Functional, warm and cosy, the fleece is no longer just for the sports fanatic, writes Tamsin Blanchard. Comfort dressing is now acceptable any time, any place, anywhere. Who cares that you may resemble a Tellytubby? At least it's eco-friendly.
The "fleece" is to the Nineties what the shell suit was to the Eighties. It has became the universal sportswear, worn by the fitness fanatic who goes jogging in his on cold winter mornings, to the clubber who wraps hers round her waist whilst dancing and wears it to go home in or the office worker who zips one up inside her coat so she can stay warm in the bus queue. Like all good, functional ideas, the fleecy jacket has transcended age, gender and occasion; it has become the grown up clothing equivalent of a comfort blanket. And who can resist the feeling of being wrapped up like a teddy-bear?

I blame the Tellytubbies in their all-in-one fleecy suits. If I had the option between a trouser suit and a fleecy romper to wear to work in the morning, I know which one I would go for. We have become a nation of comfort seekers. Structured clothing is off the agenda. A neat jacket and coat might look smart and elegant, but who wants to feel as though their arms are trussed up all day? Just as we are used to having our fruit and veg packed into self-contained, easy-to-use, pre-washed units, so too we want our wardrobes to be as easy as possible. The art of mixing style and comfort is a fine balancing act. To avoid looking like Wayne or Waynetta, simply wear your fleece with something a little special like a delicate beaded dress. Not only is a fleece jacket warm and functional, it can be eco- friendly too, the perfect way of re-cycling plastic drinks bottles. They can simply be melted down and spun into a fibre which, in turn, is woven into high-performance fleece fabric.

We expect to see American labels like Gap, Timberland and Northface using fleece for their sportswear ranges. But it's not something you would associate with traditional clothing company, Thomas Burberry. But when Burberry launched its Sport range this year, perfecting fleece was high on the priority list. The fact that fashion has been so transformed by sportswear over the past two decades - from breathable, stretchable, washable fabrics we wear to the drawstring waists, hooded tops, and training shoes that are now as commonplace in fashion shops as in the locker room - is more to do with the comfort factor than with the desire to be healthy and fit.

It's about time too. Compare a typical outfit from today with something our great-grandparents might have worn in 1897. Then, it was all corset stays, hooks and eyes, underskirts, lacing and suspenders. Today dressing needs no assistance or thought whatsoever. It's just a matter of a zip here and an elasticised waist there. And we are getting to the stage of one size fits all; the fabrics stretch to accommodate the wearer. That's progress. Or is it? Do we really want to look like Tellytubbies? Shouldn't we suffer a bit for fashion?

The great thing is you can be dressed as inappropriately as you like for a cold night standing round a bonfire but as long as you zip that fleece up high, you will be cosy and warm. Now that really is progress.

Above: Beige tweed trousers with turn-up, pounds 199, by Nicole Farhi, 158 New Bond Street, London W1 (enquiries 0171-499 8368); lilac ribbed polo neck, pounds 31.99, by Oasis, 292 Regent Street, London W1 (enquiries 01865 881 986); tumbleweed fleece, pounds 69.99, by The North Face, at Lillywhites, Piccadilly Circus, London W1 (enquiries 0171-915 4000); tan lace-up shoes, pounds 89, by Pied a Terre, 19 South Molton Street, London W1 (enquiries 0171- 629 1362).

Top left: Orange fleece, pounds 55, by Thomas Burberry Sport, 167 Regent Street, London W1 (mail order 0171-930 7803).

Blue velour zip-up top, pounds 45, by French Connection, 249 Regent Street, London W1, and branches nationwide (enquiries 0171-399 7200); black silk skirt with sequins, pounds 159, by Nicole Farhi, as before; backlash trainers, pounds 64.99, by Adidas from JD Sports, 267-269 Oxford Street, London W1 and stores nationwide.

Photographer: Sheridan Morley

Stylist: Charlie Harrington

Hair and make-up: Helen Bannon at Mandy Coakley

Photographer's assistant: Coco

Model: Tizer