Certain holiday destinations lend themselves perfectly to independent boutiques. The yummy-mummy hotspots of Cornwall, say, or the palm-fringed Playas of Marbella.
There’s nothing like being away from it all to make customers fork out for new designer clothes. So it’s saddening that some of the more traditional seaside towns in Britain, which should be benefiting most from the revived trend for holidaying in the UK, have such a weak and old-fashioned retail offering.
I recently spent a week in Llandudno, North Wales, which styles itself “Queen of Welsh Resorts.” It has a wonderful, sweeping bay, stunning Victorian shop-fronts down Mostyn Street, and chic, boutique hotels are beginning to creep in amongst the B&Bs named Bide-A-Wee and Clovelly.
But to attempt to shop outside the bog-standard chain-stores is to be grimly disappointed. The venerable department store, Claire’s, which could be a gem of stunning pre-war design, with its original frontage and old-fashioned lift, is a dismally wasted opportunity. The windows are crammed with grey suitcases and old-lady separates, while inside, it resembles a provincial Littlewoods in 1970.
Other independents, meanwhile, struggle to stay afloat in a town that’s a mecca for holidaying OAPs, so end up giving in and filling the rails with safe beiges and greiges, cheap handbags and comfy shoes.
And it’s not just Llandudno- Britain’s seaside towns are full of these tired, over-stocked, under-styled boutiques, which bump along the bottom selling outdated, unflattering stock to women of a certain age, who don’t know where else to go. But these women don’t buy the stock because they long to wear flowered polyester pleats, or lightweight toggled windcheaters - they buy it because they’re not offered anything else.
Because things have changed - whether it’s Trinny and Susannah, the Gok effect, M&S’s ongoing revamp, or simply an awareness that turning 65 doesn’t mean giving up on looking good, the older female shopper now wants to buy things that suit her, not just dull separates that keep out the seaside chill.
She wants to feel stylish, practical and elegant, not disappear altogether. So why are the old-school boutiques, which could be havens of classic style and personal service, struggling to make the grade?
It seems that certain seaside shops remain preserved in amber, trading on the glory days, when every Summer welcomed hordes of customers, most of whom weren’t interested in style. Now those customers have aged, their tastes have changed, they may visit with daughters, even granddaughters, who would love the chance to snap up something special to wear on holiday- but they’re still offered the same limited palette, to be filed under ‘safe’.
It’s time the seaside shops realised that they have a unique appeal, and targeted customers accordingly. Women on holiday want easy, glam dresses to wear at night, and well-cut, stylish trousers and tops to wear in the day. They should think Boden, Toast, Saltwater … not Mr Byrite 1974.
Already, cool cafes, delis and hotels are springing up in Britain’s old-fashioned seaside towns- and with cheap flights consigned to history, and eco-holidays the watch-word, isn’t it time that the boutiques caught up too? If they do, they’ll realise there are thousands of new customers out there. If they don’t, however, they’ll be washed away by the tide.