Jacquard round neck dress, £49.50, Marks and Spencer
With just three weeks to go before Christmas, Britain’s nighttime streets have turned into a carnival. It’s sparkles, sequins, faux fur and feathers galore – on dresses, tops, skirts, wrists and coats – as friends across the land head out for drinks and dinners.
Forget slipping on a pair of heels in the office loos, this December only a proper party outfit will do – no matter if it’s only Tuesday night and you’re heading down to the Dog & Duck with Tony and John from accounts.
My own calendar is no exception – I have an Advent service to attend tomorrow, a dinner on Friday, a concert on Saturday, a birthday bash next week and a Christmas party the weekend after. It’s enough to make me want to lie down with a cold compress on my head – before I’ve even had a chance to earn a hangover.
I find this sort of dressing up extremely tricky. At this time of year, I am pale and pasty due to a lack of sun. I dislike being cold, don’t like getting my arms out, won’t go bare legged and the constant social whirl has played havoc with my exercise schedule – which means I also have no particular desire to don anything too tight or revealing. I hate feeling trussed up or fussily overdressed. So what’s the solution?
Step forward the unlikely hero of this season’s party schedule: a £49.50 Marks & Spencer minidress that has been flying off the rails. Described variously by social media fans as a “classic LBD” and “something you might see in Vogue” it is made of a jacquard fabric, round-necked, loose cut, balloon sleeved and short. It also features in M&S’s Christmas advert, worn by Sophie Ellis-Bextor while she sets fire to a pile of Christmas cards with a blowtorch. It has sold out once over already – M&S has just restocked (run, don’t walk).
Navy taffeta dress, £345, Ganni
At first, I’m not totally convinced. On the rails, the dress looks nothing special: it’s mildly sack-like, with no waist to speak of, the sleeves look a tad pantomime boy and the length appears alarmingly short. Sure, it looks great on Ellis-Bextor, but you could put her in a bin bag and she’d still look fabulous.
Was this little puff-sleeved baby-doll number – in black, a colour that washes me out at the best of times – really going to solve my Christmas party dilemmas? I really think it could.
I tried it out on one of those absolutely freezing days we’ve been having recently, where you could barely see through the fog, and frankly I wanted nothing more than to cosy up in my tracksuit bottoms, not prance around with my legs out. But, services to partygoers needed to be carried out – so I dutifully did my makeup, zhuzhed up my hair and slipped the dress on, accessorised with a pair of sheer, glitter-embellished tights and variously, a silver slingback and a pair of Bowie-esque silver boots.
And, it was fabulous. Dress over my head and wiggled into place and I immediately found myself doing odd, Twiggy-esque poses. It skimmed flatteringly over my tummy (loads of room for mince pies in this), stopping just above the nicest part of my legs, concealing the chunkiest bit of thigh but still feeling sexily short. It was super comfy, and a bit jazzy with the jacquard texture. The subtle shine lent some light that helped with the washed out-ness, but without making me feel like a Christmas bauble.
Taffeta dress, £49, Finery
I tried The Dress in several outfit combinations – with flat boots, with a kitten heel, with a pair of chandelier earrings and a furry coat, possibly even with a jumper on top. It worked with all of them. I concluded that this combination of features – perfect sleeve length, mini hem, loose but not shapeless fit through the body, subtle sparkle – might be a magic formula. Finery (£49) has something similar in taffeta, with tie sleeves. Nobody’s Child (£55) does a jacquard polka dot mini, in a slightly more tailored shape.
Jacquard black dress, £55, Nobody’s Child
But, at £49.50, it’s no wonder M&S’s LBD is a bestseller this year. “The dress is proving incredibly popular with our customers”, says Mark & Spencer spokesperson Rachel Reynolds, understatedly and sounding mildly surprised.
Sales are already up 58 per cent on what was forecast, and on Instagram influencers are showcasing its versatility by styling it with everything from chunky boots to heels. The former Vogue editor Alexandra Shulman is also a fan, although admits to being “amazed at how difficult I found it to decide whether this short dress looked good – or a bit ridiculous – on me”.
And here, a confession: I felt rather the same. I loved how the dress made me feel – young, fun, and ready for anything. I wasn’t quite so sure about how it made me look. Or whether, indeed, I can really get away with a babydoll dress in my 40s.
But then I decided, I just don’t care. Here is a Christmas party dress that is comfortable, easy to wear, covers all the bits I don’t like, flashes the bits I’m fine with showing off, can be accessorised super easily with a pair of sparkly earrings and could even be worn happily with trainers – and all for under fifty quid. I may not be setting fire to cards in it, but will I be wearing it out multiple times this Christmas? You bet.