Spring into a dress

Hannah Betts welcomes the new season by going “glasual”


This article is taken from the May 2021 issue of The Critic. To get the full magazine why not subscribe? Right now we’re offering five issue for just £10.

‘‘It’s the middle of the end” said no one ever, not least when it probably wasn’t. Still, May should bring yet another moment at which liberties will be reinstalled, at least until the next strain/wave/fireball strikes. Matt Hancock says we may even be allowed to hug our loved ones, which — even without being a froth-mouthed libertarian — makes one wonder how great he imagines his power to be.

As the sphincter that is lockdown relaxes, frocks are up 209 per cent at John Lewis on this time last year

Be that as it may, spring always marks a sartorial transition. The change in light does curious things. One catches sight of one’s face and is struck by its ropiness. One catches sight of one’s wardrobe and ditto. Everything looks wrong: too drab, too bright, nothing providing the Goldilocks option of being just right. How much more so this year as we pass from feral back to human, asking: “Who I am beyond the bobble hat?” For those who haven’t sunk into sweatpantism, the answer has been some sort of dress. Dresses have been a thing for a while, viz my very first columm for The Critic. However, this frock is pandemic-specific: known variously as the “nap dress,” “picnic dress,” “return dress,” or “freedom frock” depending on what degree of activity one is contemplating.

I acquired my own incarnation on 21 February care of Warehouse and, reader, I have wallowed in it. An unprepossessing 95 per cent polyester/ 5 per cent elastane, fitted-ish, dark pink floral midi, reduced to £41.25, it has proven exquisitely nappable in, while being flattering, easily washed, sans ironing requirement, yet somehow dressy-looking. Eco-activists may be repulsed by polyester.

However, if I wear it until I expire, then pass it on to Bettses future, surely this qualifies as okay? As I write, there are five such frocks remaining, but the point is that this one was perfect for my weird-assed body. Your weird-assed body will need to find its own.

As the sphincter that is lockdown relaxes, frocks are up 209 per cent at John Lewis on this time last year. I find myself enamoured of the bold, wax-prints the Nigerian-British label Kemi Telford has concocted for the company, modelled by its founder, Yvonne Modupe Telford.

Her china blue and daffodil yellow shirtdress (£175) is particularly pleasing. Marks & Spencer tells me that two-thirds of its customers declare themselves looking forward to putting on the ritz. Accordingly, it boasts a 15-piece collaboration with Nineties tea-dress stalwart Ghost. I crave the Thirties-style polka-dot number (£69), but, then so does everyone else. Meanwhile, Me + Em’s leafy, green and pink balloon-sleeve (£295) and halterneck frocks (£275) are a tonic, not least when paired with their matching mask (£10).

Brit brand NRBY’s ethos is a take on the Japanese concept of “one-mile wear”: aka garb designed to be worn in your ’hood as you go about your daily existence. Obviously, this means that its founder, former high-street stalwart and style savant Jo Hooper basically predicted lockdown when it launched back in 2019. Two summers on, sales are up 400 per cent.

Obviously, NRBY invokes the dread word “casualisation”. However, it is no less about the idea that your life is your life, and dressing about bringing joy to it, not merely an exhibitionism reserved for nights out or work. Accordingly, its website can be searched via tactile fabric and/or sumptuous shade. Its jewel-coloured velvet pieces (from £150) represent the epitome of both. Freedom frock-wise, go for the perennially popular Chrissie, in blue, turquoise, pink or a winning stripe (from £150). Quoth Hooper: “It’s as comfortable as your boyfriend shirt, hip-skimming and breezy, but with the flexibility of being able to belt it for a more pulled-together look as we re-emerge blinking into the sunlight.”

Should spring herald a return to the blinking office, then I give you the executive nap trouser. Workwear label The Fold came into being after CEO Polly McMaster was incensed by the dearth of sleek, yet unconstricting sartorial options to kit herself out in for her finance career. When she headed off to an MBA, she met legions of like-minded women who queued up to become her acolytes.

Kick the shit out of the glass ceiling in The Fold’s black or navy peplum knit jacket (£245) teamed with its new, yet already cult workout performance trousers (from £175). In skinny- and straight-leg guises, said trews offer the comfort of leggings with the smartness of tailoring, born of a washable “performance twill” claiming 360-degree stretch. Glam yet casual, I give it about four seconds before some mook coins the term “glasual” in reference to them.

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