Fashion: Turn out your toes

The joys of spring are often tempered by the prospect of baring our winter-white flesh to the world. And before you even think about casting off those socks, tights and boots, you'd better be prepared to put in some real legwork.
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The sun is up, the sky is blue and it's that time again - time to dust off any sartorial cobwebs and drag that summer wardrobe out of the bottom drawer. Just supposing, however, that in our not-so-very- balmy climes the requisite slip/shift dress brings out nothing more than a case of all-over goose bumps, the best way to at least hint at better things to come is to invest in a pair of sandals. Sandals, after all, pay lip-service to the advent of summer without forcing those of us who care about such things to rush about town semi-naked resembling nothing more than very recently plucked chickens. Not a good look.

How best to wear sandals, however, is a matter worth consideration. To begin with, tights - including the unfortunately still omnipresent opaque variety - should be avoided at all costs. If the sun does come out they'll feel hot and uncomfortable and, more importantly, look glaringly synthetic under clear blue skies - better, when there's a chill in the air, to wear trousers and have pretty pale feet peeking out beneath them. Socks with sandals, meanwhile, remain the preserve of the Englishman abroad. Bobby- socks and strappy, spike-heeled footwear still make an appearance on fashionable feet here and there, but anyone over the age of 16 need not subject themselves to this. Rather, bare your feet to the world with pride.

Spare a thought, however, for those around you. Having crammed your sadly neglected extremities into ill-fitting shoes throughout the winter months, they are likely to emerge deathly white - or even, and most unfortunately, mottled blue - with angry red heels, callused edges and toenails that would frighten off even the most ardent admirer. We owe it to an unsuspecting public to fork out on a pedicure before contemplating any bare-footed venture.

In France, for example, no self-respecting woman would unveil her feet before undergoing that frankly rather terrifying treatment - the pedicure medicale. This involves diligent, long-suffering experts hacking away at any unsightly elements with various surgical instruments until the feet emerge looking not entirely unlike the day they were born. Paris, admittedly, is a long way to travel for perfect feet but, for anyone interested, the legendary Carita salons are the place.

Pedicures closer to home are, of course, available - but for shy-and- retiring British types who would rather keep their beauty treatments to themselves, there's many a DIY product available. They're only as complex and/or expensive as you want them to be, and work wonders.

Once your feet look like polished and delicately painted porcelain they are ready for general viewing. Not just any old sandals suit any old feet and/or legs, though. If you're so long and lean that you make Cyd Charisse look dumpy, and your skin has a peaches-and-cream or golden hue, you can get away with anything from the most delicate thong to dazzling, ultra-bright sandals. The rest of us would do wisely to choose a style that suits both skin colour and the shape of ankles and legs.

Ankle-straps should be avoided by any but those with the finest build: they not only draw attention to the heavier build but also interrupt the line of the leg, making it seem shorter. A thick strap over the bridge of the foot has the opposite effect, making the ankle look smaller.

While a high heel will always add length to the leg, there are not so many of these available this season. Last season, paper-thin pumps, mules and clogs ruled the runways, and they continue to make their mark. This summer, flat sandals or those with a lower heel are the most fashionable.

The good news is that the bigger and more apparently ungainly the sandal, the finer the legs look by comparison. The humble Birkenstock which - strangely - induced waiting-list frenzy at the end of last year is still a hot ticket: those who would like to scream their fashion credentials from the rooftops will be snapping up the white variety. OK, so you might end up looking like Florence in The Magic Roundabout but there are worse fates. Orange Birkenstocks, similarly, are likely to fly out of the stores: orange, the world's most forward-thinking designers have decreed, is the colour of the Millennium.

Last year's re-emergence of Dr Scholl sandals is still having an impact too - wooden-soled footwear is very much in evidence. Beware the fact that they are all too easy to slip out of, however - losing your shoes in the street is more than a little humiliating.

As far as colour is concerned, opting for a neutral shade is a safe bet, as the closer the colour of your sandals to that of your skin, the longer your leg will appear. There's a fair bit of raffia around this season and it won't break the bank.

Happily, just as trainers have gone back to being the preserve of muscle- bound athletes, so sandals now grace the wardrobes of rather more fashionable souls than, well, Jesus. Equally, the days when family holidays in Blackpool, sporting the requisite and frankly not very fashionable red, yellow or blue rubber flip-flops, are long gone.

These days, anyone who's after giving their toes a much-needed breath of fresh air, whatever their age, shape or size, will be positively spoilt for choice.