gemmacartwright_columnshot.jpgGemma Cartwright writes...

Reading Amy's 'Tall Report' earlier this week made me think about how our height, body proportions, bust size and so on can affect our shopping habits. Whether we love our bodies or strive to change them, we are, unfortunately, slaves to what fits when we step into a fitting room.

I don't think I know a single woman who considers herself to be a 'standard' size, but when we go shopping, we are forced to conform to one. Unless we're able to afford a bespoke or couture wardrobe, or have a sewing machine and the time to make frequent alterations, chances are we're forced to compromise on fit more often than not.

Personally, though I can usually step into a shop, pick up a size 14 and have a pretty good chance it will 'do', I still struggle to find the perfect fit thanks to my short torso, long legs, small waist and big boobs. At 5'7", I also continue to be amazed at how often trousers are a bit short and minis are indecently short, yet maxi dresses are almost always too long.

I have come to one simple conclusion. THE SHOPS ARE OUT TO GET US.


There's no standard sizing in the UK which means a single dress size can vary a good few inches between shops. Shops also use vanity sizing to make us feel better (or worse) about our bodies. For example, the bust measurement of a high street size 12 is usually around 36 or 37 inches. But in Jaeger it's 38 inches, and in H&M it's a teeny 34.5 inches!

There's also variation when it comes to lengths. The average UK woman is apparently around 5'5", and many shops do design with that height in mind. But the inside leg measurement of a basic pair of trousers varies depending on the shop. The models who advertise the clothes are much taller too, just to confuse us even more. Websites help here, as most now tell you the model's height so you can compare it with your own. We all know how much even a few inches in height can change the fit and hang of a garment so this is a really great online shopping tool.

Of course, you could argue that there's a benefit to this wild variation; it means there should be a shop out there for everyone. The fact our key retailers have widly varied sizing structures means we can tailor our shopping habits to find the shops that work for us. All bodies are different, so finding a set of measurements that caters for your particular proportions is the key to a good high street fit. While I find H&M to be an absolutely nightmare when it comes to my boobs, I know women with small busts love the fact they can buy strapless dresses that fit all over without falling down or gaping.

Similarly, Closet - a brand that cuts so small on the waist that Dorothy Perkins (which stocks it) actually advises you pick a size larger than your normal one - is probably the only brand that consistently fits me perfectly all over when I buy it in my 'normal' size.

But here's the problem. Closet doesn't really have a varied range, and a girl can only have so many wiggle dresses with exposed zips and peplums. Small busted women might not like what H&M has to offer at all times. Not every tall woman wants to shop exclusively at Long Tall Sally, and not everyone with a larger-than-average bust likes all the offerings from Pepperberry. Though most body types have 'specialist' stores devoted to them (either on purpose or accidentally) nobody wants to be restricted to buying their clothes from only one shop or tiny concession.

The problem with these issues is there is no real solution coming to you any time soon from the retailers, and there's not a lot you can do either. You can't change genetics. If you're tall, you're always going to be tall. Your legs are always going to be the same length, your feet the same size. Weight loss / gain and exercise can only alter your proportions to a point; whether you have a small waist and big hips, or a very straight up and down figure, you'll probably still keep that basic shape no matter what dress size you wear. And the high street can't be expected to cater for every single shape in every garment.

So there's only one way forward. We share our experiences. If we can't wear everything, we can at least alert others to what they can wear. If you try a dress and find it's too generous on the hips, tell us, so pear-shaped ladies can get shopping! If you finally locate a pair of trousers that fit a long torso without sitting too low on the hips, tell the world! Located the ultimate jeans for long legs? The best maxi skirts for petites? A swimsuit that makes plus sizes look stunning? Let us know.

To kick this off, I'm opening up the comments to you. Tell us about your body type, your favourite shops, and the brands that work for you. Share your shopping secrets, from finding brilliant jeans to buttoning up the perfect blouse. You may be surprised how many other people out there have the same issues as you, and the more we can help, the better we'll all feel when we get dressed in the morning!