Try Me

See-through ruffled chiffon dress
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In a woman's life, the gap between fantasy and reality can be measured purely in terms of hip size. For a 16-year-old girl this gap is negligible, artistically blurred. and frequently immortalised in soft focus photographs sold in good gift stores nationwide; for a thirty-something woman, bearing the blobs and bumps of a life of indulgence, it is a bombed- out bridge too far.

So it was with some trepidation, horror even, that I approached this spring's new fashion offering - the completely see-through floaty frilly number. As part of a generation brought up on opaque tights and Lycra, the prospect of actually showing any real parts of my body was tantamount to suggesting a course of natural dentistry.

Why go to all the trouble of inventing fabrics that can contort our accumulated masses into the figures of our dreams only to outlaw it the next season? Why? Because this is the heady world of fashion. A planet where designers have only one thing on their mind: thin people.

From Gianni Versace through to Chanel, they've all gone diaphanous-crazy. Nineteen ninety-seven is to be the year when we put on bumper knickers and show them off. Nightmare. But the high street was now flooded.

There is no escape. Anything that involves showing my sagging knees, as well as the contours of my untrained butt, was definitely out. So it has to be long. Whistles, that stalwart of the working girl's wardrobe, have excelled themselves. Some of the floaty numbers have groovy op-art dots all over them, a contrast that takes the edge off the romantic look and at a push could be seen as truly Nineties, um, in a Sixties kind of way. This was for me.

But where to wear my new look of '97? The most pressing engagement of the week was a date with Katie, 6, and Lauren, 3, my fashion-conscious nieces. I donned the ankle-length, plunge-fronted dress, complete with recommended skin-tone big knickers and quickly piled the matching loose fitting tunic on top. Layers are the key. The more frilly layers you pile on the better the overall look becomes (because the see-through-ness is reduced.

The girls arrived. They stared. They giggled hysterically. They stared. Eventually I ask the question: "Well, what do you think?" More giggles. Slowly the answer came. "Why are you wearing the emergency pants from the nursery?"

The knickers had to go. To be replaced, I hasten to add, by M&S standard issue and for good measure, and because it's cold, and I'm English, my opaque tights. Plus my knee-length suede boots. After that I was pronounced a princess. And on a good night, in a low-lit room, wafting around on my own to Carole King, the floaty look can have that effect. Albeit a princess who is still reticent about meeting her public.

Sam Taylor

Silk chiffon, bias-cut, ruffled dress with large swirly dots, pounds 165, layered with matching ruffle tunic (worn over the top), pounds 120, both by Whistles, 12 St. Christopher's Place, London W1 and branches nationwide, call 0171 487 4484 for enquiries.