The 10 fashion heroes that mean M&S is back in vogue
The 10 fashion heroes that mean M&S is back in vogue… For years the High Street favourite has been living off the success of its food, while its clothes were derided as dull and frumpy. Now all’s changed!
Earlier this year, I played judge in the battle of High Street heavyweights Marks & Spencer and John Lewis.
Choosing a selection of clothing and homeware from these veteran rivals for middle-class affection, I ranked them against each other on such criteria as quality, affordability, stylishness and wearability.
Having been a shopper at both stores, I was surprised how often the M&S versions trumped John Lewis’s when it came to clothes.
The pieces were more flattering, and more appealing. Considering their broad demographic, it seemed to me that M&S could finally be getting back on track.
Now the figures bear me out. M&S has just delivered a far-better-than-predicted sales report, with revenue up 9.2 per cent — and much of that from clothing.
Having been a shopper at both stores, I was surprised how often the M&S versions trumped John Lewis’s when it came to clothes
While John Lewis continues to flag, shares in M&S were up sharply this week as it cemented its position as the best-performing retail stock in the UK
23,000 sold. The side-stripe, wide-leg, drawstring trousers, £29.50. Me+Em’s iconic side-stripe trousers would set you back nearly £200, but you can get the look for much less at your local M&S. This eye-catching pink pair has a contrasting white stripe.
In what the City will interpret as a confidence-inspiring turnaround, clothing and homeware are now the main contributors to M&S profits at 52 per cent, overtaking food profits (40 per cent).
Read more: Our edit of what hit the stores this WEEK
While John Lewis continues to flag, shares in M&S were up sharply this week as it cemented its position as the best-performing retail stock in the UK.
This is excellent news for both the company and the rest of us. Because there is nowhere we like to rely on more than M&S for providing the range, quality and value it offers when it does get it right.
I believe M&S succeeds when it delivers the staples we want, while making sure they are updated.
Despite the fact floral midis were meant to be heading for the graveyard slot, for example, M&S has had the confidence to carry on stocking them, knowing that — no matter what the fashion police might say — their customers find them perfect for summer.
The store’s ‘magic’ denim has proved hugely successful, too, with its comfortable stretch. Building on that popularity, the team have expanded their denim range to offer every shape and style, unafraid to include the current high-waisted wide leg.
It might have been tempting to think that lovers of M&S’s traditional straight-leg style wouldn’t shift out of their comfort zone — but the style has proven to be a bestseller.
190,000 sold. The pure linen shirt, £35. A chambray linen shirt is the versatile update every summer wardrobe could do with — and M&S has been selling 19 of its version every hour. I’ve got mine! With a wide, relaxed fit, it’s easy to pull on over dresses, tuck into jeans or use as a cover-up with swimwear when the summer holiday season finally arrives.
91,000 sold. The wide-leg jeans, £35. Wide leg jeans are the style to be seen in this season and they don’t come any better than the M&S Collection design (I live in mine!). Made from responsibly sourced cotton, they’re an insanely flattering fit
21,000 sold. The leather ankle strap flat sandals, £45. Functional — read ‘ugly’; you know, black, clunky, multi-strap — sandals are seriously fashionable this summer and this leather gladiator-style design is only £45. In true M&S style, the shoes come with chunky outsoles for extra height and comfort and antibacterial padding to ‘help shoes stay fresh all day long’.
224,000 sold. The tummy-control square-neck black swimsuit, £29.50. What’s more flattering than a black one-piece? A black one-piece with ‘Magic 360 Tummy Control’ to sculpt your shape, that’s what! And the bonus is
38,000 sold. The double-breasted trench coat, £69. Burberry eat your heart out! A classic trench is top of every fashion editor’s wish list so it’s no surprise this design is a bestseller. With its belted waist, shoulder epaulettes and storm flaps, it looks much more expensive than £69.
M&S’s strength lies not in tapping into the latest trend on TikTok, but in being hyper-aware that its average customer is upwards of a size 10 (I believe their average is a size 16) and certainly older than 30.
While we all dream of being younger and slimmer, M&S fashion is at its most popular when it acknowledges the reality of the customer, and when it nudges them into a slightly new direction without patronising them.
After all, we don’t usually want to buy exactly what we already have, but especially in these belt-tightening times — metaphorically, but not literally — we want something we feel confident of being able to wear. Not necessarily an old friend, but an interesting acquaintance.
There are no doubt logistical reasons for the fact M&S food no longer accounts for the lion’s share of profits. But clothing has undoubtedly benefited from our post-Covid return to actual bricks-and-mortar shops.
The M&S shopper in particular will feel more confident buying clothes they can see and feel. There is also evidence that when times are tough we focus more on our appearance — because that at least is something which is under our own control.
We may be cutting back on astronomically expensive extra virgin olive oil, but a new pair of keenly priced, vivid pink, drawstring trousers — or any of the other M&S bestsellers shown here — can go a long way to cheering us up.
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