Why size matters

Shops should pay more attention to their fitting rooms

There's something I've always thought rather peculiar about clothes shops. Most spend a not insignificant amount of money on advertising, the shop decor, the stock (obviously) and, one hopes, the staff. But then they seem to treat one of the most important aspects as an afterthought: the changing room. On average, using my tape measure and my thrice-failed O-level maths, a shop gives less than 5 per cent of its retail floor space to its changing facilities.

If retailers actually understand how important changing rooms are, they seem to hide it well. Changing rooms are usually too small: you need a certain distance between you and the mirror to see yourself properly. You need to be able to prance. They are often badly lit, which is a brave and honest move - with some canny lighting they could make us look fantastic, and then we'd get home and reality would bite, but by then most of us would be too lazy to return our purchase. The curtains/doors are often gappy and you don't feel secure, so you're left thinking someone will, at any moment, burst in saying, "Any good?"

The changing room is the most crucial part of the selling process; it's where a decision to hand over your hard-earned fivers, or not, is made. Why are they so crap?

Some places do get it right. Jigsaw in New Bond Street, in central London, has huge changing rooms with doors you can close properly (I don't want to nick anything; I just want to feel comfortable) and a banquette-type seating system on which a friend (she doesn't want to nick anything either; I just like a second opinion sometimes and don't want to have to go out to get it) can sit or that you can chuck clothes on to. You can actually stand more than two inches from the mirror to get some perspective on what you're wearing, but equally if you want to, you can go out and look at yourself in more mirrors without having to show the whole shop.

It's really no coincidence that last year I bought four pairs of trousers there in one go.

Marks & Spencer used to have great changing rooms for its Autograph bit. The rooms themselves were excellent, and each had a switch that would change the light from day to evening mode. In truth, it didn't make a huge amount of difference, but at least it showed forethought. M&S phased them out four years ago.

Mostly, however, what you get for daring to want to try on the clothes is an upright-coffin sort of space, with a tatty curtain that often doesn't quite reach the ends. A different place, and you'd be paid for that sort of peekaboo undressing. The lighting will be so bad that even the natural bloom of a two-year-old would be lost; and the mirror is so close to your nose that you're too distracted by the sudden onset of broken veins, or the state of your teeth (when did they go grey?) to concentrate on the garment. Worra lost opportunity.

Annalisa Barbieri was in fashion PR for five years before going to the Observer to be fashion assistant. She has worked for the Evening Standard and the Times and was one of the fashion editors on the Independent on Sunday for five years, where she wrote the Dear Annie column. She was fishing correspondent of the Independent from 1997-2004.

This article first appeared in the 28 April 2008 issue of the New Statesman, Everybody out!