Wendyl Nissen sizes up clothes options in Ponsonby.

I rarely go shopping anymore. I like to think it is because I have mastered online shopping.

But recently I needed a new dress. Not any old dress I could buy online but something a bit special. Something which says "class", "style" and "gone to a bit of trouble" in one visual statement.

"I'm going to go shopping," I announced to my husband one afternoon when miraculously I had met my deadlines for the day.

"Shopping? You mean outside. Actually physically leaving the house and walking into a shop?"


"Yes, just like I used to in the old days."

"Will you be taking a friend and stopping for a recuperative chardonnay at SPQR and loading up the credit card with thousands of dollars?" he asked.

"Well no, because in those days I worked in magazines and shopped on their time, stupid."

And so I walked down Ponsonby Rd for the first time in years noting with surprise that several of my favourite stores had disappeared.

"No matter. Sure I'll find something."

I began popping into dress shops with smart labels. As I was flicking through dresses on a rack in one store I was yelled at by a woman behind a counter.

"We have other sizes out the back," she hollered.

Several women paused to stare at the person who might need "other sizes". I paused too as the full impact of what she said dawned on me. "We have other sizes out the back because you are obviously far too large to be shopping in my shop and therefore anything which might fit you is hidden out the back to discourage your sort from wearing our clothes."

I turned to look at her long and hard. She smiled back.

"What sizes would they be?"

"Oh, what size would you need?" she said, smiling sweetly.

"I'm not sure. What size do you think I'd need?" I returned the smile. Two can play that game, sweetheart.

"I'm not sure. I can have a look," she said with all the joy of a cat asked to jump through a hoop on fire.

"That's okay," I said flicking the dress I had been looking at back on to the rack. "I doubt this would look good in my size anyway."

With that I stropped out, determined not to let the incident hamper my unique shopping experience.

As I continued down the strip I realised there were only three sizes in every dress shop - 8, 10 and 12 - except at the recycle shop where they had helpfully bundled anything over that on to a rack that invitingly said "Large Sizes". Three times I was told there were "other sizes out the back" with the same patronising holler.

If you are a size 14, 16 or 18 you now must go to the extra trouble of asking someone to retrieve your size from the cupboard of shame out the back.

"Next they'll ask us to sit at the back of the bus," I mumbled as I drove home, bereft of the special dress I had craved.

At home I logged on to a British clothing website my daughters use. I found the very dress I had in mind, in my size, for just £30 (NZ$57), it was freight-free and arrived in five days.

And it fit perfectly.

"Nice dress," said my husband weeks later, which is when they notice you have something new. "Good old Ponsonby delivers again," he chuckled to his deluded self.