For all its vulgarity, the Eighties were strong on tailoring. And that's the key to the autumn, says JAMES SHERWOOD - just be subtle this time
While still in the trenches at the catwalk shows, Style Police had a horrible feeling fashion was getting too free and easy. Designers seemed to be telling us we could be peasant girls, Barbarella extras or animal-print Amazons. No direction. No "this is how it is". We envisaged you standing before your wardrobes like a Stars in their Eyes contestant saying, "Today, Matthew, I'm going to be Eighties Madonna, but then I might try Annie Hall." It simply won't do unless you've got a split personality and a fancy dress fixation.

We've all got choices to make this season and Style Police is going to go out on a limb to help you. Thierry Mugler was always identified as the ultimate Eighties designer. His suits are sharper than a wasp's sting. He practically invented vampish cinch waists, 90-degree-angle shoulder pads, tight skirts and f--- me heels. This season Thierry's ready-to-wear rides again. Are you really going to be sad to see the back of floaty and floral chiffon gypsy style? Be honest. How many women "of a certain age" - or 30 plus VAT as one of my girlfriends puts it - can genuinely say they feel comfortable with the cardi and shift dress aesthetic?

Don't get us wrong. It is delightful to see a venerable designer like Ungaro resurrect his signature floral chiffon proper-little-madame dresses. But nothing can compare with seeing grown-up women gasp with pleasure as Thierry Mugler takes them back to sexy, slightly S&M strict suiting. Of course Mugler's moved it forward from his Eighties glory days. This season his suiting is powder pink as well as black. Touches of decoration such as beaded lapels and pockets nod to prettiness without overdoing the saccharine.

"I think we've gone to an extreme of frivolity with pretty chiffon and cute cardigan dressing," says Elle's Jenny Dyson. "Maybe there is a yearning again for the severity of a tailored pant suit or a wasp-waist jacket to offset unconstructed separates. I can feel a Krystle Carrington moment coming on." Dyson may be surrounded by women still seduced by the rustic peasant girl but she knows, we know and Thierry Mugler knows that tailoring is, at last, coming in from the cold.

How to wear it

The world may not yet be ready for full-on power dressing, particularly the mini-skirt suit. You either look for the real Marlene Dietrich palazzo- pant suit or you really get ahead of the game and start looking for the 1947 Dior New Look-style circle-cut skirt. Conceptual Japanese designer Junya Watanabe's entire autumn/winter 1999/2000 collection was a clever exercise in modernising the New Look. Bearing in mind Junya's usually two seasons ahead of the mainstream, maybe you should stick to the pant suit and wait a year to see if circle-cut skirts are going to happen.

"It is a huge leap of faith from chiffons to tailoring," says Dyson. "You have to segue into tailoring by mixing the tailored jacket with the softest cashmere separates. What I am seeing is the tailored jacket worn with Capri pants or drainpipe jeans and high stillies. But I'm afraid you have to go expensive with tailoring. It is my one golden rule."

Where to buy it

Thierry Mugler was never, ever cheap. So it comes as little surprise that his ready-to-wear suits start at pounds 1,200. Bear in mind these pieces are cut with the ingenuity of a master tailor. The cut of a Mugler suit actually alters the body shape. It gives the illusion of a waist, moulds the shoulders and accentuates the breast. Mugler's pinks this season are delectable. But for pounds 1,200, buy black. Black is looking so good again despite all those manure browns, murky greens and hot oranges fashion editors call - get this - flattering. There is always Thierry's diffusion line, Mugler, with suiting starting at pounds 600 if you need to knock a nought off the Amex bill.

Jenny Dyson is quite right about cheap suiting. It doesn't work. But you remember Style Police telling you about high street stores' infusion lines? Take a butchers at W.woman from the Wallis design stable. It's a little more expensive and a lot more lux. Find its Prince of Wales check trouser suit with the dusty pink silk lining. It is pounds 160 and the quality is beyond high street. The pants are palazzo and the jacket is short and sharp. This is your winter fix of tailoring. Then turn to its cashmere tunics and wide-cut pants. Correct, they are only pounds 50 a throw. And finally, enjoy the return of tailoring this season. Style Police feels like Cilla reuniting two long lost friends.

Address book

Thierry Mugler (tel: 0171 629 7020).

W.woman at Wallis (tel: 0181 910 1333).