As Ladies Day at Ascot (17th June) arrives and attendees take the opportunity to show off fashion’s finest creations, new research by Mintel reveals that nearly half (12.7 million) of women in the UK spent the same or more on their clothes in 2009 – despite a year of recession.

Furthermore, over half of overall UK consumers (54%) did not reduce the amount they spent on clothes during the past year. More than four in ten consumers (43%) did not change their clothes shopping habits and a dedicated one in ten (11%) followers of fashion say they actually spent more on clothes than they usually would over the past year, despite the economic difficulties.

Tamara Sender, Senior Fashion Analyst at Mintel, said:

” our love of clothes shopping in Britain seems to have overridden economic concerns and the fact that the clothes industry has continued to increase market value is testament to where clothes buying lies in our priorities. While consumers have cut back on leisure activities such as holidays and eating out, they have continued to spend on clothing and footwear – indicating that they are being selective about what to spend their money on and are choosing to buy clothing over a meal out. It is clear that many people consider clothing to be a ‘treat’ purchase that now forms part of their essential spend, and even during recession, people will splash out on relatively low-ticket items such as clothes to lift their mood. “

Designerwear buyers were the consumers most likely to have spent more on clothes last year, with nearly two in ten of them spending more in 2009 than previously. In addition, over a quarter (1.7 million) adults say they are buying more from premium ranges (e.g. Designers at Debenhams, M&S Autograph). Meanwhile, almost one in three (28%) consumers invest more in timeless styles instead of the latest trends, particularly those who spent more last year and/or will spend more this year, demonstrating a move away from fast, disposable fashion and towards garments with lasting appeal.

Indeed, it seems quality rules for fashion forward Brits these days. Just over a quarter of consumers say they are willing to pay more for better-quality clothes that will last longer. This rises to a third among consumers who spent more on clothes last year than usual. The quality over quantity trend appears to be on the rise, with almost four in ten consumers who intend to spend more on clothing in the coming year claiming that they will pay more for quality clothes.

“Quality appears to have risen up the consumer priority list, at least among the higher-spending shoppers, indicating that people may increasingly be looking at their garments in terms of cost-per-wear and therefore consider that something expensive may actually be better value. Retailers should consider highlighting the quality message of their garments and midmarket and upmarket retailers may have the opportunity to benefit even further from this flight back to quality. “Tamara continues.

However, it seems that despite our love of high end fashion, Brits just can’t resist a bargain. Nearly half (47%) of consumers say that they mostly buy clothes on sale or special offer and over a third (36%) that they buy more from value clothing retailers than they did pre-recession. While three in ten people shop around comparing prices before buying, significantly fewer (one in six) take the trouble to look for the cheapest price online before buying in-store, indicating that most people decide what they will pay by browsing during a shopping trip. The trend for bargain-hunting, which appears to have increased in the recession, looks like it is set to continue, with a third (34%) of probable big-spenders in 2010 shopping around comparing prices before buying.

Mintel’s research also reveals mood is another influence on purchasing power for today’s consumers. Mintel’s research reveals that a quarter (24%) of consumers buy clothes to cheer themselves up when they are having a bad day, and this behaviour is more common among the big spenders in 2009 and/or in the year ahead. Putting consumers at ease could also assist the quarter (23%) of consumers who feel intimidated in expensive clothes stores.

However, while our love of fashion remains strong, it seems the days of impulse purchasing may be numbered. Nearly three in ten Brits say they are now buying fewer clothes on impulse or as a treat, rising to around four in ten of those who reduced their spend on clothing last year and/or intend to reduce it this year.

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