The eight key buys making Marks & Spencer a high-street winner

Britain is locked in a long-term relationship with Marks & Spencer – and like all marriages, we have our ups and downs. The honeymoon period, when we wouldn’t dream of buying our underwear, nighties, cashmere or tights anywhere else; the seven-year itch, when the rest of the high street suddenly looked more appealing, and the years of steady – but not exactly exciting – companionship, in the swimwear and shoe departments.

Right now, we’re going through a particularly good patch. News released yesterday showed M&S has seen a sharp rise in sales of food and fashion, bringing predictions of higher than expected profits. Share prices have also surged by a remarkable 70 per cent over the past year.

Some of the 6 per cent rise in the clothing department has been credited to Maddy Evans, the womenswear director who arrived from Topshop in 2019, and was made head of fashion last July. She brought with her the ability to adapt a trend from catwalk to shop floor in weeks.

But the key to her success has been to identify the brand’s cult pieces, such as the scalloped swimming costume, and make them available reliably, annually, in an array of flattering colours.

When she joined the brand, the chief executive at the time, Steve Rowe, admitted M&S had a reputation for “frumpiness”, and Evans, 50, said she wanted to “find that sweet spot, those items in the wardrobe that mum and daughter both want to wear”.

It hasn’t been an easy trajectory, battling a pandemic, fast-fashion giants like Shein and record inflation. “The new team means the clothes are more covetable now – despite the cost of living crisis,” agrees Tamara Cincik of the think tank Fashion Roundtable.

And while Evans has introduced new styles, she has largely found success by focusing on the perennials – producing less and ensuring that what they do make is of better quality. For jumpers, this means offering cotton and synthetic mixes, as well as cashmere in the Autograph range that’s hard to beat on price, but selling them in fashionable colours and chunky styles that recall cult smaller knitwear brands.

“Our approach is a move towards a faster way of production rather than ‘Fast Fashion’ on categories where it makes sense,” a spokesman tells The Telegraph. “This is something we are really focussing on for our dress category in particular, where we want to see what colours and patterns customers like, then be able to go back and repeat [the order].” Casual dress sales, as a result, are up 40 per cent on last year.

Shoes are increasingly well made and some, like their new-season block ankle boots, are downright fashionable. Goodmove, the active range M&S introduced two years ago, has since become a market leader in the UK, and the brand’s raincoats and jackets are still some of the best in the business. In dresses, they have moved from being the sixth most popular brand in the UK to the third. Denim, in particular, is doing well – and as a result of focusing on both cut and colour, they’ve grown their market share by 3 per cent to 13 per cent.

Of course, not everything is flawless – the cuts are sometimes off, sizing remains confusing and finding something you want does often require a rummage or a bit of scrolling. But, really, what relationship is perfect? And happily, we can go into autumn feeling as if our spark with M&S is still very much alive.

These are some of the bestsellers:

1. The flattering swimsuit 

Printed swimsuit, £35 

Swimwear sales at M&S are up 21 per cent on last summer. Many styles have sold out, but there are still cuts and colours to choose from in the most popular ‘Tummy Control’ range.

2. The breezy linens

Pure linen collared relaxed shirt, £35

Competitively priced linen shirts, dresses and suits have been a huge hit in both womenswear and menswear. This particular shirt style has sold 19 every hour.

3. The staple trousers

Men’s stretch chinos, £25 

Showing that they can nail the basics, M&S has sold 868,000 pairs of these classic chinos this year – in 15 colours, and five fit types.

4. The printed dress

Snake print midi dress, £45

Another new season arrival that has landed in the week’s bestseller chart – animal prints continue to be popular with customers.

5. The everyday jeans

Sienna jeans, £25

The best-selling women’s jean style is the Sienna straight leg, available in nine washes.

6. The new season bomber jackets

Padded bomber jacket, £59

Fresh in for the new season and straight to the top of the bestsellers list this week.

7. The chunky sandals

Leather ankle strap sandals, £45

With a platform sole and solid straps, these are the best-selling sandals of this summer for M&S – the brand has sold more than 21,000 pairs.

8. The wear-anywhere polo top

Men’s cotton pique polo shirt, £18

The timeless cotton polo shirt is available in 26 colours – M&S has sold 800,000 this year.

All at

Do you shop at M&S? What’s your favourite item of clothing you’ve ever purchased? Share your wardrobe stories below

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