Once in a while, a high-street brand nails a design so effectively, it becomes just as desirable as the designer versions – if not more.
John Lewis has done just that with its Harrietta shoe, a flat Mary-Jane with a softly squared toe. It comes in black, cream and gold leather, and almost every size and colourway is sold out, with about 800 customers currently signed up to a waiting list for the next restock.
This detail emerged in the retailer’s 2023 Shop, Live, Look report, which has become an annual bellwether for how the British middle-class shops. It was published on Monday, just as news emerged that the John Lewis Partnership’s chairman, Dame Sharon White, is preparing to step down next year when her five-year term comes to an end.
John Lewis attributes the shoe’s success to the endorsement of social media stars, among them Erica Davies, Sara Wilson and Rachael Clifton.
But there’s more to it than that, because it seems right now almost every brand, from high-end Alaïa to high-street Zara, has its own take on the shoe. You can expect to see Mary-Janes on your commute, in the office, in the pub and on the dancefloor this season. They look great with rolled-up jeans, and are more modern with a midi dress than your white trainers. There’s truly one for every taste and budget – and yet the John Lewis version, which first hit stores in spring last year, remains a cult buy, with triple-digit year-on-year growth.
The pursuit of the perfect Mary-Jane flat is a much-debated topic on the Telegraph fashion desk, and while personal preferences play a part, there are a few specific details that identify a truly great design in 2023. The vamp (the part that covers the toes) should be high, as should the position of the strap (although occasionally a very low strap can look chic, too). The shape of the toe should be almond or square, and the sole should be flat, yet relatively robust, because some look so delicate, they’d barely survive a run for the bus.
“I do think they’ve got the design right with the shape,” agrees Davies. “It’s hard to get a flat Mary-Jane right without it looking too primary school. This has a cool toe shape and the strap isn’t too thick. It’s minimal enough to wear with dresses and trousers, without drawing attention away from your outfit.”
Then there’s the comfort factor; shoppers are unlikely to want a shoe in every colourway if the first pair gives them blisters – and at £59, the price, it has to be said, is reasonable enough to justify multiple purchases, remarkable when the cost of everything is soaring. This is one benefit of shopping from retailers’ own brands – they don’t need to add a wholesale markup to make a profit.
This comfort is thanks to the technique with which the shoe is made, according to the aptly named Louise Sole, shoe buyer at John Lewis. “The Harrietta is made from soft nappa leather and designed using ‘sacchetto’ construction, which translates as ‘little bag’,” she says. “[This] creates a shoe that is practically seamless and also super-soft and flexible, cocooning the foot like a glove.”
The only difficulty, of course, is in getting your hands on a pair – I’m told even John Lewis employees are finding that there’s no shortcut around the waiting list, although there is a new T-bar Harrietta, which comes in a grey snake-print leather and is still in stock at the time of writing in all sizes.
If the T-bar isn’t for you, Zara has a very similar style to the classic black leather Harrietta (£45.99, zara.com), with a restock “coming soon”. Madewell’s Greta shoe is a great shape, too, albeit a little pricier at £104 (madewell.com)
If you have deeper pockets, Penelope Chilvers will soon be taking delivery of a black velvet version of her much loved Mary-Jane (£219, penelopechilvers.com).
So, if this is the middle-class woman’s shoe of the year, what is she wearing with it? And how have the wardrobes of the men in her life evolved over the past 12 months?
Read on for the style must-haves of 2023…
Floral dresses are out, ‘quiet luxury’ is in
At the start of the year, my colleague Caroline Leaper reported that John Lewis had “cancelled the floral midi dress”. It became a national conversation, but it turns out that the retailer’s fashion team were on the money. The final series of HBO’s Succession in March helped drive sales of pared-back elegant-looking basics – an aesthetic known as “quiet luxury”.
Sales of tailored clothing increased by 70 per cent compared with last year, blazers were up by 85 per cent, baseball caps by 58 per cent, and half-zip jumpers, aka “Tory knits”, outsold crew necks by 62 per cent. The most amusing Succession-inspired trend? When Matthew Macfadyen’s character Tom Wambsgans ridiculed another character’s “ludicrously capacious bag”, searches for large bags rose by 20 per cent.
Brown wool blazer, £199, Mint Velvet (mintvelvet.com)
Say goodbye to the lockdown puffer
“I can’t even bear to look at my puffer coat,” a colleague remarked the other day. She’s not alone; the padded down coats that kept us warm on daily lockdown walks with socially distanced friends and pandemic puppies are being replaced by coats with much smarter, sharper silhouettes – this autumn, there is a third more formal outerwear in store than there was last year.
Trench coats are expected to be a particular hit; sales of John Lewis’s linen version spiked by 195 per cent earlier this year, after influencer Kat Farmer featured it on her Instagram feed. If you’re in need of one, Clare Waight Keller’s version for her Uniqlo C collection is pretty close to perfect.
Cotton trench coat, £109, Uniqlo (uniqlo.com)
Boyfriend boxers are the new boyfriend jeans
Sales of men’s striped cotton boxers are up by 20 per cent on last year – and it’s not because the middle-class man has fallen out of love with briefs. John Lewis’s organic cotton striped boxers, which come in a pack of three for £26 (johnlewis.com), have developed a surprise following among women, who have been wearing them for bed, as summer outerwear, and with a swimsuit on the beach.
The cowboy boot revival
No, it’s not 2001 again, although you’d be forgiven for thinking so, because cowboy boots are making a return to the style spotlight. Back then, it was the Madonna effect; this time, it’s Beyoncé, whose world-tour wardrobe has inspired several trends, among them all things silver, and searches for cowboy boots, which were up by 128 per cent after she wore them on stage.
Real life requires a more low-key take on the trend, so avoid the more extreme silhouettes in favour of something more classic, such as a black ankle boot with Western detailing, or this flat suede pair by Massimo Dutti, which would work very well with skirts and dresses.
Embroidered suede cowboy boots, £229, Massimo Dutti (massimodutti.com)
Throw on a shacket
It’s not the most appealing portmanteau – “shacket” sounds like something you’d buy at B&Q before doing a spot of DIY – but the heavyweight, jacket-like overshirt has filled an important gap in the middle-class man’s wardrobe. Anyone’s wardrobe, actually – Julianne Moore and Kate Moss have both worn them, too.
The shacket is a versatile piece that can be worn over a T-shirt now, and as an extra layer under a coat when the temperature drops. It’s less formal than a blazer, and less hot and bulky than a knit. Sales have been so strong, John Lewis has doubled its own-brand shacket offering.
Merino wool and cashmere men’s shacket, £175, John Lewis (johnlewis.com)