these economic realities more than ever. Time was when there were many small local stores selling designer plus-size clothing. Many of these shops were somewhat lacklustre, and perhaps it was time for them to disappear. However, I do feel that many more have been seen off by the temporarily difficult trading conditions that have afflicted the fashion industry over recent years.

Many plus-size women used to rely on going up to the London stores - like Harrods, Liberties, John Lewis, Selfridges, etc. However, these stores no longer have their plus-size departments. Women are having to travel like never before in order to get beautiful clothing.

In my opinion - were I not in this business and if I lived in some part of the country that still enjoyed a good local plus-size boutique - I would rush to that store straight away to offer them whatever patronage I have at this time, in the hope that others will do the same. Although I clearly have a great interest in what the economists have to say about my trade, I do know from personal experience that some of it is rubbish. Economists seem to believe that nature abhors a vacuum and that where a business is needed, one will automatically spring-up to service the demand. I happen to know this is not the case in the plus-size industry. Over the past few years, when the independent designer shops have closed down, they stay dark.

It is obviously very important to watch the pennies if you have to, but it is not, I would argue, a wise option to spend those pennies in the large, cheap chain stores, thus starving out the very small businesses - which in the future would be sorely missed. Once lost, those individual shops will not return in a hurry. It is a situation that may well benefit a store like mine, with its reputation, long history and established internet presence, which can draw customers from far and wide. But a long car drive across or down the country, followed by a stay at a hotel, in order to find some gorgeous clothes, may well be the only option to many plus-size women in England, and this situation is getting more extreme all the time.

To have a good designer clothes shop on my doorstep, selling a wide range of gorgeous clothes, is something I would vote for any day.


Emma    Monday 28 November 2011 at 17:40

 Post #257 

Subject: Shrinkage

I was channel hopping one night recently when I happened to turn on a popular TV soap, which I don’t normally watch. I was arrested by the face of an actress, who seemed extremely familiar. It appeared to be an acquaintance of mine. The thing was, I knew this television-woman couldn’t be the one whom I knew, because the actress on screen was a completely different size.

A few weeks later, I bumped into my acquaintance, and she confirmed that it had indeed been her that had starred in this episode (I hadn’t realised until then that she worked as an actress). I have to admit I was shocked, because the woman in front of me then was about five feet tall, and a size eight or ten, whereas the woman I had seen on the screen was probably five foot eight and a size sixteen. I know that the camera adds a stone of weight, but this was ridiculous. What on earth could have caused this temporary morphing from a petite person into an average-sized one? After mulling it over for a few moments, I was driven to one conclusion: all the actors on the soap were tiny, making this woman look much bigger in comparison. I couldn’t help wondering; did they have to build a special set to accommodate all those teenie-weenies…?

This is just one example of how size is a highly comparative issue, and I’m not sure if any of us really understands just how much this matters. When I was a schoolgirl, growing up in the seventies, I was huge. As a five-foot-eight and a half (the half was very important) size sixteen, with (shock, horror!) size seven-and-a-half feet, sixteen-year old, I stood out as a one of a kind. If you don’t believe me, I still have the school photograph to prove it. The picture shows our whole school year... Teenagers are lined up in three rows, in all their glorious nineteen-seventies bad hair and unflattering acrylic clothing: boys and girls looking strangely similar. And there am I, head and shoulders taller, and twice as wide as everyone else, towering like Shrek over the whole proceedings.

I often think of this scene as I drive past our local school in the mornings. There are many taller girls nowadays (we have been growing a centimeter taller every decade since the war), and a lot more generally larger and heavier people. A size 16 sixteen-year-old really is nothing to write home about now. Today, I can walk into every shoe shop and buy what I want (something I could only dream about when I was younger).

A similar thing happens in our shop every day. Women often ask me if we have flattering mirrors, because they feel they look so much slimmer. Obviously, one should take into account the effects of our beautiful clothes and fabulous styling (!), but it cannot be ignored that our shop is a plus-size space. The vast majority of people entering are larger people. Really, anyone below a size 20 looks child-sized; it's the ‘mainstream’ sized people who are out of scale - should they enter our portals.

This week the latest figures showed that a quarter of the women in our country are plus-sized (even though our TV programmes still don’t reflect this reality), and this is not something that is going to go away anytime soon. Whatever you feel about this, the reality is that we larger people are gaining in numbers all the time, and this is going to have a profound effect on how we look and feel, and how others view us. The world has changed, and is continuing to do so.


 Victoria Hollis    Tuesday 06 December 2011 at 21:49

I read this once again laughing Em

I was the 5.9 shoe size 8 and size 20 wearing 16 year old. Looking through all my school pictures I was the girl in the back row with the boys while all my petite classmates were in front.

Size is so much a matter of perception. A good example of this was Natalie Cassidy the eastenders actress I saw at the curves in couture show. To me she seemed tiny and delicate. In the press shes been battered for weight gain of late.

You can see how so many women end up hating themselves because they dont fit the so perfect shape being paraded in the press.


 Emma    Tuesday 06 December 2011 at 23:24

Hi Tori-

At the risk of sounding a bit paranoid, it does almost seem that there is a conspiracy in the media to pretend that we (as a population) are all tiny. Yet in fact we are as a nation are getting bigger and bigger.

I don't think I am alone in not feeling as large as I did years ago, because I know from personal experience that my customers are demanding and expecting a fashion-forward look more than ever before. I feel certain this is due to the normalising effect of the increase in our numbers.

All we need now is for the fashion industry to truly reflect this new reality....


Emma    Monday 03 October 2011 at 18:35

 Post #246 

Subject: Heeling words

“I was incredibly irritated by what the sales-assistant said”, my customer told me. “So much so, that I decided I wasn’t going to buy the outfit after all. I left the shop, and I won’t be going back there in a hurry!”

I was listening intently to this statement, coming as it did from a very pleasant and easy-going lady. She was not an easy person to annoy, yet she had obviously been very irked by what she had experienced in that fashion store, and as an owner of a similar kind of shop I had a professional interest in her story.

Apparently she had been shopping for an outfit for a particularly smart occasion. She had gone into a shop with a good reputation for having interesting clothes, some (but only a small number) of which were in large sizes. She had picked out a three-piece suit which was very pretty: the colour was lovely and the fit was good. It was very expensive, but she felt it was worth going for. It was at this point that the ‘helpful’ sales assistant started to give her some advice.

The lady was told (by the stick-thin sales assistant) that she should, on no account, wear the outfit with low heels. It would look ‘ridiculous’ and ‘frumpy’. It didn’t matter, apparently, that the customer found high-heeled shoes uncomfortable. This was irrelevant. One should suffer for beauty.

To be honest - although I had complete empathy for my customer’s annoyance at what happened - I would probably not have acted as she did. Usually, nothing in the world would prevent me from buying an outfit that I really liked. In fact, I would often be quite sanguine about simply tuning-out when small people try to give me advice about fashion. Much of it is outdated (it’s a truism that many smaller people think they can advise larger people because they feel they automatically know more about style. Often, these are the very people who are the least informed and knowledgeable). What isn’t outdated is usually irrelevant, or unachievable for a larger person.

In fact, I think we are living in a much-improved world when it comes to more realistic shoes (are those stifled guffaws I hear?). Fashion at the moment is very fragmented; women can, and do, formulate their own style, and choose from a much wider range of looks.

I think it is the very fact that much high-street footwear is ridiculously and vertiginously high that has ensured that alternative looks must be acceptable. Putting it simply, the majority of women just can’t wear those very high shoes.

During the summer I was visiting a stately home where, in one of the function rooms, a smart wedding was taking place. My friends and I were sitting in the large hall taking tea, where we had a ring-side view of the wedding party as it passed by. It was actually rather funny (in a cruel way) to watch the young women, often in groups of two or three, clinging to each other and they tottered, limped, tripped, slid, swayed and shuffled their way into their room (and no, they were on their way to the bar, before they had drinks!). None of these women were accustomed to wearing those incredibly high heels (not to mention the platform soles) that they had picked out to team up with their pretty summer dresses. So none of them had built up the skills, not to mention the calf muscles, necessary to walk elegantly through that hall.

In fact, I’m not sure that anyone really builds up those skills. Many people watching the royal wedding in the summer noticed that various celebrities (who surely should be used to this kind of footwear by now) had to hang on to their husbands' arms in order to be able to move in a straight line. This is why many smart women of whatever size have decided that enough is enough, and are opting for different shoes.

If tiny, slim, experienced-high-heeled wearers are not able to wear these sky-high shoes, then it is less likely that we larger women, who have to put greater stress on our feet, are going to carry it off with beauty and grace. And this fragmentation goes all the way through the industry, spreading out from the super-high, to the completely flat, and every height in between. Where once only one height of heel was acceptable for the stylish woman for smart occasions, by necessity now there are many.

Call me old fashioned, but I think that beauty and grace are not just about what you wear, but also about how comfortable you are in your own skin. If you are wearing painful shoes, this will show on your face. If your shoes discombobulate you, you will not be able to move properly, and if your shoes make you tower over people, your posture may be adversely affected.

So balance is necessary (quite literally!). We have to be able to choose an ensemble that makes us feel graceful, elegant, well-dressed, fashion-forward and confident. And it is eminently possible to do this without recourse to high-heeled shoes.

Like my customer, I won’t let anyone tell me otherwise!


Emma    Wednesday 21 September 2011 at 16:03

 Post #244 

Subject: Service, please!

I was shopping in my local area yesterday and I realised how the kind of service I could expect from any given store really affected my mood.

I admit that, for several reasons, I almost never buy clothes anywhere other than in my own shop. One is that if I don’t rely on my own products, then I can’t see any reason why anyone else should. I have set my store the task of having everything that a woman like me needs to wear. So I stock everything I can get my hands on - from casual wear such as jeans, through outdoor wear and knits, right up to the smartest kind of eveningwear that I could wish for.

Another reason why I don’t shop in the High Street is that, as far as I can tell, nothing they are selling is designed with me in mind. If I were a small woman I would be shopping in places like Reiss, Hobbs, Jaeger, etc. Obviously, as things are, nothing in these stores is going to fit me (until that mythical time when I wake up one day to find out that I have morphed into a size 14, 5’4” woman). So, if I weren’t shopping at Emma Plus, I would have to go to those few specialist high street stores that we have here in Brighton (heaven help me). Let’s just say this would not provide clothing sufficient to meet my needs.

So when I say I was shopping yesterday, it was not for clothes. I had in mind to buy myself a new bag; in common with a lot of other women this season I wanted a ‘nude’ handbag. In theory, I should find one easily (they are everywhere at the moment). My problem, however, was one I see among my customers all the time: I am very particular about the item I'm looking for. I would like it to be a true nude, not beige and certainly not baby pink. I would like it to be quite small (with a shoulder strap), and I would like it to be made of really lovely leather. Oh, and I’d like it to be vintage-looking, with silver not gold findings. Phew!

Well, I may not be able to shop in most stores for clothing, but I can zoom in anywhere on a quest for bags. So I moseyed round to my usual handbag-hunting grounds. The first port of call was the aforementioned Jaeger. However, I did not go over the threshold on this occasion. I stood outside the shop, casually walking backwards and forwards, trying to see if there were any nude bags within. There were not (luckily I could see this easily and did not have to go inside - something I was only going to do if they definitely had what I was looking for).

Why on earth did I not want to go inside? Well, there is a member of staff in the store, who, although absolutely lovely (she truly is the most wonderful person; had I needed to find a mother to adopt my first-born child, I would have looked no further). However, she is so incredibly chatty and effusive that I find it almost impossible to simply walk into the shop, smooch quietly around for a bit, and then stroll out within fifteen minutes. I would be lucky to get out within an hour. And I didn’t have a spare hour.

So, having seen nothing in Jaeger, I went to Hobbs. I like Hobbs handbags this season: they have that vintage vibe off pat. However, as I walked in the door, I was surrounded by a gaggle of assistants, all vying for my custom. When I showed interest in some (gorgeous, long) leather gloves, fisticuffs nearly broke out. This ended up with several pairs of the same gloves on the counter, and two ladies gently trying to nudge each other out from behind the till in order to make my sale. I dismissed the idea of spending any more time there; I thought I would rather come back when there were more customers in the store... I like a bit of attention, but this was ridiculous!

My next shop was a lovely one which we have locally. It’s called Comptoir Des Cotonniers... a store that has some interesting leather goods, and there did seem to be a bit of neutral colouring going on there. However, as I idled around the shop floor, I seemed to have a shadow. A sweet young sales lady was following me very closely, keeping up a running commentary on what I was absent-mindedly looking at. “Those shoes also come in grey... That belt is sold separately... The jacket has mohair in it”. As I knew she was just trying to be helpful, I really couldn’t give in to the urge to turn and ask her if she would kindly leave me to my own devices. I left the shop.

Yes, there seemed to be an awful lot of incredibly helpful sales assistants around, and it was making me feel uncomfortable. However, I am aware of the fact that I am a very contrary, unfair creature. If I don’t get enough attention, it doesn’t take long before that also makes me irritable.

For example, I walked into All Saints, the kind of edgy, youthful fashion store whose design seems to be based on a science-fiction concept of a future where civilisation has collapsed. Apparently, the remaining mutants had to scratch a living selling distressed clothes from some kind of post-apocalyptic dungeon. Anyway, I digress; they actually had a very nice-looking handbag. However, it was hanging on the wall halfway towards the ceiling (I say ceiling: it was more like the underside of a 600-year old, very dirty, interplanetary mining spacecraft). I am quite tall; however, even I would need a step-ladder (or perhaps an anti-gravity device) to get up to the bag. I looked around for the shadow when I needed it. However, this emporium was far too cool to employ sales assistants - so I left several frustrating minutes later, still having made no contact with whatever alien life I would have had to deal with to buy that bag.

So I crept into Reiss, which was almost next door. I was already feeling slightly snubbed, so perhaps by this time I was a delicate creature. As I entered the shop, I was greeted by two sales assistants behind the counter. All looked well here; yes, there were two of them (and no other customers), but they did not leave their safety zone of the counter. However, they did welcome me. Excellent start!

The problems began when I spotted a leather bracelet (sorry, but I am always off-message when I am shopping). Sadly, because the lighting in the shop was so poor, I couldn’t see whether it was silver or a gold buckle (the all-important gold/silver issue!). When I tried to make eye-contact with the two of them, suddenly I realised I was invisible. They had far more interesting things to be thinking about than a middle-aged woman who was far too large to buy anything in the store (they may have thought). Eventually, Mohammed had to go to the mountain, and I approached them with the offending object. Almost immediately I found out that the metal was gold (not good for me), but was instantly rousingly assured that this really shouldn’t matter! It was just the same as silver, really! I was even given some hints as to what to wear with gold (more gold, apparently!).

As I walked back to my own place, I started to muse about how vital it is to get the level of service right in a shop. Too friendly, and we may actually be wasting someone’s valuable time. Too keen to make a sale and we don’t really help a customer. Too intrusive, and we make people uncomfortable. Too absent, and we are useless. Too distant and we are alienating. Too ignorant and uninformed, and we cannot help. Too uninterested, and we ignore a customer’s real needs, and dismiss them.

We have to walk a careful path where we are available and capable of providing our customer’s needs, whilst giving them the time and space to enjoy their shopping experience. I reminded myself yet again that it’s vital to try to ensure that we always get the balance right.


 Victoria Hollis    Wednesday 21 September 2011 at 20:21

I read this laughing.... sometimes shopping can be almost like a comedy sketch.

The balance with service is a fine line some of us need our hands held whilst others are intrepid adventurers who will quite happily walk alone.

I cannot understand how any assistant worth their salt would say to a lady with your colouring Em to wear more gold like me with my milk bottle blue skin gold just does not work.

But what I can say without a qualm is the mix of lovely ladies you have in your shop are fantastic

Kim the trouser queen, Jac the accessories guru and you yourself the sheer genius I have never felt pushed or ignored in your shop speaking of which I'm hoping to come up mid october so cant wait I was wondering if you had the ponte jersey frill shift tunic from Anna Scholz in store ?


 Emma    Thursday 22 September 2011 at 15:24

Hi Tori

Thank you for your lovely comments!

Yes, I don't know what's worse... a sales assistant (specialising in fashion) who either doesn't know that certain complexions cannot wear certain colours. Or one that knows this is so, but doesn't care!

I am sorry to be the bearer of bad news... we did order the tunic quite comprehensively, but (as is usual with Anna Scholz items), it has sold very quickly. We even re-ordered them, and now the cupboard is bare.

However, there is a bright ray of hope on the horizon: this season is one of the best ever, and there are some absolutely gorgeous things here now, and still coming in!

I really look forward to seeing you soon.

 Victoria Hollis    Friday 23 September 2011 at 17:50

Darn it too slow again lol...

I'm sure it will be worth the trip up anyway.

But the thing is and im sure I have mentioned it in prior comments you and the girls genuinely care about your customers and getting it right. I feel totally disenchanted shopping on the high street when staff are in identikit uniforms with a bad attitude more interested in chatting to each other than serving customers.


 Emma    Saturday 24 September 2011 at 13:27

Hi Tory!

Thanks for that... I'm so sorry you are suffering from 'High Street Shopping Frustration Syndrome'. It's horrible.

I was chatting to another of my customers this week (a gorgeous lady who reads the blog, but does not, as yet, contribute herself), and she had some thoughts about tights.

She used to buy the Levee tights, but hadn't known they had gone down (was that quite recent?).

She also said that she buys a collection called Gipsy, which she has delivered, ordered from their website. It does seem that Gipsy may well be a good option (being definitely currently available; all the others being a little bit of a colder trail).

I hope this helps you; if it does, it will show that the forum is working!

By the way, I have accompanied this reply with an entirely gratuitous picture of Jaq - replendent in a gorgeous Marina Rinaldi coat...

 Victoria Hollis    Sunday 25 September 2011 at 16:40

OOOOHHHH fab coat (Tongue hanging out drooling lol)

I heard the Levee have gone over the last couple of months

Ummm thinking mid october might be too long a wait for a trip down....


Emma    Thursday 01 September 2011 at 15:40

 Post #240 

Subject: A singular shopping experience

In my blog I have always been careful to keep ‘on message’... this forum is designed to be a space where plus-size fashion is discussed. In my opinion, our fashion is almost never mentioned in the mainstream media, so it is well worth giving it a bit of space here on our humble website!

So I hope I am not letting myself down when I move off message to talk about a subject that to everyone else but us has absolutely nothing to do with larger womenswear.

I would like to talk about the area where our shop is situated: the North Laine in Brighton. I have been running this shop for over 20 years now, and when I first came here, I didn’t really understand the significance of where we were. Yes, I realised that Brighton, as a destination town (which drew a huge number of visitors both from Britain and abroad) was a jolly good place to have a business that relied on people walking in our door. However, before I had worked here, I had never heard of the North Laine.

Of course, I knew of the Brighton Lanes, a lovely, quite chi-chi area of Brighton, famous for its tiny roads (the old fisherman’s lanes), and sweet little (somewhat tourist-orientated) shops. I guess that in my naiveté, I had thought that the North Laine (which is just inland from the Lanes, within easy walking distance) was just another one of the lanes, albeit with a slightly different spelling. I had sometimes noticed, though, how the locals winced when the uninitiated visitor referred to it as the North Lanes (without an ‘i’, but with, heaven forbid, an ‘s’). It’s a common mistake to make, although the Laine, is, in fact, far too singular a place to require an ‘s’.

In actuality the name does not have anything to do with roads or lanes; Laine is the old name for a field, and this particular field is one whose rich crop is shops, cafes, restaurants, pubs, galleries, libraries, workshops, clubs, theatres, studios, commercial properties and general mixed activity, with the odd sumptuous palace (Brighton Pavilion) thrown in. Unlike the Lanes, there is only one North Laine... and it has an entirely unique character.

It is the haunt of performers (many and various venues are in the Laine), artists, media types, fashionistas, vegetarians, gays, foodies: rare and authentic characters, all. The area is the antithesis of the ‘clone town’, where all shops are part of a chain, and each road looks exactly the same. Here, the shops come and go, with a ‘blink-and-you’ve-missed-it’ ethos that locals take as a given. Most of the businesses exist because their owners had a dream of what they wanted to present to the world, and many times this idea was without any rhyme or reason. Amazingly, some (but by no means all) of these businesses find their niche and survive.

The result is a kind of insouciance about what is on offer. For example, no-one turns a hair if the shoes on sale are completely weird and wacky, or superb hand-made originals... or vegetarian.

Someone may decide to run a hardware store here, but only if they can go berserk and make sure they sell everything possible, and have the best customer service in the western hemisphere.

If you fancy something to eat, you really can start to call the shots: would you like vegetarian? Certainly! Organic? Gluten free? Child friendly? Macro-biotic? Artisan-made? Locally sourced? Gourmet? Cheap and cheerful? The answer always seems to be yes, in an area that shouldn’t be big enough to sustain all this diversity.

Naïve is quite a good word to describe my relationship with the North Laine in the early days. Somehow, I thought it was just a co-incidence that a plus-size womenswear boutique had been opened here (I did not launch this store; I inherited it from its first owner), nor did I see it as part of the reason why our store had taken root and flourished.

It took me a while to start to look around at the Laine, and see it for what it was. Then the penny dropped as to the role our geographical situation has had in sustaining and nurturing our business. I see design, artistry, fashion, originality and quirkiness all around, as well as uncompromising specialists who have enthusiasm and really know their stuff. Had our shop been started somewhere else we may never have taken off. However, in coming here, I believe we found our natural home.


Emma    Saturday 20 August 2011 at 16:26

 Post #235 

Subject: Form versus function

When I first started writing my blog I wondered whether there would be enough topics in the area of plus-size fashion to make it worthwhile. I didn’t have to wonder for long; just a few minutes' thought brought to mind a panorama of different angles on plus-fashion that are never covered in the mainstream media.

I was (perhaps foolishly) relieved - because I thought this would give me more than enough material for the blog. However, I have since come to realise that the problem was never going to be finding things to discuss; as ever (with me) it is that there is so much, that it’s difficult to know where to start!

A case in point is the subject of lingerie for the larger woman. I have written on this before, but it is only when you think about these things that you realise they are, ahem, wide subjects - with many different but equally essential angles.

The last time I wrote about plus-size lingerie I vented my spleen on the issue of the paucity of a proper fitting service for larger women. This time I want to talk about so-called 'functional' underwear.

The term functional does not imply that this is the only kind of lingerie that performs a function (hopefully all lingerie does that). Rather, it means that the underwear has a purpose over and above that which is normally expected from such a garment.

It’s worth taking on board the fact that lingerie that performs a certain function can have a major impact on what outer clothing a woman is able to wear.

One example of this would be to do with summer dresses and the larger woman. I hope that no-one reading this will be upset by my frankness; as usual I will address this subject head-on because I believe that the only women who do not understand what I am talking about are small women, and they will probably not be visiting this forum anyway.

From a size-16 upwards (or, if she is a pear shape, perhaps even smaller), women find that their legs rub together as they walk. On bare legs this can cause, at least, some discomfort, but at its worst it can mean serious chaffing - making bare legs completely impractical. This is not a problem when wearing trousers. It can cause a little extra wear on a garment, but we are all comfortable enough once the legs are covered in some way. In winter months, under dresses and skirts, we wear tights - which perform a similar job to trousers.

However, in the summer, if we are wearing skirts or dresses, we are left in a quandary. Women do not, in the main, want to wear tights during the summer. They are overly warm, spoil the summery look of a pretty dress, and look quite ridiculous with sandals.

I have many customers who for this reason have not worn any summer dresses or skirts for many years. Yet we have been able to recommend items to them that have completely opened up this type of dressing. There are many products on the market that do a similar job, but the garment I personally recommend is made by a company called Patra - a supplier of silk items. Patra produces a long-legged pure silk knicker in black, champagne, cream or navy that resembles a very fine cycling short (pictured, right). It is, in some ways, a halfway house between hosiery and lingerie. We have found that it is the coolest thing on the market, and the largest size should fit all of our customers (it is a stretchy knitted fabric).

Now we get to the rub (excuse my pun) of this particular post... how sexy do you feel when you are wearing such a garment under your clothes? Can you bring yourself to slip into some functional lingerie after all?

There seem to be two schools of thought. One says ‘even if I am looking sexy, summery, cool and comfortable on the outside, if someone actually saw what I am wearing underneath (the A&E doctor, perhaps, if I should be run over - or, heaven forbid, my husband), they would realise that I am not, after all, a sexy young woman... That I am in fact, an old crinkly, wearing granny-knickers!’

This school would rather forego all those lovely summery frocks and super skirts, and stick to trousers, shorts and cut-offs for the summer months, until they can climb back into tights in the autumn.

This opinion held sway for many years... but has now started to fade away. It may be of interest to know that younger women do not balk at the possibility of functional lingerie in that way that their mothers do. I believe this sea-change is due to the likes of TV stylists, such as Trinny and Suzanna (who used their BBC clothes-advice programme to introduce women to a better way of dressing), or Gok Wan, who is remorseless in his pursuit of a more flattering silhouette for all women. These presenters have tried to introduce the public to a fact known to celebrities for generations: that there are two types of underwear. One type is pretty, feminine and minimal, and it is meant to be seen. The other can be somewhat (shall we say) unglamorous in itself, but creates the perfect base for clothes. Wearing the latter does not mean that a woman has ‘lost the plot’ from an attractiveness point of view.

Celebrities have stylists to help them grasp the nettle; they need to be photographed looking good, and they do whatever they have to in order to achieve this. It’s not for nothing that Gwyneth Paltrow is rumoured to wear not one, but two pairs of Spanx knickers under some of her close-fitting red-carpet gowns. I have little doubt that most A-listers have lingerie that was never designed to be seen on its own.

The irony seems to be these days that the very fear of ‘looking like granny’ is the preserve of the middle-aged (or older) woman, whereas younger women are embracing the stylists' techniques to achieve the comfort, utility, style and silhouette they want.

And in the process they are opening up a new world of garments, such as summer dresses and skirts, which have long been out of bounds to them.


 Victoria Hollis    Tuesday 23 August 2011 at 15:15


You have done it again - it's spooky how much we think alike.

Thighs rubbing together is a nightmare scenarion. The shop on the high street beginning with e (I won't name them) has in their godawful hoisery range a thing called "comfort shorts" these are basically nylon doulble layered tight tops) thet feel revolting on hot sweaty and nasty and as has gone with the shops tights and stocking for the past 4 years the sizing is totally wrong. I have recurrently contacted this shop in respect of their hoisery over the years to no avail and this included me sending them a video of me struggling to pull their stockings for a size 26/28 over my elbow let alone past my knee. I now order levee stockings and tights online (they are a great german brand) but anyway I digress.

Underwear can both havee style and form - gok wans collection for simply be has a very retro 1950's feel and looks great as well as providing the S factory. I think I may look at getting some of those knickers you mentioned but another tip thrown in free is to get some of solid stick deodarant and rub that on your thighs and they wont chafe anyway....


 Emma    Wednesday 24 August 2011 at 17:04

Hi Tory!

Yes, what I really like about the Patra ones is that they are 100% pure silk. Obviously having any 'extra layer' of clothing is not going to make one feel any cooler; however, I do think the natural fibre really helps, and I never feel hot and perspiring in mine.

We used to sell the Levee tights here in our store, until the agent seemed to disappear. I'm guessing that they simply gave up on marketing them to the UK (there are so few specialist stores that would stock them here that perhaps it was not worth their while).

Other ranges were My Size hosiery, and the American range, Hue, which does lovely, very good quality, gorgeously-coloured legwear. I think all three of these ranges are still being made, though not marketed through stores in the UK any more.

My Size were a Dutch hosiery company, whose items were very well sized. Unfortunately their infamous English label read: 'Oversized Tights for the Corpulent Woman'... that may have been why they abruptly stopped selling in the UK!


Emma    Monday 04 July 2011 at 00:09

 Post #223 

Subject: Fit

There is a subject that I can’t help returning to in my blog. It’s one that's very important, not just to me as a plus-size fashion retailer, but for me as a plus-size woman - and, I think, also for many women reading this page.

The subject is that of body shape. This is so important because it is Big Retail’s failure to deal with it that is responsible ultimately for the failure of the high street to provide the clothing choice necessary for plus-size women.

I would like you to imagine that I am - as indeed I am - a woman aged 50, and interested in fashion, yet with one vital difference: I have shrunk down to a size 12. In this situation our high streets would look very different to me. I would be able to buy my clothes in dozens of chain stores and thousands of independent shops - providing me with a rich tapestry of fashion options.

In the chain stores I could, for instance, buy from the cheap-and-cheerful fashion ranges like New Look, Hennes and Zara. Or, if I were looking for mid-range, I could have a quick look in Marks and Spencer, or scan Next’s range. Later, I could hop off to Warehouse and French Collection. Climbing up the price and style ladder, I could browse my way through Hobbs, Cos and Jaeger. There would be a huge variety of styles, quality and exciting fashion looks.

If I were in London - with the world my oyster - I could visit the big stores like Harrods, John Lewis, Liberty and Selfridges. I could spend days just doing these stores and come away loaded with great looks.

In the afternoon I could pop my nose round any one of any number of thousands of really lovely independent boutiques and see the latest in designer styles.

So why, if I have the same money in my pocket - and the same interest in fashion - am I (in reality a larger woman) not given these options? In our city, Brighton (my own shop aside), I would only be able to try on a tiny selection of items in New Look, a very few somewhat depressing pieces in Hennes, and some (frankly frustrating) clothes in Marks and Spencer. After that I would have to go only to stores that specialise in items made in plus sizes. In Brighton, these are Evans and Anne Harvey.

The price point of these stores is relatively low (I leave aside the issue of whether it is actually rather high in relation to the quality on offer). The fashion is disappointing and the quality can be frankly shocking. I’m not criticising those stores for being what they are, any more than I am criticising Zara for being what it is - or, for that matter, Jaeger for being Jaeger. My question is this: the vast majority of clothing on offer for this half of the population is strikingly similar. Where is the variety?

In our business the received wisdom is that larger women don’t want to pay for nice clothes... that, in some way, we don’t really care about looking good or being fashionable... that any shop specialising in plus size fashion of higher quality, fashion and price, will fail.

In a funny kind of way, I agree with this analysis - but only up to a point. Many larger women simply won’t pay for pricier clothes. But the reason for this is not what the industry thinks. In my opinion, the horrible supply and demand problems that afflict the plus-size fashion industry stem directly from the failure to address the fit problem.

If I were to take, say, a hundred size-12 women, they would all be different body shapes. Some would be apple shaped, some pear, some hourglass, some well-proportioned, some top-heavy, some athletic. This is what human females are like: we come in a range of shapes. However, with the size-12 women, the variance between them is small. Most of them would still be able to fit into the same clothes, even if they did not necessary all have the same silhouettes.

However, if I were to take a hundred size-22 women, the story would be strikingly different. Yes, they would have the same range of body shapes. Yet their body differences would be amplified. In this case there could easily be 10 whole inches of difference between women of the same size but different body shape. For instance, if I were a size-22 apple shape, my waist would be considerably larger than my pear shaped friend, who takes the same dress size. And my hips, in turn, would be much smaller than hers. It’s quite possible that if an item of clothing fitted one of us, the other one simply wouldn’t be able to do it up.

If I were forced to try to shoe-horn my friend and me into wearing clothes with the same fit, I would have to start thinking about a sloppy, unflattering, generic shape. It would be impossible for us to actually look fashionable, attractive or chic. And the number of styles that could be made to fit both of us would be small.

Were I to stumble into a shop that sold clothes with this kind of 'apathetic' fit and paucity of styles, I would rapidly start looking for the exit. But if, as is the situation in many towns in Britain, this were the only store that sold my size (and I really needed something to wear), then I would probably buy something.

One thing I would never do, however, is pay good money for clothing that is generic, sloppy and makes me look lack-lustre. Nor would I fork out for the same-old, same-old. I would happily have a little splurge on something beautiful that made me look and feel good... I love fashion and believe it is important to me as a person. Actually, I am rather prone to spending a little too much on fashion. But I baulk at paying out for something that does not inspire, delight or excite me.

As a population, we are getting bigger every year. The section of the population that wears plus-size clothing is not going to go away any time soon. And the big retail companies are all about exploiting markets to make money. Sooner or later, someone, somewhere has got to start to ponder why the plus-size fashion industry is so dysfunctional.

Don’t get me wrong, it’s very good for my business that women get in their cars in Swansea, Billericay or Totnes - or even in Madrid (to travel to the airport) - and make their way into our shop. The desperation of our customers, who - fed up with having so little choice of clothing in their locality - decide to come to Emma Plus, is very good for business.

But as a plus-size woman myself, it makes my blood boil. Something really ought to be done about it! Even if it spoiled my own trade, I would be more than happy to offer help and advice to ‘Big Retail’ to try to sort out their shortcomings. It simply can’t go on the way it is.


 Kim P    Friday 08 July 2011 at 23:14

Great comments as always Emma. The easiest way to look like you have lost weight is to wear clothes that fit well and luckily there are plenty of such garments in Emma Plus!


 Emma    Monday 11 July 2011 at 00:20

Hi Kim!

Yes, it's an interesting point you make... I've had numerous customers over the years who have told me that friends or family have found it very difficult to believe that they are plus-size women, despite the obvious fact that they are!

Eventually, we have come to the conclusion that, to many small people, being large is synonimous with being badly dressed and presented. As soon as a woman looks gorgeous, they forget that she is plus-size, and find they simply can't believe she is, even when the fact is pointed out to them!


Emma    Monday 30 May 2011 at 20:45

 Post #219 

Subject: Ker-ching!

In keeping with my habit of rushing in where angels fear to tread, I have decided to write on the subject that most designer store owners try their best to avoid... price.

Over the years there is a story that I have come across many times. This is when a woman comes into our shop for the very first time, even though she has known about us for several years. She has been curious, but has diligently avoided actually entering our portals.

Her friends or family have been trying to drag her in, and she has always resisted. Eventually something has forced her to come to us. It could be a family wedding that has driven her (after many fruitless and depressing hours trawling just about everywhere on the high street) into the shop as a last resort. Or it could be that she has decided that the only way she is ever going to stop her sister going on about us, is to give in and pay us a visit.

Then something magical happens - she is stunned and delighted. She buys all sorts of lovely items. She rushes up to us, and tells us that she wishes she had come in before. After this first experience she becomes one of our regulars.

I couldn’t begin to tell you how many times this particular scenario has been run and re-run in our shop. I appreciate that this sounds like an ‘advertorial’; an attempt to sell our service to any customers who read the blog. I genuinely don’t intend that to be the case.

In fact, I am happy to suggest that this experience is not unique to Emma Plus. I feel certain that this is something mirrored by every good designer shop in the country. It speaks volumes about the way women, and in particular larger women, feel about designer clothing.

For many it is an expensive indulgence that they are not permitted, and should avoid at all costs. People think they do not deserve designer clothes. And some are afraid even to take a look inside a shop like ours.

The kind of clothes we sell are not cheap. They are not impulse buys. Many of them may cost twice - or more - the price of their high-street counterparts...

But exactly what kind of prices I am referring to? As I have said, many of our items do have a steep price-point. The most expensive collections, like, say, Marina Rinaldi (from the superb fashion stable Max Mara) or Anna Scholz (arguably the best-ever plus-size designer) can be expensive. Although Anna Scholz’s Black Label collection has a price-point that is not too far from the high street, her White Label collection can provide, for example, dresses which will set you back £400 or more, and Marina Rinaldi is priced at about the same level. Any decision to buy pieces from this end of the market had better be well considered.

Purchasing at the top end of the market is not a rich woman’s game, however. Items from these designers are investment pieces. Often they will be bought for special occasions: a sister’s wedding, a special party, a reward for a promotion. But these clothes will be incredibly fashion-forward, beautifully tailored and well-made. They will be your friends, and you will joyfully turn to them on many happy occasions over a number of years. By the time you have had your last wear out of them, you may find that they are the cheapest per-wear item that you have had all along. And then you might even sell them on eBay!

But a good designer plus-size store does not only sell high-end fashion. There will be a host of mid-range fashion as well, from companies such as NP (the Finnish collection that has specialised in plus-fashion since 1925) or Verpass (a German range that is really hitting its stride at the moment with 1950s inspired design). Prices start at about £65 for a blouse, and many of these items will be as well cut as the top-end clothing. They are extremely utilitarian, being comfortable, washable, durable, yet stylish. It is in these ranges that we often see amazing fabric innovation. Years before anyone else was putting stretch into fabrics such as cotton or linen, these were the ranges that were trailblazing, as they are now with the new body-cooling fabrics.

Again, items bought at mid-range prices are good long-term investments. These are usually clothes expected to perform as smart everyday pieces (often workwear) over quite a long period of time. They have to be reliable.

I think what shocks the uninitiated, however, is the low-end of our price range. We sell items from collections like Brand (the brilliant German house famed for its trousers) and Nanso (a Swedish range of beautifully colourful jersey items), and these prices are very accessible. Starting at £49 for its tops (which are amazing quality - these gorgeous tops really are bullet-proof), Nanso has its own keen following amongst our customers. When priced against the high-street these items are only a degree or so higher, yet their look is a million miles away.

I believe that when we begin to think of ourselves as the very people for whom all this wonderful fashion is being created, at every price-point, we will rush into the designer shops to see what's on the menu. We may not be able to afford everything we want, all the time. But that doesn’t matter, because, whatever we can’t get in this season, there will be something equally lovely for us in the next. And the purchases we have made will still be there to mix-in with our wardrobe, which over the years will build to become our style fingerprint.

The value of that individual, beautiful, unique resource is - as it is worn on our back every day of our lives - incalculable. This is how we are seen by the world. And yes, I believe it is worth the time and the investment.


 Kathy    Wednesday 01 June 2011 at 14:55

I totally unreservedly agree with Emma
I love clothes, I love shopping and my wardrobe is brimming with items that cost a bit less and were worn a lot less then that.
I rarely throw things out so I live with all my mistakes....
Take it from me - quality delivers and it is worth the money.
I am still wearing clothes from Emma's that I bought ten years ago...
Sure have fun for a season - and buy the thin fabric high street Tee in a seasonal tangerine... but come next summer it will sit unloved and unworn... and a waste of money!
Better spend your hard earned cash on Emma's lovely wearable durable clothes.
Money saving tip- shop her sales... divine and at very attractive prices!!!


 Emma    Wednesday 01 June 2011 at 17:04

Hi Kathy!

Thank you so much for your contribution!

You are one of our most stylish customers (and, we are talking about an extremely stylish body of women), and I do really appreciate hearing your views!


 Victoria Hollis    Wednesday 01 June 2011 at 22:54

Hi Emma and the lovely ladies at the shop......

I just wanted to stick my nose in on this one - apologies in advance lol if it's a bit long winded....

The cost per wear issue is a good one all of us want to wtach the pennies at times BUT there is no point in spending a minor fortune on a high fashion item wearing it once feeling uncomfortable and then hiding it at the bottom of the wardrobe.

The fact is there are a great many larger ladies, bbw's or whatever we choose to label ourselves as who think they don't deserve nice clothes and use that horrid phrase "oh I will buy something like that when I lose weight"

Buy yourself that gorgeous dress now......You will feel fantastic.

Anna Sholz for example her clothes are TIMELESS and frequently multi seasonal for example her summer maxi dresses can easily be wintered up with knee high boots (duo go upto a very large calf size) and one of her gorgeous cardies and coat (ummmm fallen in love with the pink once you wore in your pic Em)

We deserve to look good and feel great


 Emma    Thursday 02 June 2011 at 23:45

Hi Tory-

I couldn't agree more! I think that sometimes there is one small advantage to making a more substantial purchase...that the decision has to be a considered one.

Often it simply isn't worth having that 'high fashion' tangerine top, if it doesn't suit either your body or your personality.....


 Kim P    Saturday 04 June 2011 at 21:51

The Brand and Nanso ranges are very good value, as you say Emma they are not much more expensive than regular High St prices but are well styled and a little different to what you'll see elsewhere.


 Victoria Hollis    Friday 17 June 2011 at 16:20

The tangerine thing this season is VILE I know very few women who can get away with that shade I have to say Anna Scholz's coral dresses are far more flattering


Emma    Saturday 15 January 2011 at 13:06

 Post #187 

Subject: Real-sized models...

I am always interested in the images used by the fashion industry to sell their wares – which some would say is a rather blunt way of describing fashion photography. After all, it really is about selling, isn't it? Or are fashion images an art form? Don't they provide an aspirational, fantasy outlet for women’s imaginations? Surely, they are only obliquely commercial?

In my opinion, yes and no... The pictures created by the fashion industry are made for one reason: selling clothes. So in one way the answer is a clear no; it's an airy-fairy notion to think it is just art. It is highly commercial, and if the commerce behind the production of these images were not a profitable one, then they would pretty soon stop being published.

When we who work in clothes retail do our buying at the big fashion shows and fairs, we are bombarded with pictures of the items we are there to look at. Yes, the clever and artistic photographers and creative directors are using all their wonderful inspiration and skill to make images of female beauty... up to a point. When you speak to the agents, you are immediately struck by their emphasis on commercial concerns. Their first words often are: ''Do you like the main picture in our catalogue? Do you think it will encourage your customers to look at our range?''

Yet there is certainly an aspect of fashion images that is entirely fantastical, and nothing to do with reality. Top fashion models are often a size 6 – but they are usually over 5’ 10” tall. As the average British woman is 5’ 4”, and a size 16, this is obviously a 'fantasy version' of womankind.

I have so often heard it suggested that fashion images have to be 'aspirational', that I decided to look up exactly what that word meant. The list of synonyms is: ambition, goal, objective, target, hope, desire, wish and want. Hmmm. I would suggest that, for an average woman, the image of one of these models could hardly be described as 'aspirational'. 'Normal' women may (or may not) desire, wish or want to be this freakishly tall and thin – but it is surely not something that they could reasonably set as an ambition, or attainable target, or goal. Arguably, doing so would be very unhealthy.

I think that such obsession with the unattainable spreads right across the fashion industry, and our part of it (the plus-size specialist) is not spared. It has been said before on this forum that the pictures of plus-size clothes are often modelled by slim models. Ironically, the models used to promote plus-size clothing are far nearer to the average woman than they are to the plus-size community.

There are individuals and groups of women who are trying to redress the imbalance in what is promoted as beauty. I was recently looking at a website for the Real Bodies Unite Campaign. They have an on-line petition for women who would like to express their frustration at the images, which – when you think about it – are provided for us, and paid for by us... yet many of us find unsatisfying. Surely, we should be getting better representation from the fashion industry that serves us.

Sarah Jones, from Real Bodies puts it this way: ''I want to make a change to see body diversity in fashion so we can all feel happier in our own skin and be healthy whatever size or shape we are!''

For anyone interested in signing their on-line petition, the address is: http://100percentpeople.com/specials/real-bodies-unite-campaign


Emma    Wednesday 13 October 2010 at 21:43

 Post #170 

Subject: Barbie

Many little girls have a Barbie... that iconic plastic doll with the impossible figure, blond hair and vast wardrobe. And for a lot of those girls, their vision of how they will look on their own wedding day is very similar to the way Barbie looks when she marries her boyfriend, Ken. The white satin and lace dress, adorned with beads and sequins, nipped-in at the waist, with big puffed-out full-length skirt and bare shoulders.

The image that women have of themselves on their wedding day is often carried unchanged from girlhood through to womanhood, and quite often owes much to such toys, but also to a scrapbook of ideas from Hollywood, fairytales, celebrities and history. Very often the style of dress chosen for the 'biggest day in a woman’s life' has little or nothing to do with her everyday life, looks and style. It is the iconography from a different world than her own.

This is all great fun. It’s lovely to get a big dressing-up box and play at being Barbie, or a fairy, movie star or princess. However, if you are going to have to be on display in this get-up, in front of family, friends, your in-laws and your future husband, it has to be a little bit more than play-acting. You are going to have to look seriously fabulous!

But when a woman is over a size 18 it becomes more and more difficult for her to find a ‘traditional’ wedding dress that is going to make her look seriously fabulous. There are a number of obstacles in the way.

The first one is the most simple of all: finding a dress that will fit. Not all collections will be available in larger sizes.

However, let us suppose that she has managed to find a shop that will make a dress in a larger size. The problem then is with the selection of the dress. With most samples being shown in a smaller size, it can be extremely difficult to try on a dress. Very often they have to be ordered (and paid for – and we are talking about many hundreds of pounds) without having been properly seen.

This exacerbates the worst problem of all: that most traditional wedding dresses have certain stylistic features that render them unflattering to larger women.

They are usually white or cream for a start, and this is a difficult shade for a larger woman. White is not a recessive colour, so will not shrink the body size. It also describes the body shape in some detail, and can showcase the contours of the body to an unflattering degree. Shiny fabric accentuates this, often quite cruelly. Fabrics with a sheen have a problematic relationship with flash photography; quite a serious problem when the photograph in question may be on display for a lifetime.

Any extra volume, when worn by a larger-size woman, can also cause a problem and should ideally be avoided. So a puffed-out skirt is not normally to be recommended.

Many larger women do look lovely in a corset; especially those who already have an hourglass figure. Sadly, apple-shaped women who (as I know from personal experience) would love to wear a corset, just look uncomfortable because it showcases their least attractive feature.

A nipped-in waist is not always a good look for a larger woman, even one with a lovely waist. This is because it can, by contrast, draw attention to nearby larger features of the body. A cinched waist will showcase a large bust or bottom as much as it displays the waist itself.

On the plus side, a covering of lace, and a sprinkling of embellishment – be they beads or sequins – can add weight to the fabric (drawing it over the body) and will help to break up the texture, and so create a kindlier and less revealing surface. Also, many young larger women have superb shoulders and décolletages, which can carry the off-the-shoulder look beautifully.

If you're able to find a style that suits and try it on to see it properly, in order to make an informed decision; if you have a figure that looks good in a wedding dress; and if you are clever with texture and embellishment – then you can look knockout. These are, however, rather a lot of ‘ifs’.

So the upshot is that not all larger women can look seriously fabulous in a traditional white wedding dress. I think it is the realisation of this that brings so many brides to our door. More and more women seem to be getting married in ‘non-bridal’ wear; we see those seeking beautiful dresses, just not ‘wedding’ dresses.

This year we have sold stretch-silk dresses, jersey dresses, chiffon numbers, even full-length cashmere dresses. They have been in gorgeous prints, full-on colour or subtle shades. They have been long, ballerina length or knee length.

There have been the romantic, the glamorous and the subtle. But none of them have been ‘bridal’.

None of the women who have had dresses from us this year has ended-up looking like Barbie in her wedding outfit. And afterwards, when I have been shown the photographs of the happy events, I have noticed that none of the husbands have looked like Ken either.



sarah copson    Sunday 03 October 2010 at 20:00

 Post #168 

Subject: lovely clothes, fabulous shop, wonderful staff

what a wonderful first trip to brighton!! treating myself to a much needed day off i made the excuse of driving my daughter to work in burgess hill, and then, well, Emma Plus here i come, and i did and was it worth the trip??
well suffice to say i now have the most perfect wedding dress, EXACTLY what i was looking for, not traditional but luxiourious and simple :-)
and with kim on the staff it doesnt stop there, i was 'kimmed' and it was worth every minute and every penny, i have more confidence in my new look than i have ever had as a big girl. wish i earnt more as so many gorgeous things i could have bought but i have a plan to 'invest' as often as i can not only in fabulous quality clothes but also time with some lovely women who KNOW how to dress us more buxom of women
and hope to see you soon


 Emma    Sunday 03 October 2010 at 21:48

Hi Sarah!

Thank you so much for your lovely comments....it is so heartwarming to know that you were pleased with what you found here at Emma Plus!

You looked so gorgeous in what you chose, which I thought was subtle and lovely. You managed to achieve a fashion-forward look that totally suited your theme and colour scheme (I will say no more...a bride's dress remains top secret until the day).

We are very lucky to be able to work here, not only to enjoy the clothes, but to meet with lovely women like you.

I agree with you that Kim is a treasure, we all love her!

 Miss Tartan Waistcoat    Monday 04 October 2010 at 23:31

She's alright I suppose.........

The teal Brand trousers arrived safely and are gorgeous! Am very impressed with the quick turnaround for the alteration, please thank Denisa for me!


 Emma    Tuesday 05 October 2010 at 13:21

Hi Miss Tartan Waistcoat!

Thanks for your reply... I'm so glad that your trousers arrived safely, and you are happy with them!

I was thinking that the colour may team up with this top, which is being modelled by an anonymous woman!

 Emma    Wednesday 06 October 2010 at 15:25

Dear Miss Waiscoat,

Kim has asked me to pass on the news that some jeans have come into stock that you may be interested in...

Emma    Tuesday 15 June 2010 at 22:40

 Post #141 

Subject: The fashion shows...

We had the last of this year’s fashion shows on Saturday, and I think we have learned a lot from doing them. Emma Plus had never done any fashion shows before (the store did a number of shows when it was under previous ownership) and, although I had anticipated that they would be fun, I didn’t really harbour great hopes for them.

Actually, I think that in many instances fashion shows are a frustrating experience for larger women. It can be rather alienating (not to mention patronising) to watch a succession of perfectly-proportioned women sporting the smallest sizes of the type of super-smart clothing that real people don’t often get the chance to wear. It’s all very interesting, but you can find yourself wondering how this has any relevance to your own life.

So when we did our fashion shows we tried to put the clothes together in a way that we would expect our customers to understand, and be interested in. Out went the matchy-matchy suits, and in came the kind of smart-casual co-ordinates that women want to wear in their everyday lives. And we put them on ourselves and our customers - in sizes that were right in the middle of our size range.

And we didn’t take ourselves too seriously. We wanted it to be a pleasant, amusing way of spending a Saturday afternoon!

The result was a sort of explanation of the kind of looks that we are putting together every day for our customers: colourful, comfortable, casual and sassy, with a fashion-forward edge. In other words, just the sort of clothing it is so difficult to find in larger sizes.

The main feedback we had from audience members was that the show helped them to understand how we put our outfits together, and that it was great fun. It is for this reason that we are considering doing at least one fashion show a year from now on...


 Kim P    Friday 18 June 2010 at 21:06

I had such a lovely day last Saturday, it was so enjoyable watching the fashion show and trying on numerous goodies. Seeing your gorgeous models wearing the clothes with diferent colour combos and mix and match items was so helpful. I'm sure I wasn't the only one to buy an item seen modelled that if had just been seen on the hanger would have been overlooked!


 Emma    Saturday 19 June 2010 at 17:15

Hi Kim

Thank you for your kind remarks... Yes, we've had quite a few women tell us that they have spotted an item being worn by one of our models and ended up buying it, even though they would not have picked out had they seen it on the rails!

The other lovely thing about the shows (which you will know all about now!) is that it is a great social occasion, where we can have a chat, some refreshments, catch a show(!) and generally pass a very pleasant afternoon!

It is our duty, we feel, to offer an alternative to anything drab or dreary!


Emma    Tuesday 08 June 2010 at 19:05

 Post #139 

Subject: Permission denied

I have a confession to make... in my blogs so far I have been systematically avoiding a subject which has a very important effect on our attitude towards fashion. I have done this because, quite honestly, I get rather cross about the issue being brought up time and again with regard to larger women. For a long period I thought I would never talk about it; not because it is a taboo topic, but because I felt it was nowhere near as central to the issue of larger women’s fashion as many commentators would have us believe.

I am referring to the subject of self-esteem. If you read the mainstream press you would be forgiven for thinking that all larger women suffer from ‘low self-esteem’. Yet in my work I rarely come across women who have a seriously depleted sense of self-worth. The answer to why this is is obvious. If someone doesn’t believe she is an estimable person, it’s unlikely that she will find herself in a designer store like ours, rummaging through the very latest in beautiful clothing, and choosing her next stimulating and transformative look.

So if I knew I was only going to be read by the women who come to shop in my store, I doubt whether I would ever talk about the issue. To hell with low self-esteem!

However, I have become more and more aware that other women out there in cyberspace read this blog, and perhaps it would be worth talking about an issue that, in all probability, is keeping many women from entering stores like ours.

It is not, as some would have us believe, only larger women who suffer from low self-esteem. Why would a huge, multinational cosmetics company like L’Oreal use the tagline ‘Because you’re worth it’, were it not an incredibly widespread issue? I have sold fashion to large and small women alike, and I believe there are equal degrees of self-doubt and self-criticism in folk of all sizes. The way perfect images of womanhood are projected in the media is enough to make anyone feel inadequate!

I don’t really know how you get high self-esteem; it may be something you are born with, and it's certainly something that develops as you get older. What I am referring to must never be confused with arrogance - just as low self-worth should never be equated with modesty... it's much more negative than that. It is quite possible, for instance, for someone to be more than thoroughly acquainted with their physical shortcommings, yet still have a perfectly healthy level of self-esteem. I know I'm hardly a raging beauty, yet I am lucky enough to have it.

I will give you an example of what I mean. A few years ago a couple of the women from Emma Plus and I went out for a meal in a local restaurant to celebrate our end of year. We were just tucking in to our food, when one of my colleagues told me that she was put off eating. I asked her why and she replied it was because the couple at the next table (particularly the female half) was staring at the three of us. I pooh-poohed this instantly. (I have subsequently read that it is a sign of high self-esteem that you do not notice what other people are doing!)

However, my other colleague confirmed that the woman was, indeed, staring at us. Of the three of us eating, I would say we had three different levels of self-esteem. I had high esteem, and had difficulty either noticing or caring what other people thought of me (to this day, actually, I genuinely think the woman was almost certainly only looking at us with admiration... frankly, the three of us looked gorgeous in our designer outfits which we had specially donned for our celebration dinner; had I seen the three of us, I would have stared - wondering where on earth we had managed to get larger-size clothes like those! Either way, I could not care less).

One of my colleagues had a normal level of self-esteem, and, unlike me, had noticed that we were being closely observed. She had no view as to why, but was irked by the woman’s lack of decorum. My last colleague suffered from low self-esteem all her life, and simply couldn’t eat her meal, so convinced was she that someone was judging her. This completely bewildered me. I couldn't understand why anyone could be upset by the supposed views of someone who was entirely unknown and unimportant to us.

I'm not saying that, as larger women, we don’t get looked at and occasionally judged because of our size - especially from a fashion point of view (often quite wrongly). I remember how, some years ago, I used to bump into my neighbour when I returned from my dog-walk every morning. She was habitually at the front of her property just as I strolled by wearing my walking gear of shorts and a casual top. ‘Wow, shorts!’ she cried, with great amazement, the first time she saw me so attired. She made a big show of nearly falling off her chair with the mock-shock of seeing me. I couldn’t help but wonder as to why she found it so surprising, as we were in the middle of a heat wave. What did she think I was going to wear to walk the dog, salopettes?

However, for the next month or two over that long, hot summer, I reckon I bumped into her, in exactly the same way, perhaps two-dozen times. And every time she exclaimed in amazement at seeing that I (a size 24 woman who as an apple shape had pretty good legs!), would have the effrontery to be seen out in shorts. Really, our conversation was like Groundhog Day, every day!

I can’t honestly say that this daily bludgeoning-home of her opinion (subtlety was not her strong suit, obviously) made me feel any differently about wearing shorts. It did, unfortunately, draw my attention to her own sartorial shortcomings, which I had not really noticed before, and very nearly resulted in my offering some fashion advice of my own to the unfortunate woman. However, I did find it funny, and took it in good part.

At no time was I tempted to trust this woman’s instincts more than my own. Had she been a glamazon style-diva, perhaps I would have considered her opinion as a valid one. But even then, I don't think I would have found it personally upsetting, just interesting. However, it was obvious this wasn’t the case. And that’s putting it mildly. As it was, even by our last late-summer encounter, I certainly hadn't begun to find myself feeling awkward in any way.

It has always seemed amazing to me that so many women are prepared to hand over an extremely precious and vital item, namely their self-esteem, to a person who they wouldn’t dream of lending their car-keys to. Surely, unless someone has shown themselves to be an incredibly adept arbiter of taste, probably your own opinion has more relevance when it comes to your own look?

Eleanor Roosevelt once said ‘No-one can make you feel inferior without your permission’. It’s a permission that I would not give easily, and my customers, in the main, seem to feel much as I do.


Emma    Wednesday 26 May 2010 at 22:39

 Post #137 

Subject: Dressing-up

I was lucky enough to have a mother who had a wonderful attitude towards clothes. My mum was a very stylish lady: fascinated by colour and with a natural, sophisticated ability to pick out good quality in all things. She was very much the ‘county lady’, not at all fashion-forward (at least in her later years), but always highly appreciative of good design.

When I was a child she was happy to let me play ‘dressing-up’ with her clothes. I don’t think I was told that anything was out of bounds in her wardrobe, although I can remember I did not seek to try on her smartest outfits; I knew some of them were delicate and expensive.

My sister and I still have some of her dresses today. I can’t help feeling that my mother had an uncanny ability to capture the fashion zeitgeist for each decade she lived through - summed up in at least one perfect dress. There is a cotton satin dress with a wide skirt, for example, emblazoned with large blue roses, that could only be from the fifties. There is a cream, gold and turquoise beaded column dress that epitomises the glamour of the sixties. And there is a patterned chiffon evening gown, complete with long, fairytale sleeves in gorgeous Monet water-lilly colours that shouts the best of the nineteen seventies.

Actually, come to think of it, it was probably the fact that I would not have dreamed of taking these gowns out of their wrappings that permitted my mother to let me get at her wardrobe!

So the times that I spent trying on her other, more everyday clothes and matching them up with her accessories were very happy ones. I would find scarves, necklaces, bags, blouses and colourful knits, and team them up; parading each look through the house for my own little fashion show.

I had almost forgotten the simple, childish joy of this, but I have been reminded of it while organising our recent set of fashion shows here in the store. How fantastic it is to be trying-on outfits and selecting combinations. Not with a view to actually buying anything - or even to find something appropriate for someone else. No, the joy is in being a different person for a while and seeing the models putting on looks that were not about themselves, but simply about the look.

When you are doing fashion shows like ours, you have carte blanche to explore a large, beautiful wardrobe, with no ego - no reason to be sensible or adult. You can experiment, and just try to look different and lovely.

This may be one of the reasons why the fashion shows have proved to be such fun. We will definitely be doing more of them in future.

Our next fashion show (the last this year), however, is on Saturday 12th June at 2.30pm.


 Kim P    Friday 28 May 2010 at 20:17

Your mother's wardrobe sounds wonderful. I was picturing each decade's outfit as you described them.

I really want to come to the event on the 12th, depends how I'm feeling after an evening at the 20/20 cricket the night before! Please let Jaq know that she really does know what is best for me. The blue flower Nanso top I had passed over is a joy to wear and has received several compliments.


 Emma    Saturday 29 May 2010 at 14:28

Hi Kim!

Thanks for your kind words about your top... I have passed them on to Jaq. We do think these Nanso tops are lovely (I don't know whether you saw this one when you were here?). There's something about them that is so smart, and yet easy to wear.

I wish I could have showed you some of the dresses I had kept from my mum's wardrobe - I had them here in the store for years! They have since gone to my sister's house, where her daughters may be interested in making some use of them. All of my nieces have keen fashion eyes.

I suppose it isn't difficult to see where I got my fascination with fashion from!

I hope your night of 20/20 cricket goes well... and that we are able to see you on the 12th!

Emma    Monday 03 May 2010 at 22:49

 Post #133 

Subject: We've come a long way, baby!

Seems funny to think back on it now, but for some years I lived in a country where most of the women I sold clothes to tended to abide by quite a strict rule of modesty.

By this, I mean that it was not thought seemly for my customers to show anything much of their bodies, and very often they were put under powerful social pressure (and sometimes internal pressure!) to be extremely demure in their dress. Mainly dressed in black or other dark shades, they wore all-enveloping garments, which showed-off their shape to the minimum, and almost none of their flesh.

So the garments that we had to stock in that store were, in the main, dark coloured and rather shapeless. The main purpose of most of the clothing seemed to be to disguise the shape, rather than to express or flatter it. Skirts were as long as possible, almost floor-length, and wide... a long pleated skirt was a sought-after style because it expressed almost nothing of a woman’s shape and, even then, they were often worn with a slip underneath. Blouses were never low-necked (heaven forbid there be any cleavage on show), and sleeves were always either full- or three-quarter length. Jackets were baggy, shapeless and long. Many, many women considered it to be completely inappropriate to wear trousers at all.

The customers who did feel free to wear more revealing clothing were sometimes frowned upon, and some of them told me that they had to endure some kind of moral censure from friends and family when they ventured out in their (relatively tame, by our standards) less repressive looks in public.

I did try very hard to buy beautiful, sexy, relevant, fashion-forward looks for the store I was working in at the time, but it was an uphill struggle to come by the kind of clothing I was seeking. I wasn’t looking for anything too outré... I was just wanting to stock something relevant; not the new Lady Gaga wardrobe!

Time after time agents and designers told me I was on a hiding to nothing: no-one would want to wear anything that pushed the envelope. Even if the customer had enough self-confidence to be able to ‘flaunt’ herself, the social pressure would be too great, and she would be too uncomfortable to enjoy her more liberated look.

Wow, you may be thinking... where is this country, and what was it that caused this restrictive style of dress? We often find that different religions can expect such modesty from women. Fundamental Christians, strict Muslims and Jewish women often choose this sort of fashion language... did I live in a country populated by one or several of these groups?

Of course, the answer is that the shop I worked for was in Brighton, United Kingdom. It was actually in the exact location of the store I now inhabit. The date was 1990... only 20 years ago. My customers were large women then, as they are today. And at that time, whilst the slim girls were wearing miniscule tight skirts - showing their midrifts or in super-short sweater dresses with towering high heels - the larger women were expected to cover up.

The truth is, when I first started in plus-size fashion in this country, larger women were expected to be invisible. Or I should say, the shape and flesh of their bodies were not considered to be decorous enough to be on show. Most of the styles we sold at the time were demure to the point of being yashmaks. Quite seriously, most of the looks could have been worn by community nuns.

Nowadays, we have got used to the fact that the shape of larger women can be beautiful, and that their flesh can be as lovely as any human flesh. And (perhaps more importantly, for most of us women) even when we are not beautiful, we are lovely, and it is our birthright to be as visible as anyone else.

Don’t get me wrong: I don’t feel the need to show myself off, warts and all. Actually, in my opinion, a lot of the skill of a fashion stylist is to hide or disguise those parts of one’s physique that are not (shall we say) in prime condition. I, for instance (in common with many women over 40, whether they be large or small), would rather stick pins in my eyes than show off my upper arms.

However, there are certain assets that I am more than happy to display, and I have found a way of showing my figure to its best advantage. There really is no need for any woman to try to 'anonymise' herself by draping her physique in what amounts to a dust-sheet!

Consumer pressure has brought many of the designers on line, and new, sexy collections have erupted on to our scene. Now that there are more larger, younger women, social pressure has been turned on its head, and women are not only allowed, but positively expected to make the best of their looks.

Larger women are seen as sexy, sassy beings, and there is no need to hide themselves away unless they choose to do so. We have come such a long way, in such a relatively short space of time.


Emma    Tuesday 06 April 2010 at 01:10

 Post #128 

Subject: Turning back the clock

Not all expensive clothes last longer than cheap ones. Expensive designer clothes are often made of tender, gorgeous fabrics. They can have fine, delicate surface finishes... or construction details that speak more to aesthetics than utility.

For example, an invisible hem can be a fragile way of finishing the bottom of a garment. The ultra-fine thread is carefully drawn across the hem, catching tiny pieces of fabric at regular intervals. It’s possible that this hem will last a lifetime. However, if you are unlucky, you can break the thread and the hem will need to be replaced. The designer has not chosen this method for its durability. If that had been the intention then a good, robust double-seam would have been used. This hem has been carefully selected as the perfect way of making a garment look 'effortless' and 'pure'.

Expensive fabrics can also have a shorter life than cheap ones. Let’s face it, if you would like a garment to last a lifetime you would construct it from thick polyester. Something, say, like crimpeline (a heavyweight knitted polyester) would be perfect. I once watched a Marks and Spencer staff uniform, made from such a fabric (the sleeve of which had got caught in the door of a giant industrial washing-machine), spinning backwards and forwards at enormous speed for an hour or so. It came out of the wash in perfect condition. This would not have been the case if the garment had been made out of the finest cotton lawn.

Yet, despite this, designer clothes do tend to last considerably longer than high-street clothes. This is because they are much better made, and the fabrics have been developed to perform as well as possible, within the confines of their natural limitations. Designer clothes are also 'fashion forward', which means than even after several years, they will not look dated.

Many of the clothes that I sell will be worn many dozens of times while they remain ‘smart’, but there is more to them that this. They may go on to have several lives.

The first life is that of the treasured, beautiful, trendy garment. This is the ‘go-to’ item when you want to look good, and you need your clothes to make a statement about yourself. It is your top look.

Then, after several years, the garment becomes an everyday staple. You would wear it to the office on a normal day.

Inevitably, the item then becomes the ‘old friend’: something worn around the house. It is so comfortable that you are happy to do the gardening in it.

Eventually, the garment is sent off to the charity shop, where another larger woman swoops on it and takes it home as a treasured find, and it starts a whole new existence. It's perhaps not surprising to learn that the ecological pressure group, Friends of the Earth, has done research that has found better-quality fashion items to be kinder to the environment over time.

I was rummaging through one of my cupboards the other day and pulled out an old treasure that had fallen on hard times. It was a Persona knitted jacket, from about six or seven years ago.

It had had rather a hard life. I'd loved it when it was new, and wore it often in the shop. Persona is an Italian range whose quality is legendary. It is a cashmere mix - as light as swan-down, and warm and soft as puppies’ ears. The colour is incredibly fashion-forward, a kind of pinky-purple. Even the embroidery on the back (in a petrol blue and lime green) was prescient of the embellishments that have come into vogue over the years since its creation. It came with a matching silk shirt (long since given to one of my friends) and shawl.

It has never looked unfashionable in all the time I have had it, yet it suffered from something for which it was in no way to blame: I put on weight, and no longer felt that I could carry it off at work. But it was so beautiful I couldn’t rid myself of it, and it was so comfortable I felt it calling me as a snuggly (perhaps a little too snug!) everyday warmer to wear around the house.

So that is exactly how it has lived its life for the past four or five years. I have done the housework in it. I have walked the dog in it. I have (it seems from the available evidence) cooked and eaten spaghetti bolognaise in it!

When I took it out of my cupboard the other day it presented a rather sorry sight. There were dog hairs... there were stains... and bobbles. It looked as if the charity shop was calling for it.

However, it is such a beautiful garment and so on-trend at the moment, that I just couldn’t bring myself to let it go, particularly as - now that I had lost the weight - it fitted me again. I decided to try to turn back time.

It was too late to gently wash it by hand with a wool detergent: that horse had bolted. So I washed it in my washing-machine, with plenty of Vanish on the marks. When it had dried I carefully removed the dog-hairs using Sellotape. Then I used my trusty de-piller, bought from John Lewis, to remove the bobbles. I carefully pressed it, and then looked at my handiwork.

It had returned to what I would call ‘excellent vintage’ condition. When I put it on I was so glad that I had my lovely old friend back again. I will really enjoy wearing it to work once more with pride, and I will be happy to watch it start its life all over again.

This jacket was an expensive garment: Persona is one of our highest-end collections. I doubt if it was any less than £150 when I bought it. However, if you were to tot-up how many times I have (and will) wear this garment, it works out at just a few pence per wear. And each time I was spending that few pence, I was enjoying a beautiful, fashion-forward, comfortable work of art.

I would rather be wearing that than a garment that was cheaper to invest in at the outset, yet which would have a much shorter, less comfortable, less aesthetically pleasing, and ultimately less economically sound life.


Emma    Friday 02 April 2010 at 22:56

 Post #127 

Subject: Spring into action

Listening to the radio this week I was interested to hear that the author, Mark Haddon, had written a new play, Polar Bears. Haddon’s most famous work so far is a book called ‘The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time’ - a book centred on a character who has the psychological condition, autism. This latest play also has a person with an unusual psychological make-up: he suffers from bi-polar disorder.

As someone obsessed by people-watching, I have always been fascinated by these various psychological conditions... not because I have any particular knowledge or interest in psychology in itself. It is just that I feel that, if you watch people closely enough, you will see that most of us seem occasionally to exhibit evidence of some syndrome or other.

For instance, psychologists now tell us that there is no barrier between an autistic person’s psychology and that of the mainstream. We are all on the ‘autistic spectrum’, and the traits associated with the condition manifest themselves in our differing personalities.

I spend my life watching the people who come into my store. The fashion industry is not just about clothes; primarily it is about people, and I will jump in with both feet here: I strongly believe that most people (women, anyway) fit somewhere on the bi-polar spectrum.

As I understand it (and I’m sure readers in the blogosphere will put me straight if I am wrong) bi-polar condition is one characterised by extreme mood swings - not over the course of a day, but over weeks or months. The sufferer will often sink into a dreadful depression for some time, then the tide will turn and they will start to feel elated. Soon, they find themselves taking on new challenges, forging new relationships... spending money. After a while, because this condition is sometimes extreme, the behaviour can get totally out of control.

Obviously, the women who I see in my store do not, in the main, have problem psychological disorders: they are quite sane, and their behaviour only veers out of control if they have appeared during a particularly impressive Anna Scholz delivery! Yet I clearly see, over and over again, a similar (although of course, in no way so extreme) pattern of mood swings.

Many of us ‘get into a rut’ from time to time, and this rut can last days, weeks, or (if we are particularly unfortunate) years. It could be that we are bored in our job or relationship. Perhaps we are feeling a bit negative about ourselves physically. Maybe it’s been a long hard winter. We don’t feel like going out and enjoying ourselves: we certainly don’t feel like buying new clothes.

Typically, we don’t see our customers when they are in this phase, but they tell us all about it when they are next in the store. Sometimes, women feel like they have been vegetating at home, marking time for too long.

Then suddenly, the mood changes. It may be that something important happens to alter a woman’s mindset, but it doesn’t have to be. It could be as simple as the onset of spring. Suddenly the days are longer. There is a little sunshine.

It could just be that there is no external influence and it is merely that the down time is over, and she begins to emerge from the torpor.

For many women it is when they are beginning to feel the sap rising that we will see them in the store. They are starting a new phase in their lives. Perhaps they have met a new man. Or perhaps they are shaking up their career. All of a sudden, new things start to look possible.

These women will often embark on a new venture: they may drop a dress size. They might tone up. They may throw out all their old makeup, and change their hair colour.

We often see women in the store who have suddenly realised that the wardrobe they have no longer suits the woman they have decided to be. They are the metaphorical butterfly emerging from a chrysalis. They don’t just want new clothes: they want to project a new identity that suits the change they feel inside.

We don’t always progress through life on a steady path, moving forwards a little at a time every day. I think that many of us have a period of pause, followed by a strong surge of growth and development.

It’s one of the wonderful things in my job that I am privileged to play a small part in those precious, lovely times in a woman’s life. I think they are incredibly important, and the opportunity they present for growth and change should not be lost. I, for one, take these periods very seriously.

And this is an everyday part of my working life. Even as I am writing this there are women out there who are emerging from the winter, blinking into the spring. And they are right now hitting the search engines looking for somewhere that may have some gorgeous looks that are going to gel with the way they are feeling.

Sometimes it’s good to be alive...


Emma    Monday 22 March 2010 at 23:21

 Post #125 

Subject: Fit for life

Many women I know tell me that they have items in their wardrobe which they like the look of, but for some mysterious reason never wear. Very often these are lovely clothes, in beautiful colours, fashionable styles and sumptuous fabrics, which they have owned for years. Yet every time they are put on, they are taken straight back off again.

There may be many reasons for this: the colour might not be correct for the owner’s skin tone, they may be too hot or too heavy to wear. Conversely, they may be too flimsy and revealing. Or the owner may be sensitive to the fabric and start to feel that tell-tale prickle on their skin as soon as the garment is slipped on.

However, the most common reason for ‘rejected garment syndrome’ is fit. Or perhaps I should say, lack of fit.

You know when something doesn’t fit you well. In a nutshell, you don’t feel good in it. It tends to accentuate your bad features, whilst not making the best of your sylph-like areas. You look larger, less chic, less graceful and less sassy when you are wearing an ill-fitting garment.

Bad fitting is probably the number-one problem in the large-size market today. In the past, just getting lovely clothes in our size range was the big issue, but now (if you are prepared to put in the leg-work), with the advent of so many fantastic new ranges, it is possible to find absolutely gorgeous clothes to suit any body shape and skin tone.

However, fit is a perennial problem. It is so difficult for most women to find clothing that really fits them well, it’s possible for them to get very frustrated. With all the advances made in our industry, why-oh-why can’t they simply get the fit right?

Regular readers of this blog will probably find themselves anticipating what I am going to say, which I fear is along the same lines as what I am always saying: this is a very complex subject because women are very diverse in their physicality. We are not all the same, and with larger women, our differences are exaggerated.

When you think about it, it's fairly obvious that it is not up to the manufacturer to produce garments that automatically fit all of us, all of the time. That's clearly never going to happen! With each of us being such a different size and shape, it is not possible. If a garment actually fits us straight off (and it happens to be something we like), then we are happy and lucky. Otherwise the item will have to be made to fit.

The best a really good designer collection can do is sort out its own fit, so that their customers know where they are. A collection like, for instance, the Irish company, Personal Choice, is very reliable with fit. I would call it ‘spot on’ for an average-height woman, who has a well-proportioned frame. This can be contrasted with, for example, the Italian collection, Elena Miro, which tends to be a little small for its size, especially on the bottom half. But once you know of the fit, you can tell what to expect and what size to seek out. The trick is not to get too hung up on the size as it is marked on the label. After all, if it fits, why would it matter if you take a larger size in this particular collection?

So say you have sorted out your size in one of these ranges. You may find that in a certain style, you take a Personal Choice size 26 skirt. That is to say, in order to get this skirt on, this is the size you will take. But does it actually fit?

What is a fit? Is there a regulation tightness or looseness that constitutes ‘fitting’? Where does the hang of the garment come into it? Do all parts of the garment have to fit the same? Do all fabrics need the same kind of fit? What are the aesthetic requirements of a fit, and are practical concerns a priority? What is the psychology of a good fit?

Fitting is an art, not a science. It takes patience, observation and an open mind. When it comes to fit, fixed ideas will not help the process of getting it right.

It’s good to start with practical issues, which do indeed take priority. When you are talking about the physical requirements of fit, it is important to think how the garment is expected to perform. For instance, with larger women there are particular issues with movement. When we bend or alter position, our bodies - which are softer and have a far more flexible shape - will need extra fabric or stretch to accommodate this. During movement, fabric can be drawn over our bodies to a greater degree. If, for example, a size 8 woman wearing a knee-length skirt sits down, her skirt may still be knee length. If, however, a size 30 woman wearing a knee-length skirt sits down, she may - to her alarm - find her skirt disappearing like a blind being pulled up. However good her legs look, this may well be the last time she chooses to wear a skirt this short, and she may find herself deciding to remain standing on the train all the way home!

Stretch fabrics react completely differently to static fabrics, and bias-cut garments have a different character - offering a different type of flexibility: so-called ‘mechanical stretch’. Thicker, more textured fabrics can often take a tighter fit than fine, shiny or clingy ones. A good fitter will automatically alter stretch and bias fabrics in different ways to other fabrics, and will always keep the look of different weights, textures and surface effects in mind.

But it is with the aesthetics of fit that things really start to get complicated. If I were to be simplistic about it, I would say that we are back to our old friends diversion and concealment. If there is one ‘problem’ area that we are particularly sensitive about, then the fabric should be slightly looser there. This means that the fabric can flow loosely, not describing the body shape too fully. If there is an area of the body that one is particularly pleased with, or is rather smaller than is proportional, this can have a slightly tighter cut of fabric, drawing the eye toward it, and revealing the shape in more detail.

Women with a firm, toned figure, and/or young women, may well have a different aesthetic. Self-confidence and a well-proportioned shape may do away with the need to disguise areas, and will lead a closer fit being sought.

For the rest of us, we rely on a little subterfuge. For example, I, as an apple shape, may want to have tops that are not too tight across the tummy. Yet I could go for a really close-fitting pair of trousers. But it is not as simple as just buying a large blouse and a smaller pair of trousers. If I bought a blouse large enough to flow effortlessly across my ample tummy, it would be too large on the bust and shoulders. And if I bought a trouser that was tight enough on my legs, I almost certainly would never be able to do it up around the waist. And I don’t want shapeless garments: even the areas of looseness should have a defined, feminine form.

This, in a nutshell, is why we do so many alterations in our store. In order to get the perfect look, and something that is practical and comfortable, we have to alter most garments to fit their individual owners perfectly.

So going back to your size 26 Personal Choice skirt... Does it actually fit you? Is the waist a little tight (the waistband may need some attention)? Are the hips somewhat wide? Would they benefit from shaping to fit your slightly narrower hips? Would the length be correct with the shoes you had in mind?

If you were buying this skirt from us, we would not want you to leave the store without having these issues attended to by our alteration service.

Some people are daunted by the idea of all these alterations, yet they can be the making of a garment, turning it into the wonderful wardrobe staple that you really look and feel fabulous in.

So it may be worth looking at that rejected garment in the wardrobe, and thinking about seeking out a good alteration service. It really could make all the difference...!


 Kim P    Thursday 25 March 2010 at 20:31

Hi Emma, we have become so used to accepting poor service and "it will do" clothing from other retailers that you are having to point out the benefits of wearing clothes that fit properly. Would seem obvious but I suspect a quick rummage through our wardrobes will suggest otherwise!


 Emma    Thursday 25 March 2010 at 23:23

Hi Kim

How right you are! The other thing that I think has happened is that we have forgotten that clothes are manufactured items which are supposed to be made to fit us, not the other way round!

When we as larger people find that clothes don't fit, we often blame ourselves, which is barmy if you think about it!


Emma    Thursday 26 November 2009 at 00:58

 Post #95 

Subject: Fussy?

So I found myself in the nightwear department of a well-known chain store, looking for some new pyjamas. You may be able to guess the store I was in - it’s the one that supplies undies to the nation! Unfortunately, for me, the experience was bringing on ‘shopping rage’. I just couldn’t find what I wanted, even though there were hundreds of pyjamas on display. Why on earth was I being so fussy?

It was an odd set of circumstances that had brought me into this store. After having a bit of a health problem, I found that I needed an operation (I’ve since had it, and some of you may have realised that there has been a bit of a hiatus in my blogs whilst I have been recuperating). True to any surgical procedure, the operation seemed to require a massive loss of weight, so I have recently lost 4 stone, and gone down from a dress size 24 to a teeny-weenie size 18. This brings me into the very smallest size in our range - so I’m the Emma Plus version of size zero at the moment!

For my five-night stay in the hospital I wanted some nice pyjamas, and although I have collected some beautiful ones over the years (I haven’t worked in a large size store for nothing!), they no longer fitted me. I needed new ones. In our store we do sell pyjamas (although we don’t always have them in stock) but we certainly couldn’t be relied on to have a size 18 pair available. Most of our range goes from a size 20 upwards, with a smattering of 16s and 18s. My colleague, Jaq, ordered some beautiful ones from Nanso, which does lovely colourful jerseywear, but they had not arrived, and it was just a couple of days before my operation. In my new smaller state I felt confident that for once in my life I might be able to find what I wanted on the high street, so I strode forth.

On that particular shop floor there were so many different pairs of pyjamas; it was enough to make your head spin. Thick ones, silky ones, flimsy types and fleecy. Bright and dull coloured. Traditional and jazzy. There was just one problem... I didn’t like any of them. This was because each pair had a very short top. Held up against me, I could see that the jacket part of the nightwear ended just below my waist, at about navel level. They did not cover either the tummy area, or the bottom.

Bizarrely, this was the case for every style, no matter how they differed in other ways. Not a pyjama in the entire store had a top that would cover one’s derriere. Someone had taken it upon him or herself to decree that a longer top just wasn't allowed.

Now, pyjama trousers are not a thing of beauty around the bottom region. Why would anyone spend their hard-earned money buying a garment that was so incredibly unflattering? Honestly, who, other than Jennifer Anniston, would actually look good with their bottom hanging out of the back of their jym-jams?

However, this problem is particularly irksome for larger women. It's my belief that if one asked just about any woman over a size 16, she would confirm that, if she is wearing trousers (either during the day or at night), she will need a top that covers her bottom - it's hardly rocket science! So this is yet another example of a range of items being bought by a major store with inadequate knowledge and no consultation about what larger women want.

I roamed the department with my friend, getting more and more angry. The lone sales assistant I managed to wrestle to the ground (as she tried to dodge her way across the shop floor) obviously thought I was being incredibly fussy. But I wasn’t, actually. I just happened to know what I needed, and was not prepared to put up with something less.

In our store customers often apologise for being 'fussy' when they are merely being prescriptive about what they are looking for, and it usually makes me smile. These are women who have spent ages trying to find a specialist designer store. They have managed to track Emma Plus down. Then they have quite often travelled some distance to get here. They have been prepared to pay higher than high-street prices to buy our wares. Finally, they have often been happy to wait until the item has been altered to make the fit absolutely perfect, and sent on to them by mail.

In short, they have built the Emma Plus business in the likeness of what they really, really want. And they have kept us successfully trading for 20 years. If they had not been so 'fussy', then they would have given up and just bought items from the high street that they were not happy with. And the result would be that we would not exist.

Call it what you like, but fussiness is not a word I would readily use. I would prefer to call it taste.

Well, I had the operation and it was a success. I’m hoping to get back to work by Christmas – just in time for some very exciting new developments that I will discuss in a subsequent blog.

And, as luck would have it, my gorgeous Nanso pyjamas arrived just in time. They even had a beautiful matching dressing-gown (which Jaq had kept as a surprise). And the style of the top was long enough to cover my bottom - and then some!


Rosemary Milmine    Wednesday 04 November 2009 at 20:28

 Post #86 

Subject: Skinny Models

Why are all the models on your web pages skinny and young? Lets have some real women strutting their stuff! I am planning to come in and spend my £10 voucher soon..Thanks very much


 Emma    Thursday 05 November 2009 at 10:40

Hi Rosemary

I have a feeling this issue is going to run and run!

Actually, someone else has also posted a remark very similar to yours (see post 84), and I have to say, I heartily agree with it!

If you read my reply to that post, you will see why we put these images on our website.

However, I really feel that the more comments like yours the better - any kind of pressure on our suppliers to provide more realistic images has got to be a good thing! I would love to be able to get my suppliers to take one look at our forum and then try to explain why they continue to use small models!


Emma    Monday 26 October 2009 at 01:08

 Post #85 

Subject: The journey

As many women reading this will already know, you don’t always go to a designer clothes shop just to buy some clothes. That’s the main purpose, of course; even with recent improvements in the high street brands, the independent store still remains the prime source of fashion.

You can simply go into a shop, quietly select the clothing of your choice, try it on in a peaceful environment, make the purchase, then just go home. There are many women who choose to do exactly this, and are very happy.

Most women, however, whether they know it or not, are actually using another service provided by this kind of store... the service of a skilled stylist.

What does a stylist do? Most of us have seen a certain type of fashion stylist at work on television. This kind of stylist will normally take a woman who has avowedly no interest in fashion (and, often, shocking taste) and do a makeover on her - seemingly turning her into a completely different person.

Often this changeling not only ends up looking different, but also ‘benefits’ from a complete emotional overhaul, usually (apparently) against her will. She ‘goes on a journey’... No region of her body is held sacrosanct from prying eyes, cameras and often hands, and all areas of her psyche, no matter how private (or apparently irrelevant), are probed. The all-knowing stylist will brook no opposition, and by the end of the programme the transformation is complete. It has to be said that the participant usually looks younger and much more stylish as a result of the process - but often more than a little shell-shocked and browbeaten.

It’s not for the fainthearted - and that’s just the viewers! I do enjoy these programmes, and I feel they fulfil a purpose. They give ideas and advice that we women can put into practice in our own lives.

The enjoyment is a rather guilty one, however. It’s a kind of fashion blood sport; a modern take on throwing Christians to the lions for public entertainment. The original woman, shown in all her bad fashion and 'old hag' hair, with 'mad woman' makeup and gnarley teeth, is cruelly exhibited for our titillation and disgust. The stylist is seen as the all-powerful force for good. And the transformation is magical.

This could not be further removed from the work of the stylist in her everyday life in a fashion store. For a start, the women who call on her advice and help are far from being fashion-challenged. They are usually the most stylish women in any given population. This is, after all, one of the locations where all the most fashionable women buy their clothes, although by no means are these the only people that frequent the fashion store. Most customers have a less maintained look than the diehard fashionista (and are real women who actually have a life, after all), but they don't have hag hair. And their makeup does not scare small children.

The customers of a designer store emphatically do not need a makeover... so why do they require the services of a stylist? These are women who know what suits them and get a lot of joy out of dressing well. By and large, if they could not find a stylist to help them, they would still look great.

However, there is no denying that a really good fashion stylist is a very useful tool in the important task of looking fabulous. She is the 'go-to' person when you are looking for something particular that you really can’t live without. (Need that little black dress for your pear-shaped figure? Or that pair of velvet trousers? Or the business suit for the important interview?) Even if it is not in stock anywhere, your friend in the store will move heaven and earth to obtain it for you.

Perhaps you just aren’t sure about something... does your bum look big in this pencil skirt? You know that she will subtly steer you clear of fashion faux pas.

She makes her living by being your secret weapon in outshining the thin girls in the office at the Christmas do - just when you were about to feel a bit intimidated about finding the right thing to wear.

She will also tirelessly dig through all the tops to find the one that goes with the skirt you love. And she will magic-up a colour that goes perfectly - and is on trend.

She has no other agenda than to make you look good. After all, if you look good, she looks good. Your psyche is none of her concern, and she will keep her hands and eyes off your private areas. She’s in your corner. She does not compete with you, judge you or browbeat you.

And the only journey she will expect you to go on is into the changing room for a jolly good trying on session...


 Liz Rylance    Monday 26 October 2009 at 09:18

Good morning Emma
I just had to respond to your comments on the 'stylist' Emma. Before I found your wonderful shop I wouldn't have been able to relate to this at all but for the last 15 or so years that has all changed. Whenever I come into Emma+ I KNOW that I am going to have a wonderful time both socially and as a shopping experience. You and Jaq find a fantastic selection of clothes for me to try on some of which are well outside my 'comfort zone' but thank goodness for that! Thanks to your knowledge I have worn so many more colours and styles - even - shock horror - a white linen long jacket (one of my absolute favourites)! Me? In white? Surely not? Oh yes, and it makes me feel fantastic :-)
So thank you both for opening up the world of fashion to me. Long may you reign!

 Emma    Monday 26 October 2009 at 09:36

Hi Liz

Thank you so much for your kind comments. When I referred to stylish women who get joy out of looking good you were just the kind of woman I was talking about!


 Lara in Melbourne    Friday 30 October 2009 at 15:13

Hi again from the antipodes.

Emma, Jaq; please consider a relocation. The weather's lovely :) Sitting in the lounge with the aircon charged, and it's only October. Time to get the lighter gear out for comfort.

Reading your discussions on stylists was intriguing; I'm bordering on a career change, and a land purchase (with a view to dropping a house on the block at some stage; all too scary to deal with :) )

It's makeover time. I need to drag myself out of the "special pieces are for special times" mindset that my current job, working from home, has allowed me to slip into (well, and that I've allowed myself to fall into), and get back to "I want to look fabulous every day!"

Odd how the prospect of additional money makes me want to present myself at my best, when at the moment I'm prepared to have only one or two "special" pieces which are brought out only for "good". Why should I not feel "good", every day?

To be honest, I have no idea why I've let myself bumble my way into only owning one or maybe, at a push, two outfits I'd be pleased to be seen in in public. The rest are "acceptable", or "not embarrassed" to be seen in. Not a great start. I need to be more brave, and ditch the stuff which makes me feel less than fabulous. I need to make the effort. For me.

I'm looking forward to the transformation my change in circumstances and responsibilities will bring. I've started with the basics: nails and hair. Next is a full rework of my makeup. After that, it's time for the "real world" clothes . And then I can adjust the hair, nails and makeup to match the package. I can't wait :)

Wishing I was in the UK, because I know exactly where I would be spending my next Saturday. Hell, I'd bring the bottle of bubbles for effect.

Best wishes, and hoping everything is running smoothly,


 Emma    Saturday 31 October 2009 at 15:53

Hi Lara

Thank you so much for your post. I don’t know whether you realise this, but to the reader what you have written comes over as very inspirational!

All the time I see women in similar positions to the one you describe. This is often what brings a customer into our store for the first time.

There is sometimes a moment in life when things start to move forward and change, and you realise that you have the opportunity to shape the kind of person you are going to be in the years ahead. To use an Aussie analogy, it’s a wave that has come along, and you can choose to catch it and ride it for a while.

These are really precious moments - and can be the source from which a lot of different opportunities spring. If your instinct is to develop an aspect of yourself, then I would definitely go for it.

Fifteen years ago I was made redundant from a job I loved. I had little money, and the economy was tanking. For some unknown reason, instead of being depressed I felt liberated. I took over the shop and reinvented myself into the kind of person that I am most happy with.

It was a scary time, but it was the best thing that ever happened to me.

I wish you the very best, and I hope that you move forward towards where you want to be. I only wish I was there to see it...


Emma    Sunday 04 October 2009 at 17:56

 Post #81 

Subject: Navel gazing

When reading the way fashion is written about in newspapers and magazines, one sees the various angles from which this subject is usually tackled.

There are journalists that talk about fashion from the top down, and examine the influence of the most famous designers from their shows in New York, Paris, London and Milan. Alternatively, there are writers that concentrate on what is happening on the high street, or the youths that create street fashion.

Some journalists get obsessed with the influence of the economy on clothing trends, whilst others turn to politics (high heels as seen from a feminist angle, anyone?).

You can read articles about what women should wear at any particular age. And there have been many helpful stories about the best looks for people with various different coloured complexions, and body shapes.

However, there is one huge area of fashion that seems to be virtually ignored by the learned fashion writer. I’m talking about the massive impact that personality or psychology has upon what an individual is prepared to wear, and the look one is trying to achieve.

What kind of thing am I referring to? One important issue is: do you dress for yourself or for others? How confident are you?

For instance, imagine yourself in this situation. You are standing in front of, say, 50 people - all strangers - wearing an outfit that you are particularly pleased with, and feeling good. Then you find out that the people with you are going to be asked to comment on your clothes.

How does that make you feel? Are you relaxed? Confident? Do you have any idea what the people are likely to say? Will their opinion override your own? Indeed, is this whole scenario your worst nightmare?

So the 50 people all proceed to have their say on your outfit. Of that number, imagine that 49 agree with your own analysis of your style. The general consensus is that you are looking hot. Your look hits the spot - it’s fashionable, stylish and suits you.

However, there is one person among the 50 who has a different opinion. She feels that you are looking frumpy, lumpy and stumpy.

Be honest with yourself: would you actually be more likely to listen to that one dissenting voice, simply because it is being critical? Are hers the comments that you will take home with you? Do you find it easier to accept criticism than praise? Maybe that is what you are actually listening for?

Actually, are you your own worst critic? Even if everyone admires the way you look, do you still doubt yourself?

Perhaps you take an almost scientific, dispassionate view. To have the huge percentage of people agreeing that you look wonderful speaks volumes about how you are seen by others. And that one disapproving observer? Well, we all know that there is simply no pleasing some people!

On the other hand, are you the kind of person who can stand your ground, even if the proportion of approval to disapproval were reversed? Imagine that out of 50 people asked to comment, 49 felt that you were not dressed successfully, and only one felt that you looked superb. Would you simply smile, shrug and quietly realize that you were in the company of philistines, with the exception of one enlightened person?

Perhaps you would delight in their disapproval of your clothes, because nothing makes you happier than to be a rebel, with your own renegade style?

Or, if you were told that a group of people were going to make a comment on your fashion sense, would you simply not want to hear what they had to say, because you would find it tedious and pointless? You have no interest whatsoever in what people think you look like (we could call this the Anne Widdecombe attitude).

Do you get impatient with all this navel-gazing, and feel that we should snap out of it?

A woman’s reaction to these issues is key to the kind of look she is trying to achieve. Yet very often she has never really given any conscious thought to them. This is a major cause of confusion and frustration in my business.

There are women who know they look good in various colours and styles, and who feel that they ‘ought’ to wear them - yet find something standing in their way. Friends try to encourage them to break out of their safety zone, but they are unable or unwilling to do so. The obstacle is coming from within themselves.

Then there are women would love to try a more colourful, exciting, perhaps more revealing style, but instead stick to dull colours and demure shapes, which draw less attention (and less judgement) upon themselves. They are feeling pressure from others.

I think that, when it comes to buying clothes, you have to think about more than just your body shape and colour suitability. You have to understand, embrace and develop your own psychological makeup with reference to your look. Because although your body and skin may slip effortlessly into a chic, colourful and distinctive style, your psyche may have to be shoe-horned into it - with real mental discomfort!

The only way to deal with this is to meet it head on. To look at how you would like to dress, and what is standing in your way. You may decide that you really have nothing to fear and should ditch some of your inhibitions, embarking on making a radical new departure.

However, you may conclude that your tried and tested style has stood you in good stead, and has given you a welcome comfort blanket which has helped you in your life. Stepping outside this safety zone would not be worth the net gains... you have a busy life to get on with!

Either way, it’s worth knowing that it is a choice that you make each day of your life. In fact it is never too late to change, and I know from personal experience that real people do so all the time. The results can be truly life-altering!

It would be a good idea to think about what you are up against, though. Because if you find that for every 50 people voicing admiration for your look, you always seem to hear one negative opinion, it may be worth checking out the source of that one critical voice.

It may just be coming from inside your own head.


Emma    Wednesday 09 September 2009 at 22:48

 Post #75 

Subject: Joy

The poet John Keats wrote ‘A thing of beauty is a joy forever’, and when it comes to fashion (at the very least) I agree with him. Fashion is an art and an industry devoted to the pursuit of beauty, and is in the business of joy-creation.

We are coming to the end of the buying season now (I have just one more range to buy to complete the Spring/Summer 2010 collection), and I have been taking an overview of what’s in store for us next year.

There are so many highlights worthy of mention, that it’s hard to know where to begin.

We have ordered chiffons and jerseys in soft, flowing styles, in jewel colours, ranging from teal, to cobalt blue and purple. We have gone for sassy, sexy little fitted jackets from Italy and Ireland. We have selected crisp, cleverly-shaped linen suits, and Sergeant Pepper-inspired waistcoats, adorned with cut-steel embelishment.

Hilariously, we have even invested in some jumpsuits, which some inspired person has managed to make work for the larger woman (I’m going to have one of those!).

But I suppose, yet again, the range that most stood out for me was the Anna Scholz collection.

Anna Scholz is the foremost designer for the large-size market. Her clothes exude confidence and uncompromising sensuality. They are unapologetic; they assume the wearer is an attractive, vibrant woman with attitude and taste.

If Anna had produced a collection up to her usual standard, I, for one, would have been thrilled. Judging by previous collections, one could assume that Anna would always bring forth something that will be just gorgeous.

So it was almost with disbelief that I looked at her collection for next summer. There were so many items that were breathtaking that it was difficult to take them all in. It seems almost illogical that someone should decide to just go berserk like this! I think, if I were Anna, I would worry that I was using up all my most brilliant ideas, all at one time. There is not space in this piece to list all the clothes that deserve mention, but I will dip in at random and describe some...

There was a black and white floor-length stretch silk gown, with an Art Deco inspired print, plus a plunge neck and sleeves - that is a dress that every large woman ought to have in her wardrobe. The versatile fabric is also used in one of Anna’s trademark kaftan tops.

There was a mink-coloured trouser suit, whose styling gives a nod to a man’s dinner suit. The same jacket is produced in a cobalt blue, and can also be worn over a matching wrap dress.

There is a gorgeous chiffon creation, with a pink and grey swirl pattern on a black background. This has been made into a couture-style dress with an interior structure that could only have been dreamed-up by a genius.

There was a dress with a Grecian draped neckline, made from sweet and feminine hydrangea print stretch silk, giving the impression of a nineteen-thirties tea dress - yet with a brighter, more sharp and edgy feel.

In fact the feel of the collection for me was of nineteen-thirties meets the seventies, with 21st century hindsight.

In the same poem, Keats wrote 'Some shape of beauty moves away the pall from our dark spirits'.

Speaking just for myself, had there been any pall from dark spirits hanging over me at the time, it would have rocketed away after I had caught sight of these beautiful creations. That’s one of the wonderful things about being a woman: the presence of really gorgeous clothes can work wonders...


 Sharon Cross    Thursday 17 September 2009 at 15:52

Hello - I've just found your blog and I have to say its great.

One plea though - please don't print these pictures of Anna Scholz's dresses when I can't buy them yet: its like having your nose pressed against a particularly good sweetie shop and not being allowed in :-)

I've worn Anna's clothes since her 1st collection and still adore them...now, have to find a time to come down to the shop as hoping it must be as good as the blog.


 Emma    Friday 18 September 2009 at 15:38

Hi Sharon

Thank you for your post and for your kind words.

Yes, it's very cruel to show images of clothes that you cannot get until next summer. But now you know how I feel!

I have mentioned before on this blog how sometimes I come away from buying a collection (particularly an Anna Scholz collection) in anger, because I feel bad about having to wait for six months before I can get the clothes...


 Anna Scholz    Friday 18 September 2009 at 17:46

Dear Emma -
I just had a good read through your ever so well-written Forum and blog :)
I always enjoy our appointments and love nothing more than to tease with new exciting designs for the forthcoming seasons. I am sure you will be glad to hear that even I have to wait until spring to get my hands on the new goodies.
I am happy that things are going so well for you and our collection is flying !
All the best and lets do that lunch very soon.
Anna x


 Emma    Saturday 19 September 2009 at 12:36

Hi Anna

Thank you so much for taking the time to post on our blog!

I think it is a good thing that you are able to see the comments left by customers who enjoy wearing your clothes.

Of all the ranges that we have ever stocked, the Anna Scholz collection stands out – it must be very satisfying to be involved in this highly successful creative process.

Here in our shop it certainly feels good that we are able to provide these clothes to the women who really love them, so we are very grateful to you and your team!

Emma    Sunday 24 May 2009 at 21:44

 Post #49 

Subject: Super-size dream

I was chatting with one of my customers yesterday about what I would do if I won the lottery (that’s always supposing I started doing it, of course). Naturally, I would - within a millisecond - be sunning myself somewhere exotic.

But when I got bored with that... I have a long-held fantasy about what I would do if I had enough money to be able to play about with some of it.

What I would absolutely love to do is to open a larger-size superstore! It’s been a favourite dream of mine for years, and I will paint a picture of it for you...

I would take a good-sized building in Brighton (I’ve seen a couple that would be near enough to a car park and the train station to be suitable), and I would open a department store dedicated to large sizes. Everything needed by the large woman would be stocked - every product that you may ever desire (some without even knowing it).

Of course, there would be the usual Emma Plus-type of clothing: daywear, a fabulous eveningwear department, occasionwear, workwear, etc. There would be coats of every type, from the thick winter variety, to lightweight macks. There would be leather jackets, jeans, T-shirts... everything that we currently stock, only on a much bigger scale.

The lingerie department would be a joy, and it would be so fantastic to see a really comprehensive collection of larger-sized nightwear - both sexy and everyday.

There would be a sportswear department, with all different types of active wear - and a swimwear section, which would also stock sarongs and beachy-type clothing.

There would be a bridal department with large-size bridal gowns so that purchasers could actually try on a style before committing themselves to ordering it to be made - such a radical idea!

Everything imaginable would be sourced in larger sizes. There would be bigger hats and bigger gloves, in all the colours available. There would be larger tights, also in every colour and thickness. The scarves we at present stock at Emma Plus are specially designed and made for us to suit the larger woman, and our necklaces and bangles are also specialist items - these would also be found in the accessories department of the store. The handbags would have long adjustable straps, so that they will span across a larger woman. Even the socks would be special, with wider, softer tops.

The shoe department would stock shoes, large and small, that would be wide fitting. And the larger-sized shoes would be really large. What’s more, there would be really lovely, younger styles. Women’s feet are getting bigger with every generation, yet the shoe industry is fixated on the idea that large shoes should be in styles more suited for older people. This makes absolutely no logical sense. Hello! Statistically speaking, it’s the younger generation that has the larger feet! And older women have stopped being frumpy - if they ever were! The boots would be wide in the calf, and some of them would be really long - they would actually be knee-high on tall girls!

I know it sounds mad, but these products do actually exist! We already stock many of them, but this store would be able to go into massive depth and variety. If the buyers of the superstore put some effort and expertise into sourcing these items, there would be no problem whatsoever in assembling them all in one place. It has never been done before, but it is eminently possible.

Because of the scale of the undertaking, there would be a ‘while-you-wait’ alteration department. A customer could make her purchase of, say, a pair of trousers, then after a little break for coffee (and maybe cake) in the café, she could collect them, ready shortened, before leaving for home.

The wonderful thing about this particular fantasy is that I think it would be a success. If it was backed up with national advertising, I truly believe that, at one point or another, every large woman in the country would want to visit it - if only for curiosity’s sake. And if she loved the experience, she would return again and again. Large people are a growing (as it were) section of the population - we are not going to go away.

Supply and demand are usually so intrinsically linked, yet the link is broken in the large-size fashion business. There is often very little way for the customer to purchase what she really wants, thus sending a strong enough message to the manufacturer about what should be produced. A large-size superstore would have real clout with suppliers, and would increase the availability of the products that are so desperately needed.

There would be many, many customers from Europe also stimulating trade. Brighton is a superb place to stay, and even if some women found the journey to get here a bit onerous, they would find it worthwhile.

Of course, it would only then remain for some enterprising chap to set up a large-size man’s superstore next door...


Emma    Thursday 21 May 2009 at 22:36

 Post #47 

Subject: Lesbian chic

All lesbians are mannish and are not interested in fashion. And all women’s clothes shop owners are snotty, superior and unapproachable...

Where do these clichés come from? In common with most people, I’m hoping they get dumped in the dustbin of history! But like many clichés (offensive or otherwise), they may have within them a grain of truth.

I have been reading articles in the mainstream press about fashion all my adult life, and I can honestly say that I have never read a single one that deals with lesbian fashion, other than from the perspective of the straight population. What I mean by this is that, while straight women have been interested in borrowing from the style of various notable lesbians (Marlene Deitrich, KD Laing, etc. - so called ‘lesbian chic’), in the mainstream media no-one ever seems to talk about the fashion experience from a lesbian point of view. This contrasts with the emphasis on gay men’s fashion, which has always played a major role in contributing to the advance of menswear design. Arguably, the influence of gay men on menswear design is far greater than the influence of straight men on this subject!

Perhaps I am blundering in where angels fear to tread. Perhaps it is in itself discriminatory to talk about lesbians as a group - or indeed, to generalise about any section of the female population. However, it’s something retailers do all the time. Big retail has made a whole profession out of the study of different socio-economic groupings as they affect consumer purchasing behaviour. And I feel sure any lesbian readers of this blog will ‘put me straight’ (as it were!) should I put a foot wrong.

I can understand why one would believe there is nothing of interest here: surely, the lesbian experience of fashion is the same as the straight woman’s? I have to admit where I am coming from here. As a straight woman, I am not at all qualified to talk about the gay experience of fashion, and so I have no intention of doing so. Yet as a storeowner, who has worked in womenswear for most of my adult life, I can comment on my side of this relationship.

Situated, as we are, in the North Laine area of Brighton, which is the heartland of the gay capital of Great Britain, we enjoy the custom of many lesbians. Yet I can’t help feeling that many more gay women, who by rights should be our customers, habitually give stores like mine a wide berth.

Many times over the years, for example, my first meeting with a gay woman has been when she was driven into my store, almost against her will, by sheer necessity. I know this, because I am often told so. I cannot count the number of times a woman has said that she had not really wanted to embark on the shopping expedition that had brought her to my door, but had actually dreaded it... that the only reason she eventually came was because there was some major event that had necessitated her breaking down her own personal barriers to visit us. Yet so often, these women who have previously dreaded visiting us, have loved the experience, and have gone on to become our regular customers and friends.

This has been particularly noticeable since the advent of the Civil Partnership law, which enabled gay couples to legally mark their relationships - surely the single most joyful law brought into legislation for many decades! We have had a flood of rather nervous-looking lesbians bashfully slipping into the store and surreptitiously looking through our rails ever since. Of course they are looking for something wonderful to wear to either their own, or their friends’ happy event. Some of them don’t like to mention why they are here: we know (we’ve seen so many of these happy couples to recognise the body language now), but they don’t know we know!

It has led me to wonder why so many gay women are so nervous when they come into boutiques like ours. I feel certain it is because they have good reason. I have asked about it many times, but to date the answers have been simply polite and vague.

When I scroll through my own memory about how I have been received in designer boutiques, an answer starts to dawn. Some women who work in shops like mine, seem to see ‘femininity’ as a competitive sport. By this I mean that they appear to adopt an extreme version of it and look down on other women who have a different emphasis to their own. They seem to feel that a less ultra-feminine woman is lower down the fashion food chain than they are!

I’ve been in shops where the person working there is slim, with a super-feminine outfit, and an extremely high-maintenance style, who has felt free to snub or patronise me. I have presumably been examined and found wanting in some way. Let’s be frank, in my case, it’s unlikely that they object to my look, fashion-wise. I think, for me, simply being a larger woman has probably been enough to provoke the superiority reflex.

I even remember once being in a store that was stocking some larger sizes (along with small ones), and still being treated in this way. I strolled in the door, wearing all the best designer labels, looking reasonably well presented with a nice hairdo and makeup. Yet the stick-thin ultra-chic (she thought) young thing in the shop virtually refused to serve me, despite there being no other customers in the shop at the time. I found myself looking at her back nearly all the time I was there. As a large woman, she simply couldn’t take me seriously enough as a customer! She couldn’t see me as a person interested in style.

I can’t help thinking how much worse I would have been looked down upon if I had a less ‘maintained’ look, or if I had a more androgynous style. And many of our lesbian customers are very pared-down and more relaxed in their look.

Of course, one doesn’t have to be gay to appreciate the sleek, subtle, occasionally androgynous style favoured by many of our lesbian customers. It is a staple for sophisticated women from all walks of life, but it is not always well represented in the designer womenswear retail community. In fact, in many boutiques, finding something that is pared down, elegant, sleek and non-flouncy is like looking for hen’s teeth. This is sheer madness: there are superb clothes available from the designers that are timeless and elegant assets to any woman’s wardrobe. Yet many store owners simply do not appreciate this kind of dressing. They do not realise that not all of us want to look like Paris Hilton!

It’s about time our industry embraced not only the differing sizes and shapes of their customer base, but also the different aesthetic sensibilities.

So there seem to be two problems. There is a whole style that our industry tends not to recognise, understand and provide properly. Then the situation is only made worse by the actions of a minority of store assistants with an attitude problem. Women should be made to feel valued and appreciated-customers spending their money in an estbablishment don't want to feel they have to be 'tolerated'. If lesbians have had negative previous experiences, no wonder many don’t want to chance coming into my store!

Word of mouth is a useful thing. I do believe that, in time, many more of the women who would benefit from shopping with us will eventually throw caution to the winds and come and have a look at our collection.

And hopefully, we will leave the negative clichés and generalisations to the past. I hope it can be seen that, in our store - in every sense - we may be straight, but we are not narrow!


Emma    Tuesday 21 April 2009 at 00:27

 Post #30 

Subject: Wedding griping

I am discovering that one of the marvellous things about having a blog is the ability to have a good gripe and get all of life’s small irritations off one’s chest.

At the shop we are now deep into ‘wedding season’, and this throws up a number of irritations. One that I find particularly irksome is the phenomenon of women being told (by family or friends) what colour to wear to a wedding. These instructions can range from something as simple, and understandable, as ‘please, please, mum, would you mind not wearing black, just this once!’ to something more dictatorial.

It’s now quite normal for us to see women who have been told what colours are off-limits. One reason for this is it seems many poor souls mistakenly think that when someone in the wedding party has an outfit of a certain colour, this makes it forbidden for use by other attendees. This is entirely wrong.

I accept that care should sometimes be taken about wearing precisely the same colour as others. If it looks like the two mothers, for instance, are wearing very similar shades then they can just look a bit too alike, like two overblown bridesmaids. And the larger of the two women (in other words my customer) can often come off the worse for the comparison - something I would avoid where at all possible! However, the chances of getting exactly the same shade are slim, and a different shade of the same colour will not cause any problems of this kind. When you see the photographs you will not notice. So once someone has bought an outfit, this should not debar anyone else from wearing a similar colour should they choose to do so.

Quite often we see a woman who is a larger size, say a size 30, who is looking for an outfit to attend her son or daughter’s wedding. It’s one of the really important days of this woman’s life. And it’s not going to be easy for her to find the right thing to wear. She has to get the style that really suits her. She has to make sure she feels comfortable in it - that the fabric is not too hot and doesn’t crease too much. It needs to be affordable, and, as she is a certain shape, it has to a very particular type of fit. It has to be a shade that suits her complexion. She wants it to be young and fashionable, yet formal enough. And to top it all, it has to be available in a size 30. To be honest, for many women of this size range, even after months of searching, she may find only one outfit that perfectly suits this profile.

Yet, when she does, this lady is sometimes told by a member of her family that she is ‘not allowed’ to buy it. This is because someone else attending the same event has ‘bagged’ that colour. Often this lucky other woman has chosen the colour of the season (this summer it would be purple), which is the colour many of the best outfits at the time. But this particular woman may be a size 10. She had bags of choice, and probably found her outfit on the very first day that she went out looking (which explains why she got first dibbs). And, had she decided to change to a different one, she could easily go out and find another in an afternoon.

But unfortunately it gets much, much worse than this. Every wedding season we see women coming into the shop with a strict instruction that they must wear one colour. This has nothing to do with clashing with anyone else. It could be for a relatively benign (although to my mind still misguided) reason - for example because the whole wedding is ‘themed’ in a certain colour, and all attendees have to match in some way. However, this is relatively rare. The usual reason is that someone simply has the mistaken belief they have the right to tell another person what she is supposed to wear.

Many times I have found relatives (mostly for well-meaning reasons, although sometimes for more sinister motives) have just told a woman in no uncertain terms what she is meant to buy. I have no idea if these self-appointed stylists/fashion experts realise the havoc they cause; it’s unlikely, because they probably haven’t had the same difficulties obtaining an outfit themselves. They may be trying to be helpful, but if their advice is followed it makes finding an outfit almost impossible. And very stressful.

These are ladies who have found it easy to make themselves look good, so believe they have a talent for it - one which they are obliged to share with others. Most would be mortified if they realised that they do more harm than good.

Of course there is a simple cure for this situation. No-one has to take any kind of instruction as to the content of their wardrobe. Actually I think it is outrageous that anyone would even consider giving this kind of advice, unless it has been specifically asked for. There is no need to get into a row about it; you should simply smile sweetly, thank them for their kind help, and say that you will be making your own choice. Reassure them, should it be necessary, that you are perfectly capable of selecting your own attire.

I am put in mind of an anecdote about Margaret Thatcher and the Queen. Early on in her premiership, Mrs Thatcher was attending a state event and contacted Buckingham Palace to ask staff there what the Queen would be wearing, so that the two of them would not be seen to clash. The brusque reply from the Palace was that ‘The Queen did not notice what other people were wearing’, and would not be supplying information about her outfit. I don’t necessarily recommend this approach to customers.

Most times we simply have to live with the family dynamic and find the best solution, although it would not be my personal choice to do so, and may not result in the optimum fashion look. If asked, my advice to my customer is to focus on buying a gorgeous outfit that really suits her. She will be the one that looks lovely on the day. And she will look fabulous in the photographs in perpetuity.

And what of the person whose thoughtful advice was ignored? If she really meant well she will be delighted with the result. Human nature being what it is, she may even genuinely believe she had some part in its success.


Emma    Monday 23 March 2009 at 17:24

 Post #21 

Subject: Shopping

I hate clothes shopping. There, I’ve said it. I know it will be a very shocking thing for many of my customers to hear.

When I tell people I hate shopping, they tend to be surprised. I do own a retail outlet, after all! I get the impression that some people think I am a bit of a hypocrite to be a shop owner if I hate shopping myself. But I believe this to be an ideal qualification.

When one analyses what constitutes shopping for clothes, it doesn’t sound like there’s anything to dislike. It should entail leaving the house and travelling to a retail outlet where there is plenty of choice, choosing items to try on, selecting the desired purchase, paying, and returning home with lots of goodies. What’s not to love about this process?

If only...

When I go shopping, nothing seems to work like this. First there is the trailing around loads of different shops, pounding the pavement, looking for places that sell the correct size. There are thousands and thousands of shops dedicated to selling small sizes. These are businesses engaged in jostling for market share in the overcrowded section of the fashion industry, selling items for the minority of women who appear to have all the choice. Yet there is a dearth of shops selling items in my size. I would have thought that my money is the same as anyone else’s, but it is not competed for on the high street in anywhere near the same way.

Eventually I find a large store, enter it, and immediately start to find lots of tiny irritations that end up building into a giant headache.

For instance, it’s difficult to find a specific size, or to find matching items in an unfamiliar shop floor layout. I look around for advice, and there appear to be no staff anywhere. As a retailer, I find this bizarre. What is there then to prevent theft? I push these thoughts aside and battle on.

The rails are overcrowded, and the hangers are the standard ones for small clothes. This means that as soon as I try to pull an item off the rail to look at it, several other items slide onto the floor. There follows the guilty 10 seconds when I contemplate leaving them there. I know that if I try to put these large clothes back on the insufficiently large hangers, they will simply slide off again.

The shop itself is overcrowded with stock. Rails are squeezed in everywhere - meaning that you can't see the wood for the trees - and manoeuvring around the rails is annoying.

It’s also very hot and there is nowhere that I can put down my coat, so I have to lug it around. My feet are swollen, and I could really do with a sit down and a cup of tea. This, of course, is an absurd notion. I am far too busy having fun shopping to take refreshments!

The changing room is tiny and ill lit. The view of the mirror is too close-up to be able to make an informed, yet private, decision. There are not enough hooks, and no chair to sit-in whilst I try the trousers on. To add to my delight, there is loud, jangling music blaring overhead. There is a bizarre mis-match between the ultra-loud, ultra-trendy music that seems aimed at teenagers, and the frumpy clothes aimed at an altogether older age group. This music, with the throbbing strip lighting, is putting me in a bit of a mood to say the least. I just hate this kind of experience.

As the Honda adverts say, hate can be a powerful force for good. When arranging my shop, I have tried to think about all of these disagreeable aspects (and more) - to make a more comfortable shopping experience. I have made larger, brighter changing rooms, with everything you need inside. I have bought flock hangers that grip the clothes - so nothing ever slides off. I have placed the rails further apart, sorted out the lighting (as best I can), quietened the music, provided a comfy chair (and husband-friendly space), sorted out the provision of teas and coffees. We’ve got staff who want to help and who know their stuff. The shop is as cool as I can get it, especially in summer. To top it all, I’ve also gone to amazing bother and expense of making sure our shop is next door to a large car park, so no pavement pounding is necessary.

I’m not saying it’s a perfect shopping experience, but we try. Actually, I believe that nothing qualifies you better to be a shop owner than a hatred of shopping.


Emma    Monday 09 March 2009 at 20:12

 Post #16 

Subject: A point of view

A week ago we placed the new photographs of this season’s collection on our website, and, as ever, revealed what I think is the most important thing that a fashion shop has to offer its customers... a point of view.

A viewpoint in fashion is not something theoretical - it isn’t something pretentious or hyperbolic. It is a real, solid and - once you start to look for it - blatantly obvious feature that really hits you when you come into contact with any boutique.

I once worked for a store that did not have a point of view. Or I should say, its point of view was to be all-things-to-all-women. There really was something for everyone. There were little-old-lady dresses in crimpeline with permanent pleats and elasticated waists. There were ritzy tops with appliqué, to be worn with leggings. There were bizarre jumpers with teddy-bear motifs for overblown schoolgirls. There were cotton separates for busy mums. And there were bouffed-up ballgowns and sparkly cruise wear for the affluent at play.

There were really cheap, tacky items that would have put the cheapest chain store to shame, and there were dresses the prices of which would have made the buyers at the most celebrated prestige retail palace turn pale with fear.

There were outfits for women with impeccable taste. There were clothes for women who were too busy to bother about taste. And there were atrocious items for (in my experience, theoretical) customers devoid of either sense or discrimination.

I remember looking at that collection when it was delivered to the store, and bursting into tears. I suppose that as soon as I saw those clothes I knew that the job was not going to last.

In order for a store to be successful and create a place for itself in the psyche of shoppers it really has to have a firm identity. I think for a fashion store this means that one must know instantly whether an item of clothing is right for the shop or not. And you know whether or not the store is right for you.

Busy women often have to travel quite some distance to reach a store, and it is an irritating waste of time to get there only to find that the substance of the place is completely different to what was expected. The Holy Grail is to walk into a store with a personality that gels with one’s own. No-one expects to like or need everything that is stocked, but to find that you and the buyers are on the same page is an incredibly good feeling. When you discover a store like this you feel it is a gift, and you will come back over and over again.

And if you are interested to see what we are all about, I would recommend - if you have not already done so - that you click on the 'Our Range' heading on the homepage. You will then see our own particular point of view.


Emma    Sunday 01 March 2009 at 22:04

 Post #12 

Subject: An honest opinion

What do you say to someone who asks your opinion about something that they are trying on, if they really love it, but you think they look awful? This is the question I am most commonly asked by my customers.

Like all the most interesting questions, it is apparently simple, yet in reality very complicated.

Here at the shop we work very closely with our customers. This is because we are small and independent.

In a lot of large stores the customer virtually serves herself. One gets used to being studiously ignored by a sales assistant who looks like she has something infinitely more important to do with her time than to assist the person who is paying her wages (the customer). Actually it can get worse than this. When asking for assistance a larger woman can even find herself being subtly sneered at.

It tends to be different in the ‘independent’ sector of retailing. If I had to give a reason for this in a nutshell, I would say that it is because most independent retailers have the proprietors on the premises at some point or another. If these businesspeople see customers walking around looking lost, and particularly if they see them leaving the shop without having occasion to open their purses, the owners tend to focus on a sales opportunity slipping through their fingers. If a storeowner witnesses a customer being sneered at by a member of staff, an eruption of seismic proportions can occur. And this doesn’t tend to happen twice.

Hence, in the past, some independent stores went in the opposite direction to the big chains, but not necessarily in a good way. Instead of finding a blasé sales assistant aloofly standing chatting with her colleagues, the poor customer may come across her exact opposite... namely, the Flogger.

The Flogger is a fearsome creature. She is a woman whose only task in life is to sell, sell, sell, to anyone who is unfortunate enough to have wandered into her territory. No outfit is too inappropriate, no size too inadequate, to halt her in her awesome determination to flog it to you. Let’s just say, you wouldn’t rely on the Flogger to give you an impartial opinion on your clothes.

This may increase sales in the very short term, but is it likely, in the end, to help the development of the business, by promoting good customer relations? I would say that the prevalence of the Flogger in the past sounded the death knell for many independent shops, and damaged the whole industry for a while. Even as recently as ten years ago there were still Floggers alive and well and plying their trade in Brighton, and scaring the life out of the public. People lived in fear of going into an unfamiliar outlet, in case they were harangued to within an inch of their lives.

We independent sector stores have had to survive against fearsome opposition. Big stores may have lackadasical sales assistants, but they can buy in bulk and keep their expenses down. They can take up massive retailing space in out-of-town developments, which are easy to access. They can pay a fortune for advertising, and they can screw down their suppliers to give them special discounts (which they don’t always bother passing on to the customer).

So we have had to find a place for ourselves in this incredibly competitive industry. We’ve done it by concentrating on excellence. And one of the areas that we have particularly excelled in is customer service.

No-one can say that they always achieve excellence... only that they aspire to it, and work hard towards reaching it. You can’t always get it right. We certainly don’t attempt to impose our taste on our public (if you want that kind of thing, I’m sure Trinny and Susanna are available). We try to work closely with a woman to achieve the look she seeks - or to introduce her to an unexpected new look that she will love. We exist to provide a service.

It isn’t our job to stop someone getting the outfit she wants, just because we don’t agree with it. But we can give educated, thoughtful, tasteful and honest feedback if she wants it. And shut up if she doesn’t. However, we will not lull her into a false sense of security if she is relying on us. People come to our shop to get something they look fabulous in, and we take that very seriously. So yes, if she wants us to, we will tell her if a look doesn't work, even if she loves it.

If a customer really adores something that she looks awful in, it is worth finding out exactly what it is that she likes so much. Chances are there are other clothes out there that have this magic aspect, that would suit the woman more.

If it turns out, however, that she knows exactly how she looks in the outfit, and still loves it, then our work is done. She may, after all, have better taste than we do.


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