Style Police: Give us a flash

Forties ruffles and bold florals not your style? Tough, says JAMES SHERWOOD, if you want to be anyone this summer, you're going to have to wear them

The Oscars, as usual, brought out all sorts of horror frocks (Celine Dion, one more monstrosity and you're banned). The outfit which made the most headlines was, of course, the pink Ralph Lauren dress which the saccharine Gwyneth Paltrow floated about in, looking like a particularly sticky piece of candyfloss. Only months ago, Style Police felt uneasy about Ms Paltrow's look; blonde, bland and lachrymose is not where women should be heading.

Sometimes Style Police thinks we need a divining stick to locate the energy underlining the season. But we don't need to call Eileen Drury because the message is emerging loud, clear and sassy. We're getting a distinct feeling for, not prettiness, but allure. It's the kind of message daring you to exchange the trainer for strappy kitten heels. It's telling us the therapeutic benefits of sewing on a sequin and putting on a bit of slap.

Cate Blanchett got it right at the Oscars. Her bare-back, black, Galliano dress embroidered with honeysuckle and hummingbirds made her look like an elegant, sexily-tattooed lady. Elle fashion editor Claudia Navone nailed it in the April issue. Her Forties, Harlem-inspired, All That Jazz shoot, with divine, black divas vamping it up in floral, fringed and searing- yellow ruffled tea gowns, made sense. On Gwyneth, John Rocha's see-through silk, georgette slip dress would look as bland as a nun's habit. On a black beauty, wearing it with a rakishly-angled trilby, the frock rocks.

The final piece of the jigsaw fell into place when US Vogue's Kristina Zimbalist found "the meaning of millennial pretty" in the March issue. The future is New York label Tuleh. Tuleh's philosophy is "Take a chance. Have a laugh. Show up in a party dress. It's a party". Tuleh co-designer Josh Patner rightly says, "Women are realising that the whole drill about convenient wardrobes and day-to-evening is so dreary. We're presenting the antidote to clinical fashion". US Vogue pushed the trend by linking Tuleh with Pleasantville's Fifties retro. Wrong. Though Tuleh occasionally slides into the prissy prom dress that put Isaac Mizrahi out of business, the basic message is: getting sassy for spring makes sense.

How to wear it

When Marilyn Monroe's housekeeper, Eunice Murray, saw the skin-tight, see-through dress Jean Louis had made for Monroe the night she sang "Happy Birthday Mr President" to JFK, she freaked. Marilyn's reply is a message to you all: "Be brave, Mrs Murray. Be brave". We've been pussyfooting around colour for too long. It's time to look at searing hot colour: big blues, acid yellow, a cute floral. Sassy fashion demands a bit of detail - if there's a ruffle on a sleeve or hem all the better. Clash accessories with gay abandon; bugger colour councillors and experiment. Don't believe the nonsense you'll hear about the British complexion not working with hot colours. There's more to life than a navy trouser suit.

Where to buy it

Style Police is particularly taken by Karen Millen's hot pink crochet dress with electric blue lace trim (pounds 89.95). That pounds 250, yellow, John Rocha georgette is the dress dreams are made of. It's very sheer, but Rocha always makes a modest slip for those who don't quite dare to bare. It always makes Style Police nervous when a magazine credit says "From a selection" as is the case with Copperwheat Blundell's yolk-yellow, silk dress with extravagant neck ruffle. But nobody does Forties chiffon gowns better than Forties designers. There are vintage stores in every major UK city but Style Police favours London's Steinberg & Tolkien; all the designers pillage its rails for inspiration as S&T has the richest seam of Forties classics.


Copperwheat Blundell, at Liberty: 0171 734 1234.

John Rocha: 0171 838 0017.

Karen Millen: 01622 664032.

Steinberg & Tolkien: 0171 376 3660.

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