DESIGNERS have a reputation - not always unjustified - for being unwilling to confront the harsh mundanities (cellulite, fat, poverty and anyone under 5ft 11ins) of life. Fashion on the other hand - the kind that mutates spontaneously away from the catwalks - often surprises and delights by the way it adapts to and copes with adversity (as when nylons-starved women opted in droves for bobby socks or painted seamed stockings on to their legs during the Second World War).

The present is another case in point: the recession has fostered a new consumer attitude, one that expects clothes to carry the transitory hallmarks of high fashion yet still turn out to be lasting investments. It sounds like having your cake and eating it, but the more astute retailers are getting close by producing designs with optional of-the-moment features (detachable fur trims for example) which can be removed later on to reveal clothes that, at heart, are familiar classics.

Taking a cue from them, and from the new orthodoxy which suggests that what fashion is really all about now is details, we have experimented with some simple, minor, but effective ways of updating some of the staples that might be lurking in your wardrobe.

To work, any ingenious extras should be kept to a minimum. With the equestrian look, for example, the aim is not to appear as though you just took part in a gymkhana but to take advantage of some body-conscious, slightly countrified tailoring. A good jacket with some elbow patches ( pounds 1.75 the pair) and a pair of jodhpurs is as far as you need go to carry the illusion. Similarly, any military-inspired details should be applied sparingly: a new set of military buttons will update a traditional long trench coat without looking like fancy dress.

Cat-prints look most dramatic when restricted to trims - cuffs on gloves look good, or you could try wearing a cat-print muff (a quaint period touch that proved quite a hit on the runways). Satin ribbons slatted through lace-up ankle boots will give a period Edwardian feel to long skirts (add some fishnets to stop the effect seeming too prim). Another two metres of satin tied at the neck can do wonders for a plain white shirt, as will a choker, also experiencing something of a revival.

Resourceful? Yes. But this being the Nineties, the key to success is steering clear of anything that looks as though it came from the Blue Peter school of DIY; patchwork crocheted waistcoats are not recommended.

(Photographs omitted)