When you think of dressing up as a competition, Australians are strong contenders for first position. Celebrating life is in the DNA of the laidback and fun people, and wearing beautiful dresses for the formal events of their lives is a common thing done. Formal frocks like wedding guest dresses, bridesmaid dresses, mother of the bride dresses and other dressy wear are flying off the shelves with each festive, wedding and party season. However, there presents a problem; there’s a dearth of options for women in Australia looking to dress up well. Retailers are focusing their efforts on casual and work clothing, rather than on the formal wear department. In this article we explore the problems of the formal dresses market in Australia, the rising force of change and the future of this niche but highly profitable market.
Despite Australian’s tendency to spend during party season, retailers are slow to rise to the demand. One reason is that retailers are mostly sluggish in responding to market forces as there is a lack of competition in the protected industry. Australia’s fashion industry is largely closed up with most stores locally owned. International brands face heavy taxes and difficulty in setting up business with an unsupportive framework to introduce them into the country. Complacency in existing local brands are instead, supported. Australian women end up with limited choices, outdated formal wear designs, and high prices.
In a world where department stores are giving way to online competition, Australia is facing the opposite; department stores are still the go-to for all clothing types here. One big reason for this is the unfamiliarity and mistrust of the local people with online shopping. Australian women are used to being able to feel and touch the clothing they are going to buy, rather than seeing it through images online. They are worried about clothing fit and have heard many a news article on the discrepancy between image and actual clothing purchased online. The media is largely unsupportive to online formal dresses stores and have created an image of bad quality and unaccurate advertising on clothing offered online. To counteract this trend, independent media should come up with countrasting information and to increase their reliability, offer videos of the clothing try ons to show that clothing bought online can also be satisfactory.
Newcomers like Scarlette Label and Formal Dresses AU have come on the scene to address this lack of stylish formal dresses. One look at these websites and it can be safely said that their options are much cheaper and looks much better than options in retail stores. These online stores are also trying to win customers used to shopping in stores their way. Some of these fashion labels offer free returns to reduce the worry of customers in being unable to fit their purchase. Also, they usually offer free shipping, reducing the cost of online shopping. They also usually offer first time order discounts in hopes of encouraging first time purchasers to try them out and to win them over. Statistics show that slowly, more women are shopping online for formal dresses, but the growth is still admittedly small.
One group of girls that have to constantly face this issue is year 10 students preparing for prom. Outdated designs don’t work for the new millenial generation. In a recent interview with students on the street, I’ve gathered that only 1 in 10 students are happy with the offerings available in stores. On asking them what their solutions are, most had no answers but increasingly, some are choosing to tailor make their clothing. The cost is high but at least they will be able to make something they like. One girl interviewed informed that she is thinking of making her own prom dress to her school event, as do her friends.
Women in Australia looking to dress up for cocktail events also have a hard time. Colleagues of mine and I myself find a dearth in options in retail stores. I recently tried my luck online and thankfully found myself a gorgeous option that fit well and was made of great quality. Friends were influenced by me to look for their cocktail dresses online and we managed to dress up for the company cocktail function well. I asked other women at the function to rate how difficult it was for them to dress up for the event and most of them gave me an answer of seven to ten over ten.
It is an uphill task for women in Australia looking for formal wear, but there is hope on the horizon with new entrants into the market. Australian women just have to learn to be open to the options and embrace them with positivity. Hopefully Australian fashion retailers will improve their market understanding and improve their formal dresses offering, for many a woman down are ready to spend on their next formal dress.