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Fashion: The urchin look

FASHION designers are often accused of creating costumes rather than wearable clothes. At the collections in Paris last month, it was the British designers who ransacked the dressing-up boxes and took historical costume to extremes. The clothes of a Victorian East End street urchin lend themselves perfectly to mixing with modern-day, hard-edged punk. John Galliano and Vivienne Westwood both showed huge, trailing crinolines and bustles. Galliano's collection travelled from the 1800s through to the 1920s, even hinting at the present Queen's coronation dress.

Neither Westwood nor Galliano are predicting that women will take up the crinoline as a wardrobe essential. They are, however, reflecting (and leading) a growing trend for wearing second-hand and antique clothing and for dressing up. It is not only those British designers who were brought up on Dickens who have been bitten by the bug. Rei Kawakubo of Comme des Garcons gave her winter collection a Dickensian feel with mixtures of shrunken wool and crushed fabrics and her urchin-like, mismatched trousers and jackets.

The Gallery of Antique Costume & Textiles in north London has noticed an increase in historical dressing. Lionel Segal, the shop's owner, says, 'We have a core group of customers who are always on the look-out for antique clothing but there has been a sizeable increase in younger people scouring the rails.' In the run-up to Christmas, the shop is expecting to sell frock coats and Victorian dresses for evening. The shop's own replica antique clothing line - which includes brocade waistcoats - also reflects the rise in demand for costume-like clothes. Purposefully battered top hats are optional.