Finding t-shirts and bikinis during the U.K.’s longest heat wave in 18 years is presenting an unlikely fashion emergency for British shoppers.
Even as temperatures have topped 28 degrees Celsius (82 degrees Fahrenheit) for 17 consecutive days, coats and sweaters are starting to replace shorts and flip-flops in store displays as retailers roll out fall fashions, leaving little choice for customers seeking to replenish their wardrobes after two years of summer washouts.
“I want to buy summer clothes now and they’re all gone,” James Arscott, a 52-year-old data analyst, said in London. “They sell summer clothes in the spring and now they’re selling autumn clothes. It’s almost like they expect people to buy things too soon.”
Stores and shoppers alike have been caught out by weeks of blazing heat. As Marks & Spencer Group Plc starts to make room in its stores for fake-fur winter coats, customers who manage to hoist themselves from their sun-loungers are more likely to want swimwear. John Lewis, the largest U.K. department-store chain, said sales fell 8.7 percent in the first week of the heat wave.
“Nobody really wants to look at fake fur winter coats when it’s 30 degrees and sticky out there,” said Bryan Roberts, senior analyst at Kantar Retail in London. Clothing retailers “are starting to miss out on sales.”
Unlike supermarkets, which can bring in barbeques, cold beer and salads with only a few days’ notice, fashion stores have more difficulty meeting demand brought on by hot weather, according to Roberts. Most order inventory months in advance and manufacture far away in Asia or Africa.
“Once you have committed, it’s on a ship on the way to your warehouse, regardless of what the thermometer says,” said Tristan Rogers, chief executive officer at Concrete Platform, a retail Web technology company that works for Marks & Spencer, Gap Inc., Debenhams Plc and Levi Strauss & Co.
Rogers copes with the heat by donning shorts to cycle to client meetings and changing into a suit once on arrival. While his suits and shirts are custom-made, shoppers who buy clothing off the rack are frustrated with a lack of choice in the stores, caused partly by discounts to get rid of summer fashions.
Mango’s store on London’s Oxford Street is offering 50 percent off the price of summer clothes, which have been banished upstairs as the ground floor has been cleared for the fall/winter collection.
Seasonal clothing in most fashion stores “is reduced to the last pieces, so it’s difficult to find what you want,” said Mariel Capisciolto, 26, who originally hails from Argentina and now lives in London.
Since she doesn’t know how long the hot weather will last “I try to re-use the clothes that I have.”
At Inditex SA, whose Zara chain is famed for quickly getting clothes from design-board to store, all spring and summer season items are now discounted, the company said in an e-mail. Some fall and winter items are already in stores, though the full range won’t be available for another month or so. Marks & Spencer’s fall fashions start arriving in stores July 25 as the retailer seeks to halt two years of falling non-food sales.
“The fashion retail calendar does seem increasingly out of sync with the weather,” said Nick Bubb, an independent analyst who is a member of the KPMG/Ipsos U.K. Retail Think Tank.
Hennes & Mauritz AB, Europe’s second-largest fashion chain, has made “no changes to the stock due to the weather,” spokeswoman Chloe Bowers said. Nonetheless, the retailer’s store on Oxford Street removed notices promoting fall and winter clothing and has given mannequins a more appropriate wardrobe for the season.
“We took off jackets and trousers and replaced them with t-shirts and skirts or shorts so they are more related to the climate,” said the store’s visual merchandiser Alan Yau.
The hot spell is the longest since 1995, according to the U.K.’s Met Office, which forecasts that temperatures will cool only slightly later this week, even as thunderstorms strike.
The heat has spurred some surprising fashion choices. Like man-caftans, a thin robe traditionally reaching to the ankles that’s favored by 22-year-old Kenny Foot, a worker at Apple Inc.’s flagship store in Oxford Street.
“The real loose, billowy types, they are really comfortable and cool,” Foot said.
U.K. Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg admitted to “padding around the office without my shoes” on July 17, the hottest day of the year before yesterday, while Guardian columnist Hadley Freeman chastised readers for confusing hot-weather dressing with beach attire, citing g-strings in London parks.
“I can’t buy anything at the moment,” said Charlotte Ryan, 34, as she smoked a cigarette outside the Banglers pub in London where she works as a waitress. “There’s the denim thing going on at the moment, like denim shirts and denim dresses, but no-one fancies wearing that in the summer.”