Real shopping: Style police - Bless this dress

Thank God for the spring frock, favourite of women, shops - and fashion editors. JAMES SHERWOOD looks at this year's version of every year's staple
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Indy Lifestyle Online
As Style Police contemplates the economic climate in the wake of last week's Budget, we can't help but empathise with Gordon Brown. Apart from sipping mineral water in the front row, you'd have thought we had little in common with Gordon. But you'd be wrong.

The collections are our Budget. There are surprises (yellow and khaki as a fabulous colour combo) and disappointments (the turquoise punched leather at Prada). But as sure as tax increases on cigarettes and petrol, there will always be the great spring dress.

The great spring dress is the fashion editor's prayer answered. You don't need to explain it, justify it or make excuses for it. It is simply the first piece women want to wear in spring. By buying this little piece of heaven, you can ease into the season with very little effort and practically zero risk. Last year the sleeveless-on-the-knee shift dress was just so. This time around, designers have decided to move the shift dress forward.

The essential dress shape is a blank canvas which shows off both colour and fabric. Style Police has been known to diss Jil Sander for her reliance on ugly utility fabrics in the past but the Teutonic one knows how to cut a good frock. This season she's given it a little fluted sleeve and let the knee-length hem swing out in delicate lemon silk.

Donna Karan, too, gave us a great new shape with her pastel parachute silk balloon-skirted bustier dresses. Making the definitive frock is definitely a girl thing - because Nicole Farhi's lemon linen shift and Sonia Rykiel's floral chiffon tea gowns are both crying out to be bought this season too.

HOW TO WEAR IT

Do you need Style Police to tell you how to wear a dress? Undo the zip or the buttons, slip it over your head and you're out the door. Seriously, the dress is God's way of telling women that fashion isn't as scary as they are led to believe. There are, however, pointers that might help in making the dress work for you this season.

You've already got last season's shift. So you're going to want some- thing less severe. You can achieve this with a "now" colour like lemon, sand or baby blue. You can choose an evening fabric like a luxe silk viscose for daytime. You can look at a strappy simple neckline if it's balanced by a knee-length hem. However, you won't want all these in one dress because an embroidered, lacy, mint green, parachute silk dress with spaghetti straps isn't a look before 10pm.

WHERE TO BUY IT

If you've not been bashed by the Budget, then Style Police advises you to make a date with MaxMara to try the dress of dresses. It is a khaki apron dress with a fairly full, side-slit skirt (pounds 255). This piece is pure genius in its absolute simplicity.

The spring dress is fortunately a piece the High Street stores have no difficulty "interpreting" from the catwalk. No, you're certainly not going to get cutting like Jil Sander nor the fabric quality of Donna's parachute dresses. But every High Street store will definitely give you to-die-for choices because they know women want the spring dress and they can copy the basic changes to the shift.

Dressage by Paul Costelloe has made the new dress nice and easy in palest blue linen (pounds 229) as a flowing maxi tie waist tunic.

Press & Bastyan, meanwhile, has walked the tightrope between day and night with cream sequinned silk shift under a double layer of white organza (pounds 95). It's a nice way of dulling the disco dolly sequins while still suggesting a bit of glam.

Karen Millen can be relied on now, then and always to give the Great British High Street good frock. Her sky blue crochet shift dress with yellow floral trim (pounds 89.95) is on the Sonia Rykiel/Alexander McQueen vibe this season. Her knock-out liquid metallic skin-tight shift (pounds 110) is an utter killer,al though it is certainly best saved for nightfall.

ADDRESS BOOK

Dressage by Paul Costelloe: 0171 589 9484.

Karen Millen: 01622 664032.

MaxMara: 0171 287 3434.

Press & Bastyan: 01622 763211.

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