Larger ladies shop online to escape changing rooms

THE internet has come to the the rescue of larger ladies by sparing them the ordeal of the changing room when they shop for clothes.

Dawn French, the comedy actress, has already championed the plight of women who want to be big spenders, but can find nothing in the high street, by setting up her own online store for size 16s and upwards. French, a size 20 who hates shopping, was fed up with the “hideous embarrassment of not being able to find anything to fit”.

Analysts predict that online shopping for large ladies is the next big thing in retail.

Research from TNS Worldpanel Fashion confirms the trend that women with fuller figures prefer to try on clothes in the comfort of their home.

High-street sales of women’s clothes above size 16 dropped to 61.6 per cent of total women’s clothing sales in the 12 weeks to November, compared with 64.4 per cent for the same period in 2004. Online and mail-order sales rose to 14.3 per cent of total spending in the 12 weeks to November, compared with 13.1 per cent in the same period in 2004.

Home shopping is about to grow as online companies fight for a share of the annual £3.5 billion “outsize” women’s clothing market, which accounts for a third of all spending on women’s clothes, excluding underwear and nightwear.

This is a market worth cultivating, for 47 per cent of all women in Britain wear size 16 or above, and it is this that inspired the name of French’s venture, Sixteen47.

Research also indicated that collections of larger-sized clothing bucked the dwindling trend for women’s clothing sales online and by mail order. Across all sizes these sales dropped to 7.4 per cent last year, compared with 8.5 per cent in 2004.

Fiona Bell, TNS Worldpanel Fashion research director, said that online sites and mail-order catalogues had made their larger-sized ranges more fashionable and stylish: “Home shopping offers larger-sized women a more agreeable shopping experience than the high street.”

Brenda Gobine, another member of the TNS Worldpanel Fashion team, said that outsize collections had become more popular because of makes such as La Redoute.