Family run fashion

DEPARTMENT stores have long been providing all your fashion needs under one roof but a family run business in Suffolk prides itself on providing the personal touch. By Katy Evans

DEPARTMENT stores have long been providing all your fashion needs under one roof but a family run business in Suffolk prides itself on providing the personal touch. Fashion writer Katy Evans reports.

ONCE upon a time there was a store called Coes, where men went to buy suits, shirts and ties, and grooms hired their wedding attire.

The traditional, family run department store, which opened back in 1928, was also renowned for its school wear but these days it's the trendy, designer labels that are just as likely to get shoppers through the doors.

Despite having undergone more than 85% refurbishment over the past four years years, which included an entire new and much-awaited women's wear department, it's still surprising how many people have yet to experience the shop's new interior or the rails of attractive new clothes.

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Rather than completely change course, Coes have stuck to what they have always done best - provide classic, casual attire for a more mature audience - while at the same time adding to their portfolio by bringing in more funky fashion brands that appeal to a younger, or at least younger thinking, age group.

One such example is the popular, rock n roll-inspired Amplified T-shirt range - made famous by numerous celebrities, not least David Beckham who was snapped sporting the Clash version. I happen to have the Rolling Stones diamante tongue design and was wearing it out in town on a Saturday night, and was stopped at least three times by people wanting to know where I got it. When I replied Coes, they either looked shocked or confused (if they were new to the town). Anyone who has grown up in Ipswich will inevitably have heard of Coes but many probably still think of it as just a place for uniforms and suit hire. Most 20 and 30-somethings perhaps don't consider taking a trip down to the Norwich Road-based department store. But if they did, they would be in for a pleasant surprise.

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Ascend the grand spiral staircase to the women's wear section and you'll be greeted with a number of pretty, flirty and feminine pieces by the youthful Ted Baker range, sitting alongside more classic collections by Basler and Olsen. Coes is also the only shop in Ipswich where you can find the Baker brand - another rare gem of information for fashionistas who currently traipse all the way to Bluewater, Braintree or Lakeside for their Ted togs.

One particularly popular dress at present is the pillbox red chiffon dress which crosses at he front, and the dainty black evening top with cap sleeves sequins.

If it's a more structured softness you're after then Repeat offer cute cardies, such as this one modelled by none other than Teri Hatcher, of Desperate Housewives fame, or how about this elegant and pretty floral skirt teamed with soft pink suede jacket by Betty Barclay?

Full Circle offers basic, light-weight sweaters and tank tops while Gerry Weber comes up trumps with crisp, classic white shirts and jackets, as seen here.

Another smart/casual look, which incorporates two of this season's key trends - cropped trousers and the colour grey - can be seen in this outfit by Oui Moments. And when the weather turns even colder, Johnstones serves up chunky, colourful scarves to help wrap up warm.

Cheryl Rawlings has worked for the women's wear department since it opened four years ago and has been manager and buyer for the past two of those.

“There are definitely more younger clients than when we first opened as back then we didn't have the contemporary ranges,” says Cheryl, who estimates that around 25% of their customers are now in the 20s and 30s category.

She says the women's wear department has also made the shop even more of a family destination, what with something for everyone.

“It's also led to the expansion of other areas of the store, such as top coats, ski wear and sports. We have a new range called Venice Beach, which is yoga sportswear, for example.”

Coes also stocks shoes, bags, children's clothing and, of course, the men's tailoring department with more than 2000 suits to chose from, making this a truly multidimensional department store with its eyes firmly on the future, while still retaining traditions of the past.

“The shop is built on family values but you have to move with the times - things can't just stay the same,” thinks Cheryl, who used to get her school uniform from the store.

A large, free car park reserved solely for customers adds even more appeal to this friendly shopping haven. Even the ladies carrier bags - smart, boxy creations in baby pink rope handles that you won't want to throw away - add a new classy dimension.

“It's the service that's the number one thing here,” says Cheryl, proudly. “We have a high number of staff and it's like a personal shopping experience. People do spend time with us and customers are always welcomed with a smile.

“So many places these days are impersonal and you have to do things for yourself without help.

“We take pride in the town we are in and try to give something back,” says Cheryl, emphasising the importance of the family within the business.

“The family side is very important. We stay closed on Sundays and Mondays so staff get to spend time with their own families,” says Cheryl, who recently got married to one of the menswear staff.

So if you feel like shunning the manically busy high street for a more chilled-out, all encompassing, child friendly shopping spree, then follow your fashion nose to Coes.

Coes is at 20-28 Norwich Road, Ipswich. Call 01473 256061 or visit There are also smaller Coes stores at Felixstowe, Dovercourt, Maldon, Lowestoft and Beccles.

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