Harriet Walker: Can you combine comfort with cool?

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The Independent Online

Another season of shows passed, all with more worrying new trends to analyse than a government-official's notebook, and yet another shopping list to draw up. I've made a pact with myself only to buy things I don't need from now on – and that's not me being all cool and off-the-wall, it's purely pragmatic.

You see, what I really need is a new dressing gown. My current model – I think it's Marks & Spencer autumn/ winter 2003 – is sky-blue with hot-chocolate smears, tea-bag splash marks, dirty, grey cuffs and – inexplicably for so determinedly indoor a garment – a hood. It's also now about three sizes too small, so, when stretched across my girth and tied, it gives me the aspect of a barrel or medieval friar.

I also need some new slippers. I already have some blue booties, with soles as slippery as a freshly caught tuna, which cause me Charlie Chaplin pratfalls on our non-friction, bourgeois seagrass-carpeted stairs at home. I have to keep them in the cupboard with the boiler when I'm not wearing them, because their smell is so awful and all-pervasive.

But the reason I haven't replaced any of these hallowed and harrowed items is as watertight as the many, many, multifarious and complex reasons that I regularly come up with to justify buying other new clothes that I really don't need. It is this: simply, if I buy a new dressing gown or some comfy slippers, I might never get dressed or leave my house again. I once had some cashmere bed socks that I had to throw away, because they made getting out of bed so traumatic. Wearing them was a near-religious experience.

It's hard enough parting ways with my dressing gown in the morning, crunchy and snug as it is, without investing in a new super-soft acrylic number that fits me perfectly and feels like wearing a baby cloud. It's hard enough jamming my feet into shoes, boots, sometimes even heels, without having a pair of luxury ermine-lined Snugg boots staring balefully at me from the corner of the room.

There's simply no way to combine comfort with cool – that's the eternal problem. My loungewear pin-up has for some time been Sandra Bullock, who in the film Crash effortlessly showcases a whole range of chic-looking tracksuits. But if you don't have the rippling Hollywood haunches to go beneath them, it's all too easy to look more Crouch End than high-end.

"All you need to do," my boyfriend explained slowly, "is find some comfortable clothes that you can wear at home and down the pub." Simply impossible, I argued. He proved his point by buying a capacious hoodie from a trendy shop. After two weeks or more of wearing it morning and night, he stopped dead in his tracks next to the mirror in the hall. "It's like maternity-wear, isn't it?" he asked, horrified. "I've bought an easy, comfy maternity jumper." I haven't seen it since.

So I battle on with what I have, and invest ever more of my overdraft in uncomfortable outré garb which seems to have as its chief raison d'être the crushing of innards and the hampering of mobility. Recent purchases include a long, tubular skirt that climbs my legs with the speed of the squirrel in the Carling Black Label advert the minute I take a step, and a sweater made from knitted, transparent mesh that looks great but acts like a cheesewire to elbows that lean on a desk for much of the day.

I've since bought a second long skirt (it's this season's key piece, you know, so it makes sense to have a few). The tubular one was so narrow that, when I wasn't pulling it down from where it had sprung up to under my armpits, I was walking around on tiptoe or goose-stepping. And so many high-street offerings were so clearly made for people a lot shorter than me that they swung around my ankles at half-mast. In the end, I had to go all the way to Stockholm, where people are tall and skirts are swishy, to find the perfect model. I went for other reasons too, I'll add, and I did in fact notice some rather nice dressing gowns while I was there.

Still, these challenging high-fashion purchases have enhanced my life, I argue, much more than anything more homely might have done. My brother-in-law gave me a Slanket for Christmas (it's a blanket with sleeves, if you don't know, and a frontal pocket to stash the remote control) and I've had to work late and go out every night just to avoid its siren call.

But there's no better social stimulus than some new-season fashion treats, especially with this summer's emphasis on vivid and vivacious brights. You don't pull on hot-pink trousers just to sit on the sofa, after all; they're a conversation piece. "Oh, look at your hot-pink trousers," your friends will say, envious of your sartorial boldness. "Oh, these old things?" you can reply smugly. "You don't think they're too bright, do you?"

It's important to give yourself whatever fashionable pep you can at this time of year because, while it might be Slanket weather now, it'll be summer soon, and then autumn again, quicker than you can say "egg-stained cardigan".