As calendars fill up with seasonal events, including cocktail, dinner and office parties, having a wardrobe ready to match one’s social life has never been more essential. Although the dark days of the pandemic and cancelled events are behind us, unfortunately 2023 has seen an array of new challenges affecting shopping habits – largely the ongoing cost of living crisis.
Research by consumer insight firm Kantar found that partywear as a category “isn’t performing as well”, growing by +1.4% in 2023 vs. +4.9% total market growth in 2022 year on year. It cites cost of living pressures as a reason causing shoppers to buy less, in attempt to reduce the impact of inflation.
Despite this, fashion retailers and brands have found that customers are continuing to embrace the category, but via different means such as rental and purchasing separates, in order to manage their finances.
Emily Gordon-Smith, content director and sustainability lead at trend forecasting and analysis agency Stylus, said: “There is definitely appetite among consumers to be party-ready this season but they’re employing various savvy strategies to get value for money in light of the cost-of-living crisis.”
One of these strategies is renting an outfit instead of buying it. Sacha Newall, founder and CEO of rental platform My Wardrobe HQ, told Drapers: “Partywear is seeing a rental boom this season, with customers enjoying sequins, feathers and statement looks.
“This is the magic of rental, customers don’t shop for the ‘safe’ option. They can enjoy fashion-forward looks safe in the knowledge that it won’t harm either their bank account or the planet. From November we have launched ‘Just for the Weekend’ exclusively in our Harrods concession. Any partywear collected and returned to [its concession in] Harrods can be rented on a Friday, Saturday or Sunday night for only £30, with brands ranging from Gucci to Love Shack Fancy.”
Clio Peppiatt, a London based designer whose hand beaded dresses and accessories are popular across rental apps and services, commented: “It feels like clients have really fallen in love with dressing up again. Speaking to our customers, I get the sense she wants to stand out at a party and wear something special and unique, but she’s also looking for a piece she can wear again and again. It feels slightly less trend-led and more about investing in beautiful pieces that retain their value.”
This notion of investment dressing is something confirmed by Gordon-Smith: “What I would call festive investment purchases are appealing – showstopper pieces that you come back to year after year and don’t have a hefty seasonal stamp on them.”
Harriet Bayfield, brand and content manager at independent fashion brand Kitri, which is stocked by Harvey Nichols, Liberty and Fenwick, has also noticed a shift in customer behaviour: “Partywear is always a really popular season for us, which we have continued to see in 2023. Interestingly, this year we have seen shopping habits start to change, as our customer looks for more timeless styles that still have that wow factor but can be reworn for future events.
“For example, the Vivien Midi Dress with feather trim, at exit price point £210, sold out quickly and has been performing well when re-released onto pre-order. Another returning favourite is the Serena Jumpsuit [priced at £170], a Forest Green velvet one-piece which sold out in a handful of weeks in both 2022 and 2023.
“As we look forward to the season ahead, we are predicting that partywear will continue to perform well in the lead up to Christmas and New Year. Given the economic climate, we can see that she [the Kitri customer] is being more careful and considered with her money by looking for hero styles that she truly loves.”
Elsewhere, Australian luxury brand Rebecca Vallance, which launched its AW23 holiday collection in Harrods last week [14 November], has felt the positive impact of the partywear category. Sales for the business increased from circa 20% year on year pre-covid to 96% year on year post-covid with a “continued progressive increase”.
Creative director Rebecca Vallance commented: “Bows have been a noticeable trend this year and have become a signature of Rebecca Vallance. The Veronica Mini Dress [priced at £605] which features bows, with pearl detail and exaggerated sleeves is our hero dress of the holiday season, and a favourite among our customers.
“Playing with texture and embellishments also seems to be a key trend this year to maximise impact and make a dressing statement.”
Kantar’s findings stated that “dresses are the main category to get right in order to win in partywear” and this is something that retailers across the board are feeling the positive effects of.
Premium fashion retailer Jigsaw told Drapers that “Sparkle dresses are trading up +124% on the year with the likes of the jersey drape pleat Sparkle dress. This is at a great price point at £165 and is the sparkly sister to the bestselling brown pleat dress from summer”.
Womenswear brand Ghost noted sequins, silk, velvets and bias-cut slip dresses as its top performing customer trends, with sales for satin slip dresses up by 20% YTD.
Aside from investment pieces and dresses, separates are making for an economical, flexible choice when it comes to party season. Gordon-Smith explains: “Another smart shift is towards festive fashion that is versatile. Here customers are picking out statement separates in party-appropriate fabrics that can be mixed and matched to create different looks for different occasions.”
Jeanette Madsen and Thora Valdimarsdottir, founders of Copenhagen-based brand Rotate, told Drapers: “We see embellishment continue to perform but in more subtle colours than usual – where there’s a big trend of people wearing partywear on a daily basis but styled with knitwear, oversized tees and hoodies. We’re also designing sequins in a more subtle way, take the denim in our holiday collection for example, where we’ve taken a very sophisticated suit and adorned it with sequins along tailored pinstripes for a classic but elevated day to night party look.”
The partywear focused brand, which celebrates its five-year anniversary this month [November] by launching stores within Kadewe Berlin, Printemps Paris and Bloomingdales Dubai, is “seeing positive growth in a challenging market where we have to remain agile and discover new lines of business such as bridal”. It will also launch its partnership with high street giant H&M on 28th November. Madsen and Valdimarsdottir told Drapers: “It’s a dream come true for our brand to be partnering with H&M and we can’t wait to celebrate in true Rotate style for the party season ahead with our loyal and global community.”
While there are plenty of sequin dresses and body conscious silhouettes on offer, partywear has shifted to include comfort. Ukrainian brand Sleeper has become renowned for its party pajama sets over the past couple of years, having been worn by celebrities such as Kendall Jenner, Alexa Chung, Kate Moss, Adwoah Aboah and Kourtney Kardashian. The loose fitting shirt and trouser combinations come in a variety of bold colours, and are trimmed in feathers or finished with glitter.
Founders Asya Varetsa and Kate Zubarieva told Drapers: “Party Pajama [priced at $273 (£218) in the current Black Friday sale] is one of the most iconic pieces of the brand and truly represents Sleeper’s DNA, making thousands of women feel effortlessly chic, in comfort and ease. When we created the set, we imagined a special outfit meant for Christmas and New Year celebrations. We believe it’s a partywear uniform, suitable for any occasion, especially for celebrations with champagne, dancing all night in a warm circle of close friends and family.”
While tight purse strings will be felt across the board when it comes to Christmas, the desire to make up for lost time due to the pandemic is still burning bright. Capitalising on all the festive season has to offer is high on the agenda for many, and it is about helping the customer to make smart purchasing decisions to ensure their wardrobe can work as hard as possible throughout the festive season. Be that through ready-made outfits such as dresses and jumpsuits, separates which can be styled from day-to-night, or renting instead of spending for big occasions, there are a variety of ways to ensure customers are snapping up partywear items for weeks to come.