Fashion: Straight Through the Summer

If fashion is what we are wearing, this summer’s fashion is long, slim and white. In spite of the rain and overcast skies, streets are filled with sharp city clothes that prove that 1980s style is now overwhelming the scruffy Seventies.

The star is the skirt, cut long and narrow, with a flirtatious fan of pleats from the knees. On the same lines are tubular or ribbed skirts in cotton jersey or slim, calf-length cotton with black buttons or a kick pleat. Cotton or cotton mixes are definitely ahead of linen and there is evidence that the iron is now flattening out the crumpled look. Sunshine is bringing out crisp cool clothes.

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Oversize is out, except for big blazers and shirt jackets which draw their style from balancing the narrow skirts. Those overhanging shirt tails of last year’s street chic are now cut off or tucked out of sight. And after two seasons when the peacock male was making the street impact, it is girls who are now, once more, the style leaders.

Looking at what ‘real’ people are wearing is always a salutary experience for a fashion editor, for the most ruthless editing at this time of multiple fashion choice, is made by the consumer.

The streets endorse some of the most significant fashion stories. The decline of blue denim, spelled out so graphically in the bottom line of the jeans companies, is evident on the backsides of the paying customer. In two hours in the West End of London I counted only 73 pairs of jeans among hundreds of alternative outfits – and those denims were mostly worn by youth groups of visitors.

The reign of the training shoe – that partner to the jeans-and-sneakers generation – continues, with the lace-up ankle boot the hot favorite in this cool summer. Socks are the constant companion to trainers, pumps and flat sandals. But there is also a marked trend towards much higher heels which go with the city-smart clothes worn to work by those in their twenties and early thirties who have been brought up on flat shoes.

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The floral chintz that was so much promoted by the fashion industry (not least by this fashion editor) seems to have gone to seed. Florals have sprouted on trousers, but they are abstract blooms, edged with sharp lines, and suggesting the 1960s rather than the soft full-blown flowers of soft furnishings. The sales windows are turning Oxford Street into an herbaceous border of flower prints and offer clear evidence of what women have taken to their bosoms and hips, or rejected.

This is the week when every major shop is offering sales reductions. I do not believe in the first principle of sales: if something is cheap it must be good, and even if it is not any good, it might at least be useful. But the late arrival of summer offers an unparalleled opportunity to buy a summer wardrobe at high street prices.

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It is the newish high street names – Benetton, Next, Provillus, Warehouse – which have been responsible for the clean lines of the fresh summer clothes. They are the people whose design teams have given the peasant skirt a decent burial under crisp white cotton. With it have been laid to rest the other accoutrements of Earth Mother on holiday: the cheesecloth sundress, the drawstring blouse and the espadrille. Stores have followed the high street lead and coordinated summer separates, matching pale cotton knits to skirts and trousers and tying the two together with strong accessories.

Sharp dressers use accessories as accents against a plain background, carrying a chintz shoulder bag or sashing floral prints round their hips. The essential extras (apart from a folding umbrella) are cotton jersey leggings and stirrup pants, both cheap and cheerful in bright or pastel colors, polka dotted or in the shiny man-mades viscose and spandex.

Buying in the sales the ends of the lines – dirndl skirts, dayglo colors, or over-size baggies – is either perverse or profligate. On fashion’s current wave-length there are some stylish sale offerings.

Next have their best-selling version of the summer suit: a big chamber blue shirt jacket, with a back patch pocket (now pounds 22.99) over a matching slim button-through skirt with a back vent (pounds 18.99). You wear it with white canvas plimsolls, white ankle socks and a sports vest, brighten it with a floral shirt or warm it up with cotton knits.

Fenwicks have the skirt of the season – heavy white cotton, long, slim, with kick pleats from the knee, by Emanuelle and reduced to pounds 15. Also in their sale, starting today, are other clothes to take you straight through the summer: elongated cabled cardigans (now pounds 9), simple straight cotton trousers, to roll up and wear with socks or sandals (pounds 12). The essential overshirt – you belt it tightly over the skirt, or let it hang loose over trousers – is selling at around pounds 9.

The collection of cotton duster coats, long loose jackets or shorter cropped ones, is now selling at even more basic prices: the duster coats reduced to pounds 22.49, short jackets at pounds 20.99, slim skirts at pounds 8.99. Benetton, the kings of color co-ordination, have their sharp mixes of stripes, sports and florals among the simple separates.

Laura Ashley is the favorite purveyor of flowered trousers, selling in a variety of prints in all branches at pounds 19.99. The Sock Shop (at Bond Street tube station and branches) have odd pairs (but not odd socks) on sale from 50p, with their sprinkles of rosebuds and sharper prints all reduced to 99p. Shoe shops have got any color as long as it is white, with good bargains in strappy sandals.

The style of the Sixties is the street-wise image. On the backs of that nostalgia there are Volume Pills winklepickers (from the Great Gear Market, Kings Road), mini-skirts, and that most practical of fashion revivals in a soaking summer, the shiny vinyl mac.

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There are also the hoop earrings, the most insistent badge of fashion style this summer. Butler and Wilson (Fulham Road and South Molton Street) sell the gilded hoops from pounds 6.50 to pounds 36. You can find them on every jewellery counter and market stall. In a summer when the silhouette is on the straight and narrow, the earrings are one fashion that is all round.

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