The new shape for shirts is plainly tailored. But the fabrics are a work of art.
Never before has the shirt been quite so sexy. Traditionally the garb of men, the tailored version is now a key item for women's wardrobes both for this summer and next winter. We are not talking the sort of big, baggy shirts that can hide a multitude of cooked breakfasts and cream cakes. The new shirt shape is body-skimming and lean. It is sometimes made in stretch fabrics that cling to the contours of the body; it can be made to look as boyish or as womanly as you feel (or as your cup size dictates).

The new shirt shape might be lean and minimal but the prints that adorn it are as bold and abstract as they come. Go into any shop on the high street and you will have problems focusing on the Op Art patterns and the clashing of abstract prints. If you have that fashion-weary feeling of deja-vu, you would be right. Prints like these are nothing new. Op Fashion has been around as long as Bridget Riley.

The Sixties saw an explosion of mind-bending patterns, which was spurred on when a New York clothing manufacturer, Larry Aldrich commissioned a range of fabrics inspired by his own extensive collection of Op Art paintings. The trend culminated in the ultimate merging of art and fashion at the private view in 1965 of an Op Art exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art in New York. There were as many optical illusions on the viewers' clothes as on the walls of the musuem. Time magazine reported, "many of the previewers seemed as keen as the artists on manipulating the wandering eye".

Op fashion was kept alive throughout the Sixties by designers like Mary Quant, and the late Ossie Clark. And every so often, as with all good fashion trends, it is revived. Mondrian prints crop up with the same frequency. Both Whistles and Oasis accredit their shirts, pictured here, as being inspired by the artist. Yves Saint Laurent's 1965 collection of colour block dresses has been revived, not least by YSL himself, at regular intervals ever since.

The prints that are filtering into the shops now are a synthesis of Op Art, Pop Art, abstract Seventies furnishing textiles and a bit of Pucci thrown in for good measure. The journey from catwalk, where the trend has been emerging for the past few seasons, to chain stores has been a swift and successful one. The Italian labels Versus and Prada have both featured quirky prints in their collections for this summer and this autumn/winter, while Gucci has stripped the clothes of pattern, but perfected the ultimate body-hugging shirt shape.

The shirts featured here range from an affordable pounds 29.99 by Oasis (incidentally the favourite choice, regardless of price, at the Independent's offices) to pounds 95 from Whistles. And as is now the norm in fashion, more money does not necessarily buy more luxurious fabrics. The shirt from Whistles is in prime 100 per cent polyester. A sharp, abstract print slim-line shirt offers the easiest way to make the transition from summer to autumn. And if you wear yours with the attitude of a Gucci model - unbuttoned to as far down the cleavage as you dare - nobody will dare guess you paid a fraction of the price.

Main picture: Mondrian print brown jersey shirt with orange and yellow squares, pounds 29.99, from Oasis, available from branches nationwide, call 0171-377 5335 for local stockists; beige PVC trousers, pounds 99, from Joseph, 26 Sloane Street, London SW1 and Hobo, 18 Abbeygate, Grimsby, Humberside

Top right: Green circle silk print shirt, pounds 60, by French Connection branches nationwide, inquiries 0171-580 2507; green trousers, pounds 75, by Biba at Spirit, Selfridges, Oxford Street, London W1

Right: Orange viscose square pattern shirt, pounds 65, from Jigsaw branches nationwide, call 0181-878 8443 for local stockists. Dark red trousers, pounds 34.99, by Oasis; belt, pounds 15, by Red or Dead, 1 Sloane Street, London SW1 and 43 St Stephen's Street, Birmingham

Far right: Rust, grey and brown polyester "Mondrian" shirt, pounds 95, by Whistles, 27 Sloane Square, London SW1 and 9 High Street, Oxford, call 0171-730 9818