Changing Places

Here’s a piece I wrote for a ladies’ magazine some years ago before the new legislation on ramps and lifts came in.  Things have improved, but how much?  How easy do you find it accessing shops with a small child in tow?  Let me know – comments below, please!


There’s one good thing about a recession – the amazing bargains to be had (provided you’ve got any disposable income left, that is).

So, last week you’d have found me braving the conflict zone known euphemistically as The January Sales in search of the Perfect Skirt (substantially reduced), dodging posters that scream “Prices axed, slashed and generally mutilated” as if they were a hail of bullets.

fitting rooms

At least, I thought it was the January sales.  Mystifyingly, they seem to start way before New Year these days.  If the feature film palls on Boxing Day, you can always effect your own Great Escape to some DIY or homeware superstore on the fringes of town.

You’ll even see pre-Christmas sales – the most insidious of the lot. What could be more irritating than to discover that the present you bought for someone last week has just halved in price?

Anyway. I digress.  Locating the Perfect Skirt (substantially reduced) amidst such a profusion of choice should have been child’s play – unless, of course, you’re obliged to bring, for various reasons, the child in question with you.  In a pushchair.  Like me.

In the first shop, annoyingly, the ladies’ department is upstairs.  Is there a lift?  Oh yes! says saleslady blithely, ushering us to an antiquated and inadequately-lit staff elevator.  In this we make a majestically slow and rather bizarre ascent to the first floor, accompanied by a wheeled bin of dismantled mannequins.  Limbs protrude unnervingly from this at unnatural angles, like props from a horror movie.

It’s worth it all, though. The changing room is an ergonomist’s delight; ample space for the buggy, and cleverly-angled mirrors giving an all-round view.  Shame about the skirts, though.

Shop two displays barefaced cheek in signposting customers to its fitting room. It patently isn’t.  It’s a booth with saloon-style swinging doors.  I realise that the upper torso of anyone foolhardy enough to brave it is potentially (no, strike that – definitely) visible from the stairs.  Rapid exit.


Shop three’s cubicles ain’t big enough for the both of us. I unclip the clips, stow the stroller neatly outside and with grave misgivings, take my toddler in with me.

Now, it’s a challenge to tell whether something fits when you can’t edge further than six inches away from the mirror. While I’m attempting the requisite contortions, Ben decides, with great glee, to crawl out under the partition.  With one leg in and one leg out of your jeans in a sort of sartorial hokey-cokey, modesty severely curtails your available options.

So I thankfully trade privacy for convenience as I try on the Perfect Skirt (substantially reduced) in shop four’s communal “Fitting Village”.  Yes.  I know.  It’s not a village.  But … there’s bags of room and lots of interesting things for Ben to look at.  (I can tell what he’s thinking.  He’s watching that lady over there, and thinking that she definitely ought to pop over to Lingerie and buy herself some Spanx if she’s even moderately serious about that bodycon number.)

OK, so it’s easier to go shopping solo. But that’s simply not possible for a lot of us.  I firmly believe that those in retail management should think about the difficulties posed by poor facilities and layout on their potential customers.  And that means all of them.  Shops should be designed for, and accessible to everyone – including the occupants of wheelchairs, double buggies, mobility scooters, pushchairs and prams.  And those who push them, too.

So, go on, ladies – take the baby with you and make a fuss!  Demand your rights.  Rather than avoiding certain stores because they’re too much hassle, we should make them acknowledge the very real need for ramps and lifts and wider doors.  Perhaps then we’ll get the user-friendly shops we, their paying punters, deserve.

As I see it, there’s arguably only one plus to things as they are – you spend less.

© Sue Williams
A shorter version of this article appeared in Woman Alive magazine in 1991

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