Casual, elegant, timeless - the graceful style and mature beauty of the late Nancy Lancaster inspire this summer's coolest looks
Nancy Lancaster was an American debutante who became a byword for a certain kind of Englishness. The niece of Irene Langhorne Gibson, the original Gibson Girl, and Nancy Astor, the first woman to become a member of the House of Commons, she came to England from Virginia in the Twenties with her first husband, Henry Field. She loved interior decoration, gardening and flower-arranging; struck by the visual possibilities offered by the chintzy clutter of the typical English home, she began to develop her own style of Englishness. This is the style Laura Ashley based a business on, and that Ralph Lauren, another American, has now claimed for the interiors of Upper East Side Manhattan apartments.

Socialite, and later designer and businesswoman, Lancaster gained in confidence and popularity with the passage of time, gradually taking on the eccentric charm of the English aristocracy with whom she was mixing. Robert Becker, her biographer, describes "a very attractive woman, alluring, exhilarating, dressed in pant-suits, skirts and jackets, wearing rubber wellingtons on rainy days, a gardening hat cocked at a jaunty tilt when the sun was shining".

Age never bothered her - she was once described by a Virginian admirer as "the sexiest 90-year-old you'll ever meet". She died in 1994 at the age of 97. Nancy Lancaster loved to collect furniture, and in 1945 bought Lady Colefax's interior decoration business, Sibyl Colefax Ltd, for pounds 15,000. The firm, which later became Colefax & Fowler, was the perfect excuse to indulge her growing passions for fine furniture and chintzy wallpaper. Her gardens, like her interiors, were the epitome of Englishness.

There were drifts of daffodils, brick walls covered with clematis and climbing roses and a cultivated look of wildness. Her flower arrangements, carefully chosen for each room at her home, Kelmarsh Hall, were usually her own. If she could not do them, she entrusted books of Dutch flower paintings to her gardeners, who would do the arranging using them as inspiration.

Today, with the pace of fashion constantly accelerating and models growing younger by the minute, women are in desperate need of role models when it comes to growing old gracefully. Hence this tribute to the style of Nancy Lancaster. Our model, who prefers to remain anonymous, is in her seventies. Her grace and elegance are the epitome of Englishness, and of the mature chic exemplified by Nancy Lancaster. Sometimes, it takes years of experience to know just how to wear your clothes. !

Right: white cotton man's shirt, pounds 36.95, from Coles (Shirtmakers), 131 Sloane Street, London SW1 (or call 0171 730 7564); white wide-legged trousers, pounds 249, at Nicole Farhi, 158 New Bond Street, W1 (for local stockists call 0171 499 8368); chocolate-brown patent shoes, pounds 165, at Stephane Kelian, 48 Sloane Street, SW1

Right: pale blue cashmere twinset, pounds 310, at N Peal, 37 Burlington Arcade, London W1 (for free mail order in the UK call 0171 493 9220); scarf, by Gucci, pounds 145, available from Liberty, Regent Street, London W1; navy trousers, pounds 249, at Nicole Farhi, as before

Left and page 49: white Panama hat with brown leather edging, by Gilly Forge, pounds 85 (for mail order call 0171 603 3833); pink cotton man's shirt, pounds 36.95, at Coles (Shirtmakers) as before; cashmere gardening apron,

pounds 150, at Ermenegildo Zegna, 42 Shelton Street, London WC2 (or telephone 0171 629 7088 for local stockists); navy trousers, pounds 249, at Nicole Farhi, as before

Above: Tana lawn shirt, by the Liberty Collection, pounds 59.95, and scarf, by Gucci, pounds 145, both at Liberty, Regent Street, London W1, and Liberty stores nationwide (until August 2 - call 0171 734 1234)