Style police: When a woman hits her thirties, it may be time to ditch the Baby Spice look. But that doesn't mean she has to go into fashion purdah
HAVE YOU heard the one about Next being too fashionable for its own good? Well, my dears, the troubled chain store and mail order company has profits plummeting faster than a whore's drawers and chief executive David Jones thinks he knows why: Next's clothes, he believes, have just become too fashionable for its thirtysomething core customer. "We have too much fashion and not enough classics," he believes. And if you believe that, you'll believe that Robin Cook sang "I Feel Pretty" at Betty Boothroyd's Christmas party.

You can't help wondering what sort of women the chief exec has been mixing with. What sort of woman goes into fashion purdah when she hits her thirties? It is not coincidental that most fashion editors of British magazines won't see 30 again. They reflect the true consumers of high fashion and high street. This is the woman who can buy an Oasis lilac lacy on-the- knee skirt and wear it well with Prada flatties and an M&S twin set. Style needs a discerning eye: confidence to mix designer with high street and a sense of moderation. To say Next is out of touch is like saying Sylvia Plath had her off days.

So where do the thirties shop? "The goal posts have moved," says Woman's Journal fashion editor Jenny Swire. "Women take better care of their bodies in the 1990s. Your body, not your age, dictates what you can and can't wear. I will shop anywhere from Agnes B to French Connection. My staple diet this season is cardies like Jigsaw's pretty lilac beaded crop. You can be fashionable without being trendy."

Of course, no woman over 13 wants to wear pussy pelmet skirts and crop T-shirts that show off too much flesh. You get to that certain age when the belly button as erogenous zone is no longer an option. It's a very short step from Baby Spice to Baby Jane Hudson. But the beauty of British high street shops is the way each has carved a unique niche in a crowded market.

Top Shop can do teenybop trend pieces while also giving big sister good looks like the double georgette embroidered shift. Skip a generation and look at French Connection, Warehouse, Jigsaw and Karen Millen. These guys understand thirties. They have filtered the throwaway trends from the catwalk and presented funky, fashionable collections, bang on the button every season.

The last eccentric fashion editor, Diana Vreeland, was one who understood the real allure of fashion: "Give 'em what they never knew they wanted," she said. We all know that women of any age need what is loosely termed "classics". They are the foundations of a wardrobe. But it's that bit of pzazz that women ask of fashion. Three months ago, did you know you had to have a pair of kitten-heel mules? Had you any idea you'd be drooling over ice-cream pink Gucci shirts? Of course you didn't. Thank god for Gucci, Narciso Rodriguez, Daryl K and Givenchy for the inspiration. Bless the retailers who have one eye on fashion and the other on classics, like Marks & Spencer, Pied a Terre, Agnes B, Jigsaw and Karen Millen. And those like Top Shop, Dorothy Perkins and Kookai, who spice up our lives. Now, who have I missed out? No, it's gone.