style police; Where oh where does one find the perfect little cardi to cover up that sexy little slip?
THE CARDIGAN is a must-have for Spring '98. Just about every style demands a sweet, plain cardie, from the floaty creations inspired by Narciso Rodriguez and Matthew Williamson to the pencil skirts with fitted Ts. Cardies not only add the perfect finishing touch now that the emphasis is moving away from tailoring, but will also keep the chills away during the feeble British spring.

Getting the cardie right is another story. Every woman Style Police has consulted bemoans the high street's inability to produce the perfect cardigan in a classic like navy blue... let alone in this season's baby pastels. The cardie has two main guises for spring: the Fifties sweater girl with the crop cardie and the antiquey, "Granny-during-the-blitz", embroidered number. But why can't we find either with a price tag of less than three figures?

Well, Style Police has donned flatties and hit the pavement in search of the spring cardie. First stop was Brora on the Kings Road (mail order 0171 736 9944). We can't all afford cashmere, but Brora's is more affordable than most. You'll find cropped V-neck cardies (pounds 139) in baby blue or Matthew Williamson shocking pink, as well as in the classic colours. The Style Police front runner is Brora's cashmere ballet-top cardie (pounds 169) in eau- de-nil - positively vampy with a knee-length pencil skirt.

If you can't quite stretch to cashmere prices, John Smedley is still the maestro of the knitting machine. For sea island cotton as soft as a baby's bottom, Smedley have no competition. Their round-neck, button- through cardie in pistachio green (pounds 79) is edible and also comes in classic shades. But the look that Rizzo in Grease would snap a stiletto for is the powder-pink, round-neck twinset, nipped at the waist. For pounds 140 you have two pieces to give your spring wardrobe the affordable face-lift it needs.

The high street usually falls down by being too clever in its attempt to follow the catwalk with inferior fabric. Where are all the pure lambswool versions? Marks & Spencer to the rescue, with their crew neck classic cardie (pounds 32) in navy, black or cream, as trustworthy as a British bulldog. French Connection's ecru crepe/ viscose knit "Harlequin" cardie (pounds 45) is weighty enough to drape when slung casually around the shoulders of a neat little dress.

If the antiquey cardie, with retro embroidery and ribbon detail, is more your bag, there may be a case for buying second hand. "I live on the doorstep of Portobello Market, so I have the best source for vintage Fifties beaded cardies," says Sky fashion editor Sophie Dean. "I think it's ridiculous to buy a modern one, distressed to look antique, when you can buy the real thing. Cardies take away the nearly-naked feeling and I don't feel remotely self-conscious or exposed with a cardie thrown over a lacy slip."

You do need the eye of a fashion addict like Sophie Dean to make retro work. A safer option is one of Harrods' new labels, Luna Bi. A fine, ribbed cotton acrylic with antique hook-and-eye fastenings, the Luna Bi cardie is best in eau-de-nil and ice-blue (pounds 139) with organza ribbon and seed pearl detail. Now, I don't want to hear another word from you about not finding the perfect cardigan.