It’s the hero piece that hits the sweet spot between high street and high end. Frankie Graddon salutes the mid-spend dress.
It’s 2015. David Cameron has been re-elected as prime minister, the Duchess of Cambridge has given birth to her second child, Princess Charlotte, and hot new fashion label Self-Portrait has just launched its Azaelea dress. Midi-length and crafted from intricate laser-cut lace, it quickly becomes the dress of the moment.
But there’s something different about this one. The summer it made its debut, you were as likely to spot it at a friend’s wedding as you were on the red carpet, where it was worn by A-listers such as Miranda Kerr. Retailing at £240, it was expensive for high-street stores, yet cheap for a catwalk look. And so the mid-spend dress – luxurious but reasonably priced – was born.
Five years on and the mid-spend revolution has truly taken hold, with British label Rixo and
Scandi-cool brand Ganni fuelling the trend. The former’s vintage-inspired £300 silk dresses have garnered a cult following, while the latter’s 2017 green Dalton wrap (£95) fast became an Instagram sensation.
Retailers have taken note. Net-a-Porter has increased its offering of mid-spend dresses in
2020, with more than 250 styles currently available. Meanwhile, over at Asos, mid-spend designs by brands of the moment – Needle & Thread, Free People and Essentiel Antwerp – sit among £30 offerings.
The appeal of these dresses is easy to see: a piece with all the aspiration of a designer buy, without the four-figure price tag (we’re talking more £100 to £400). And they aren’t just for weddings and parties. Flattering silhouettes and versatile prints mean the mid-spend dress can be dressed up or down for work and weekend (just switch the shoes), stacking up its cost-per-wear credentials.
And while this certainly goes some way to making the price tag all the more easy to justify, it’s also more sustainable – these well-made pieces will have longevity in your wardrobe. Many of the brands are also taking a conscious approach to production – for example, opting for manufacturing methods that use less waste.
With the allure of the mid-priced dress showing no signs of waning, now’s the time to
get on board with the hottest brands…
The mid-spend dress brands to know
The comeback story
Price tag: £90-£300
Founded in 1984, Ghost reached cult status in the mid-90s with its bias-cut slip dresses worn by the likes of Kate Moss and Helena Christensen. The departure of brand founder Tanya Sarne in the mid-noughties saw it drop off the fashion radar. Then, in 2015, new creative director Sameera Azeem expanded Ghost’s offering beyond its timeless satin maxis (though these are still an important element for the brand) and introduced fashion-forward, flattering dresses sitting around the £150 mark.
‘There has always been a need in the market for a mid-price-point brand for consumers who don’t want to buy cheap fast fashion or spend vast sums on high-end buys,’ says Sameera.
Fans of Ghost range from stars such as Holly Willoughby and Nicole Scherzinger to royalty – the blue Avery dress (£195) sold out after the Duchess of Cambridge wore it during her 2019 royal tour of Pakistan.
What to buy
While you will find new iterations of Ghost’s hit Jenna and Meryl dresses, for spring check out the puffed-sleeve Solene (above), which has been tipped as the dress of the season.
The fashionista’s pick
Price tag: £295-£590
‘I was searching for special, unique dresses at an accessible price point and was struggling to find them,’ says Olivia Rubin of her eponymous label, which she relaunched in 2017 in order to fill that very gap in her own wardrobe.
With a signature of colourful dresses in feminine silhouettes, the designer quickly became one to watch after her rainbow-striped sequin midi went viral on Instagram in 2018 (check out this season’s version, Thora, £370). She has since become a go-to for fashion insiders as well as stars including Fearne Cotton, Vogue Williams and Joely Richardson.
Though Olivia has a background at high-end fashion houses (she worked at Dior, Alexander
McQueen and John Galliano), accessibility and value are integral to her brand. She also focuses on seasonless pieces that can be worn year round, and only makes a limited number of dresses in each design, something Olivia says is essential to the appeal of the mid-spend dress. ‘There should be an element of exclusivity, of making the customer feel they are buying something special – that can be worn over and over again, and that their friends won’t also own,’ she explains.
It’s feel-good fashion in every sense – by opting for small-batch production, as Olivia does, less waste is created, too.
What to buy
Look out for the 70s-esque Marley dress (above), which would look just as stylish with heels worn to a wedding as with trainers and a denim jacket to the pub.
The Scandi hipster
Rotate Birger Christensen
Price tag: £170-£390
‘Exciting yet still wearable’ is the ethos behind Copenhagen-based Rotate’s dresses, according to stylists-turned-designers Thora Valdimars and Jeanette Madsen, who started the label in 2018.
Specialising in retro-inspired mini and midi dresses – think flattering wraps in 70s florals and puffed-sleeved midis in animal print – the brand epitomises the duo’s own much-coveted Scandi-cool (the pair collectively have over 300,000 Instagram followers). ‘We love to wear our own pieces tucked into jeans for a more casual look, or with heels for a night out – and we think our dresses can be for every occasion.’
What to buy
For spring, with its bold snake-print and rhinestone detailing, the eye-catching Kira (above) ticks all the must-have boxes.
The A-list favourite
Needle & Thread
Price tag: £235-£550
What do Sarah Jessica Parker and Princess Beatrice have in common? They’re both fans of
Needle & Thread, the British-based label that has revolutionised the mid-spend eveningwear market. Launched in 2013 by Hannah Coffin, former design director at AllSaints, the contemporary dress-centric brand focuses on ultra-feminine embellished gowns that look like they should come with an A-list price tag.
As well as a democratic price point, the brand’s romantic dresses cater to women of all ages thanks to an emphasis on flattering, timeless design. In 2017, Dame Helen Mirren, then 71, hit the red carpet in a Needle & Thread grey gown with semi-sheer sleeves and flower embroidery.
‘One of my main passions is to dress real women, and therefore it’s really important to me that we design for different shapes, sizes and ages,’ explains Hannah. This inclusive approach has won Needle & Thread a loyal fanbase. It now has over 90 global stockists including Asos, Selfridges and Liberty, while customers return season after season for updates on bestselling dresses, such as the Aurora (£398), a sequined vintage-inspired lace maxi, which was recently worn by the Duchess of Cambridge.
What to buy
We’re loving the fairytale-esque Wild Rose Ruffle gown (above) which, having already sold out once, has been restocked in more colourways for spring.
The eco warrior
Price tag: £250-£350
You couldn’t have scrolled through Instagram last summer without coming across Sleeper’s Atlanta dress. This pretty linen midi with statement puff sleeves came in florals, gingham and polka dots and was worn by every fashion influencer under the sun, plus a roster of stars including Dakota Fanning and Lena Dunham. Retailing for £325, it threw little-known Ukrainian label Sleeper into the fashion spotlight, and was picked up by the likes of Net-a-Porter.
The mid-spend dress is ‘the future of fashion’, say Sleeper’s founders Kate Zubarieva and Asya Varetsa, who reduce their margins in order to keep prices accessible. Made from natural fabrics such as linen and silk, dresses are also hand produced locally at the brand’s Kiev workspace using minimal machinery in order to reduce carbon emissions.
What to buy
The about-to-land Michelin dress (above), features a flattering gathered waist and puffed sleeves and comes in a range of sorbet shades.
The bold buy
Price tag: £355-£565
Founded in 2017, Lisou excels in midi dresses rendered extra special with bold prints designed by its creative director Rene Macdonald and inspired by her Tanzanian heritage. Think bright zigzags, colour-pop spots and mini rainbows. Gwyneth Paltrow and Charlize Theron are fans.
Its prices are at the top end of the mid-spend bracket, something Rene says encourages her ethos of slow fashion. ‘I truly believe that if you’re buying an investment item there is a tendency to look after it better.’
Lisou dresses are designed in London and made in Portugal from 100 per cent silk. Each style comes in a limited run (so you’re unlikely to bump into someone else wearing it at a party).
Making a global (as well as a fashionable) impact is part of the brand’s philosophy, and each season all proceeds from one piece go to a charity that helps young Africans with educational and medical needs. Lisou also works with One Tree Planted, meaning that for every full-price sale it plants five trees.
What to buy
Look out for the rainbow-motif Penelope (above), the label’s bestseller, which has been reimagined for spring in striking mango orange.
And now for the mid-spend bag …
Think luxe without the mortgage-sized price tag
Inspired by modern architecture, London accessory brand Danse Lente is your go-to for chic structured bags, such as the Phoebe Bis.
Its cool designs have made this LA label a hit with the street-style set. And this bright, beautiful Felix bag is tipped to be big this spring.
Want a stylish new work bag? Try Wandler, the Dutch brand that’s nailed chic leather totes large enough to carry daily essentials.
Launched last year, Rixo’s vintage-inspired bag collection boasts feather-trimmed pouches and teensy totes in leopard and zebra print.