Oh dear, oh dear. Marks and Spencer screws up again

M&S’s Portfolio collection aimed at women over 45 has no appeal for this 45-year-old, I can tell you…

Portfolio blouseI’ve been perusing Marks & Spencer’s new Portfolio collection this morning.

For those who don’t know, this is the new collection from Britain’s finest, aimed at women over 45. 

After an hour or so of going through their online pix (obviously, I don’t have access to a shop, living in France), I wonder just which 45-year-olds they are aiming at. 

My instant reaction was dismay. The clothes are mostly frumpy and ill-thought-out, not all that different from the usual frumpy, comfy cardi look for which M&S was always famous. They were kind of crap, but at least you could rely on them – they were the kind of clothes your mum wore once she’d lost the will to live. 

And then I suddenly realised that their target market is ME. I’M 45, for Christ’s sake – I wouldn’t be caught dead in any of this. 

What are women of my age and above really looking for in their clothes? We want to be comfortable, stylish, sexy when appropriate, businesslike when appropriate, elegant maybe, flirty occasionally. But these M&S clothes seem to be missing one crucial factor – DESIGN. If they are aimed at women over 45, where does it show? All it seems to me is that there are things that are missing – flirtiness, stylishness, sexiness – rather than design features added.

Stripe topWhere, for instance, are the interesting little touches that would make the neutral colour palette more interesting? You can find them at Jaegar and in the designer hall at Liberty. But here, the plainness of these clothes is very blah. It makes them look cheap.

Where are the kindly elements of design that flatter an older body? This stuff is not rocket science – there are well documented changes that occur to women’s bodies around and beyond the menopause. Your bust tends to get bigger, you tend to gain belly fat, you often gain weight generally, your waist thickens, your neck starts to raddle. But you don’t turn into a hump-backed hermaphrodite that doesn’t care what she looks like.

It’s entirely impossible, and not desireable, to cover up all of your bad points – you might as well go around in a yashmak. But in these clothes, where is the HELP that women our age so desperately need?

La Redoute tunic detailWhere is the slightly extended shoulder and roomy sleeve that accommodates a heavy upper arm; the collar detail (as at La Redoute, left) that draws attention to your face; the subtley raised waistline that glides over a pot belly; the cuff detail that draws the eye to a narrow wrist; the flat-front, side-zipped trouser; the skirt length that hits bang on the narrow part of the calf; the eye-catching centre feature that substitutes for a tiny waist; the deep v-neck or at least suggestion of such that cuts across an ample bustline; the princess-line seaming to create vertical interest on a shift dress; the flattering patterns; the classic dress but WITH SLEEVES?

Instead, M&S offers clingy knits that grip the upper arm like a salami stuffed into a sausage-skin, horizontal stripes (puhlease), sleeveless shift dresses, shirt dresses that make you look like an air hostess, hopeless one-button knits that will flap open at the first breeze in order to place your tits firmly on display, and more crewnecks than you can shake a stick at – and believe me, no neckline makes the average woman look more like a navvy.

To  make sure I wasn’t being unfair, I called the DH over and said: "What do you think of these clothes?"

"Um, ah, frumpy," he said, slightly worried (he probably thought I was about to order something). "Are they for outsize women?"

Well, I can see his confusion, as the model pictured does look like the kind of mannequin used for Rinaldi and similar ranges. When I explained that they were for women over 45 he said: "I suppose they think women that age have just given up."

Next black dressPortfolio black dressWell, I haven’t given up, and most women I know of my age and older haven’t given up either. To see how critically important small details are when it comes to design, just look at what some other ranges can offer, albeit in their general ranges rather than aimed specifically at us. This black jersey dress from Next has got some useful features – a deep v-neck (which you can fill in if you like), soft asymmetrical draping that fools the eye, especially over the stomach area, stretch to the fabric and a slightly fluted sleeve. Compare it with this shirtwaist from Portfolio which is just blah.

Anne Weyburn skirtPortfolio skirtThis blue skirt from the Anne Weyburn range at La Redoute (not known for its stylishness, by the way) has diagonal detailing, a print that breaks up the body mass and a deliberately softly sexy hem. Compare it with this brown print skirt from Portfolio, which is so awful I can’t even describe it. They are both equally practical, equally patterned, both the same length – and yet one is sexy and one is sexless.

Green Damart topPortfolio topThis basic green top, from Damart, gives a v-neck look but plenty of cover, as the lace section is built in. Compare it with this coral top from Portfolio with its bad sleeve length and too-high neckline. It does even this model no favours, especially across the tummy.

Patterned TeeShirt teeEven worse, compare it with this pretty v-neck, patterned tee (why are they so damn hard to find when they’re so useful?) from Damart, or this tee-shirt with built-in crisp white collar and cuffs – as smart as a blouse but with the comfort of a t-shirt, and no added bulk (again from Damart). 

Boden jacketPortofolio cardiganThe yellow jacket on the right, from Boden, is textured, a gorgeous bright colour that shows you’re still actually alive, and has the button in the right place to stop the bottom part of the garment from blowing open over your boobs. Compare it with this crewneck one-button cardi from Portfolio, which makes this woman look vast. 

Beige dressThis beige linen shift from Damart has a flattering neckline, a soft flare to accommodate a bigger tummy and hips, and a nice pocket detail that throws the eye off the scent. It also has a split that opens just over the attractive part of your knee. lime shift dressCompare it with this lime shift from Portfolio – the best dress in the collection, incidentally, with its flattering waist detail (yes, they got something right!!) but which has no shape, looks boxy over the bustline and has a centre split that will open to reveal your flabby inner thighs when you sit down. 

Oh well, rant over. It is all too depressing. The truth is that M&S has been losing the plot for over a decade now, and sadly this new launch has done nothing to improve my opinion of it. Not all of this collection is terrible – there’s the odd decent blouse and the trousers could be worse, but in general these clothes seem designed down to a price rather than up to a standard and I think we deserve better. 

If you’ve bought any of these clothes, please do tell me I’m wrong…

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.