Charlie Harrington is willing to become a fashion victim but the design ers don't seem able to accommodate her needs
Fashion insiders are often mocked for opting out and wearing matt black all the time. So what should a girl on fashion's fast track wear if she wants to avoid the funereal look? Where is she supposed to acquire it? If one wants to be fashionable - and this one does - how does one go about it?

The first problem is that what I want to wear isn't due into the shops for another six months. I want what I see in catwalk pictures, which means that desire, and the reality of what is available to a shopper on a budget, is as much as half a year out ofsync (depending on how fast the rip-offs filter through, and how good they are). The result of this is that I know I am any shop assistant's worst nightmare. I am picky. I am fussy. My attention span is short.

I am bored with mohair. Metallics leave me cold. I am right off anything patent. I am more than ready for a knee-length skirt. But I know that when I wear knee-length people not "in the know" will wonder why I have suddenly become so dowdy.I am well aware of those "Why on earth are you wearing that?" faces, (though I remain confident that in couple of months' time the "You know your such and such ... well, where did you get it?" inquiries will start.

Fashion right now, particularly if you follow the gospel according to Calvin Klein, preaches a low-key, ration-book dourness. And that is a problem. A family friend said to me recently, "You either look really fashionable or really unfashionable, but I can't quite work out which." It made me wonder exactly what the point is of being a dedicated follower of fashion, when people not only are not jealous of my eminent chic, but dare downright confused.

As any style guru will tell you, it is much easier to be slavishly fashionable than it is to be stylish. The latter involves wearing classic clothes with panache. But the quandry is, where to find them? In my experience - and believe me, I've searched - the quest for classic is becoming increasingly elusive, especially if you fall into the category of being too small to wear men's items. Men's blazers, men's suits, men's brogues can impart style in Cary Grant quantities, but what does one do if one's shoulders are too slim, or one's feet too small?

Let me be specific. I wanted a pair of classic brown brogues. What I found was platform soles, high heels, kinky boots and clompy flats. And almost everywhere I looked I was told "well, we might have some brogues in for spring", while strappy high-heeledsandals are on sale for winter. Who is the fussy one now?

My other fashion grumble is trying to find a raincoat, a classic mackintosh with no fuss, no flaps, no ties. This again has proved impossible. However, if my quest was for a silver PVC mac with a skinny belt and a logo splashed all over it, it would be plain sailing.

People working in the industry do not want to look like the last shoot they styled, hence the reluctance of the fashion cognoscenti to give up all that black. It has become a standing joke at collection time, that the people who influence what the world should be wearing seem not to be interested in obeying their own rules. But the truth of the matter is that one can suffer from fashion overload, that dressing up in the latest from Versace, Dolce e Gabbana, Armani can become a bit of a busman's holiday (well, perhaps not).

What is certain is that avoiding all things, glitzy, showy and statement-making can be the clearest signal that someone is serious about fashion. But for myself, I still want to dress up. And if I am going to be a fashion victim by doing so, I want to beone of the designer kind, not a chain store bandit.

Something that continues to baffle me about high street trends is the myth of the "target customer". It seems that at my age (22), I am supposed to come under the category of hard-core clubber or fledgling career woman. Why do I have to be a void that can be filled with some computer-generated version of style?

But the main problem is I just can't decide what my style really is. Am I fashionable? Can I bear the effort of sifting through so much before I shop? Or perhaps I should just adopt a uniform (a Max Mara trouser suit would do) and face up to the fact that flicking through magazines and musing on what I would like to wear is more fun than actually trekking out to look for it.