Who wants to be average, anyway?

By Jan Shure, July 15, 2010
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Monochrome shift, £55, Long Tall Sally

Monochrome shift, £55, Long Tall Sally

Most fashion pages - these included - proceed from the premise that the majority of its readers are "average" size. In our (ok, my) fluffy, fashion-obsessed head, that translates as size eight to 14, height 5ft 3in to 5ft 7in. In fact, the reality is somewhat different.

The "average" clothing size of British women these days is 16 (up from 14 in 2000, and 12 in 1988), and the average height for UK women is 5 ft 4in.

This "average" statistic also conceals the growing number of women - 21 per cent in the south east - who, according to tall-girl clothing specialist, Long Tall Sally, are 5ft 8in or taller. Their research, incidentally, also revealed that tall women earn more - they are perceived as "powerful" - yet, with an extra £5,000 per year available for splurging, only one per cent of the clothing industry caters for them.

Arianne Cohen, 6ft 3in, and author of The Tall Book, notes that when she was younger, choosing an outfit meant picking accessories to go with men's trousers.

Happily, for women who do not conform to that dreaded adjective "average", buying clothes has become easier. For those above 5ft 7in, Long Tall Sally has been transformed in the past half-decade into a treasure trove of clothing and accessories - shoes, boots, bags, earrings and necklaces - all cleverly scaled up to be in the right proportion for tall girls. The current collection includes a series of covetable maxis that properly hit the ankle; jewelled, tribal print kaftans; on-trend swimsuits, effortless long-in-the-body tops, and a shapely shift that avoids the string-bean effect that can afflict tall girls in simple frocks.

Taller girls will also find a collection specifically for them at Topshop (gems include a strapless corset dress in vintage-look faded print). Meanwhile, bijoux chains such as Wild Swans, in Chiswick, Islington and Mill Hill and co-owned by the (tall) Dane, Caroline van Luthje, specialises in Scandinavian brands such as Denmark's Rabens Saloner, which caters for a tall local populace.

For curvy girls, the high street is a far less bleak environment than it was even a decade ago. Evans, the big plus-size name, has sharpened its fashion act with better quality and - generally - better styled clothes, though you still have to sift out the unwearably short/shoddy/overdone. This season's offerings include cleverly cut maxis; floaty jewelled frocks in nude, a well-proportioned collarless khaki jacket; and a long line blouse with half-length sleeves and pretty embroidery scattered around its neckline.

Many mainstream names, including Wallis, Hobbs, Gap and Debenhams now offer 18s as standard, and some M&S ranges go up to 22 or 24. A number of big brands not known for plus sizes (including Boden, Windsmoor, Phase Eight, Kaliko, CC) offer up to 20, and sometimes 24, on their websites, while shops which target the young end of the market - Zara, New Look and H&M - go up to 18 on many lines. London chain Beige with branches in the West End, City and NW11, is good for pricier, on-trend plus-size labels like Elena Grunert and Marina Rinaldi.

Petite women have their own issues when it comes to clothes - too long, too wide, out of proportion. But happily retailers have been wooing them too, and as well as the specialist labels (Minuet, Precis Petite, CC Petite), the high street giants (M&S, Debenhams, Wallis and Dorothy Perkins), have been scaling down mainstream collections for customers under 5ft 4in. Banana Republic describes its petite range as one of its biggest success stories, while New Look and Topshop have some of the most covetable scaled-down pieces.

Last updated: 4:04pm, July 15 2010