Skirts out, frocks in: How women are dressing up

It's so easy to wear, and so feminine. The dress continues to reign supreme.

When it comes to making an impact, few items of clothing can compete with a dress. Whether it's a red-carpet showstopper, a gown for an inauguration ball or an everyday dress to wear to work, the killer frock is a guaranteed attention-grabber.

Dresses have dominated the international catwalks over recent seasons, with the "statement dress" - often a short, embellished cocktail style - attracting numerous copies. Memorable designs include Lanvin's short ruffled orange dress from spring/summer 2008, Balmain's green sequinned cocktail style from spring/summer 2009 and Gucci's tea dresses from spring/summer 2006.

Of course, the dress never fell out of fashion. But there has certainly been a renewed emphasis on it, and it has been reinvented to suit numerous different occasions, from smart to casual.

Though jeans and a decorative top were de rigueur for a night out until about six years ago, and wearing a dress was deemed old-fashioned and too smart, the trend for vintage clothes has been one factor in making the dress cool again. Celebrities have also been integral to the dress's rehabilitation, from Lily Allen in vintage ballgowns teamed with chunky sports trainers to Kate Moss in small retro tea dresses, which she later produced for her clothing range at Topshop. Kate Middleton has also been seen wearing an array of dresses, from a Topshop patterned style to the blue Issa dress she wore for the royal engagement photos.

Apart from the fact that the garment was daringly low, it looked far less formal than the bright blue skirt suit worn by Diana when she and Prince Charles announced their engagement in 1981.

It might seem strange that spending on dresses would increase during a recession, but they require little thought, are versatile and the same garment can be dressed up or down for different occasions.

Tamara Sender, a UK-based senior fashion analyst, says: "This growth has been driven by an increasing fashion for dresses, with 2010 seeing a boom in styles such as maxi dresses, which this generation would not already own and therefore would need to add to their wardrobe. "Skirt purchasing has suffered as a result of this and also because of the trend for leggings which can often be worn together with certain styles of dress, but less commonly used with skirts."

Without the financial demands of mortgages and families, this age group is able to keep up with the rapid pace at which modern fashion trends emerge. Suzanne Pendlebury, a buyer at Harvey Nichols, says: "Previously our younger shoppers would shop more leisurewear brands for premium denim and luxury basics, such as fashion tees and loungewear. Today's shopper is far more aspirational."

However, this fashion-aware group should know that despite the popularity of dresses, trousers have recently stolen their thunder when it comes to high fashion. For autumn/winter 2010, labels such as Chloe, Celine and Stella McCartney all put the trouser centre-stage, and this season wide palazzo pants are a key trend, along with maxi and midi skirts and shirts.

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