Get shorty: The briefer the better

Prada is known for its ingenious and whimsical take on wardrobe classics. This season, the focus is on shorts – and the briefer the better, says Susannah Frankel

It's a bit nippy. Just the type of weather for chunky rib knits in Christmassy reds, big leather boots and, er, a nice pair of marginally baggy – or perhaps puffy is a better word to describe them – micro shorts. Only Miuccia Prada would have the sheer nerve to send this particular look out onto the generally rather more obviously commercial Milanese catwalk, especially for the autumn/winter season. And how great it is.

So wrong, it's unquestionably just right. Yes, the jumper is longer than the shorts, protruding bizarrely from beneath their hemline. And yes, the boots – never has a fisherman's wader looked so luxe – are at their best when worn with a toned and naked thigh, and this despite the cold snap. The line is sexy to the point almost of fetish-wear – knickers and what looks not entirely unlike leather suspenders spring to mind – but the choice of material and palette – country tweeds and wools that the British aristocracy might happily endorse weekend-ing at Balmoral – is anything but. As far as unexpected – and indeed quite provocative – contradictions in matters sartorial are concerned, this particular label, then, has it entirely nailed.

Miuccia Prada has, of course, long been enamoured of shorts, and this whatever the weather. While trousers are, in fact, for the most part conspicuous in their absence on this particular catwalk, skirts being the designer's own preferred choice of garment from the waist down, shorts are the exception that prove the rule.

In the early days – and still something of a classic by now at both Prada and Miu Miu – these were reminiscent of a highly conservative boy's school uniform, a throwback to the designer's own childhood perhaps when her mother insisted on a certain formality with regards to children's dress. More recently they have, for the most part, been more brief than that, bringing everything from the 1940s pin-up girl to, in this season's case, the decidedly saucy – and quite possibly marginally stroppy – land girl to mind. The designer has said in the past that anything ultra-short is best worn by those with toned as opposed to super-skinny legs, the type of woman with the musculature of a small horse, perhaps. Either way, shorts are best worn by those who stride as opposed to totter. Their origins, quite clearly, are in sportswear, first adopted by fashion in the 1920s and 1930s both by Chanel and the equally emancipated American designer, Claire McCardell, and designed to show a still highly chauvinistic world that women can work, play and indeed run just as well as their male counterparts – and look rather more glamorous while doing it to boot.

It may come as something of a relief to discover that, for those who would really rather not spend the winter months dressed in what is ultimately not much more than their pants, can wear designer shorts for the summer too.

For Prada's part, shorts remain flirtatiously small worn, this time around, with a long white cotton shirt peeping beneath the cut off point to keep modesty in tact, in stiffened silver grey silk that stands away from the body as opposed to clinging to it and with raw frayed edges on display for all to see. More like the aforementioned boyish designs are narrow but still comparatively loose-fitting shorts in the same chic colours and fabric that fall to mid-thigh.

This designer is not the only one to have put shorts onto next season's catwalk, however. Followers of the bright young New York-based designer, Alexander Wang, will no doubt delight in snake-hipped tan leather shorts that lace up the front and with gleaming silver zips up the sides – they're that hard. Balmain's shorts look like cut off black jeans and are suitably distressed as befits the times. They'll no doubt weigh in at four figures, and this despite the very limited amount of fabric involved, and sell out within minutes of arriving in store nonetheless. D&G's shorts in tooled suede the colour of the Arizona desert and with a saucy frill at the hem are suitably impressive and will certainly go some way towards stopping the traffic when worn, as the designers intend them to be, with a western-inspired corset and spike-heeled, studded cowboy boots – think Calamity Jane following the mother of all Italianate makeovers. Marc Jacobs' shorts mimic the characteristics of foundation garments, 1950s-style; Stella McCartney's are in brown shantung silk which looks set to be huge next season even though the shorts themselves are anything but. At Yves Saint Laurent, shorts are tight-fitting in soft black leather and split at the knee and at Hermes, shorts are body-conscious in black denim and stop just above the knee or barely graze the thigh.

The unifying factor where shorts are concerned is that they are designed to be dressed up – way up. In particular, the ill-shapen, cargo-pocketed variety that appears to spread like the proverbial wildfire the minute the sun deigns to shine must henceforward be banished to the bottom drawer. They're not pretty, flattering or even remotely fashionable. The new shorts, conversely, are all these things and versatile too, designed, in Miuccia Prada's own words, to be worn everywhere from "the boardroom to the beach."