FOR late summer holidays, the vest is an essential buy - cool, generally inexpensive, and, for once, a whim of fashion that is hard-wearing. The question is, what is the difference between a vest from Chanel and one from Brixton market? About pounds 270. It is one of the great mysteries of the world how a simple cotton - not silk - singlet can cost pounds 270 - or pounds 340 for one with a silk camellia. Even more mysterious is that they have completely sold out. (The canny, however, can add fabric flowers - from 95p at John Lewis - to a cheap vest; sticklers for the real thing can buy silk camellias in Chanel, from pounds 60.)

The vest - remember Thelma & Louise? - is a simple item, but cut and quality are of the greatest important. As with all utility clothes, quality often bears little relationship to price.

The problem to watch for is gaping armholes, which can reveal more than you want and are, for all but the flat-chested, most unflattering. Good quality, supportive cotton is crucial and absolute opaqueness essential.

JIGSAW 100 per cent cotton, handwash, pounds 12.50. Well cut under the arms and doesn't gape. The fabric feels as though it might go baggy after a few washes. It looks like underwear, but definitely men's underwear. Makes you feel like a tomboy. The neckline is not too plunging and the thick straps are comfortable.

JOHN SMEDLEY 61 per cent wool, 39 per cent silk, handwash, pounds 25. The fabric feels wonderful, but it's clearly not designed to be worn a la Thelma & Louise as it gapes and is a bit too long. Best kept as underwear - the fabric mix feels like pure luxury. In September Smedley is bringing out a new range for women, Second Skin, including a singlet for pounds 18 in Sea Island cotton.

BRIXTON MARKET 100 per cent cotton rib, warm machine wash, pounds 1.50. Great. Whether by accident or design, it fits very well: the armholes are just right and the straps are thin, but in the right place. Tight fitting and supportive. Good-quality rib cotton which washes well. At pounds 1.50 you can't fault it.

MUJI 100 per cent cotton rib, warm machine wash, pounds 5.50. Excellent. The soft cotton feels cool when you put it on, although the fine rib is a little see-through. The armholes are high cut, as is the neckline - no room for nasty gaps. A quality item at a reasonable price.

MARKS & SPENCER 100 per cent cotton, warm wash, pounds 10.99 for pack of two. M & S brought out a women's version of the singlet in ribbed cotton, but they sold out in the first week. Back in stock later in the summer. The men's cut vest is the authentic thing (again, pounds 10.99 for pack of two). Usual good-quality, thick M & S cotton. The straps are quite thick, but lie well on the shoulders. Looks good from the back, but a bit too long.

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