This time round, there's no reason not to

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The Independent Culture
THIS DRESS, it looks like a huge pyramid of rough brown cloth, as if a platoon of soldiers had pelted a woman with their shirts and they'd somehow stuck to her; it looks . . . fabulous. And this? It's a not-quite dress made from a sheet of dazzling orangey-brown fabric, wrapped around the woman's shoulders like a cape, with just - yes, indeed - underwear underneath, as if she's escaping from a fire in a bad-taste hotel, rushing out with just the bedspread to protect her modesty. But it wasn't this I was worried about. No, it wasn't this at all.

I'm at the Graduate Fashion Week, in which the cream of final-year fashion students exhibit their designs. I knew I wasn't going to be worried by the clothes worn by the models. No, what had worried me was the students. This was going to be my biggest dose yet of Seventies revivalism.

I'd been brave about it, denying my fear, then feeling light-headed with relief when a 27-year-old woman in a floral halter top told me she wouldn't go the whole way, wouldn't wear flares. But, deep down, I had been scared - scared of long, straggly, fringed items, of pieces of extraneous material, of clumpy boots, hippie hats, pendants with leather chokers, of things . . . hanging. Were they just a bad dream, a funny joke, fancy dress? Or would I, gradually, come to accept them, like them, wear them - and look stupid? This vast hangar in north London full of fashion students was going to be the acid test. If I came here, I thought, I would know.

I can hardly bear to look at the real action, so I look at the catwalk instead. I love this one, a pair of tight Lycra leggings with a big hole across both legs, from just below the gusset to just above the knees; from some angles, it looks like a space-age mini-skirt. The model cruises along, into the flashbulbs, the clapping, the mild delirium of applause.

And: weird pixie hats, multicoloured garments which look like tramps have made them out of flotsam, stockings over the head, an Elizabethan neck-ruff. This is what the top end of couture is like these days - designed, not to be worn by large numbers of people, but to attract attention to the designer's name, to attract large numbers of punters to the relatively cheap bottles of scent, the knick-knacks and accessories. But what about my clothes? I'm wearing: a wool two-button jacket with out-of-date lapels, blue-black straight jeans, very 1990, Timberland shoes, a button-down shirt, with the buttons not done up. Tentatively, I look around me at my assailants. Come on. Hit me with all you've got.

The first guy I notice is wearing a superb outfit from, I would say, 1975, all of it original. He's got a denim waistcoat, like a Levi's jacket without sleeves, except that it's in . . . brushed denim . . . and he wears, even better, a pair of panelled flares, dark denim which has been stitched into squares with raised borders. On his feet are a pair of neat zip-boots with little platforms, nothing too flash or Gary Glitterish, the shoes real Seventies office workers and trendy young executives used to wear with their suits.

And here's someone with short hair, long, trim sideburns, leather waistcoat, pendant on a thong, trousers with a mild flare but nothing scary, tie-dye T-shirt and heavy boots. What does that all mean? Nothing coherent, probably even to him. The issue is clearer for the women; there is, at least, a central argument, which is that it's much cooler to wear untidyish stuff than the mannish clothes women wore in the last decade; you can tell a fashionable woman from an unfashionable one. But the men, and this is what makes me so relieved, are dipping into different parts of the Seventies; they're lacking an ethic. In the Seventies, people who dressed up like Mud or the Glitter Band were the sworn enemies of the stringy, fringed, Sixties-hangover people, and both types were despised as complacent buffoons by anybody in bondage trousers or T-shirts with slogans on them. Having an untidyness revival doesn't seem good enough.

It's hard for a revival to catch on because, unlike their predecessors, its practitioners do not have a clear idea of their exact limits, or who their enemies are. You grow your hair long, to be different from . . . who? People who had their hair long last year, and have now cut it short? People who grew their hair quite long the year before, but didn't go the whole hog? No, there was only one moment in the cycle when long hair was a proper fashion, when it worked; and that was the time when men had had short hair as long as anybody could remember.

I'm feeling slightly better about my lapels now, because they're three years out of date - I could almost be at the cutting edge of a new style; I could be a more up-to-the-minute revivalist than these fashion students flapping past. This phenomenon - fashions replacing each other so quickly you can't catch up - is one of the effects of the computer; now chain stores can store and send information quickly enough to sniff things out and knock them off in a few weeks; a subversive cult, worn by students who spend half their time picking through obscure charity shops in March and April, might easily be being mildly aped by secretaries in July. So the cutting edge of fashion is getting more and more blurred; it's hard to see a single style sweeping through, getting all the way up to politicians and clergymen, making fools of us all.

Or is it? Relieved, I look at the catwalk. Look at this - a hat made out of fluffy material, as big as a fridge. And: one made out of lace that surrounds the head like a cloud of smoke. And: a strip of muslin, wrapped around the eyes like a blindfold. And a backless dress with a big frilly thing coming out of the back, like a rabbit's tail. Sleeves dangling six inches beyond the hand. Bare arms, bandaged with white Lycra to above the elbow.

I sit, take notes, clap. Some of this is good stuff, the sort of stuff that might sell gallons of perfume. But I'm not scared of it. I'm not scared of anything, for the moment.-