A couple of months after the spring/summer 1994 collections were revealed in Paris, London, Milan and New York, the new looks are starting to make sense.

The clothes featured in the shows will be on sale in the shops as soon as the sales have finished. Not so much the dramatic catwalk styles of a costume drama, starring the vestal virgin, the painted lady, the St Trinian's schoolgirl, the Hare Krishna devotee, the punk and Joan of Arc, but the simple pieces that are often overlooked during the spectacle.

These items are what the buyers are really looking for - something that would look nice in anyone's wardrobe. And these, of course, are what you will find in the stores. I'll wager there will be hardly a crinoline skirt to be seen.

There will be plenty of abbreviated skirts, in spite of our attachment now to the not-so-old long variety. The trick for realistic wearing of the new short skirt (which is right up at pelmet level, as in 1986) is to ignore all schoolgirl accessories - leave the Burlington socks and high strappy sandals to the brave. A good rule in fashion is: if you can remember the style from the last time it was popular, think twice about how you will carry it off now.

The jacket is back (not that it went anywhere in real life, it just stayed off the catwalk for a while) and, this time, it is worn longer than the skirt beneath it or, alternatively, teamed with a long, lean shift dress.

These shifts dresses are impossible to ignore. They are not, however, impossible to avoid. They may have made a limp appearance, hanging lamely from spaghetti straps in almost every show, but they were only seen on stick-thin women - and there they should stay. If you are curvy, you will look like a salami in a shift dress. If you are stick thin, you will of course look 'absolutely fabulous' in any of the many to choose from.

Indian fabrics, including buff natural cottons, muslins, seersuckers and cheesecloths, make good shift dresses if you want the Timotei girl look.

Katharine Hamnett, who has long been committed to using eco-friendly natural fibres, achieved a masterly balancing act when her collection proved that fabrics the colour of cold porridge could turn into red-hot and sexy clothes.

Metallics came through strongly as part of the neo-punk look, a much anaesthetised version of mid-Seventies anarchic dress that only those game for a bit of body-piercing should adopt. For the rest of us, metallics have a surprisingly softer appeal in sloppy, floppy pieces which, following last year's lead, are not just for after dark. Country-maiden clothes that usually look as if they have been dipped in cold tea have a sheen for spring.

Out of the disco and into the daylight, white suits make a comeback from the brink of naffdom which has taken almost 20 years. The suits give more an image of Our Man in Havana rather than Travolta on a Saturday night.

Also think of investment dressing. High street tailoring cannot compete with trouser suits from Jil Sander and master of the suit Giorgio Armani, who has spent much of his life perfecting it.

Knitwear is kiddie-sized, if you have the tummy to take it, or loose and fluttery as if knitted from cobwebs, if you haven't. It looks best with the contrast of a white shirt - the 'wardrobe staple'.

Having mentioned the white shirt, you will probably suspect that fashionspeak is baloney spoken by fashion editors who don't do their own washing. For, as every washerwoman knows, a white shirt worn for long enough to be a staple is no longer the whiter-than-white shirt decreed by fashion.

Hence, those who are flush will buy a few more for spring. Homebodies will boil last year's to a suitably renewed whiteness - at least, I'm told that's how you do it.

As for this mistress of an erratic washing machine, I suggest chucking the old whites in with the darks, crossing your fingers and hoping for the porridge-but-red-hot effect perfected by Hamnett. I'll let you know if it works.

(Photographs omitted)