Designer Brand

Retailers And Designers Say Dresses Are Back

Chicago-based designer Azeeza Khan launched her dresses at Neiman Marcus in May and the demand for her bold, statement-making styles seemed instantaneous.

“Many of the pieces sold out the same the same day,” says Khan, whose luxury women’s brand Azeeza retails at Kith, Shopbop, 11 Honoré and Bergdorf Goodman. In addition, Khan is a Nike

designer and partner.

Similarly, designer Way Zen noticed her phone started ringing more in May, with customers placing orders for dressier dresses and matching pants suits.

“People want to dress up—they want to bring joy to their lives,” says Zen, who designs all of the custom-order pieces for her NY-based brand JSong Way. “People plan to attend weddings, birthdays and they want to celebrate like pre-pandemic times. They want to forget about everything.”

Dressing up is back in style as businesses and cities reopen and people are ready to socialize and ditch their casual pandemic garb.

“As an occasions brand, we have definitely noticed a steep incline in sales and interest (in dresses),” Khan adds.

Retailers across the spectrum are reporting an uptick in consumer demand for dresses and dressy styles. Ted Baker is the latest brand to share that dresses and suits were in demand again.

“Most recently we are seeing dresses back to the same level (in the) mix of our business as it was two years ago,” Rachel Osborne, chief executive officer at Ted Baker, told Reuters. “(We) are seeing people coming in for suits, the wedding season is hopefully starting.”

The U.S. dress market totaled $84.6 billion in 2020, according to analysis by Coresight Research and Euromonitor data—a 32% decline over 2019. Coresight expects U.S. dress sales to total $97.5 billion in 2021 and $104.7 billion in 2022—a year-over-year increase of 15% and 7%, respectively.

“Consumers are shopping for dressier categories driven by fun as more consumers will be able to attend events and join gatherings,” says Sunny Zheng, analyst at Coresight.

Following more than a year of casual dressing and working from home, it may be time for a wardrobe refresh. “Pre-pandemic clothes and shoes from 18 months ago now feel dated and in need of a revamp,” says Katie Thomas, lead of the Kearney Consumer Institute.

During Nordstrom’s

first quarter earnings last month, designer dresses and dressy styles were highlighted as one of the categories that performed at levels compared to 2019 in March and April, with strength continuing into the second quarter of this year. Other “recovery” categories noted included sunglasses, makeup and handbags.

The retailer believes consumers are ready to dress up again and forecasts a return to head-to-toe dressing up for fall.

“It’s been really exciting to see our customers return to our stores again as their lives begin to return to a new normal,” says Shea Jensen, executive vice president general merchandising manager at Nordstrom. “We’ve really seen a return to occasion dressing—whether that is for a travel occasion, a social occasion, or a formal occasion such as a wedding. Spring and summer newness seems to be resonating with customers as shorts, knits and dresses have been strong performing categories.”

In terms of styles, the retailer has invested in several trends that represent the “joy of dressing,” Jensen says, while celebrating summer.

“Giving our customers the opportunity to ease back into trendier styles without compromising on her comfort,” Jensen says, such as “happy emotional prints applied to easy and flowy dresses.”

One such happy-feeling dress is JSong Way’s New York City map dress, featuring a hand-painted map of Manhattan.

“It’s getting a lot of attention,” says Zen, of the dress. “We have people from out of town and all of a sudden they want to order the NY dress. It has the spirit of NY.”