The ‘It’ dress of spring doesn’t exist – here’s what to wear instead

The ‘It’ dress of spring doesn’t exist – here’s what to wear instead

It’s a new season, and with that comes fresh fashion. Even if you have all the clothes you need, it’s hard to resist something new to put a spring in your step. But I regret to inform you that this spring, there will be no Zara “It” dress, nor at Mango, nor M&S. 

Before you panic, this is a good thing. We all remember the summer of the “spotted dress”; when (in major cities, at least) there were at least three sightings in a given day. Nobody wants to look like they’re part of some kind of billowy dress cult. We can all be more original than that, whatever our budget.

In any case, there is so much more to spring/summer fashion than dresses – and that’s what is lining the rails of high street stores right now. Take the co-ord (a top with a matching skirt or trousers). Worn together, it looks like a dress or jumpsuit, and is perfect for special occasions, but the two parts can be worn separately too. Very versatile and a perfect solution for those who are one size on the top and another on the bottom.

The co-ord

co ord

Wool shirt, £115, and trousers, £125, Cos

Then there’s the suit, which has been gathering steam as a wardrobe staple for some time. Slightly slouchy is the way to go, and in an interesting colour, like pistachio green or dusty pink, so it doesn’t look too stuffy. The brilliant thing about a suit is that it has the potential to transcend occasions and seasons, depending on how you style it. Team with a knit polo neck now, with a crisp white T-shirt or silk tank when the weather warms up, and switch between trainers or mid-heel slingbacks depending on how smart you need to be.

The suit


Pinstripe jacket, £119, skirt, £65 and waistcoat, £65, Albaray 

Then there are the separates – cargo pants, blouses, skirts, all kinds of layering tees – which are the majority of what’s in store right now. John Lewis has embraced mannish trousers in a big way. They look so inviting on the rails, but the problem with them is that they require styling, and that can feel intimidating. You need to consider all of the other items in your wardrobe when buying them – get it wrong, and you’ve wasted your money, or, if you’re determined to wear it, created an expensive problem in needing to acquire clothes to go with it. 

The trousers

John Lewis

Wool blend trousers, £85, John Lewis

So where to begin? 

If this sounds familiar, you’re not alone. Clare Hornby, founder of Me+Em, says she’s noticed a real shift in customers needing advice on how to build and style separates.

“We talk a lot about ‘outfit building blocks’, and what this really means is designing individual pieces that slot together perfectly and can be put together in lots of different ways so that your outfits always feel fresh, without having to invest in a whole new wardrobe each season,” says Hornby.

“A well-cut trouser suit is something I always come back to for a polished look that can be dressed up or down,” she says. For a less formal look, ditch the blazer, she advises. “I love pairing the wide-leg trousers with trainers and a knit for a more casual look, or swapping in a heel and simple vest or tee for a relaxed take on evening wear.” 

Contrasting colours can make for a bold look
Contrasting colours can make for a bold look Credit: Mango

Have a look at how clothing is styled online for inspiration. Boden and Jigsaw, as well as Me+Em, are brilliant for this. You can see how layering two contrasting tops, or two unexpected colours, can make the average look remarkable. Accessories are important too: add a belt to your trousers, or a rope necklace over your tee. This doesn’t mean you need to buy the entire look (unless you really want to) – you probably own versions of these items already.

On that note: consider your existing wardrobe. If all you own is printed blouses, then a bold, printed skirt is unlikely to go with any of it. Instead, an understated A-line midi or pencil maxi skirt will work much harder (just style them as you would jeans). This is easy if you shop online – you can try a new knit with your go-to jeans, French-tucked, over a shirt, under a blazer, etcetera. If you can come up with three different ways to wear it, it’s a keeper.

And what if you have a dress-shaped gap in your wardrobe, and nothing else will do? This move towards separates has definitely made things harder, but there are still great dresses to be found, says Isabel Spearman, wardrobe consultant and founder of the Daily Dress Edit.

'A well-cut trouser suit is something I always come back to for a polished look,' says Me+Em founder Hornby
‘A well-cut trouser suit is something I always come back to for a polished look,’ says Me+Em founder Hornby Credit: Me+Em

“The ones I really like are knit dresses,” she says. “Jigsaw’s got a beautiful tan one with black scalloping detail on it… [although knit dresses are] a difficult one if you’re not well proportioned. If you’re an hourglass, you’ll look great in that dress but not if you’re pear shaped, or top-heavy.”

If you fall into the latter camps, seek out unfussy silhouettes and trade print for solid colours. “Everything is a bit sleeker, and depending on your body shape, adopt what works best for you,” she says. “So I’m wearing more black dresses at the moment than I normally would – even a black dress with a bit of detail, because it still looks more pared back – and I’m looking for A-line shapes.”

Denim dresses are another favourite which suit this more minimal fashion mood. Aligne, Spearman says, does some of the best. 

Although even she, too, confesses to dabbling in separates a little: “I’m wearing A-line skirts, which I used to years ago and just hadn’t for ages. I’m enjoying working with knits and skirts and making things a bit more streamlined.” 

The skirt


Simone corduroy maxi skirt, £200, Cefinn

The shirt


Collarless shirt, £67, Arket

The layering tee

Massimo Dutti

Textured cotton double-layer top, £49.45, Massimo Dutti

And when nothing but a dress will do…


Scallop trim knitted dress, £195, Jigsaw


Gabriella denim midi dress, £99, Aligne


Vince High neck dress, £295, Selfridges