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The holiday season’s hottest party dresses

Ahead of EDITED's holiday party this week there has been a steady stream of online shopping deliveries (and team treks to the post office for returns). With enough velvet, sequins and plissé metallics around the office to sink a razzle-dazzle cruise ship, we decided to check in on how party dresses are selling across the wider industry.

We’re talking about party dresses because this week it’s EDITED HQ’s holiday party. In the two week build-up to the event, and its obligatory next day headache, the daily stream of online shopping parcels and the numerous Slack messages bear testament to the fact that party season is in full swing. Emily’s towering pile of parcels is dangerously close avalanching.  

So qualitative data leads to the quantitative and we’ve leapt in to understand exactly what’s happening with party dresses this year.

New arrivals have shrunk

Numbers of new ‘evening’ dresses arriving into stores in the U.S. and U.K. fell  this year, by 8% September 1 – December 14. That saw dresses fall into fourth most-stocked category across the board. This year, 25% of retailers’ new arrivals were in the tops category, 23% on accessories, 13% on footwear and 12% on dresses – down 1% from 2015 when dresses outstripped footwear.  

The shrinkage immediately flags up the need to check for growth elsewhere – any indication that the trend in party wear has shifted away from dresses and towards another category is important for retailers to know about. Data shows that new arrivals of suits are flat, but ‘evening’ skirts (defined as items which use metallics, velvet, silk and leather) are up 10% from last year and evening jumpsuits are up 14%.

Dresses lead retailers’ party content, but you’ll see in the newsletters below the other categories coming through as alternative options. That’s reflected in how each of those product category sells. 82% of top movers – items which arrived online this season and have sold out full price – are dresses.

Party dresses are performing better than last year

Despite retailers easing away from the evening wear dress category – and evidenced by the mailroom at EDITED – the products they have backed are outperforming last year’s. At this point, 5.5% of new arrivals have sold out at full price, compared to 3% at this point mid-season in 2015.  

The caution in newness is probably smart. Last year, 64% of evening dresses ended up discounted, with an average 48% off. Retailers pulling back on the numbers of party dresses could curtail the discounting that’s a category pandemic.

What’s selling?

The hot trends for the season include the slip dress, which increased by 7% for Fall 2016 from summer, despite being suited to warmer weather, and shiny things with metallics up 10% on last fall. Velvet is up 158% from Fall 2015 and is performing well across all categories. Over a third of new velvet dress arrivals are on body-con silhouettes. Double bang for your trend buck is the 19% of velvet dresses that are slip dress shape.

Other currently trending dress shapes include choker dress, plunge necklines, Bardot-shoulders and in luxury, frills and flounces.  

Party dress trends this season include the slip dress. It increased by 7% for Fall 2016 from summer.

This year retailers aren’t afraid of layering trend on trend: pairing metallics with one-shoulder, velvet with cold-shoulder, or pleats or frills. In this competitive category, more is more.  

Here’s some the season’s top movers:

Retailers are discussing party wear earlier  

A look at retailers’ email newsletters shows the conversation around party dresses starting earlier in the season. This October mentions lifted 63% compared to last year. That growth sputtered out in November, cutting back by 38% on 2015. Retailers are discussing party wear earlier in attempt to capture full price sell through on the category. Easing off in November makes sense: it’s a big discounting period. However, that only leaves retailers three weeks in December to make up for lost time.  

Smarter still would be retailers increasing the number of small, controlled discounts on the category. By limiting the number of styles reduced, keeping price slashes to 20% off and setting timed parameters around a sale, retailers could save stock from needing those dramatic 48% price slashes later in the season.  

Here’s our pick of the season’s best party wear emails:

When do consumers buy?

Last year’s data pinpoints the last week in November as the peak of full priced dress sell outs. That would suggest that by this point in the season, it’s a good time to be a consumer (you’ll probably be able to score a bargain from now on), but retailers have already made their big bucks on the category.

However, there’s a glimmer of hope in the final days of December as shoppers rush to get their New Year’s Eve outfits sorted. Sell outs almost reach the same level as the last week in November.

If you’re a retailer, be ready for this. Make your eveningwear category dominant even though you’re probably in Boxing Day sale swing. Let customers know you can get deliveries to them fast, even offer a reduction shipping with dress purchases. Remember that damning 48% reduction awaiting the dresses that don’t sell. With an average evening dress retailing at $99.87, achieve full price sell out and you’ll have captured $48. That’s got to be worth taking the hit on express  shipping.  

Update: for those concerned, Emily wore the velvet wrap dress and has made the returns date on the 17 other purchases. With all the new elbow room productivity has soared.