What do women really want from fashion? When Rebecca Willis put this question to dozens of women of different ages, the replies were loud and clear. They want more style, less speedand more sleeves

MAGAZINES ARE NOT, as a rule, great listeners. The communication they have with their readers is largely one way; even the arrival of online comments has done little to change this. But if most are a touch hard of hearing, fashion magazines can seem stone deaf. "This is what you should wear!" they bellow. Or at the very least, "This is what you should want to wear!" The people they’re addressing rarely get a word in.

So we thought we’d start a conversation. Instead of telling, we’d ask. Is the fashion industry—that colossal, frenetic, inexorably whirling machine—producing what women really want? Does it give them the clothes they need, when they need them? Is it, if that isn’t too frivolous a concept, making them happy?

To find out, we conducted a straw poll, sending out a questionnaire to more than 40 women. They ranged from 18 to 84, were different shapes, sizes and nationalities, and lived in a variety of places across the westernised world. None was on the bread line, but they had a wide range of incomes. The only things they had in common were that they took the time to answer our questionnaire, and were not part of the fashion industry: it can be a teensy bit self-regarding, and it’s too easy for those who work in it to lose touch with the role clothes play in everyday life. We wanted to hear opinions from outside the bubble.

From the answers we received, it quickly became apparent that most of these women love clothes. But they also have some serious gripes about what’s on offer. In fact, “gripes” might not be strong enough a word: at times what came across was actual anger.

Women are sick of low quality, overpriced, poorly made, ill-fitting clothes that don’t last. They are fed up both with too much choice, and its twin: too little they want to choose. They enjoy looking at the beauty and high-art escapism of couture, but when it comes to what they actually buy, they are more exercised by quality and cut than bells and whistles: they want their clothes to fit properly and not fall apart. They are not fooled by the fads and fancies of the current season, the bogus now-ness of fashion; they know it’s a game whose objective is at least partly to keep them consuming. And they resent it. The constant change means that they can’t rely on a particular shop or designer from one season to the next. Women’s bodies may change a bit, but not that much, and certainly not every season: they realise, at some point in their lives, what suits them and what works for them, and after that they want only so much variation. They long for consistency, to have favourite shops and designers they can rely upon; they would be loyal to a brand if only they could. They want to have love affairs with their clothes, not the tawdry flings that are offered.   

In an industry powered by the idea of change, that might seem counter-intuitive. But there is a market out there for designers who treat women with respect. It’s a different economic model, certainly, but these responses strongly suggest retailers could shift from quantity to quality, from fleeting gimmicks to modern classics, and still have a successful business. More than that, they’d have the hearts and minds of real women. 

Our evidence for a Slow Fashion Campaign is set out below. We know that asking the fashion industry to change its ways might be like David taking on Goliath. But look how that turned out.