Fashion: Spend, spend, spend and sparkle

This is a time of year when you want to stand out, so as long as your outfit shines in every sense, you'll see the century out in style.
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If this year isn't proof enough that fashion reflects socio-economic changes, I don't know what is. January started with flash warnings of recession. Fashion fell in love with Belgian designers committed to Gothic black mourning outfits. The world was supposed to flatline in the summer, according to the predictions of Nostradamus and that other not-so-well- known soothsayer, fashion designer Paco Rabanne (otherwise known as Waco Paco, the man who believes Russia's Mir space station would fall from the skies and obliterate Paris). Fashion contemplated Armageddon and offered up survivalist utility wear: lots of zips, Velcro and padding, all in white and silver. The world didn't come to a standstill during the eclipse - that came and went in a puff of cloud. Fashion celebrated the fact with exuberant colour, from tangerine to fuchsia and pea-green to banana, preferably all worn at the same time. House prices soared. So did hemlines. City bonuses rocketed. Yuppie-style designer logos were splashed across the catwalks.

As if all that weren't evidence enough, this Christmas retailers have been claiming that household disposable income is at a record high and that consumers are spending more than ever. And fashion - brightly twinkling, positively gleaming - has rarely looked so optimistic.

But today's spending sprees are hardly a re-run of the Eighties. Back then, fashion mirrored ostentatious consumption by flaunting its wealth on its sleeve. Women were determined to take on men in the workplace, and so fashion evolved on mannish terms - shoulder pads, cufflinks and all.

Today's sparkling creations are perhaps more in line with a time when sequins were first in vogue, during the Twenties, another decade that had a lot to feel optimistic about. Almost as soon as women were given the right to vote, backs were bared to the waist, hemlines shot up to just below the knee, and opulent beading and sequins smattered every Charleston- dancing flapper's dress.

The difference then, however, was that only the very wealthy debutante could afford such striking sequinned gowns, while today every girl about town can buy them - and sport them to the office bash, to a dinner party, or to wear to the party of the century on Millennium Eve.

The glittering creations on this page are a perfect illustration of where we're at now. We have moved into a world in which tastes and spending preferences have become intensely individualistic and personal.

On the fashion front, anything goes, anything that makes us feel like one of a kind, that is. Why else would our model sport such eclectic combinations such as tooled cowboy boots with her dainty sequinned vest? Or mushy- pea-green tights, for that matter? We care less about how others see us, and more about how we would like to be and what makes us comfortable.

Certain global designer brands were quick to offer the personal touch. In the summer, Gucci gave us customised jeans, dripping with feathers and covered in Aztec beads - every pair a hand-stitched one-off. Meanwhile Fendi escalated its production of the Baguette, from rhinestones to raffia and diamante to denim - one to suit your every mood.

The fact that we aspire less to the high-priced and the grand, and more to the distinctive and unusual, has taken the sting out of second-hand shopping and rummaging through market stalls to get the look we want.

Nor do we give two hoots about shopping on the high street, instead of Sloane or Bond Street, for that just-so-cool stripey silver top or the just-so-right-for-now black sequinned pencil skirt (both pictured here). We want the latest styles fast, and we want to pay less for transient, disposable fashion.

This year has flagged up those high-street retailers who were quick to provide aspirational, on-the-button styles at accessible prices, such as Warehouse, Top Shop and New Look, but it also hit hard those, such as Marks & Spencer, who were too slow to adapt to their customers' changing needs - good and individual design.

What we want is to be able to jumble up high-street bargains with designer labels and wear vintage with quirky market-stall finds. Frankly, it doesn't matter where you buy your shimmery, shiny outfits this Christmas, just as long as you wear them with something offbeat. It's probably more likely that you won't spend Yuletide wearing anything that glistens at all - too obvious, too everywhere. Then again, when fashion looks as optimistic as this, you might like to give sparkle an airing for the new year.

Multicoloured sequinned sleeveless top by Brach & Brach, available from House of Fraser nationwide, enquiries 01273-692017; trousers, pounds 130, by John Rocha, 60 Sloane Avenue, London SW1, enquiries 0171-838 0017; cowboy boots, pounds 125, by R Soles, 109a Kings Road, London SW3, enquiries 0171-351 5220

Sequin V-neck top, pounds 125, from Whistles, 12 St. Christopher's Place, London, W1, enquiries 0171-487 4484; khaki skirt, pounds 35, by Warehouse, as above; tights, pounds 6, by Aristoc, from department stores nationwide, enquiries 01773-525 520; cowboy boots, pounds 325, by R Soles, as before