Brief encounter: Dare to bare

By Susannah Frankel

Be warned now: this summer, shorts will be top of the style stakes. Wear them if you dare.

Say what you will about shorts, but they're not the determinedly casual and at times even unseemly garments they used to be. True, Tom Ford recently banished them to fashion Siberia. Or at least to the beach, which some might argue is often the same. But he was talking about shorts worn by men. "A man should never wear shorts in the city", this master of modern manners said in the current issue of AnOther Man magazine. On women, though, shorts have moved out of the holiday drawer - that place where strange summer staples including jersey maxi dresses with spaghetti straps, say, or cheap sarongs hide - and into the spotlight.

That, relatively speaking, is the good news, as, of course, is the demise of the pair of ill-fitting, crumpled khaki shorts, as worn by any number of overheated women the minute the sun deigns to shine. This, for the record, is taking inspiration from the masculine wardrobe one step too far. It's more Dad's Army than Savile Row, which has a certain nostalgic charm, admittedly, but little of the elegance it might be better to strive for. It may come as something of a blow to discover that the shorts currently decreed the most fashionable to be seen in are so tiny they might not unreasonably be described as knickers - big knickers, but still.

Think, in the first instance, not Bridget Jones but Beyonce Knowles at Glastonbury Festival, a woman who, unlike the rest of us mortals, need worry not about anything so banal as leaving the house in such a rush she forgets to put her skirt on.

Think hot pants, Daisy Duke jumping through her car window, and the 1970s revival currently in full flow.

Or how about Eva Herzigova, the Wonderbra model who recently appeared on the red carpet at the Cannes Film Festival in a Dolce & Gabbana Le Smoking jacket worn not with anything as sober as tailored trousers but with shorts cut so high they were barely decent. As well as her most well-known assets, Herzigova has legs that are the envy of the celebrity circuit. It's small wonder, then, that she gets them out at any given opportunity. And why not? Kate Moss has long been a cut-off-denims-and-wellington-boot-wearing kind of a girl during the festival season. Alexa Chung is her heiress apparent where that is concerned.

In terms of the catwalk, and for all its brevity, the look is more dressed-up than anything likely to be found in a muddy field. View this as something of a suitably stylish underwear-as-outerwear revival. And if that rules out at least half the population in one fell swoop, that doesn't mean we can't gaze in wonderment at the beauty of a perfectly formed leg, preferably one so well groomed that tights are not needed, and with a musculature to rival a racehorse's.

Contrary to popular mythology, age is not an issue here - just look at fashionplate Anna Dello Russo, who has the fairest legs of them all - sadly, thick ankles, cellulite and baggy knees are.

Know, meanwhile, that you can tell an awful lot about a label from the type of underwear-as-outerwear they design. Acne's shorts in white, dove grey or poppy red stretch jersey and with vintage foundation garment-style seaming, whispering of the 1940s, if in a suitably purist and modishly Scandinavian way - Betty Grable meets Ingmar Bergman, perhaps. Dolce & Gabbana's shorts look like they might actually be worn as foundation garments, harking back to the superstars of Neo-Realist cinema in the 1950s, who have long informed their work.

Also very fetching, though clearly aimed at the unusually courageous, are white, lace-trimmed bloomers from the same stable. Loewe's ultra-luxe shorts are in softest suede, embellished with butterflies. Louis Vuitton's much-feted and ultra-kitsch summer collection features shorts crafted in fine black lace with a gold brocade trim - the ultimate cocktail shorts, if you will.

Perhaps the finest example of shorts that are clearly designed with statement dressing as opposed to anything more relaxed in mind are Chanel's. This season they form the bottom half of the iconic boucle wool suit. One can only imagine what the house's namesake would think of Karl Lagerfeld's latest incarnation of this time-honoured classic, which features a loosely cut cardigan jacket teamed with matching micro-shorts with a metallic gold or silver trim.

In fact, Mademoiselle would more than likely have approved. The style in question, while steeped in the bourgeois tradition, is also still sporty and suited to the type of active lifestyle that, in her heyday, she loved to dress for. It is also as glamorous as any woman could wish for.

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