The big easy comes to town

For slouch potatoes, the bigger and baggier the better, says James Sherwood

THE SLOUCH sounds like the kind of camp, Fifties dance-craze John Waters sent up in Hairspray, an all-too-credible addition to the Twist, the Locomotion and the Sophisticated Boogie. And just like voracious teenyboppers, fashion followers have consumed the Skinny Fit, the Studio 54 and the Shoulder Pad Shuffle over the past season and are now eagerly awaiting the new groove for autumn. We predict that DJ Tom Ford on the Gucci label will go straight to the top of the Hip Parade with the Slouch.

Slouch-dressing relaxes the strict tailoring and tight fit of spring '97 suits. Taking the shoulders and hips as the balancing points of the new silhouette, Gucci hung loose Annie Hall pants from a hipster waist while draping cobweb-fine knitted tops from padded shoulders.

"These clothes are deceptive," says Gucci's Sarah Barber. "The tailoring is extremely precise while the trousers give the illusion of effortless comfort." The volume of fabric and technical skill crucial for slouch- dressing will be a hard act for the high street to follow. If the fabrics are any less delicate than Gucci's silk crepe knits, then the slouch will look like the crumple. As a guideline when buying slouch-wear, keep the Drape in mind and you will be on the right track. If you can bear to part with pounds 470, then Gucci's mohair pinstripe pants are the Rolls-Royce of slouch.

Americans are the kings of easy couture, but British designer Shirin Guild has been tapping into this mood for five years and outsells major international designers in Liberty, Pollyanna and Browns. Guild is not about fad dressing nor is she cheap. But her three-ply, Derby grey, cashmere sweaters (pounds 1,000) are investment pieces as well as Slouch classics. As press officer Virginia Orr points out, "Shirin designs loosely on a square structure which means her trousers and sweaters drape perfectly."

The slouch doesn't exaggerate large hips or ample behinds if cut correctly. But a little slouch goes a long, long way. Once you've found the right pants, don't twin them with a sweater the size of a football pitch. Go for a John Smedley, merino-wool T-shirt which skims the upper body. Balance slouch and fit rather than going for blanket coverage. Like the weather, colours are almost universally grey for autumn. If you don't want to look like a Tory politician then buy sweaters in ice- cream pastels. In moderation, pastels won't make you look like Zoe Ball. Trust me.

The last word on slouch has to go to an expert. Body alignment therapist Pat Norris warns: "Let the clothes slouch but don't follow suit. A perfectly aligned body will always make clothes hang in a more elegant manner. If you slouch as much as your pants, then you'll end up looking like the Hunchback of Notre Dame."

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