It's strange but true: a belted cardigan - yes, as worn by Val Doonican - is this winter's most stylish way to keep warm.
Val Doonican has a lot to answer for: single-handedly, he killed off any hope the cardigan had of being remotely stylish. Instead, it became a homely friend of a garment, to be worn in the warm glow of a log fire, or reading a good book in a rocking-chair with a glass of Bailey's. In short, the cosy cardi had all the street cred of Noel Edmonds. It was not the stuff to make the hearts of fashion designers beat faster.

How is it, then, that flicking through my notes from the autumn/winter catwalk shows, I find the words Starsky and Hutch cropping up with unnerving frequency, alongside little sketches of cardigans - long and short - pulled in at the waist with a knitted belt? Against all odds, the belted cardigan has become the last word in fashion, luxuriously knitted into the collections of designers ranging from Calvin Klein and Donna Karan in New York to Dries Van Noten in Paris. The chunky ribbed cardigan-jacket, that added rolls of fat to whoever wore it in the Seventies, is back with a vengeance. Suddenly Val's old cardies are the height of fashion. Strange, I know, but true.

What is important is the belt: it gives an otherwise shapeless garment a waistline. And chunky ribbing has been smoothed out and streamlined to make something altogether chic and elegant. Andrew GN, a London-trained, Paris-based designer, has crafted the cardi-jacket out of fine-gauge wool in mouthwatering colours; at pounds 500 plus, it is not your everyday winter warmer.

It is not often that the paths of fashion and comfort collide. But while a coat can seem too heavy and cumbersome, and a jacket somehow too formal, this winter the cardi-coat is the perfect partner to keep the chills away when going out in party dresses made of wispy bits of nothing. As long as you are wearing a delicate lace dress, a pair of strappy shoes or a sparkly necklace, you will not look as though you are wearing your dressing gown or, heaven forbid, a dowdy woolly.

If you want luxury - TSE Cashmere has a cardi-coat in a wool/crepe mix for pounds 599 - wait until January and the sales. The emphasis on softer knitwear rather than structured tailoring will continue into next summer, so quality knits are a good investment buy. But for pre-Christmas outings, the more affordable option is at French Connection or Morgan, where a chocolate brown or beige cardi-coat will set you back around pounds 80.

This is comfort dressing at its most stylish. And, best of all, after the party season is over, all you need to do is loosen the belt a little to allow for any New Year expansion around the waistline, and curl up in your ankle-length woolly until you have recoveredn

Above: Cream chunky rib belted cardigan, pounds 80, from French Connection, 249 Regent Street, W1 and branches nationwide (enquiries, 0171-580 2507); black glitter top, pounds 39.99, from Next, 189 Oxford Street, W1 and branches nationwide

Chocolate brown long belted cardigan, pounds 79.99, by Morgan, 63 Kensington High Street, W8 and branches nationwide (enquiries, 0171-436 5255); peach glitter slip, pounds 351, by Clements Ribeiro, available from Liberty, Regent Street, W1; Tokio, 309 Brompton Road, SW3 and Pollyanna, 16 Market Hill, Barnsley, Yorkshire (enquiries, 0171-409 7719); contrast tights, pounds 5.99, by Jonathan Aston, available from department stores nationwide (enquiries, 0116-286 2388); green glass necklace, pounds 15, from a range at Camden Passage Antique Market, N1, Saturday mornings; black satin shoes, from a range at Giorgio Armani, 37 Sloane Street, SW1 (enquiries, 0171-235 6232)

Lime green belted cardigan, pounds 520, by Andrew GN, available from Harvey Nichols, Knightsbridge, SW1 (enquiries 0171-584 0011); shocking pink silk and chocolate lace slip, pounds 362, by Christian Lacroix Bazar, 29 Old Bond Street, W1 (enquiries, 0171-409 1994)

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