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Red carpets: Evening wear is making a comeback

By Barbara Russ

Sep 21, 2021


Yara Shahidi in Dior at Met Gala. Image: Dior

Red carpet events have returned with a vengeance this month with the MTV VMAs and the Met Gala. After a long pandemic-induced dry spell, evening gowns, glamour und galas are finally back. With virtually no more occasions to wear dinner jackets, cocktail dresses and high heels, the evening wear industry's sales plummeted last year. But now, its showing signs of recovery.

At the beginning of September, the Evening Dresses Show (EDShow) took place in Salerno. It focused on evening wear for women, men and children and is organised by IFTA (Italian Fashion Talent Awards) with the support of ITA (Italian Trade Agency). Held at the picturesquely located Zaha Hadid Maritime Station, set against the backdrop of Italy's Amalfi Coast, the event was attended by companies from the eight southern Italian regions of Abruzzo, Basilicata, Calabria, Campania, Molise, Puglia, Sardinia and Sicily. They all came to Salerno to present their spring/summer collections at the third edition of the EDShow, which was themed "Come back to life!". FashionUnited spoke to buyers and exhibitors at the event about the future of the segment.

Occasion wear has had a tough time

Maurizio Vessa of IFTA is happy that the third edition of the fair could be held offline again, after the second one was only broadcast digitally: "Meeting people in real life is something completely different. Digital cannot replace that. Especially when it comes to evening wear, which is made for real-life events." Asked how he sees the chances of the evening fashion exhibited there for the German fashion market, he says: "We have a stronger tradition of galas in Italy than in Germany. But I think this year everyone wants to celebrate a bit more."

Simona and Alessandra De Thomasis, Photo: FashionUnited

As formal wear for the office has seen low demand over the past year and a half, retailers reduced their supply of blazers by 19 per cent between April 2021 and April 2020. Simona De Thomasis, owner of the Pascara-based bespoke men's suit label of the same name, also reports a drop in demand for formal wear: "Last year was one of the toughest for us. Our production was almost completely down by December." She and her sister Alessandra, who run the company together, started to produce certified face masks and were able to keep the business afloat. "Since June / July, the demand for custom-made suits has risen sharply again," says Simona De Thomasis, looking optimistically towards the future. "The demand for the special, the handmade is back, and customers are even asking a bit more for colours."

Katrina Ryback, owner of the concept store Studio 183 in the Bikini Mall in Berlin, hopes to discover new labels when she visits the Evening Dresses Show to test out the German market in her shop. Evening wear has been missing from her assortment so far: "Currently, many customers are asking me for evening or occasion wear, so I want to include more of it in the selection. Many of them are tourists who are in Berlin for an occasion and want to buy something special at the last minute."

High heels make a comeback

Lipsticks and high heels are traditionally the winners in crises: "During the Great Depression in the 1930s, the oil crisis in the 1970s and when the dot-com bubble burst in the 2000s, demand for heel heights increased noticeably," writes Elizabeth Semmelhack, author and fashion expert, in her book 'Heights of Fashion: A History of the Elevated Shoe'. But during the corona crisis, which differed from other crises in that people stayed at home, sales fell sharply. According to market research firm NPD Group, the segment shrank 71 per cent year-on-year in the second quarter of 2020.

"Female customers tended not to buy shoes for ceremonies or galas last year. Instead, they tended to pair them with jeans," said Ninni Mancone, owner of the eponymous label. She sells her colourful, high-heeled shoes mainly in chic resorts like Saint-Tropez and Forte Dei Marmi. When asked if she has thought about adding flat shoes to her range, she answers with a laugh. She wouldn't consider it, even though she admits that there was a demand for them. But she is slowly noticing customers return to buying shoes specifically for events.

Between April 2020 and April 2021, retailers reduced their range of women's heeled shoes by 23 per cent, according to an analysis by Edited. In contrast, the assortment of flat shoes increased by seven per cent, likely due to demand for sneakers and the resurgence of comfortable shoe brands such as Crocs and Ugg, Edited writes.

But the trends for the FW 22 season (and beyond) confirm Mancone's observation: the high heel making a comeback. Searches for high heels are up 135 per cent on fashion platform Lyst since the start of 2021, which is 71 per cent more than usual year-on-year overall. So, optimism seems to be in order.

This article was previously published in German on FashionUnited.de

FashionUnited was invited to visit Edshow by the organisers of the show.

Evening Dresses Show
evening wear