High street fashion as we know it today began to emerge in the 1960s when there was a greater sense of freedom and people had a little more money to spend after the austerity of the post-war 1950s. Because of the rise of popular culture and the new found freedom that many young people had, they wanted to emulate their favourite pop stars or movie stars and keep up to date with the latest fashion. The term ‘teenager’ was coined in this decade, giving young people their own identity.
Department stores began to stock their own ranges of clothes for young people in the 1960s. For instance Selfridges created the Miss Selfridge brand in store in 1966, although it later became a brand in its own right. Topshop began life in 1964 in the Peter Robinson fashion chain as an affiliate brand called ‘Peter Robinson’s Top Shop’. It originated as a youth brand in the Sheffield store and had a large department in the Oxford Street store of Peter Robinson in London. In the 1970s Topshop became its own brand and by the late 1990s was growing rapidly into the worldwide brand it is today.
With the turn of the new millennium, high street retailers continued to grow. Many of the UK high street brands have now expanded abroad due to the international popularity of British fashion. To meet the demands of shoppers and ever evolving trends, the turnaround of clothes in the shops became quicker. In the late 20th century an item of clothing might be available in a store for several months, often being restocked several times. Today many pieces of fashion have a short shelf life, meaning if the shopper doesn’t buy it there and then it may not be available again. Regular sales of older stock or mid-season sales have also contributed to the quick turnaround of clothing in shops. Designs and trends from the catwalk are also now very rapidly translated into fashion on the high street, contributing to the term ‘fast fashion’.
Another phenomenal development in 21st century high street fashion has been the rise of cheap, throwaway fashion. Primark has become a giant of the British high street, selling the latest trends at cheap prices. This means that clothes can be worn for one or two seasons and then discarded due to their low cost. The ethics of this throw away fashion approach, in terms of the labour used to manufacture cheap clothing and the amount of waste it produces, is often questioned however.
Although high street fashion remains popular, the biggest threat to its growth is the rise of online shopping. Ecommerce websites have now become essential to the fashion business and many people want to buy clothes from the comfort of their home. However, due to not being able to ‘try before you buy’, around 40% of online clothing purchases are returned. This is a big problem for online retailers and means that the high street still has an edge. As the 21st century progresses, many fashion stores have begun to think of new concepts to attract more shoppers and create a ‘theatre of retail’.
Customer experience is now key and stores often create artistic and creative displays in order to wow their customers. Many high street fashion shops also now offer a range of products, including home wares and beauty items, alongside clothing. This multi-retail approach has been adopted in order to offer a complete and unique customer experience. High street stores like Urban Outfitters provide the shopper with the opportunity to buy into a ‘lifestyle’ by purchasing a range of stylish consumer goods. This approach to fashion retail is much like the concept Biba created back at the beginning of the high street revolution in the 1960s.