Will YOU mourn the death of the floral midi dress?

Frumptastic folly or flatteringly pretty? As John Lewis says it’s time to move on, will YOU mourn the death of the floral midi dress?

  • As John Lewis announces its plans to step away from the floral midi dress trend, we asked fashion experts for their views on the death of the popular clothing 
  • Alexandra Shulman, Joanne Hegarty and Isabel Spearman pitch in on the debate 

The midi’s girlishness now feels dowdy and flat

By Alexandra Shulman Former editor of Vogue

Floral midis have always had a hint of geography teacher about them. No offence intended to geography teachers of today but, in my school days, they were always the earnest ones, devoid of any chutzpah, with T-shirt-shaped tan lines.

When they came back into fashion, pre-pandemic, I still found them frumpy. Ninety per cent of men agreed, believing them as appealing as those other shapeless favourites, tracksuit pants.

Then came the pandemic and they started to feel rather reassuring. A forgiving, feminine version of a cosy sweatshirt and pants. They were the ultimate one-stop solution.

I found I could fling on a floral midi and a pair of pristine white sneakers and head off anywhere. Or ramp up the style with platform heels and a leather jacket for something a bit more… raunchy.

But this week, John Lewis dared to sound the death knell. The store’s new design team believes customers are keen to move on, with its new director of fashion, Queralt Ferrer, declaring: ‘It’s not easy because customers love them, but it’s a trend that has been around for too long.’

Alexandra Shulman (pictured) is sad to see the floral trend go but writes ‘all good things must pass’ 

I’m sad to see them go but I agree that all good things must pass. Like it or not the fashion pendulum has, as always, swung the other way.

Floral midis were themselves a reaction against the minimalist norm-core looks of the 2010s (think Stan Smith sneakers, beige trench, luxe athleisure wear and navy crew neck). In contrast came a kaleidoscope of ditsy floral prints, with high necks and elaborate sleeves, or tiered hems and high waists. And, eventually, such was their pretty ease, even I succumbed.

They were easy to snap up online since the cut did not need precision, so sizing wasn’t a problem, and the prints read vibrantly on the computer screen. The floral midi has no doubt been the cash cow of the M&S website for the past decade.

I have a couple from higher-end designers including Erdem and Prada and a retinue from small independents — all of which I intend to hang on to, as no doubt the trend will return, as all trends do.

But, for now, they will be consigned to the back of the wardrobe. Girlishness feels dowdy and flat once more; louder colours and bolder prints more modern. Thanks be to fashion, which moves us on. After all, how many of us need another floral midi?

Good riddance to an old-fashioned stereotype

By Joanne Hegarty The Chic List columnist in You Magazine

Hallelujah! The demise of the floral frock is terrific news. This single piece of clothing, that has clung on so ferociously, hanging stubbornly in millions of women’s wardrobes, has caused me such frustration.

Joanne Hegarty:  ‘This single piece of clothing, that has clung on so ferociously, hanging stubbornly in millions of women’s wardrobes, has caused me such frustration’

Veja trainers

Veja trainers quickly became a must-have for middle-class mums 

Brought to our attention by Meghan Markle, the Veja Campo quickly became the must-have trainer of middle-class mums — paired with the floral midi. Now, it’s time they make a swift exit — like the Duchess. Instead, opt for an old favourite: Adidas. You can’t go wrong with Gazelles. The Gucci collaboration will set you back £575, but the originals cost £80 and come in a variety of colours.

Tank top

The tank top had a fashion rebirth on the catwalks in 2020, but if layering is your priority, look instead to the gilet or bodywarmer — this season’s answer to the tank and far more stylish.

Skinny jeans

The death of the skinny was perhaps marked by the pandemic, when the last thing we wanted to be wearing was tight, uncomfortable clothing. More relaxed leg cuts are now the style du jour. Top of our wish list is Boden’s wide leg, indigo turn-up jeans (£95)

Why? Because I passionately believe the floral frock has held our gender back. Its selling point has always been that it accentuates our femininity, but actually I think it silences it — and our sexuality.

The floral midi is reductive and makes us look like 1950s housewives. It’s 2023! We do not need to accentuate an old-fashioned stereotype of what women are supposed to look like. We do not have to cover ourselves in flowers to prove we are nurturing, clever, kind, good mothers and good partners.

Even worse, unless you are in your 20s and wearing it with Dr Martens at some cool concert, it’s extremely ageing. How to add ten years to your appearance if you’re over 40? Wear a floral dress.

Having been popular for so long, this trend has also made people lazy dressers. It’s an all-too-easy, throw-on option. Something you ‘can’t go wrong with’ — as long as you don’t mind looking like everyone else in the room.

I’ve been to so many social gatherings where nearly every female guest had a floral frock on.

At times, I wondered was it me, was I missing out on something?

Admittedly, after I had my son in my 30s, stopped working and fell deep into a fog of nappies and sleepless nights, I, too, dabbled with the floral dress.

Navigating motherhood was unfamiliar, unnerving and new; florals felt like a uniform I needed to wear to slot in with my new mummy friends.

I soon noticed the most popular posts on my Instagram were always the ones of me standing in my kitchen wearing a floral dress from the High Street. But, eventually, it felt like I was playing dress up, an impersonator in my own life. I saw the light — and haven’t touched one since.

Now, thankfully, we’re very much back at work and there’s a greater need to look pulled together. It might sound harsh but, as a woman, I don’t think we do ourselves any favours turning up to the office covered in brightly-coloured flowers.

What’s been depressing about the floral hegemony is that there are so many more stylish options out there to flatter our dynamic, strong gender instead. Great tailoring, stylish trousers suits, beautiful trophy knits, an array of wide-legged denim, backless dresses, sheer sleeves, new season maxi skirts, great shirts, relaxed linen and satin pieces. High Street, vintage, rental — the choice is chic and endless.

So hurrah that John Lewis is finally speaking sense. As Karl Marx didn’t quite say: Women of the world unite, you have nothing to lose but your florals.

Follow Joanne on Instagram @thestylistandthewardrobe

I wore them at no.10, surrounded by men in grey suits

By Isabel Spearman Founder of Daily Dress Edit

Isabel Spearman started making the case for the floral midi more than 10 years ago while working in No.10 as special adviser to the then Prime Minister’s wife Samantha Cameron

How I loathe this frumptastic folly

By Henry Deedes 

They appear in their thousands, typically at the first chink of spring sunlight. Their emergence from our winter freeze as inevitable as cuckoos or crocuses or honey bees buzzing around that first Pimm’s on the patio.

One minute it’s all woolly scarves and beanies, then ka-boom! The ruddy things are everywhere, exploding across the country like some cutesy-wutesy, Cath Kidston-inspired supernova.

Ah, the floral midi dress . . . That drab, daggy, dog-end staple of the middle-class closet, unflattering and bland as a tepid tumbler of theatre interval Chardonnay.

Fashion’s frumptastic folly is everywhere. In the streets, in bars and restaurants. At the school gate among mothers in their Vejas and their self-congratulatory, ‘How on Earth do I do it all?’ smiles as they head off to run their mega-successful jewellery business.

For some reason, the midi’s omnipresence reminds me of that bit in The Devil Wears Prada when Meryl Streep’s bitchy character turns on one of her underlings, upper lip curled sharp enough to puncture a lilo, and growls sarcastically: ‘Florals for spring? Groundbreaking.’

Oh, look, I’m no style fascist. I just loathe that follow-the-crowd mentality of it all.

Men are just as bad. We follow the herd as willingly as foie gras waddling toward the feeding tube. When I was a teenager it was almost compulsory at school to wear a lumberjack shirt during free time.

Nowadays, there seems to be a cast-iron rule among any middle-aged men to wear bold print shirts. You know the ones. Those revolting, crumply linen things with patterns which resemble something the cat’s puked up.

Frankly, I’d rather be seen wearing a T-shirt with ‘I am a prat’ emblazoned across the front in big, bold letters. But I live a rather sheltered existence, so what do I know?

I first made the case for the floral midi dress more than a decade ago. 

It started when I worked in No. 10 as Samantha Cameron’s special adviser and we were surrounded by men in grey suits. They would repeatedly ask if I was off to a garden party as I arrived in my version of workwear.

But I was undeterred and glad when female colleagues started to embrace more feminine dresses, too. Now I’m the founder of the boutique and fashion platform Daily Dress Edit, where the floral dress is key, and this trend is still proving divisive.

As spring approaches, there is often a big retailer denouncing it in order to attract attention. In this case, it’s John Lewis.

While this might find some support with fashionistas, there will always remain a large demographic of women who heartily disagree. Of which I am one.

The reason I’m such a huge fan is because it’s so very easy. It works for all age groups and body shapes. Flatteringly pretty, it can be worn throughout each season. I’ve worn floral midis to romantic city breaks, high-powered meetings with a blazer and heels, every wedding I’ve ever been to and also each sports day.

My favourites are from mid-market brands such as Rixo and Ulla Johnson, brands which have thrived off the floral midi trend.

Far from dowdy, their dresses are unique and eye-catching and can be as bold as you like.

Positioned between High Street and designer prices, they encourage customers not to save their beautiful designs ‘for best’, but wear them every day.

These brands, Samantha Cameron’s Cefinn included, assure me the demand for a floral print dress has far from diminished. In fact, I predict we’ll see more than ever appear during the catwalk shows which kick off in New York tomorrow.

I now have more than 40 floral midis and they will all continue to be at the forefront of my wardrobe.

For workwear, I will pair them with sharp tailoring and for an event a pair of white boots or a great pair of heels.

As our budgets are more stretched than ever, versatile garments like these are a wise investment.

Steer away from the classic denim jacket and dainty shoes. Tough them out with sturdy trainers, cowboy boots and tailoring.

A floral dress looks great peeking out from underneath a coat and layered up with knits.

My heart will always belong to the floral midi, whatever John Lewis says.

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