Fashion: Off the peg: Shape up, says Melanie Rickey. Nothing matters more than your silhouette

M

ore than anything, the outline of

your outfit is what defines you as a fashion follower, or fashion faux pas. It's the natural next step from body shape and you'll be hearing a lot more about it (it's the fashion designer's favourite theme). But it's not a new phenomenon.

This century each decade has been dominated by one key fashion silhouette. In 1947 the New Look by Christian Dior introduced jackets nipped in at the waist and skirts that stopped mid-calf and flared out from the hip to create a dramatic bell shape. In the Sixties the silhouette was a square on top of a little triangle: a boxy jacket and a mini-skirt. Everyone knows the Seventies silhouette - droopy on the top and flared out at the bottom. And that applied to men, in their smock-tops and flares, as well as women, in their smock-tops and floor-trailing skirts. The Eighties silhouette will be remembered for the extreme shoulder pads and the pencil skirts (a triangle on top of a rectangle).

The Nineties silhouette is a little harder to define. But if you are a woman who follows trends, chances are you have a few polo-necks, and some slouchy or wide-legged trousers in your wardrobe. You may even have graduated from wide trousers to the long skirt - same silhouette. It's a long, lean look that designers Yohji Yamamoto, Alexander cQueen, Veronique Branquinho, Narciso Rodriguez and artin argiela at Hermes have all offered for winter.

For her spring/summer 1999 collection British designer aria Grachvogel has changed her whole silhouette. It was a major decision. "It went from being really body-conscious and sexy, to being fluid and sensual. I don't know why, it just seemed the right thing." Designer Sonja Nuttall refers to the feeling that your outfit doesn't look "right". "That's when you've got the silhouette wrong. With my clothes that feeling shouldn't happen, because I've really thought about the silhouette - unless you get the shoes wrong."

"It's like decorating a house," says Grachvogel. "The surroundings dictate what you put in it, or on it. No one would put an old-fashioned mahogany table in an ultra-modern apartment, for example, and nobody would wear really high heels with a floor-skimming skirt."

Now that would be a fashion faux pas

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