Work, rest and play wear: Top-to-toe denim

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A well-stocked wardrobe is nothing without a denim item or three. Harriet Walker finds the best new pieces for top-to-toe blues

Denim is fashion's great democratiser.

High-waisted or low-rise, high-end or low rent, it's a perennial favourite that doesn't look bad on anyone. It's also uniquely versatile during times of economic unrest and a summer that's more like monsoon season.

There was a profusion of the blue stuff on the catwalks for spring/summer, with designers harking back to denim's more functional past.

The icons were all there, with full-on, near-cartoonish Americana at Moschino and Navajo touches at Diesel, but the new direction for denim was as tunics, dresses, shirts, skirts, even tailored trousers, rather than riveted jeans.

These were actual clothes, in a way, with designers using the fabric to create garments that had very little to do with denim's more well-known workwear heritage.

Phoebe Philo at Céline showed boxy tunic and palazzo pant combos in overtly twilled thick denim, while Derek Lam paired flares with vests and shrunken waistcoats. It's quite a cry from the days when we all laughed at B*witched for matching their jeans to their jackets, shoes and bags.

The key though with all this matchy-matchiness is to be discerning in your choice of denim. It's fine to sculpt an entire outfit from the same yarn, as long as it's the right yarn. Old-school tough denim, of the variety you might have found in Madchester or on Axl Rose, won't work for this, as the overall effect will be too straight-faced and predictable. Designers are creating a new code for denim; part of the reason denim this season is tidier, clinical even, in its clean lines and boxy geometry this season, is because it's a break from the norm.

Tweedier versions, like those seen at Celine, are right for this, as are chambray pieces – some of which are so light as to be almost cotton. Wear them minimally, with as little adornment as possible, like the styling at Stella McCartney, where blue tones weren't interrupted by anything more glitzy. One aspect of this trend's appeal is its easiness: there's a reason why some of these pieces look a bit like tabards or overalls – they're supposed to be practical and utilitarian (although in a different way from, say, some faded jeans) so don't worry about dressing them up.

Of course, this isn't to say you can't just kick around in your favourite blue jeans, especially during a summer that hasn't yet managed to get going – what could be better? Margaret Howell showed slouchy lightweight styles and Gap has created its own similar version, elasticated waist and ankles bringing a whole new dimension to casual denim.

Meanwhile, there are several exciting new collaborations to explore, thanks to a new wave of denim invigoration after the influx of cult jeans labels, such as Acne, Citizens of Humanity and J Brand, in recent years. Take a look at the Levi's capsule for hipster emporium Opening Ceremony for pretty denim daywear (www.endclothing.co.uk), and check out Vivienne Westwood's Anglomania range for Lee if you're feeling more anarchic (www.asos.com). And for those who like their jeans ultra-luxe, there's a collaboration between Current/Elliott and Marni, which features oversized and inside-out boyfriend jeans, as well as whimsical printed shorts (www.marni.com). Whether you opt for classic or current, head-to-toe or one statement piece, you can't go wrong. Just leave the ripped stonewash pair at home.

And, no, the bootcut hasn't been rehabilitated quite yet, either.

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