REAL SHOPPING: STYLE POLICE - DAMSEL IN DISTRESSED

Time to dig out that scruffy denim jacket again, says JAMES SHERWOOD - it's going be a vintage summer

Sometimes you get the feeling fashion is only for the kind of women who ovulate Faberge eggs. When a pair of faded and ripped jeans costs pounds 1,910 at Gucci, even Style Police starts to come over all Communist. It's verging on immoral to spend that kind of cash on cotton - most of us don't even have an annual holiday as expensive. Trying to compete with fashion's cash cows is like asking Prince Nazeem if he wants to make something of it.

Denim's definitely had a facelift this season. When Chanel introduces a cropped denim jacket into its spring/summer '99 collection, it only means one thing: the Phantom Menace of high fashion is pick-pocketing from the street once again. Street style strikes back by resurrecting a vintage piece of denim and makes it the people's cool choice.

The catwalk is peddling pristine, deep-dye indigo denim for spring. Designers from Daryl K to YSL are reinventing the denim jacket with Velcro panels and - brace yourself - a zip instead of the usual buttons. If it's distressed denim like Gucci's, then you've got to bead it, feather it or spatter it with sequins. Platinum Amex designer denim exists only in the virtual reality world of glossy mags.

The street, meanwhile, has chosen the classic faded Wrangler crop denim jacket. That jacket is living it loud this season and it's looking cool as a frozen Vodkatini. We've got Madonna "our lady of immaculate timing" to thank, for wearing a knackered denim crop while shaking her booty in the Ray of Light video. Her scuffed-up Levi's jacket took the edge of prettiness off her sequin Chloe hipsters. It taught us how to tone down.

The crop jacket is totally on message with proportion this season. It roughs up the chiffon Forties frocks. It has that Fifties preppy feeling when worn with pedals. It works with the rustic Liberty print smocks and balances all that neon. In short, the faded denim crop-cut jacket is the most welcome return since Prohibition was repealed.

How to wear it

You know you are on to a genuine street-style quake when you see scads of people put it together identically. For the seriously loaded, a fashion doppelganger would be as welcome a sight as Banquo's ghost. But on the street, you give your fashion twin the up-down glance and tacitly nod. Style Police did a double take when we saw the faded Wrangler jacket, black satin-finish stretch jeans, a white T, open-toe black sandals and a hip holster bag four times in one day. It felt like marking an entire class of A-grade students. That's the classic summer street uniform.

How do you wear the crop denim jacket with a little more attitude? However you like with whatever you like, as long as it says spring '99. Don't forget the slightly slutty rock chick connotations of faded, rip-torn denim. If you can imagine yourself wiggling your ass to Heart of Glass in the outfit, then you've got the idea. But never wear the denim jacket with denim jeans unless your name is Michelle Fowler.

Where to buy it

That's the beauty of a street trend. You don't really have to buy it at all. Everyone who was a teenager circa Blondie has a crop denim jacket in the wardrobe.

If you're too young to remember Debbie Harry the first time round, then you'd better get yourself down the market and find a vintage Wrangler or Levi's which has seen better days. If it's already ripped, that's cool. If it isn't, don't try and distress it. We'll all know it's a DIY job.

Some people just don't relate to vintage clothing. Style Police would usually say, "Get over it" if there weren't so many fab takes on the denim crop on the high street. Designer-distressed denim is at its best sandblasted by Jigsaw (pounds 75). Ready-made fade is a look at French Connection (pounds 65). Gap will give you a really girly, curvy fit for pounds 34. So will APC for pounds 75. In case we didn't mention it, a denim crop jacket has to hug your figure like George Clooney in your wildest dreams. Finally, if Style Police finds you've spent more than two figures on a denim crop-cut jacket, we'll personally bead and feather you and brand you with a double C for Cash Cow.

Address book

APC: 0171 229 4933.

French Connection: 0171 399 7200.

Gap: 0800 427789.

Jigsaw: 0171 499 2521.

Levi's: 01604 581501.

Wrangler: 0171 836 6666.

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