It takes finesse to carry off the season's pant suits
Joan Collins must be toasting the fashion industry with Krug. Alexis Carrington shoulder pads, stillies and mini-skirt suits are back on the style agenda after five years of soft, girlie separates. The new designer jackets and heels scream: "Go to hell, Blake! Colby Co is mine, all mine!" But, sadly, life is not a mini series. The classic greypant suit - pinstrped or plain - is the people's choice for Winter '97.

Pant suits may be a classic, but how does a Nineties woman avoid looking like a suburban bank manageress, an airline stewardess or, heaven forbid, a man? "I think we are over the whole gender bending debate," says fashion journalist Harriet Quick. "Nobody wants to look like Annie Lennox any more. The baggy men's style suit in a soft wool, by designers like Ann Demeulemeester or Helmut Lang, can look extremely feminine with a reasonable 3in heel. Heels change the entire body shape. Soften the suit with a vintage silk camisole or little, second-hand, beaded top. Women have a choice now and they will not choose power dressing again."

The pant suit has been a corner-stone of a working woman's wardrobe since the Forties. But fabric technology has advanced sufficiently to make tailored trousers and jackets infinitely more sinuous than the stiff, angular, Dynasty silhouette. Silk or wool jerseys, mixed with a little viscose, give the most movement. With Quick's antique camisole, the suit has a life outside nine to five. But grey pinstripe by candlelight?

"You need to get away from that sombre, City feel and jazz up the suit with a scorching plum silk shirt. And grey pinstripe isn't the only option. There are some great navy two-pieces this season, too," says Mirror fashion director Ollie Picton-Jones. "I wouldn't go for `Scary Spike' heels but we're big girls now. We can walk in stillies."

Picton-Jones points women towards Donna Karan or Paul Smith, who are doing grey, wool, pinstripe, single-breasted jackets (pounds 504) and generously cut hipsters with turn-ups (pounds 205). "If you want to get the slouch look then buy the pants a size bigger than usual," says Picton-Jones.

Liberty's own label is a good bet for suits, because each piece is sold as a separate. Yes, they do grey. But Liberty also carries the same jackets, pants and skirts in black, navy and chocolate, 100 per cent wool. The skirts are pencil (pounds 95), the trousers high cigarette cut (pounds 139) and the jackets both single breasted and button through (pounds 235). So you can buy the pants a size larger, as Picton-Jones advises for "The Slouch". And if you're unsure about grey pinstripe next to your complexion? Simple. Don't buy it.