Why are Marks and Spencer clothes so awful?

I see that Marks and Spencer has, yet again, posted poor results for the last quarter of 2014, particularly with clothing sales, blaming unsuitably mild weather, logistics problems and discounting by other retailers.  This is now their fourteenth quarter in decline.
     A Guardian review of comments by retail analysts speculates about every possible reason for the chain’s failure except for the blindingly obvious.
     M & S women’s clothes are REVOLTING. No-one with half a brain would want to pay money for most of the stuff. 
     There, what’s so hard about saying that.

Who is going to wear these? I quite want a lace dress just now, but not in that colour….

     Why should Battleaxe care? I no longer shop there. But I used to, I’d like to again, commentators are already speculating about store closures, and locally, the survival of the Hastings Priory Meadow store is crucial for our retail economy.
      As well as Priory Meadow, we have a big new store on the Ravenside retail park, which has the sea-view cafe referred to in previous posts. I have photographed some of
the goods on offer in our stores. Maybe things look different at Marble Arch, but most
M&S customers are out in the sticks, like us.

      I’ve got history with Marks. Back in 1970, when I was a Business Studies student, I did a project on staff relations in Marks and Spencer. In those days it had unrivalled staff welfare and development policies. What is it like now, I wonder?
     After meeting the then Head of Personnel at the old headquarters in Baker Street, I was offered a place on their graduate management training scheme. In those days that scheme was aimed at men – women were directed into staff welfare. It was a great opportunity, but stupidly, I did not pursue it. The scheme involved placements at stores around the country, and I wanted to go and live in London with my friends. Who knows, by now I might be in the boardroom agonising about the falling clothing sales.

     M & S have made repeated high-profile changes in their top womenswear team. The latest team came from Next. Paula Bonham-Carter? Any relation to Helena? Whoever they employ, and however many hundreds of thousands a year they get paid, it seems to make no difference, the clothes are still all wrong, and one’s heart sinks walking into the stores.

A clashing riot of garish, busy prints, poorly displayed.

     What is going wrong? Firstly, they have lost sight of who their customer is, and try to be all things to all people. Clearly, CEO Marc Bolland has told his staff to sell to younger women, but the fact is, young women are never going into M&S. However, as they get more grown-up, they could be lured in by my ‘Perfect basics’ range (see below).
     Very much older customers are still going to want the ‘Classics’ range – for as long as that generation survives. In my view, the typical M&S customer is aged between 40 and 65 (getting older as the Baby Boomers age). This customer wants clothes that are stylish, flattering, good quality, comfortable, good value for money and available in the sizes they need.
    Most current M&S colours are unflattering for the adult/older woman. Bright purple? Acid yellow? Jade green? No. Prints are too busy. Fabrics look and feel cheap. While we have largely, thank goodness, lost the ruffles, gathers and dangly bits from the old Per Una range, the garments veer desperately between long, baggy and frumpy or skin-tight body-con. Neither is flattering.
     Clothes are poorly displayed in the stores. Here are some examples of garments – all horrendous by the way – as they appear hanging in the store and on the models on the website. Oh, and by the way, the website is not user-friendly.

Website – hut who wants pink and green body-con?
So unappealing and shapeless on the rail.
Website – if one fancied Barbie pink 60’s style crimplene….

It looks horrendous in Hastings.


Doctor, doctor, I feel like a pair of curtains…

And look like it in Hastings

  I now buy only two things from Marks – their ‘heatgen’ long-sleeved winter tops for layering, which are brilliant, and their elastic topped tight jean/jeggings, which are my winter basics casual wear with tunic tops or long cardigans.
     Even the knickers have lost their pzaz – go all saggy in no time.
     But it could be so easy. Give Battleaxe a fortnight and she could redesign the ranges. Firstly, we need Perfect Basics – a range of garments that every woman need to underpin her other clothing choices. Lets have good quality, fool-proof, well-fitting tee shirts, layering tops, leggings, shirts, stretch lycra pencil skirts, well-cut trousers, jeans/jeggings, wool jumpers and button-up cardigans. Simple colours – black, white, cream, navy etc. Stock enough of the sizes most women wear!
    Then, you need variants on the current Indigo range – shirts, jeans, trousers, soft tunic tops, skirts, day dresses, knitwear. Lots of soft cotton, bright but not lurid – think White Stuff and Mantaray at Debenhams,
     Now, work wear. Bit of tailoring here. Nice shift dresses, long and short sleeved. Pencil and ‘A’ line skirts, well-cut jackets, trousers, toning shell tops. Wool and lycra, linen mixes for summer.  Cut out the Barbie pink and neon purple… Next do this well.
     And so on….. how on earth can it be so difficult?

     Here’s a nice link about the history of M and S women’s clothing.

     I know random shopping/fashion posts don’t really fit with Hastings musings, and that blogs should stick to a theme, but Battleaxe has always been into fashion and clothes.    Locally, I like the Lilac Room in the Old Town, and it has featured in many Battleaxe posts. Obviously places like this don’t compare with M&S, but chances are when I go into this little shop, I come out with something I like.
     So finally, here’s a nice bicycle snapped outside Bell’s in George Street. Looks like where M & S is headed.


  1. Sue Shotton
    July 13, 2021 / 7:50 am

    Awful boring stuff. Why try to appeal to the younger people. They are not interested in m&s. Awful colours and prints. Bring back classic designs that don’t leave you looking like a sack of potatoes. Bring back proper sleeves and longer lengths in the body of tops. I’ll never shop in there again.

  2. big knees
    December 8, 2021 / 12:35 am

    They are not serving the mens section well either. As a man of 28 who recently bought a marks and spencers button up shirt in a seemingly lovely fabric i was horrified to find they failed disasterously at basic aspects of fit. i find often that their products are made of some of the cheapest materials available, not quite price competative with the likes of asda who they are presumably competing with in terms of product quality, and worst of all when they do occasionally make something in a good fabric they make it in an absolutely horrendous cut. ive seen better suiting in primark. in a world where high end tailoring is increasingly savvy in its marketing and salesmanship marks and spencers can ill afford to produce things of comparatively laughable quality.

  3. Angela Bonass
    June 30, 2022 / 2:00 pm

    There dresses are only for giants! Awful hicky and old fashioned horrible

  4. S. Watson
    March 12, 2024 / 7:11 am

    What has happened to the quality of the cotton used to make ladies briefs? Once upon a time they seemed to last forever. Now they are so thin after a few washes they’re almost see through! I’ve lost count of the times the elastic has separated from the waistband either when pulling them up or taking them out of the washing machine. They were a bit better when they were made in India. Pity everything is cheap and nasty now just to make a big profit.

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