They say eyes are the windows of the soul, and here in Teddington’s High Street, the windows of TCS show the very soul of an elegant boutique. Standing on the threshold you might be forgiven for a frisson or excitement or nerves. The mannequins are dressed with exquisite good taste, the objects which surround them are clearly chosen with great care and through the door lies a treasure trove of clothing, accessories, homeware and gifts.
Once you’re in, the elegance continues over two floors in a hushed heaven of beautiful items, from the dresses that whisper against one another on the rails to the simple/serene white china in the homeware department upstairs.
Meeting Jules, the owner of TCS for the past 17 years, I had to make a confession – being short and unable to decode the style gene – I had only been into the shop once in the six years I’d lived in Teddington.
“This is the thing isn’t it?” laughs Jules “People come in and say ‘I suppose everyone has to be as tall as you to shop here’ but I cater for everyone from size 8 to 18 (and all heights) and I wouldn’t have been in business very long if I didn’t. There are more real people out there than there are “boutique petites”. I’m passionate that beautiful/flattering clothes should be available to all people. You should enjoy wearing them and they should make you feel happy. Always put something on that makes you feel good!”
Jules Winstanley, founder & owner of TCS
TCS clearly makes a lot of customers very happy, and not only locals. Many of the ladies who shop at TCS have done so for years, and they love the individuality of what’s on offer in store. One customer, who used to live in Teddington, now visits whenever she is over from her new home in Manhattan because ‘she knows she can find pieces here that won’t be seen anywhere else.’
TCS’s repeat customers often keep items for years and return time and time again to continue to build their wardrobes. TCS is also very much a one-stop shop, which is undoubtedly part of its appeal.
“We have a combination of lots of things under one roof – customers find a whole range of items, from clothes, to shoes, jewellery and accessories all in one place – but there’s no rule that you have to spend a lot money.
“We offer not fashion, but style and we aim to help people to find their personal style, to find what’s right for them. And once people are over the threshold they find that actually we’re a friendly bunch!” says Jules.
If you were shopping at TCS for the first time and like me, often feel bamboozled in boutiques, there is no need here. Jules is keen to emphasize that she strives to make shopping here an enjoyable experience (“We never push to sell here, it’s all about making you feel comfortable and relaxed, people can stay for hours if they like and not buy anything”), and she and her team (Charlie, Nicoline and Dhara) also offer a personal styling service, for no extra charge.
The calm and light interior
“We can do head to toe, we have the perfect shoes and great jewellery, so people can come here and get the total look or they can bring one piece from their wardrobes and we’ll help them build around it. We can show how your wardrobe can work hard for you; we sell a lot of neutrals and these work well with longevity. You don’t have to buy loads and loads of expensive pieces.”
TCS does offer high-end clothes, but while we’re on the subject of debunking consumer myths, it’s worth pointing out that there are plenty of affordable items mixed in with the more expensive prices.
“Yes, I like to think that every piece is an investment and customers often tell me that they’ve kept things for years because they love wearing them. I look at everything that I buy for the shop as an investment. Of course, these things are not always cheap, but we do offer cheaper ranges -there’s a whole mix of different priced collections.”
Jules buys most of her items in London and Paris, from showrooms and designers she has known for years. She offers a diverse mix of designers from Tanya Sarne, who was behind Ghost, and now produces the Handwritten label, to a new Turkish designer Umit Unal which she discovered at the shows in Paris. She tries to seek out washable, easy-care items, too, so that what she offers is practical for her customers.
Upstairs at TCS – more clothing, also homeware
Her background, from a student in Leeds where she studied Clothing Technology and Dress Design, has always been in fashion. After studying she joined Courtaulds in Birmingham, and found her way down to London via George Davies and Next to a product development company in Brentford that supplied another 90s big hitter, BHS. She bought TCS (formerly The Clothing Store) in 1996 after working there for a month and finding that the owner was selling the business.
“I thought it was a real shame that the shop could close and lose all its loyal customers. I put a business plan together and managed to buy it.”
Seventeen years on, it is testament to her success that former owner Eileen still shops at the store.
Saying my goodbyes, I ask Jules if there’s anything else she’d like Teddington to know about TCS. Stopping in the homeware department she began in 2010 she remembers:
“Yes! We offer a Wedding List service… people have all the practical stuff these days, but if you want something unusual and beautiful you can find it here on your doorstep!”
It sums up rather well what TCS is all about. It’s local and friendly, unique, different and beautiful, all at the same time.