Style Police: Gauze and effect

In the rush for sun, beware the temptation to bare too much. Chiffon could be the answer, says JAMES SHERWOOD
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Indy Lifestyle Online
Style Police is trying desperately to give up our eternal accessory, the cigarette. Ciggies are like that favourite cashmere sweater that's older than most of the people you date. For the non-smokers out there, imagine being forced to shred your favourite pashmina or put down a household pet and you will come close to the sense of loss. As you can imagine, we are in no mood to pull our punches this week. So don't expect sympathy.

It's thrilling to see the sun finally shine over Britain. It's less thrilling to see acres of undressed flesh lumbering down the high street. Who's been buying their pedal pushers a size too small? Too many of you. Tight pedals we can forgive. Just. But put them with a shoestring-strap vest top and flip-flops and we're talking Miss Pat Pong in a Bangkok bordello. It's not a look.

There's way too much strapless, backless and bra-less this year. Sure, you can cover up with a cardi but beaded cardies are a bit Tara Tamara. When it's too darn hot, the temptation is naturally to wear as little as possible. Yes, we've all seen the strapless boob tube favoured by Gwyneth Paltrow and Nicole Kidman. If you've got tits that defy gravity, then maybe you could wear it well. But most girls would rightly run screaming from the breast bandage.

It took a maestro like Giorgio Armani to solve the undressed dressing equation. Armani's spring/summer '99 collection was an exercise in smoke and mirrors. A backless beaded dress was overlaid with the subtlest layer of nude chiffon. Sheer whispery purple chiffon pants gave the illusion of transparency when in reality you see nothing but the shadow of a leg. It's all about wafer-thin layers. Veil the flesh with translucent fabrics. Clever Signor Armani understands what queen of the striptease Gypsy Rose Lee knew all along: "Make them beg for more - and then don't give it to them."

How to wear it

The idea is not to look like a bride of Islam and cover yourself from neck to ankle. There's nothing wrong with a flash of summer flesh, but for God's sake don't let it all hang out. Think about Madonna circa Like A Virgin, then tone it down a notch or two. If you're wearing a tight bandeau top, veil it with the simplest sheer tulle T-shirt. If you're wearing a neon lacy bra, cover it up with a chiffon shirt.

If you're contemplating a sheer chiffon skirt with a pretty fluted hem, make sure it's a double layer of chiffon. The chiffon flippy little skirt works best as a colour clash: hot pink over aquamarine. If you're wearing strapless for night, veil with the most extravagant piece of chiffon you can find. Drape yourself like Isadora Duncan and strike a pose. Perfection.

Where to buy it

Style Police has been bitching about Gucci's psychedelic prints. Well, we're loving the self-same print in sheer tulle as a bra and knickers set (pounds 150). The bra looks divine peeping out of Morgan's hot pink shirt (pounds 39.99). Warehouse has made a delectable palest lemon chiffon double- layer knee-length skirt (pounds 35) and Whistles has the most mouthwatering two-tone double-layer pink chiffon ankle length (pounds 165). The definitive two-layer shift dress, in pink organza and mesh, is by Oasis for pounds 54.99. We particularly love Oasis's take on the tropical print in their gauze print double-layer skirt with gorgeous fluted hem for pounds 34.

The undisputed master of veiling this season - Signor Armani aside - is Jasper Conran. Conran's ice-cream pastel-pink satin and tulle dresses give the illusion of strapless but subtly veil the shoulders. Conran is one of those designers who's been as hot as Gucci's Tom Ford but now avoids the fashion circus and makes beautiful clothes. He is still a maestro who reads the season as well as a Galliano. His collection can stand up to designers who would sell their grandmothers for a page in a magazine. See for yourselves before spring/summer Conran sells out.

Address book

Giorgio Armani: 0171 235 6232.

Gucci: 0171 629 2716.

Jasper Conran at Selfridges: 0171 629 1234.

Morgan: 0171 499 4101.

Oasis: 0171 452 1000.

Warehouse: 0171 278 3491.

Whistles: 0171 487 4484.