Fashion: The Style Police - Too hot to handle

When the heatwave finally arrives, fashion goes out of the window. Still, invest in combats and a navel ring, says James Sherwood, and all may be forgiven
The first day of blazing, scalding, smouldering heat in London is that 24 hours nobody is expecting, nobody has shopped for and that we all have to improvise. It's the day when tube-train windows drip with condensation, the nation's trainers stink to high heaven and the take- you-anywhere two-piece suit gets you nowhere. The British are notoriously inept at dressing for freak heat. So let's have a look at you all.

Men are the real revelation this summer, and we're not talking the tailor's dummies who think a Panama hat and white linen suit is Nineties. No, it's the blokes who have made khaki combat-pocket shorts a uniform who got it right. You've all chosen the natty black or brown open-toe sandal. By wearing it en masse, blokes have declared the sandal not remotely nelly. The Converse open-toe suede version is the runaway most popular sandal in London for summer 1998. Ironically, it's "fashionable man" who looks naff: the Chris Evans clone in the fisherman's hat, yellow-lensed specs and trousers cut off at three-quarter lenqth. Ditch the socks and trainers, get a crisp white linen shirt, get a life. Clam-digger pants are for women only.

"Have you noticed builders don't wear jeans any more?', says Elle's executive fashion editor Florence Torrens. "They all wear combat pants." Now you rnention it, Flo, Style Police has. Come high summer, builders stripped to the waist and wearing combat shorts have given us all a "Diet Coke break" moment: great on a building site but not so attractive when you're glued to a sweaty naked torso on the tube.

Some girls get confused by this season's "wear as little as possible" message. Little means a simple one-piece like the classic shift dress or a pencil skirt and vest combination, with a pair of little flip-flop sandals. Little does not mean a mini-skirt and no inhibitions. The biggest mistake anyone can make for high summer is recycling your short-shorts. Short-shorts are an abomination, particularly on women who look as if they've been poured into them and forgotten to say when.

"The sexiest look I've seen on the streets is that Dries Van Noten baggy- pants-and-little-top story," says Torrens. "I like the way girls have improvised. They've bought an exaggerated pair or drawstring pants from Monsoon or H&M and pulled off the urban gypsy look. You're going to see the classic V-neck shift dress from Marks & Spencer everywhere. I wish everyone would ditch their trainers in summer. Muji have sold out of their flip-flops this week which is an optimistic sign." The Muji flip-flops are genius. The thong is nude and the sole is white so you look as if you're walking on air.

Have none of the big cosmetics houses developed a foundation yet that doesn't crack like the Tundra in Death Valley or melt like wax to a flame? Make-up is a real problem in thirty-degree heat. Torrens loves the nude, lavender and pale blue nail polishes we're seeing on finger- and toe-nails This summer is a foot-fetishist's dream. Our eyes are led to the flip- flop clad foot decorated with silver rings, ankle chains and Madonna- inspired, henna-painted pattern.

At least you can easily remove henna from flesh. Style Police's favourite summer sport is spotting all those unfortunates who regret their tattoos and piercings past. There's no place for them to hide come summer. There is something quite seductive about a girl wearing a pretty little embroidered pencil skirt and a tiny spaghetti-strap top with a minimal, sharp tattoo exposed. Equally, there's something sad about a bleeding-heart or dripping- dagger tattoo circa 1979 between your shoulder blades. Now is the season for simple, silver belly-button piercings to get an airing. Never is the season for nipple rings under a sheer top. Style Police has seen, shuddered and moved on.