M&S summer dresses and jackets to snap up right now for SS24 occasion and holiday fashion

As Marks & Spencer stores fill with the spring and summer fashion collections, Stephanie Smith recounts what she saw and loved most when she attended a special preview showcase.

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Marks & Spencer new-season preview press shows have long been a highlight of the fashion year for me. They take place in London, often at the M&S store at the Marble Arch end of Oxford Street, in a studio and event space above the shop floors.

There is a little side entrance with security (which adds to the anticipation) and a lift that takes you straight up. For this year’s spring/summer 2024 press event, held last month, the lift was filled with fresh white and green flowers and foliage, which made space a little tight, but was a promise of the lush beauty to come.

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For this show, I and the other guests (fashion writers, PRs, M&S folk, designers, technical whizzes, content creators and so on) walked out of that lift in into the wide white corridor that leads through to the event space itself, a large white room filled with the buzz of chatter and the spring/summer 2024 M&S collections for womenswear, menswear, childrenswear, accessories and beauty.

M&S Collection yellow dress, £49.50; sunglasses, £15; earrings, £16.M&S Collection yellow dress, £49.50; sunglasses, £15; earrings, £16.
M&S Collection yellow dress, £49.50; sunglasses, £15; earrings, £16.

It is like stepping into the best M&S fashion store ever, with key pieces and the most beautiful clothes displayed on rails, grouped to tell the story of the season’s main fashion themes, with relevant shoes, bags and jewellery close to hand.

Several of the major trends are also displayed on a line of mannequins down the centre of the rooms. It all works perfectly and is easy to navigate and understand, and is so inspiring in terms of highlighting exactly what you really long to wear, and really, really need in your wardrobe right now, or as soon as possible. Actually, I have often wondered why M&S don’t simply replicate this press showroom in their stores, even in a much smaller way - a section showcasing the perfect cross-brand edit so you can simply spin around and quickly see the stories of the season and how to wear them.

On this season’s central line of womenswear mannequins, there was a red one-shoulder dress accessorised with silver strappy square toe heels and chunky silver jewellery; a cropped cream tailored jacket paired with wide-leg jeans and white ballet flats; a white, ‘50s style, full-skirted broderie dress worn with a black blazer; a pair of tailored knee-length deep navy shorts worn with a black one-shoulder top with one oversized sleeve, plus a chunky gold chain and gold buckle belt; and a wispy, chiffony, leopard-print dress with fluttery sleeves and a kick-out hemline (straight to the top of my M&S hitlist).

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I unashamedly love everything about Marks & Spencer, from its founding heritage to its brilliant innovations. M&S is famously rooted in Yorkshire, especially Leeds, thanks to Michael Marks, who left Slonim in Russian Poland in the early 1880s and made his way to England to escape the persecution of Jewish people. He began trading as a pedlar, and in 1884 opened a stall at Kirkgate Market in Leeds, with the slogan "Don't Ask the Price – it's a Penny". He also sold goods at Castleford and Wakefield markets. His story, and that of the role that M&S has played in the lives of British people, is now told and celebrated at the M&S Archive at the University of Leeds.

M&S Collection leopard dress with fluttery sleeves, £45, and earrings, £14.M&S Collection leopard dress with fluttery sleeves, £45, and earrings, £14.
M&S Collection leopard dress with fluttery sleeves, £45, and earrings, £14.

These days, you won’t find anything at M&S for a penny, but you will find thoughtfully designed and crafted products, made in fair conditions and sold at fair prices. Every season, its design teams come up with something special and surprising. There are some bottom-enhancing padded knicker shorts coming in-store next month, like a padded bra, but for your derriere. Soozie Jenkinson, head of lingerie design at M&S, says: "We've been doing for bums what we've done for boobs for years."

With these new collections, Marks & Spencer is putting the fun back into fashion after years of post-pandemic sobriety, bucking the trend set by others, with their focus on quiet and sober dressing. M&S says it is “reflecting the optimistic mood of the nation as we head into the new season”, pointing out that this mood is reflected in the new TV campaign film, which follows model and actress Sara Sampaio as she struts, dances and lip-syncs her way through Cyndi Lauper’s Girls Just Want to Have Fun as she transforms her world into her very own catwalk.

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So there are unexpected styles (think volume sleeves, as seen at the recent Oscars) and vibrant colour palettes showcasing confident styles for work and play. There are lots of light cotton easy-layer basics, lots of white, lots of black, lots of black and white together and some beautiful white and blue folksy looks that scream super-cool vacay style. There is an emphasis on occasions, socialising and beach escapes. The Edit occasionwear range has been designed for evening soirees and special events, with sequins in baby pink and shining metallic accessories setting the tone.

M&S Per Una embroidered vest, £39.50; white top, £45; shorts, £35.M&S Per Una embroidered vest, £39.50; white top, £45; shorts, £35.
M&S Per Una embroidered vest, £39.50; white top, £45; shorts, £35.

Modern tailoring sees casual shapes re-imagined in dressed-up ways with a modern, feminine aesthetic throughout. There are primary colours and a yellow midi dress featuring modern draping, alongside the many print options that the M&S customer loves.

The Quiet Luxury trend is there in the form of easy tailoring with structured shoulders and pleated trousers, and many tailored linen options, including a sweeping linen trench coat. Denim-on-denim is a seasonal style foundation, and you can go all out with a denim waistcoat, overshirt, jeans and pointed denim flats, for a cool, sartorial, “summer in the city” look.

Autograph is all about the luxe escape esthetic with runway-inspired detailing and elevated finishes on a colour palette encapsulating the warming hues of the Mediterranean, with olive green, sea blue and pops of red.

High summer brings a vacation wardrobe evoking classic beach and pool glamour, something we can all get onboard with as we look ahead to bright, warmer days.

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