Pleat yourself

Fashion: THE STYLE POLICE; Don't be shy of this season's staple, writes James Sherwood. Knife or box, knee-length or maxi, there's a pleated skirt to suit everyone

As doyenne US Vogue editor Diana Vreeland once remarked, "Blue jeans are the greatest invention since the gondola." Of course, the divine Vreeland was prone to exaggeration. But it set Style Police thinking about the autumn/winter season. If you read last week's love letter to the new season, you may be forgiven for thinking we'd gone all DV on you. This season's soft modernity is apparently easy. However, the women who are going to wear these new proportions have filed a complaint to Style Police which must be addressed.

Imagine changing gear from fifth to first in a brand-new BMW. This season is fashion's answer to an emergency stop. After the initial jolt, we assess the damage. No, everything seems to be in working order except that knife- pleated skirt which swings from the hips and sits on or below the knee. This skirt shape is not as voluminous as the Fifties prom dress but it owes a lot to Fifties high-school campus chic; particularly when worn with the twin-set and Mary Janes. Crucially, this skirt reminds generations of British women of the grey flannel pleated skirts they wore at school. This institutional association is hard to suppress.

The second objection is how unflattering a pleated, on-the-knee skirt can be unless you have a stomach like a washboard and long legs. Last season the fashion press dissed pedal-pushers and it was the first damned thing you all dashed out to buy. This time, we're practically salivating over the pleat skirt and you aren't convinced. Style Police can't abide fashion that excludes anyone so let's see if we can make sense out of the knife-pleat skirt.

Correct, the full knife-pleat circular skirt is not going to be easy on hips wider than a razor's edge. However well the garment is cut, there will inevitably be a slight ballooning from the waistband. Now here's the clever part. That's why labels as diverse as Nicole Farhi, Marc Jacobs for Louis Vuitton and Warehouse have intentionally styled this skirt with a slouchy sweater which should sit over the hips. Problem solved. If you're looking for a full pleat that sits on the knee in charcoal grey then you should be looking at Monsoon (pounds 45.95), Next (pounds 34.99), French Connection (pounds 80) or Warehouse (pounds 35.99).

That full pleat doesn't necessarily have to sit on the knee. Mid-calf is going to give you more cover and, in Warehouse's case, ankle-length is positively purdah. Now the calf length is fine and dandy as long as you're happy with your calves. If not, run for the hills. You'll feel more confident in a pencil or a maxi. But Morgan do the most marvellous calf-length pleat at pounds 59.99. If you're feeling flush, then pop yourselves down to Nicole Farhi for her calf-length charcoal knife pleat (pounds 169). As with all these pieces, you must try every variation on before buying. Trust Style Police; there will be one cut that works for you.

There are variations on this theme designed to make it easier on y'all. The first is a skirt cut to pencil mid-thigh then pleated from that moment on. Iceberg, Calvin Klein and Donna Karan have all gone with this cut. This is essentially a homage to the Twenties pleat skirt which appears to drop the waist. Wallis has produced the drop-waist pleat from pounds 45, and a jolly good one at that.

The other is a box pleat. Here comes the science part. A box pleat doesn't sit in a row like the knife. It pleats inwardly so, stationary, you are wearing a pencil but with inverted pleats which will be revealed when you move. On the knee, the latter looks a bit schoolmarm-ish, especially in institutional grey.

You're going to need to get yourselves down to Burberrys if you really want to see the pleat skirt cut with near-scientific precision. They do all the above in the usual charcoal/black/gunmetal. They also do the box- pleat skirt in edible icy blue and cream satin (from pounds 175). If you dare, then how does a Whistles fire-engine red satin box-pleat skirt grab you (pounds 225)? We guarantee you won't be mistaken for a history teacher.

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