Chuck on the chintz

Bling and boho are so last year. The more innocent pleasures of country chic have taken hold among celebs from Lily Allen to Jennifer Connelly. By Rachel Shields

The English countryside has long been regarded as a style wasteland; home to muddy wellies, wax jackets, twee dresses and windswept hair. None of which town-dwellers have been keen to emulate – until now. While the fashion pack might already be stocking up on black in preparation for autumn, women across the rest of the country have come over all, well, country.

Flowery, feminine dresses are finally having their fashion moment, with celebrities including Jennifer Connelly and Lily Allen seen in floral print. The most popular dress in the new Kate Moss for TopShop collection is a poppy-print number.

"This look has been all over the catwalk – both for summer and in the coming autumn winter collections" says Hannah Teare, fashion editor of Tatler magazine. Prada got in early with a resort collection covered in flowers, while Luella focussed on spriggy little bud prints. "It is cyclical; whatever fashion embraces it will then reject. So we've had bling and boho. Now this."

Liberty has seen a surge in sales of its floral fabrics recently, particularly in the delicate, old-fashioned Tana Lawn print. Created in the 1920s, the soft floral has just featured in Chloë Sevigny's edgy debut collection for the Opening Ceremony label. Gap is selling Liberty print shirts, and Oasis has just unveiled a range of 50s-style flowery dresses, inspired by designs from the Bath Museum of Fashion. Even urban footwear has come over all pink and girly with the creation of Nike's new chintz Dunks.

While celebrities and designers can – and do – launch trends on a whim, fashion doesn't operate in a vacuum, and major style shifts often tie in to changes happening in the wider world. Many see the rise of "country chic" as a movement away from the in-your-face glamour and conspicuous consumption that characterised the 1990s, towards a more low-key look that reflects the prevailing desire to live more simply.

With the threat of recession and concerns over the environment combining to make old-fashioned pastimes like darning socks and growing vegetables the height of cool, ostentatious jewellery and dry-clean-only designer labels seem a little inappropriate. Marketers and advertisers have cottoned on, and traditional British brands such as Barbour are capitalising on their wholesome, outdoorsy image. The company is currently relaunching itself as a lifestyle brand.

"It's a bit of lifestyle, and a bit of style" said Steve Buck, the company's managing director. "We used to emphasise that our clothes could withstand the harsh conditions of the British countryside, but now we are focusing on the nicer parts of the countryside. Barbour jackets are to be worn ambling through the fields, on weekends away in the country, that sort of thing."

Designers at the spring-summer collections may all have been paid homage to the goddess Flora, but no two offerings looked the same. Blooms ran the gamut from delicate prints that wouldn't look out of place on Victorian bone china, to oversized brights harking back to the psychedelic 1970s.

Although there may be myriad ways to channel the look, the flowery tea dress has emerged as a clear favourite. Once squarely Women's Institute territory, these 1940s numbers are now a stylish, flattering, wardrobe staple.

And the reason for this surge in popularity? While the wearing of many recent offerings – jumpsuits, leggings and everything neon spring to mind – should really be restricted to leggy 14-year-old supermodels, a well-cut flowery number genuinely can suit everyone.

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