So, last blog I discussed a bit about the challenges and benefits of running a clothing shop that stocks a bigger size range – not ‘plus size’ or ‘non-plus size’ but PEOPLE size.
As well as having a shop where the majority of customers could reasonably expect to find their size, we dream of a shop where the entire experience is positive and inclusive.
We can already tell that this is something that it’s going to take time and effort to achieve. To begin with, as a tiny startup business our not-too-pricey premises are just too small to achieve what we’d like in terms of a physical experience. There isn’t as much room as we’d like for customers with wheelchairs or prams, and we only have one dressing room.
But the dressing room is where we decided to start in creating a nicer, more body-positive environment. So that is the topic of this blog post.
We were lucky that the premises we could afford to rent included a separate space that was originally used as an office. It’s spacious and private – the perfect start for a dressing room.
We are not fans of dressing rooms that are too small, rickety or exposed. It can be so confronting, society being what it is, to try on clothing in a public environment, that anything that increases a sense of personal security helps.
We have set the room up as a vintage ladies’ boudoir, with an antique dressing table and boudoir chair, cosy rug, 2 mirrors, pretty prints on the walls and plenty of room to hang up clothing. We’re currently on the lookout for the perfect dressing room robe, so that customers can fling on something modest, generously sized and attractive if they want to pop out into the shop without having to get fully dressed again. There is plenty of room there for several people to share the space, so friends and partners can pile in together and have giggly fun trying things on.
We’ve also set up a separate space outside the change room, for somebody to wait while the room is occupied. Again we aimed to make it as comfy as possible with an antique chair and lamp, a coffee table and heaps of books and magazines to leaf through. If somebody ends up spending serious time there we will offer them a cuppa while they wait.
We love our dressing room setup, and wish we had room for more. But in our eventual plans, that will come. In the meantime it means a lot to us when a customer goes in for the first time and makes the happy noise!
Customers have reported to us that a pleasant, comfortable environment for trying clothes on helps with self confidence and positive body image.
This might seem crazy, but I hadn’t made the connection between a comfortable environment and positive body image before! I certainly have had awful experiences trying on clothes in tiny curtained-off spaces where privacy is not exactly guaranteed. Worse still when there is no mirror, so you have to come out into the public space to see whether the dress clings nastily to the tummy or doesn’t quite zip up the back. I certainly had noticed that an uncomfortable dressing room can bring body issues to the fore.
What I hadn’t realized before is to what extent an environment encouraging a relaxed, leisurely approach to trying on clothes, and which showcases the customer’s body in an attractive setting, has the opposite effect.
I suppose it makes sense. It is true that we decorated the dressing room nicely to encourage customers to relax and be kind to themselves. The pretty environment showcases a body positively and – hopefully – reminds customers that they deserve a bit of luxury and a bit of something special.
We’ve found, interestingly, that only having the one room isn’t that much of a problem. In fact, quite the contrary. The shop is so small that customers tend to interact with each other. It is common for a customer to dance delightedly out of the dressing room to show off a nicely fitting dress to the entire shop, and it’s also common for customers to share the dressing room, offering it to another customer while they look for more to try on. We’ve had some very pleasant experiences seeing customers make friends with complete strangers in the shop! Something about that cosy little room makes people slow down and calm down and start to experience the shopping expedition as a treat rather than a chore.
It is also common for friends to share the dressing room together. Only the other week I was lucky enough to be in the shop when three young women came in, clearly good friends out on a girly shopping trip. All being completely different sizes and shapes, I was thrilled that they could all enjoy the shop together, since there is no way they would usually all be able to find something to try in the same shop.
They all piled into the dressing room together and had a ball, laughing, popping out to select garments for each other to try on, and generally having a whale of a time. It was brilliant fun, for me as much as for them. It was one of those moments that all the effort and cost and hard work of opening the shop was completely worthwhile: the type of reward that is worth more than money.
The dressing room experience has convinced me that I should look at my own home environment and how it impacts on my body consciousness. It may only help a little to have nice surroundings, but if it is possible to make that happen, every little bit helps.
I would love to know more about your own thoughts and experiences: what makes you feel more positive about your lovely body? What do you wish more shops would do?