Off the peg Cast off that overcoat, it's time to buy a swimsuit, says Melanie Rickey

here is nothing in life quite as decadent as a winter holiday in the sun. Imagine, departing from Heathrow swathed in layers of woolly things - polo-neck, socks, cashmere scarf, leather gloves, felted coat, and Shop's new sexy thermal underwear, `Shopgirl' - and then nine hours later emerging from the aeroplane into 90C heat.

A clothing change mid-flight provides the initial fun. Off come the layers, peeled away from sun-starved skin, and out comes a pair of white cotton Victorian knickerbockers, a pair of wafer-thin strappy sandals, a bright pink vest and a straw stetson. Jealous?

That was me last month emerging into the Caribbean sun. In fact, I was more excited about changing on the aeroplane than anything else while still on British soil because I couldn't imagine tropical heat while experiencing minus five with a wind-chill factor. I was glad I had managed to pack well.

Rifling at the back of the wardrobe for stored summer clothes turned up a sarong, white shirts, linen trousers, and colourful lightweight dresses. But how would I find a bikini, and a few new fashionable summer specials, in December? Actually, finding a bikini was easier than in June.

Suddenly those two words "Cruise Collection" stopped meaning dodgy bright leggings, gaudy floral flip-flops, wide sun hats and tote bags, and became the byword for fashion-forward finds.

Americans love their "resort lines", but until now, to Brits at least, they had seemed the reserve of wealthy socialites with a holiday home on St Barts. This is not so, and the British are catching on to the "Cruise" vibe. House of Fraser store Dickins & Jones in London was positively buzzing with customers buying swimwear, sarongs, and more practical summer gear last week. Further research revealed Chanel, Galliano, Armani, Lacroix, Calvin Klein, Donna Karan, Ralph Lauren, even Jean Paul Gaultier provide summer holiday clothes in the winter.

My biggest summer-in-winter find was Joelynian, the young fashion company run by husband-and-wife team Joely Davis and Nian Brindle. Their recent invention the "Trikini" a vest, bandeau or string bra and bikini bottom combo (pictured), stocked at Harvey Nichols in Leeds and London, was the essential holiday kit. Roll on summer!

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