The Rise and Rise of the Topshop Cult

Topshop Queues

As I sit here at my desk, drowning in the emotions of Kate Bush’s vocals I try not to think about the torrent of exams I have to face next week and beyond. I know that as long as I do my best then no one can ask for more. The post below was written as a practice essay for English Language, the stimulus being “don’t get me started on”. This style of writing is intended to provoke a reaction in the reader, be it positive or negative. I would rather receive heaps of criticism and know I’d struck a chord – albeit a rather out of tune one – than have my writing shrugged off as lacking in passion. In some ways this is the continuation of my first ever blog post, written two years ago, which discussed in somewhat less detail the many negative aspects of the Topshop experience. 

Topshop, like other popular retailers, can be easily defined by its clientele – those who shop there – and its target market – those the brand would applaud for stepping over their threshold. The Topshop Girls (or clones, depending on how strongly opposed to the chain you are) can often be seen congregating on patches of grass in the centre of University Campuses; blackberries clutched in one hand, ‘Topshop Make Up’ bags dangling from the crook of their other arm. Don’t think I’m getting on my high horse – I have a blackberry and it’s incredibly useful – but I don’t utilise it as a fashion accessory.

One of these individuals will have been entrusted with the act of selecting a suitably skimpy floral outfit which the remainder of the contingent will have been required to observe before clothing themselves in a variation of the same ensemble. In a nutshell, the more items purchased in a shop with a name beginning with the letter ‘T’ the better (just to clarify that’s Tiffany & Co, not Tesco – too easily confused, I know). It’s female peer pressure which channels itself into a bizarre spectacle of consenting uniformity; a sad but nevertheless honest reflection of some corners of today’s society.

The cunning sales technique employed in every Topshop from Oxford to its giant flagship store on Oxford Street has no doubt been the most profitable idea to emerge in the last twenty years (apart from Google and, erm, Apple but that’s by the by). Grown women morph into wild animals upon the arrival of a new collection and God forbid Kate Moss collaborates with Topshop again or she’ll have the blood of many a shopper on her hands; death-by-stampede. The alpha male of last season’s Limited Edition capsule wardrobe is indisputably squabbled over; the statement Christmas party dress which was probably held up on the pedestal of Topshop Boutique until it’s price was slashed.

Not even the instincts and rivalry displayed on the plains of the Serengeti could match the ferocious scenes of fracas on Boxing Day morning when the fashion food chain really comes into play… The top predator is the thirty-something marketing manager who replaced potentially child-shaped holes with clothes several years ago and who stops at nothing to gain internal workplace promotion – even if it means a four-figure yearly wardrobe. The primary consumer is the proactive student out looking for a bargain which she’s likely to achieve given that she is welcome to a ten percent discount when using her NUS card. She’ll know what she’s here for but will lack that scary, “in at the kill” attitude others possess.

The producer on the other hand is, very aptly, the expectant mother or mother with baby in tow. I would advocate the plastering of warning signs all over the entrance to the shop in a heartbeat, bearing the message “KEEP OUT unless you are willing to lose an eye for an eye(catching cardigan)”. To summarise: Topshop is unsafe unless you are a) trained in the art of combat, b) the owner of a pair of particularly pointy elbows or c) very, very determined to purchase something your were too much of a cheapskate to last month.

On a more serious note, I know that I am not alone in having been embarrassed by the sizing Topshop deploys. I see myself as a healthy teenager and, although I’m not a stick insect, large I most certainly am not! It therefore worries me that, being the size twelve or fourteen in Topshop that I am, there are girls out there shimmying into size sixes. We can joke about how they should be given the benefit of reduced prices considering how little fabric the garments they buy are created from, but I can see how little things like this could lead to allegations of encouraging eating disorders of anorexia – irrespective of whether or not the brand actually is.

I could have ended up a Topshop girl if it wasn’t for the guiding hands of several people who pulled me away from the bright lights of the Manchester Arndale and down the un-crowded streets of the Northern Quarter – the vintage Mecca of the North.  Whilst I acknowledge the act that we can all be permitted a couple of pieces in our wardrobes I feel very deeply that we are, as a nation, in acute danger of getting sucked into a vicious spin-cycle of lazy, over-priced and clique-induced fashion. I know that the day when I feel a thrill when handing over any amount of money in Topshop will signal that it’s high time the men in white coats come and drag me away. I’ll probably be wearing a slogan t shirt reading: “I left my soul at the sales desk”.


8 thoughts on “The Rise and Rise of the Topshop Cult

  1. Wow, brilliant article! Really emotive! I’ve long thought this but never had the drive to stand up against it – excellent piece of written work, hope your GCSEs go well!

  2. I have to agree, amazing piece of writing! very witty and thoughtful with just the right touch of irony and fun. i enjoyed it very much!

  3. First, Alexandra, best of luck with your exams. I don’t comment nearly enough on your posts but I know – judging by how you write, and think, not just on your own blog but thru commenting on mine and others, that you will do well on your exams. My best method for exams was to try to do as little studying as possible: just do the things that help you feel relaxed – swimming, in my case. If I have a clear calm head I can remember all I’ve learned. (My worst experience was freshman year in college, just before our first mid-terms: a psychology exam. I knew the subject matter so well, but the night before they opened the cafeteria in the dorms and fed us unlimited coffee and sugary things like pancakes. Everyone was freaking out right and left, and I let that energy get to me – by morning I was frazzled, exhausted, and forgot everything I knew. After that, I swore to keep my distance from all that, and just trust the process).

    SO: Topshop.

    It’s a brilliant piece, and a really good example of the ‘don’t get me started’ genre.

    When we first moved here – we didn’t have Topshop in NY at the time (or did we? I wasn’t aware of it) – and I didn’t know what all the fuss was about. After a few years of being more involved on the inside of the PR machinery, I think what they’ve done is kind of genius. In my case, I just happened to have seen a girl who I wanted to shoot for my (then) streetstyle blog, a few months after I’d launched it, while having lunch with my husband and friends outside in Primrose Hill. When I shot her, I just happened to ask what she did (I never did that, at the time). She was doing their PR, and I laughed, and said we should talk.

    After that, I was always doing free PR for Topshop: she’d invite me to their press events, the LFW shows.. part of why we perceive the brand as so cool is down to brilliant women like Liz Shuttleworth – who has since moved on, to McQueen. I’ve lost ‘friends’ – users, opportunists, bloggers who pretended to be my friend so raise their silly blog-profiles – because I’ve refused to give them her details. The frenzy to get an invite to, for example, the Uniqlo show, is hilarious.

    The reality is, their stuff is OKAY. It all feels very Emperor’s New Clothes to me. While I still know people who do Topshop PR, and still get the invites, I feel really kind of done with all that now. The other day, just for the fun of it, I walked into three shops near each other in Knightsbridge: H&M, Zara, and Topshop. Maybe it was because I’d been to the first two first- and like a food critic, was totally saturated by the time I’d reached Topshop, but nothing there captured my imagination. H&M was brilliant, there was so much I wanted, and Zara was even better: a slightly more expensive version. Topshop looked tacky and cheap.

    That said, I have a pair of black suedette ‘harlequin’ pompom ballet flats, and the palest aqua platform sandals (also in a kind of suede), and a pale nude with sequin bomber jacket – all kind of fashion classic staples of my wardrobe.

    Anyway – it’s feast or famine with me, and this comment is now probably longer than your brilliant post. My apologies. But that’s what good writing can do to one: make you think. And I’ll shut up now, apart to wish you good luck with your exams and thank you for each of your thoughtful, thought-provoking comments. Even if I don’t dare respond each time, just know I’m grateful.


  4. Hope your exams are going well!
    I realised I was too old for Topshop when they started selling bejewelled knickers as outwear. The thing that gets me is how over priced it all is too. The last things Ive bought from there were taken back for inferior quality, so Ive learnt that it is not for me. The huge store in London Oxford St is something to experience though, I was in there with a friend and found it a bit scary, I also got told off by the security guard for sitting on a table-thingy, incredibly over priced 80s vintage, witnessed outrage in the fitting room as you weren’t allowed to the suit jacket on in there with the rest of the suit and saw James Nesbit being dragged around by his kids. They sell cakes in there too. Truly bonkers!

  5. This is going to be short and sweet, but what a wonderful piece – both in statement and rhetoric! I’d hope that you’d pass your exam with flying colours if they were faced with something as impassioned and extensive as this. My own feelings on Topshop are similar to yours – the clothes that they sell are not designed to enhance individuality, but to promote conformity. They have somehow managed the rather brilliant (but scary) manoeuvre of creating ‘Topshop’ as a brand more desirable than its other high street counterparts. I wonder if this is in part due to their Unique show at LFW? Their clothes are usually no better made than those in Zara or New Look, and yet the prices are considerable higher.
    The flagship store, as you have pointed out, is a bit of a nightmare. I decided it wasn’t the place for me after a final visit on a boiling hot summer’s day, where an entire floor was jammed with sale rails – big neon signs shouting of the savings and price slashes. Claustrophobic sounds a little understated for my liking.
    Anyway, I hope your exams are going well. xx

  6. What a fab, emotive article. Firstly I would like to say that any article in which a strong argument is presented rather than bias thinly guised with literary foliage is worthy of a read, and the fact that I am on the same wavelength as you when it comes to my incredulity at the Topshop cult makes it all the more readable!
    The ‘Topshop Clones’ as you reference at the start made me giggle; my university, while there are some very fashionable individuals, is littered with girls with vacant expressions, huge handbag tucked in the crook of their arm and a Starbucks grasped in their clawed hand. Their fashion style; if one can call it that, is as you rightly point out, one of conformity. They are so boring! Clothes with such a limited colour palette and variations on the theme of beaded top, skinny jeans, blazer and pumps everywhere you turn.
    The ‘top predator’ is of course Philip Green who has been responsible for the mass proliferation of child-sized clothes at extortionate prices; often, getting a celebrity of the same size to endorse his products and generate a consensus that Topshop clothes are not only decent sized, but wearable and unique. They are in fact none of those things.
    If I ever buy anything of the Topshop brand, it is usually second hand from ebay, and even then, I usually buy something in the biggest size possible just on principle that I am determined to get as much fabric as possible for my money.
    For some reason, the current ambition of many of my friends-female and male, here at university is to become staff at Abercrombie &Fitch/Hollister, which is in my opinion, on a pas with the ridiculousness of Topshop. The day that I ever foster a dream to become one of the floozy girls that toss their messy mane of hair in one of those shops will be the day, as you brilliantly summarise it, when I am incarcerated. It actually makes me sad that girls want to look like that and I feel embarrassed when I see girls opting for that certain look.
    Definitely need to make a pilgrimage to the vintage Mecca of the North someday, sounds right up my street!
    As you can probably tell, your article inspired a passionate response from me, which is what your article deserves!
    Thanks again for your lovely comments on my blog, knowing that I can make someone laugh with my writing is what I always aim to try and do 🙂
    Christobel xx

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