First shots were fired by the image consultants House of Colour, who attacked the fashion industry for 'dictating' a look that fills shops full of a narrow range of clothes in shapes and colours that do nothing for 80 per cent of British women.
A spokeswoman for Vivienne Westwood - winner of British Fashion Designer of the Year awards in 1990 and 1991 - dismissed this. She said that Ms Westwood's couture designs catered for the whole range of women. 'She's got long skirts, short skirts and those in between,' she said. 'And with introducing the bustle this year it means women can use their bodies how they want - you don't necessarily have to be rail thin.'
A spokeswoman for the high-street fashion chain Kookai said staff tried to be sensitive to customers' individual looks. 'We're quite sensible, we'll have at least three colours whereas the major designers might have only one,' she said.
The shops may be full of strappy dresses and beige linen, but on the streets of Covent Garden in London yesterday the people's choice was multi-coloured, denim and business suits.
Stephen Dove, a plasterer, summed up the mood: 'I'm a Levi's man. You can't go wrong with a pair of jeans and a couple of nice tops. And a good jacket if it's cold.'
'I don't follow fashion slavishly, I shop around,' said Justin Bradley, a photographer, dressed in alternative business wear - brown trousers, white shirt and a striped waistcoat from Bournemouth.
The idea of shop assistants trained in colour analysis working out which colours customers should wear, depending on skin, hair and eye tones - as image consultants do - horrified most people.
'Oh, it would really get on my nerves,' said Michael Barrett, a bank assistant sporting suit trousers with Midland Bank tie, and bright red casual jacket from Boxfresh in Covent Garden.
Judy Lee, who works for a property consultants and had opted for a flowery dress, said: 'It's so rare assistants speak to you. I would prefer it if they would give you some physical help instead, carrying things around the shop.'
'I don't need some man telling me what I can wear,' added Warren Penford, a disc jockey. 'I'm not such a sad bastard.' He wore jeans and went topless in the heat.
The House of Colour wants customers to boycott shops and designers who do not offer a wide range of styles.
'Each season we are presented with a fashion which will only truly suit 20 per cent of the female population at any given time,' Lynn Elvy, the consultancy's training director, said.
'They match black with sunshine yellow, for example. They don't belong in the same spectrum and, as nature tells us, are reserved for aggressive animals like wasps, tigers and traffic wardens.'
An image consultant, Mary Spillane, said she was amazed by summer fashion: 'The British are unleashed as madmen and madwomen when summer comes along with bigger fashions and clearer colours,' she said.
She added: 'If this is a lousy season for you, sit it out. Forget buying clothes - save up and go on holiday instead.'