Sheer is 'in' - but what on earth do you wear underneath? Hester Lacey reveals all
Sheer is here, oh dear, oh dear. This summer's look is sheerest drifts of chiffon, sheer knitted dresses, sheer slips - all delightfully diaphanous. But! in the versions shown on the catwalks, these garments are also totally transparent, hence sheer hell for anyone who doesn't have a supermodel figure. Some of the models paraded out with their modesty preserved only by waist-high big knickers, clearly visible under the gossamer. Big knickers, suddenly a huge talking point, caused a sensation in the fashion shows; venture to the office in them, under a cobweb of a dress, or perhaps go out to do a little shopping, and you too will cause something of a sensation, though most likely of a rather different kind. Normal people require something a little more substantial between their bodies and the elements.

Some of these creations will be sold complete with toning silk slips to wear underneath; but even if not, don't panic, says Elizabeth Walker, executive fashion editor at Marie Claire magazine. Manufacturers and retailers are rising to the challenge; though you may have to shop a little far afield, at least initially. "Hidden in the depths of Prada in Milan they sell little natural-coloured underwear-slip things - they make another sheer layer, but they stop the dresses from being revealing, except in outline," she says. "And some of the big American stores are already hiring in seamstresses to sew linings in to the sheerest garments."

Closer to home, this month's Vogue reassuringly explains that Selfridges has sent all its buyers on a training course on dealing with transparent garments. Vogue recommends seeking out a knee-length slip with built-in bra, to avoid an unsightly multiplication of shoulder-straps. John Lewis suggests Warners Nearly Nude Bodyliner, pounds 20, which comes in "toffee and beige shades"; and Marks & Spencer has a full range of flesh-coloured slips, bras and big knickers, including the essential slip/bra hybrid.

But the trouble with all these disguising undies is that they are the colour of Elastoplast and about as alluring. "This slightly Fifties look is very much designed not to be seen," says Marie Claire's Elizabeth Walker. "But there are also bright colours that have layering potential. I was longing for a lime-green satin shift from La Perla, which sounds very over-the-top but would look wonderful under a sheer green-and-floral dress. The look is less easy to achieve than one that's minimal, it's a fashion minefield, but that's part of the fun."