Just for the frill of it

Fashion designers had the feminine touch in mind for this summer - but it didn't get past the catwalk. Shame! Photographs by Sheridan Morley

The international catwalks are often accused of having very little to do with what real women actually wear, or would even aspire to wear if they had the money. Usually, however, the trends and ideas filter down to the high street in some form or other so that we, the clothes buying public - rather than the dedicated followers of fashion - can wear them in a more palatable form.

Occasionally, fashion designers are completely off track and come up with an idea that is absolutely not in tune with today's woman. This summer, if the fashion designers had had their way, women would be wafting around the streets in more frills, ribbons and bows than a Stepford wife. But in reality, the return to a more romantic and feminine style of dressing has largely remained a figment of the fashion designer's imagination.

However, if the world's designers are right and you are longing to get re-acquainted with your feminine side - a flirty frill on the hem of a skirt, a fully-fledged swirl of flamenco layers, or a soft, sheer, lacy blouse - you needn't look like a Barbie doll. In these pictures, we have shown three ways to wear the romantic look and still be taken seriously. You can get away with wearing the most flighty and girly of blouses if you put it with a plain-speaking, no-nonsense trouser suit. We chose an embroidered shirt from Oasis which looks like it is worth far more than its pounds 22.99 in workmanship alone.

If you feel like splashing out on a trend which may well take off on a bigger scale next spring, the sales are the time to shop for designer labels. Nicole Farhi, whose collections usually bridge the gap between what designers think we should be wearing and what most women actually want to wear, has filled her shops with flighty pieces of chiffon and delicate lines of beading, perfectly balanced with soft, unfussy, tailoring. A more minimal ways to show you are up on the latest romantic trend is to search out a Nicole Farhi chiffon beaded skirt in the sales and wear it with the plainest, most sensible top you have in your wardrobe. You can't get much more minimal than a sleeveless polo neck from The Gap or - another good sale investment - John Smedley.

British designers Clements Ribeiro looked to the red-hot blooded gypsy for their spring/summer range. As their collections trickle into the sales, look out for the riotous English-country-garden print on chiffon and the cross-over ruffle-fronted flamenco dresses in linen. If head-to-toe ruffles are too much to handle, Clements Ribeiro have also made a wrap-front top which, once you get used to the waterfall ruffles flapping in the wind, makes you look glamorous rather than like the witless heroine of a Mills & Boon novel. Just to make sure, wear it with a pair of boyish flat-fronted trousers or a pair of chinos. Just make sure you steer well away from hostess trolleys, coffee mornings and darning your husband's socks.

Chocolate brown linen ruffle wrap top with underslip (main picture), pounds 325, by Clements Ribeiro, at Liberty, Regent Street, London W1

Sleeveless black polo neck (above left), pounds 57.50, by John Smedley at S Fisher, Burlington Arcade, London W1, Lisa Sterling, St James Square, Manchester (inquiries 0171-580 5075) and mail order 01629 534 331; cream sheer beaded skirt, pounds 149, by Nicole Farhi,158 New Bond Street, London W1, and Harvey Nichols, Leeds (inquiries 0171-499 8368)

White single-breasted jacket (top left), pounds 140, and trousers, pounds 70, both by French Connection, 249, Regent Street, London W1, 9 Broadmead Street, Bristol, 14-16 St Annes Street, Manchester and branches (inquiries 0171- 580 2507); white sheer embriodered shirt, pounds 22.99, by Oasis, 292, Regent Street, London W1, and 125-126 New Street, Birmingham (inquiries 01865 881 986)

Stylist: Charlie Harrington

Hair and Make up: Alex Babsky using Estee Lauder

Model: Ailsa at Models 1

Prices quoted are subject to change during the sale period

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