Style police: Move over, Marilyn...

Slinky pencil skirts, cute stilettoes - the sex kitten is back, says James Sherwood

As the late, great Diana Vreeland used to say, "Now Hear This." High fashion has dictated that the mini-skirt, the "F*** me" stiletto heels and the boxy, shoulder-padded jacket are the key pieces for Autumn/Winter 97. Having neatly dealt with each of these issues months ago, the Style Police jury is ready to give you the real people's verdict on the clothes we will be wearing this season.

Let's start by dropping that A-line mini to the knee and tightening it to a sexy, straight pencil skirt. Next, take a hacksaw to those heels. About two or three inches should do it. Now there's enough height to walk with a wiggle without risking compound fractures. Those shoulder pads have to go. Why not ditch the jacket altogether and replace it with a chic little cardigan which is more Grace Kelly in High Society than Home Counties housewife. What have we got? A look that is pure Fifties glam.

Patrick Cox has hit just the right balance between retro lines and modern fabrics with his stretch pencil skirt in wool with front and back slits (pounds 95) and fitted cashmere shirts (pounds 160). The shoes are pure Fifties starlet: sex-kitten, peep-toe slingbacks in mink lace (pounds 170) and red or black satin sandals with 9cm heels.

"You tend to see a hybrid of the designer collections and what fashionable women finally decide to wear," says Max Karie, owner of hip boutique Shop in London's Soho. "This season we are inspired by that Marilyn-at-the- Actors'-Studio, Fifties look. It is that casual, sexy combination of tapestry Capri pants and shantung, three-quarter-length Thai silk shirts. It is all very Kay Kendall or Lana Turner sweater-girl."

The high-street shops are astute editors of high-fashion inspiration. They've already made most of the amendments real women require. They know that minis won't knock us dead when they haven't really gone out yet, that nobody can walk in 6in stilettoes and we haven't forgotten the Eighties first time round.

Kookai's key piece this season is a black, wool, jersey pencil skirt with a mid-thigh side-split (pounds 39.99) - for those Ava Gardner Barefoot Contessa moments. If you're feeling rather Marilyn Monroe in Bus Stop, Miss Selfridge does a neat, matt, PVC pencil skirt for pounds 30, to be worn with 3in black stiletto pumps. Jigsaw does a powder-blue alpaca cardigan at pounds 65 that is pure, on-set Audrey Hepburn.

Fashion being what it is, autumn is already in full swing in the shops. So why not start now? Dress your slinky skirt down for the warm weather with a V-neck T-shirt and flip-flops for an even more casual look. All you need is a VCR, a high street near you and the entire 20th Century Fox back catalogue.

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