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Marks and Spencer appears to have been a much maligned, and unpopular store over the past couple of years, but despite the fact that it’s not ‘cool’ to shop there, I am still a loyal customer, and this opinion aims to explain just why I think it’s worth a visit. I won’t mention the foods here, since I’ve done a separate opinion on the food hall, instead, I will focus largely on womenswear – since that’s obviously the section most appropriate to me, and try to dispel the common myths about M&S.
Firstly then, I will run through some of the views people have of M&S:
***It’s full of old people’s clothing*** Yes, I must admit, when you walk into an M&S, for some reason, it does initially look as if it’s full of clothing for older, or dull, people. However, don’t be put off by this – if you take time to look around, whilst there’s usually a good 50% of the store that won’t hold any appeal for you at all, you can usually find many other items which are suitable for the younger generation. For example, if you’re on a budget, then the jeans, which are under £30, come in an excellent variety of styles and colours, and in three different leg lengths. There’s nothing ‘fuddy duddy’ about jeans! They also stock denim skirts, which are very similar in style to those found in other high street shops, such as River Island.
Another area where Marks score highly is in their suits. Again, these are not for old people. They are also excellent quality, and many of them are now made in washable material. Blouses and shirts to wear with these are also available, and again, come in different styles, suitable for all the generations. Whilst there are some shirts I wouldn’t touch with a barge pole – and the blouses with the frilly collars are definitely to be avoided – I was able to find a perfectly plain, classic, white shirt, which was exactly what I was looking for. In fact, if it’s classic items that you are looking for, then Marks is the place to come. Granted, you won’t usually find many of the items of clothing I term ‘slapper-style’ – you know, the glittery tops and skirts made of less material than a pair of knickers that you find in Miss Selfridge and places of a similar ilk. Maybe that is why M&S has been termed an older person’s store, as it does not go in for ‘disposable’, one night party clothes, which will fall apart the moment they see a washing machine.
***There’s nothing at the cutting edge of fashion*** That’s not to say that all the clothes in M&S are conservative however. The last skirt I bought, with a long split at the side is not one that your granny would wear! Many clothes, particularly in the larger stores (the one at Marble Arch is a particular favourite) are in line with the fashions of the season – for example, last Christmas, (or maybe the one before), there was a lot of velvet in. Little strappy velvet tops and matching jackets for example, and long velvet skirts, even velvet trousers. It’s not just the beige granny cardigans you get in here! Last spring, when imitation Burberry patterns hit the high street, M&S were up there with the best of them, and so I got a short skirt in that style.
The “Autograph” range which is to be found in the larger stores, is designed by top fashion designers, including Julien Macdonald. The clothes here are a bit more original, and unusual, and obviously a bit pricier too. To be honest, there’s usually nothing here that I fancy, and I’m not sure how successful it is – if you’re looking for designer names then M&S is not somewhere at the top of your list. It’s only the major stores such as Marble Arch and Princes Street (Edinburgh) that carry this range, and chances are if you’re in a city like this already, you’ll be looking elsewhere for the more upmarket range of clothes.
***It’s expensive*** Well – expensive is a relative term. For me, it’s a relatively cheap store, but I suppose if you regularly shop at places such as Miss Selfridge, H&M, New Look etc, then it may seem quite pricey. But I would say prices are on a similar level to River Island and Principles, and nowhere near as expensive as Arnotts, Karen Millen, Kookai, Oasis, John Lewis, French Connection, or House of Fraser. True, the clothes probably are not as ‘exciting’ or as ‘original’ as some of these, but for quality basics, then M&S is a winner. What’s the point of buying a black polo neck from Oasis for example, or a white strappy top from French Connection, when M&S sell almost identical versions at half the price. Whilst I like to wear some ‘labels’, it looks pretty stupid to dressed top to toe in them, and I prefer a mixture.
Furthermore, I find that the quality of the clothes you get from M&S is always high, and that sizes are consistent. Tailoring might not be quite as good as some of the more expensive ones, but it’s a hell of a lot better than the cheaper alternatives – you really do get what you pay for. There are not that many handwash only or dry clean only items either, which suits me, I’m too stingey to pay for dry cleaning, and too lazy to handwash, so that suits me perfectly! You can usually wash M&S clothes many, many times before they start to either lose their colour or shape, and they are usually finished well too. Some items that they sell, particularly those in the mens and childrens ranges don’t even need ironing! Perfect for your lazy boyfriend!
If you want a bargain, try the M&S sales – if you look hard enough, there are usually many items at extremely reduced prices. It’s a good time to stock up on essentials like knickers and tops, or skirts and blouses for work.
***The underwear is ‘sensible’*** Yes, some of it. But tucked alongside the big harvest festival knickers is a great range of underwear to suit everyone, for all occasions. In the bra section for example, you can find sports bras, minimisers, maximisers (basically like wonderbras but cheaper), halterneck styles, strapless bras (which do actually stay up!), comfort bras, and a variety of both sexy and plain styles. Whilst I do like to buy the occasional ‘treat’ underwear from other places, pretty much everything I could need is to be found here. They have recently brought in newer ranges, designed (I think) by agent provocateur, and if you’re looking for something for a special night, then you’ll find it here. Again, the fact that you can wash the underwear in a washing machine is a big bonus!
The range of knickers is pretty good too. I like the pick and mix section they have brought in – 3 pairs in any styles and colours you want for only a tenner. In the sales I’ve found these knickers have been reduced to only £2, a definite bargain. There are also sets of 5 available, which are usually fairly good value too.
Other good points: ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
*** Returns The returns policy of M&S has to be one of the best around. If you buy something, get it home and then realise that you don’t like it, they’ll take it back in any M&S store – even if you lose the receipt! You don’t get a refund in cash however if you lose the receipt. There’s also no time limit on how long you have until it’s too late to return something – again, very useful.
***Ordering See something you like but not in your size? Well, M&S can order it in for you, usually pretty speedily too. Sometimes even if an item’s in the sale, they can still order it in for you and you’ll get it at sale price. You can choose which store you want to collect your goods at, for example, I saw some stuff in Marble Arch which wasn’t in my size, and could then choose to have it ordered in in Canterbury which was nearer to where I lived.
***Payment M&S used to be criticised for the failure to accept credit cards, (I used to work here when I was 16 and customers frequently complained about this), however I am now pleased to report that they do now take credit cards, in addition to their own store card. Unfortunately they have no ‘points’ system such as Boots or Sainsburys – which I think is a shame, my Mum and I would do fantastically if they did!
***Shoes and bags Excellent quality shoes and bags, again, designed for all ages. The shoes are not cheap, but they come in half sizes, always a bonus with me, since I’m usually a 4 ½ and they are well made. Particularly useful are their plain shoes, ideal for work, especially the ‘footglove’ series, which are designed to be softer and more comfortable. I love this range, since I had a tendon which went funny and pushed out a bit of bone, leading to a knobbly and sometimes painful lump on the back of my heel, and so the softer shoes are extremely useful, particularly as from the outside they look just as smart as any other. I usually pay between £30 and £40 for a pair of shoes from here, which I don’t consider to be too bad – it’s comparable to Clarks, and a good sight cheaper than House of Fraser. They sell a variety of casual, evening and day shoes here – I wouldn’t buy the casual shoes, since for trainers I prefer to stick with a well-known brand, but the day and evening shoes are great. I even found some evening shoes to go with my ball dress which was pretty impressive! More importantly, they were comfortable for the whole night, and for once, I didn’t limp home after the ball!
***Changing rooms Always important on a shopping trip! M&S have excellent changing rooms, and offer a free bra measuring service there too (which I’ve never used). Changing rooms are always staffed by helpful members of staff, who will offer advice on choosing an outfit and will go and fetch clothes to make your shopping experience a bit easier. The changing rooms are of a good size with full length mirrors in each one. Unfortunately I find the mirrors make me look fatter than my mirror at home – and I know I’m not the only one to think this! Very weird…
***Miscellaneous I think I’ve written rather a lot here already and I don’t want to go into detail about anything else that M&S sell for fear of boring you, but I’d just like to point out that the jewellery, makeup, scarves, soft toy and household ranges are also particular favourites offering a great choice!
But how could they improve? ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
Well, so far I seem to have praised M&S, but it’s obvious that not everyone shares my opinion, otherwise they would be making a profit! So, suggestions for improvement are that firstly they need to rearrange the store. Jumbling the OAP clothes up with the 20 something clothes doesn’t work, and will only serve to put off the younger buyers. M&S definitely has an image problem, and if you look at a store, then you can see why. It’s a shame really because there are some great finds, but M&S does need to work on it’s image. I also find that it’s the larger stores which cater more for the young people, with the smaller ones focusing on the traditional clientele. This too could be changed. It would help too if they improved the presentation of their stores – often, I am put off an item simply because it is surrounded by clothes I wouldn’t be seen dead in!
I also think it’s stupid selling all the clothes in the range of sizes from 8-20. How many size twenties are really going to look good in something that suits people in size 10-12? I don’t want to offend anyone here, but it’s usually true that larger sizes can look better in clothes designed specifically for them, and I think M&S should pay more attention to this.
Another small, but important point – they ought to provide toilets in some of the major stores – John Lewis and Debenhams do, so why can’t Marks?!
Finally, here’s a list of some of my most recent M&S buys: ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
Leather jacket in the sale – reduced from £125 to £75 (my sis bought a blazer style one, from £200 to £125) Cashmere jumper – reduced from £95 to £50 Tights - £3 for a pack of two Knickers - £2 a pair in the sale Black lacy bra - £15 Smart black skirt in the sale – reduced from £50 to £30 Floaty summer dress - £40 Black sandals - £40
I hope this little list has proved my point that it’s not just stuff for OAPs or dull and boring people – I like to think that I am quite fashion conscious and I love shopping, but I don’t turn my nose up at M&S just because it’s not ‘cool’. Even if, like me, you could never buy a shop’s own brand of jeans, you’ll still find well made, quality garments, to wear with them. I’ve often been complimented by my friends on my clothes, and they are always surprised that they are from M&S! It just proves that if you look hard enough, and look beyond the superficial appearance of the store, you can find some real quality bargains. If only M&S could improve its image….