THE LOWER modern America sinks in world esteem, the higher the myth of its good ol' outdoor- loving values seems to soar. Maybe it's just that when most of us work in overheated offices, the idea of rugged guys and plucky gals slugging it out with nature has a lot going for it.

Ever since Kevin Costner danced away with all the Oscars for his homage to the native American, a host of films have placed as great an emphasis on their majestic rocky backdrops as they have on their cast (and triggered an epidemic of copycat adverts), and the path has been cleared for a new breed of hipster cowboys (Brad Pitt, River Phoenix).

Fashion has cottoned on to all this in a big way. There isn't a designer this year who hasn't gone wild with sheriff shirts, cowboy boots and Lee Van Cleef skinny-liquorice ties. So much so that the dignified Roman designer, Valentino, was moved to remark, apropos of his rival Gianni Versace's attempts to dress Elizabeth Taylor in rhinestones and jeans: 'Ms Taylor is not easy to dress, but she looks better as a woman than as a cowboy.'

He has a point we would all do well to heed. In any case, the best of this Wild West style derives from the native American Indians rather than cowboys. Smart designers and stylish customers have opted for tassels and fringed suede, rather than stetsons and spurs, and it's the style of Pocahontas and Minnehaha that leads the way.

As with any fashion rooted in the past, the best way to approach it is selectively, so you don't look like an extra from Central Casting. Fortunately, as well as stimulating designers into creating dramatic head-to-toe outfits in suede and fringing, the Indian squaw has also been the inspiration for accessories: magnificent chunky silver jewellery, thick ropes of beads, soft suede moccasins and beaded embroidered waistcoats. The best of these have intricate, hand-made touches that turn the plainest outfits into something exotic. In other words, this is a look in which a little goes a long way.