All dressed up and nowhere to go – How evening wear brands survived lockdown

Last year was what can only be described as chaotic. The rules and routine of seasonal marketing were well and truly flipped upside down. With the nation in lockdown on and off for the past two years, brands have had to adapt to their customers’ new lifestyles. The pandemic has had a cataclysmic effect on almost all industries and the fashion industry hasn’t escaped unscathed.

The fashion industry struggled to cope with production stopping, stores closing, and public demand plummeting in March, resulting in clothing sales dropping by a quarter. The biggest drop since records began 23 years ago.

The graph below shows Google trend data for searches of ‘evening dress’ in the past 2 years. As you can see, as soon as the first lockdown was announced way back on 16 March 2020, searches for evening wear dropped dramatically and then never really picked up again until mid-march of 2021 when the Government published a roadmap out of lockdown which means people could finally start making social plans again.

In comparison, the graph below shows trend data for ‘loungewear’ during the same period. The steep increases perfectly correlated with the announcements of Lockdowns 1 and 2.

So with customers cancelling their social events and trading their party dresses for comfy loungewear formal wear brands across the UK had to adapt.

Back to the drawing board for Oh Polly

Oh Polly is known for their glamorous party dresses and co-ords, clothes that essentially become irrelevant when everyone is told to stay home. Pre-lockdown, 90% of the Scottish company’s sales were evening dresses, but like many businesses in their industry, in a short space of time, their dress sales dropped to about 30% and they had to rethink their strategy.

Luckily for Oh Polly, they had planned to launch their new Gym and leisurewear brand Bo+Tee in the Spring. The brand ‘tore up a lot of the collections that were planned for April, May and June’ and pushed forward the launch of Bo+Tee. 

One of the main hurdles when launching a new brand under the Oh Polly name was changing customer opinion. Oh Polly was known for high quality, evening wear with a higher price point compared to fast-fashion brands. 

They found themselves having to encourage their customers to buy loungewear from them rather than lower-priced fast fashion brands that were much faster to react due to their much quicker turnaround with their products. In addition to quick turnaround, these brands could offer huge discounts on their products due to the cheaper costs involved in production.

However, despite the expected hurdles, Oh Polly sold out their first Bo+Tee drop in just 12 hours. By tapping into what their customers we’re looking for: home workouts, activewear and loungewear, they were able to switch up their strategy and push their new brand.



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Seizing new opportunities at Nadine Merabi

As the UK switched sequins for sweatpants, evening wear brands like Nadine Merabi inevitably saw a drop in sales. As a brand known for luxury evening wear, Nadine Merabi had to think on their feet when the UK went into lockdown and the countries social calendar was thrown out. However, what many in the industry saw as a major setback, Nadine Merabi saw as an opportunity.

Over the years, the Manchester-based brand saw an increased interest from international customers, with customers from the USA, Dubai and Australia all interested in the luxury, ready to wear designs. This was a great opportunity which they admit wasn’t something they had ever “truly focused on”. They took the extra time they had to focus their efforts on growing and connecting with their customers, both UK and worldwide via social media.


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A post shared by NADINE MERABI (@nadinemerabi)

In a podcast by Worldie, Nadine explains that the label spent time brand building and reflecting on its brand messaging and values. Focussing on empowering women worldwide.  In doing this, Nadine Merabi managed to grow both brand awareness and loyalty within their following allowing them to continue to experience “huge global growth” post-pandemic.


Trading party dresses for Pyjamas at Rixo

London-based brand Rixo, whose printed dresses have become a cult wedding guest favourite, had to switch lanes last year. Once all weddings, parties and well, essentially any occasion were crossed off our social calendars, Rixo discovered that their customers were looking for “in-between clothing options that weren’t as restrictive as usual daywear but still retained some semblance of style.”

Founders Orlagh McCloskey and Henrietta Rix, took the opportunity to design a collection of luxury pyjamas during the UK’s first Lockdown. The range of pretty PJs provided the perfect product for fashion-conscious customers to upgrade their WFH lifestyle. “We’re driven to be agile and make sure we’re adapting to what’s going on,” Henrietta told British Vogue.

The brand focussed on their customers’ needs, allowing them to adapt to their new lifestyle without compromising on their personal style.



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