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Are dresses in decline?

Media reports the dress is dead & separates are on the rise. EDITD dip into commercial data to see if retail backs up the headlines. Does the dress still rule?
Are dresses in decline? | EDITED
  • EDITD Dries Van Noten AW13_14
  • EDITD Market Insight Categories
  • EDITD New Look Newsletter 5th March 2013
  • EDITD Net-a-Porter Newsletter 23rd March 2013

Recent industry news and fashion press have made much of the decline of the dress, and the rising profile of separates. This would certainly make sense, for starters there’s some convincing and much publicised imagery from the AW 13/14 catwalks of skirts and tunics being worn over trousers. And in times of economic strife, perhaps separates offer a better bang to buck ratio, as consumers mix and match to create several outfits.

Equally, the dress is a one-stop solution for the thrifty shopper. Dresses prevail as the safe option for event and occasion wear and for retailers, the garment can have fewer fit issues than the trouser alternative. We’ve investigated the data behind the story to help understand whether consumer demand for dresses has actually dropped and whether retailers should put the brakes on the category.

Firstly, we analysed the collections of 5 international designers who attracted the most online attention during the AW13/14 shows (and therefore the ones with the most influence over fashion’s consumers). Counting each dress in their Fall collection, we then compared this with the AW12/13 collections. Gucci, Chanel and Burberry all increased the number of dresses in their ranges – Burberry even upped their quota by 175%. Michael Kors and Topshop Unique both reduced the number of dresses in their ranges; from 19 to 15 and 18 to 5 respectively, the latter being a particularly dramatic drop. Certainly no unanimous decision here that its death to the dress!

So have retailers adjusted their category investment for the current season? Comparing the number of new dresses arriving on their websites between 1st Feb and 1st May 2013, with the same period in 2012, we can see that Topshop have grown their online dress offering by 20.4% with a total of 919 dresses available for purchase this year. ASOS meanwhile have grown the category by 34.8% and Dorothy Perkins by 10.2%. No sign of a deflating confidence in the category here, however Topshop grew their skirt offering at a higher rate – adding to their online selection by 92% (a total of 318 products) and Dorothy Perkins grew their skirts category by 180% (a total of 126 products). On the face of it therefore, it seems that any shift in focus away from the dress on the catwalk has not yet been reflected in the retail data.

It’s important to understand what retailers are placing their confidence in, but more critical still is to know what’s selling, that is, what it is consumers actually want. We looked at the most successful items which arrived online globally this season (for the purpose of this report 1st March-1st May 2013). We’ve defined success here as fast sell-through, no discounting, not discontinued yet and having been restocked at least once already. The most represented category of successful items was accessories (which include bags, purses, hats, scarves and belts) at a total of 18.7%. The second biggest category was dresses, at 18%. Trousers and skirts only featured in 8th and 10th places. As the fastest selling garment category, the data doesn’t support the media’s claim that dresses are slipping off the consumer radar here.

The final metric we can apply to understand the situation is to compare successful products at specific retailers this season, with 12 months ago. We looked at the products that sold through, without discounting and were restocked over a 2 months period (1st March-1st May 2012 vs 1st March-1st May 2013) at Topshop, Forever 21 and Dorothy Perkins. Across all three retailers this season, the category with the most successful products was Dresses (at Forever 21, dresses tied with Swim and Underwear & Hosiery). However, the growth/decline in different categories at each retailer paints an interesting picture.

Topshop’s largest areas of growth were Skirts (successful styles up by 8.9%) followed by Footwear. Trousers, Swim and Outerwear tied in 3rd position.  The categories with the largest decline in number of successful products were Jewellery, Underwear & Hosiery and Nightwear.

Dorothy Perkins:
DP’s largest areas of growth were Underwear (successful styles up by 5%), followed by trousers and skirts. The biggest category declines were seen in Dresses (despite still being the category with the highest number of successful products), Accessories and Shorts.

Forever 21:
Forever 21’s biggest areas of growth were Swim (up 12.9%), Underwear and Footwear. The categories with biggest declines in number of successful products were Jeans, followed by Dresses with Nightwear and Jeans tied in 3rd place.

The data here shows that both Dorothy Perkins and Forever 21 have seen declines in the number of fast-selling dresses. But paired with the knowledge that it is also the largest category, there’s no need to panic. Rather than retailers reducing their investment in dresses, it could make more sense to reduce the less popular categories, such as Nightwear.

In view of the evidence, is the dress dead? Our analysis clearly shows that panic headlines are nothing more than speculation, and decisions based on these could be misguided. As far as we can see, the dress is very much alive; designers are still producing it and consumers globally are buying it this season as the most popular garment category. Data shows us that it’s still the most popular category at mass market level, but consumers’ interest in skirts and footwear is growing at a faster rate this season. Armed with this information, retailers can pre-empt consumer demands by keeping dresses on the market and ensuring that skirts and shoes are widely available.