The Style Police: Loved it, loved it not

1998 has been a rollercoaster of fashion triumphs and sartorial disasters. Sit back and enjoy the ride, says James Sherwood

As Style Police holds a candlelit vigil for the January sales, our thoughts turn to the way we wore in 1998. Now, you all know the Style Police mission statement: identify what we are told to wear, examine it and then pass sentence. Far be it from us to perform an autopsy on the year past, but don't you agree fashion is basically about what one chooses to wear?

'Tis the season to assess the trends we picked up, the stories we ignored, the pieces we took to our hearts and the looks we won't let go in 1999. So kick off your kitten heels, pour yourselves a jug of gin and enjoy the highs and lows of a vintage year.

1998 was great because trends came from every direction - catwalk, retro, street style, Spice Girl - but you managed to filter-out the no-nos from the Bohos brilliantly. So, from the top everyone, let's start with spring/summer. Pedal pushers. You loved them. We loved them. Group hug.

The pedal pusher shape was part of a very defined Fifties revival which included the twin-set, the Capri pant, the kitten heel and the knife-pleated prom skirt. British street style crossed the Doris Day story with Cerys from Catatonia and worked it: floral print headscarf, pedal pushers, a padded zip front tank and a Maharishi hip holster bag. Love it.

Style Police loves nothing more than a street trend that surprises designers. Is there anything more fabulous than a Liberty print headscarf tied casually at the nape? Not in 1998 there wasn't. Another street trend we adored was the hip holster bag slung across the body and resting on the hip. Maharishi did them first and did them best in nylon camouflage fabric. Then Prada did them in black nylon and the crowd went completely wild.

Tracing a trend always makes Style Police smile. Way back in spring '98, we wrote a love letter to a young Cuban-American designer Narciso Rodriguez. He spattered beads all over eau-de-nil chiffon pencil skirts and backed them in finest powder pink cashmere. His colours were edible pastel, his line was simple and he inspired the avalanche of beaded cardigans on the British high street this year.

Then there was little Matthew Williamson's uber-directional collection of pretty hot pink and electric blue slip dress and crop cardie. Cute as buttons. Both Narciso and Matthew showed us the way we will wear in spring '99. The hands-down, no competition winner this season was the sleek, sleeveless, knee-length slip dress. Failure is not an option in this frock - it's back to basics, any colour, slip-it-on-with-a-pair-of- wedgies fashion, Nirvana.

We don't want to jump the gun here but the coming spring will feel like deja vu. Pink was the colour for spring/summer '98 and it is having a second coming 12 months later. Looking back, Style Police fell in love again with Tom Ford and Gucci. If there is one piece that says spring/summer '98, it was Gucci's icy pink satin pencil skirt. Tom sensibly balanced it with black to break us in gently and shot the satin with gunmetal grey to take the pretty out of his pink. In a case of delayed reaction, the world and its wife has copied Gucci a year down the line.

Autumn/winter '98 was, as we recall, a fashion emergency stop. Gucci apart, catwalk fashion was getting too cute and girly. Autumn/winter was the strongest, most user-friendly season of the decade. If even trollop of the year Geri Halliwell saw the light, then fashion had to be doing something right. Once again, the aesthetic came from America. But this time we were talking pretty grown-up rather than Doris Day on mescaline. Naturally, "directional" (not) titles like the Daily Mail missed the point and called the season's slouch pant, embraceable sweater and maxi skirt frumpy. Back, Satan.

Autumn/winter hit the ground running with the twin-sets we already adored, with superluxe cashmeres and with simplicity. The revival of great British brands like The Scotch House and Burberry hooked into our collective desire for classic line and luxe fabrics. The palette was ready and wearable: black, grey and red. The pencil skirt survived purely because it is the people's choice skirt length. The kitten heel didn't go away despite fashion editors telling you it was a cardinal sin to wear heels with the new maxi skirt. We thought the maxi would work in bias cut jersey with a side split but that was wishful thinking. The high street was clearly put-off by the Barbara Woodhouse heavy tweed aberrations on the catwalk. But, just like the slouch pant, give it a year and maybe the maxi will enjoy a delayed reaction success.

After a four round punch-up between the tailored jacket and the cardigan, autumn/winter finally saw the cardie knock the stuffing out of the few remaining jackets on the catwalk. Style Police started the campaign to ban the bomber jacket when the zip front was vaunted as the replacement for a tailored jacket. We didn't have to panic because designers - inspired by genetic engineering - crossed the jacket with the cardie and made the perfect hybrid: the zip-front tailored jacket, the hang-loose jacket and pant suit and the Edwardian-cut, single-breasted jacket in black leather. This coat, in both black leather and techno nylon, is the way we wore in 1998.

A late starter for autumn/winter was what has been described as Boho, folksy, hippie chick, ethnic, gypsy chic. We're talking Tibetan winter woolies, knitted pointy pom-pom hats, crochet bell-shaped skirts and plenty of paisley. Raping the hippie trail cultures for right-on inspiration may be your idea of cool but Style Police was not convinced. Use ethnic dressing with the same discretion as you would with ethnic cuisine. Haute Hippie is fashion's answer to Paprika. A little dash of exotica refreshes the palette. A bucket-full of it leads to casualty. Beware knitted skull caps.

Our coveted Christmas number one spots go to the blood red cashmere tank top, the great grey sweater, the big fat slouchy pant, the black leather midi coat and the grey flannel shoe. The losers were the tweed maxi, the knife-pleated skirt that made anyone with hips look like a toilet dolly and the Mary Jane shoe (in grey flannel or otherwise). The designers who deserve a big kiss under the mistletoe are all-Americans Marc Jacobs, Michael Kors, Mark Eisen and Narciso Rodriguez. Guys, Style Police toasts you in absinthe on a fabulous year.

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