If she's got it, she won't flaunt it

All dressed up
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The Independent Online
Excess. Big hair, gilt belts, wide shoulders, red lipstick, blue mascara, gob-stopper earrings. Status dressing was the order of the day with designer or lookalike Chanel, Armani, and Versace. Women smelled of power and money whether they had any or not. The in-your-face smell of Opium was all pervasive.

In 1986, women either looked like they had just stepped off the set of Dynasty with armoured suits and spike-heeled shoes, or out of the Madonna fan club, with black lace ribbons in their punked-up hair, lace tights and a cropped top, baring their midriff. Or they would be out jogging in their pink and purple shell suits.

1996, and the shops, from The Gap to Jigsaw to Versace - perhaps once the most excessive label of them all - are full of pared-down suits with shoulders that neatly follow the line of your own, minimal fitted shirts, and basic utility shirt dresses. If you don't wear a jacket to work, it's not the end of the world; a cardigan will do instead. Excess is out. Clothes whisper rather than scream and shout.

The subtle scent of CK One splashed on from its clear, anonymous bottle, is in the air. Status dressing still exists. But in the mid-Nineties, the post-feminist wealthy power women don't need gilt encrusted armour to prove their strength. Instead, they opt for a low-key Prada uniform. Only those in the know can estimate the price of a stretch nylon suit at over pounds 800. Or the pounds 700 price tag on the simple black handbag hooked casually over her shoulder. The High Street can copy all it likes, but what matters is the detail - and above all, the cut of the cloth. The Prada club might be much more low-key but it is every bit as elitist as the Chanel club of a decade ago.

The Eighties supermodel had breasts, and features that looked as though they had been artificially inflated, while the mini-model of the mid- Nineties is flat-chested with natural hair and little make-up. She is as unassuming as the clothes.

In the years between the demise of pneumatic amazon and the advent of delicate waif, we have seen skirt hems move up and down to every conceivable length, from miniscule thigh-grazer to knee length, and down to the ankle; we have seen seams on the inside of clothes as well as on the outside, with the shredded deconstructivism of the early Nineties; we have seen exaggerated womanhood with Vivienne Westwood's bum cages and padded busts; and we have seen sportswear increase its stranglehold on the way we dress. Lycra has gone from being the Eighties miracle to an everyday ingredient at Marks & Spencer.

The law of designer labels is not what it was. While Madonna may have defined the Eighties for women, Oasis, the lads from Manchester with their shaggy haircuts and their sporty anoraks and trainers, have defined the mid-Nineties for men. The influence of the brothers Gallagher has been as strong on the way men dress now as the Armani suit used to be.

Ten years is not quite long enough for the trends of 1986 to be revived. But give it a few years and the comeback will be in full swing. Some of the best-sellers of 1986 are already nudging their way back into the designer collections. Karl Lagerfeld has reintroduced the legging at Chanel. And on the London catwalks earlier this month, Red or Dead brought back -- you guessed it - the shell suit, on sale from next spring.

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