Designers Need to Help Shoppers Discover Dressing Up Again

We’ve often heard of the term “dress for success,” and during COVID-19, when many of us are spending more time at home and possibly days in pajamas, it should also be said that we need to dress for our happiness. The way that we dress often reflects an emotional state, and our personal style will change with the season, mood, job and age.

As an evening wear designer, I was disappointed that the early days of the pandemic left few opportunities to dress up. With fewer places to go and people to see, there seemed to be little reason to go through the motions of putting on a dress, make-up and accessories — until I realized that it made me feel better. Dressing up makes me feel happy and confident. We might think that we are dressing up for others, but in truth, women understand that we dress up for ourselves.

An article in Scientific American proved this point when it reported that something biological happens when we put on a snazzy outfit. In another global study (conducted by the U.K.-based fabric care brand Comfort), 12,000 people revealed that women choose the clothes they wear depending on how it makes them feel (in contrast, men tend to choose outfits according to how other people view them).

This plays into the current messages of empowerment and self-confidence that we are hearing from the media, influencers and brands. We know that dressing up will improve our mood. We need women to ask themselves, “How do I want to feel today?” Now more than ever, we have all come across some unexpected hurdles regarding our goals for the year. Women need to know that they can practice a positive thought process to influence the outcome of the day. There is no reason they can’t use this time to express who they are and what they are feeling through their style choices.

There is also a great opportunity for women to discover their personal style, which can be elusive for many. Designers need to communicate that it is about trying and gauging your emotions, and with more controlled environments, there is no better time. Those that need to build up to owning their style can do it slowly. We all need to remember that as people we are evolving, and we can appreciate a handful of different styles based on our mood. The message has to be that we all can have a personal take on fashion. Now is the time to go ahead and do it. 

Ultimately, if these messages resonate with shoppers, it will help them make an effort to try new brands. A major reason why people get stuck in a style ruts is because they get comfortable with certain brands and only shop at specific stores, whether it be physical locations or online. This process is about seeing something that you love and then stopping to learn more. It’s also about discovering new designers and taking risks.

We all love our core favorite designers because we know what we are getting in many ways, but there are always so many new and amazing brands launching that are waiting to be discovered. It is important to inspire consumers keep exploring new brands all year round. Women know that they need to move on from pajamas and sweats, and it might not mean going back to what they wore in an office. Now is the time for designers to offer excitement and guidance.

Additional benefits include the growth of complimentary categories, such as accessories and jewelry. Discovering dressing up again can mean elevating existing outfits with new accessories. The age-old example is the little black dress, which goes from daytime to evening with the change of a bag, jewelry and footwear. At Donna Leah Designs, we are taking it one step further and embracing trends in nail polish. It’s about having fun and taking on a challenge with a new perspective.

Marketing at Donna Leah Designs has recently incorporated the idea that buying a gown doesn’t have to only be for a special occasion. People are surprised at how dramatically a look can change based on accessories and footwear. Instead of purchasing something specific for certain events, women can have a few dressier pieces in their wardrobe that they love, that are more versatile and that make them feel great while wearing them.

Now is the time to discover dressing up again. Perhaps that means starting with ourselves and then communicating that message to shoppers, both old and new. It is the opportunity to help with positive feelings of empowerment, confidence and the idea that we can take challenges and turn them into opportunities.

Donna Leah is founder of Donna Leah Designs, a brand focused on gowns and accessories for women who embrace their individuality. A graduate of New York’s Fashion Institute of Technology (FIT), the American designer is based in Miami, Florida, where the dynamic energy of the city sparks her concepts.