Mad dogs and fashion victims

SUPERMODEL Kate Moss has accused the Brits of giving her sartorial sunstroke when the mercury rises. She may have a point, writes Dani Garavelli.

We’ve all witnessed the unsettling effect a spot of sun can have on the normally reserved denizens of the UK.

Three hundred and fifty-odd days of the year, we may be soberly attired in drab suits or jeans and a T-shirt; but the minute the thermometer edges towards 20 degrees, the streets become a carnival of colour, as luminous crop tops and micro-shorts expose tango tans and bulging midriffs.

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In what passes for a Scottish summer, women throw off their inhibitions, revealing their bra straps to all and sundry and men throw off their tops the better to acquire that must-have fashion accessory of a mini heatwave, the lobster-red chest. For as long as the sky is blue, the natural order is subverted, so it suddenly becomes acceptable to undo the top button of your shorts and fold the waistband over or -– in some cases apparently – to wear flip-flops and bikinis to the supermarket.

The mere thought of the sun is enough to disorientate those shopping for a holiday abroad; sifting through rail after rail of sarongs and T-shirt dresses designed for beanpoles must mess with our brains; that’s the only way of explaining the fashion crimes perpetrated every year on the beaches of France, Italy and Spain. While Europeans at home with the concept of summer stroll along the promenades in loose-fitting linen trousers and chic Roman Holiday-style outfits, sun-starved Brits stick out like sore thumbs with their hotchpotch of Hawaiian shirts, halternecks and fluorescent jelly shoes.

Now Kate Moss has declared war on those who lose all aesthetic judgement as the temperature rises. In an interview in Grazia magazine last week, she expressed her horror at the amount of flesh exposed by British sun-worshippers. “When you’re driving down the road in the summer, the English people, it’s not our natural thing, no. So it’s ‘put it awaaaaay!’,” she said while promoting the Mango fashion line.

There is no shortage of flesh in the Mango campaigns. For the spring collection, the supermodel sat languorously on a white dressing table, her long, bare legs stretching from the bottom of a short monochrome dress to a pair of high-heeled black sandals. In the video, she sported a tiny pair of pink shorts which floated seductively to the floor as she changed into another outfit.

The summer collection features white tops and trousers, but also a pair of ripped denim shorts. Admittedly – even at 38 – Moss is almost always elegant; but then she is stick-thin and has the entire spectrum of fashion from Primark to Prada to choose from. Should she really be lecturing ordinary women if – taking their inspiration from her – they squeeze themselves into itsy-bitsy dresses? Is it so offensive that those whose figures are full and whose purses are empty want to catch some rays too?

Mind you, in the UK, the rich and famous are guilty of summer fashion disasters too. Remember Rio Ferdinand in tiny crotch-hugging denim shorts and a fetching cut-off T-shirt ? Or Simon Cowell accentuating his moobs in skin-tight vests? You wouldn’t see any of that on the shores of Lake Como. Not unless Scotland or England were playing Italy and some WAGs had rented a villa.

Perhaps we Brits just weren’t made for summer. Perhaps centuries of rain during Wimbledon has left us psychologically (and aesthetically) incapable of choosing a chic warm weather wardrobe.

“The day I go shopping for holiday clothes is the worst day of the year,” concedes one male friend. “I just seem to choose the same three brightly coloured shirts from H&M I bought the year before – except in a larger size.”

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Confronted with the eye-watering psychedelia favoured by many native shoppers, Mary McGowne, founder of the Scottish Style Awards, pines for simple chic, citing the Sicilian summer wedding scene from The Godfather as the epitome of continental elegance.

“There’s a fine line between naivety when it comes to dressing appropriately in warm weather and subjecting fellow citizens to outright fashion crimes,” she says. “The muffin top phenomenon is a case in point. I mean, when did it become acceptable, and with such widespread abandon, to have rolls of wobbly flesh either forced over the top of low-rise jeans or spilling freely from under a crop top?

“There’s countless other summer faux pas too. Streaky tango tans, socks with summer shoes (might work on a 16-year-old waif in a directional Miu Miu campaign but most people can wave bye bye to any kudos they might have had by venturing down this fashion path); the over voluminous maxi dress with visible bra strap (how many more seasons will this look endure?); and the eternally popular choice for men of all ages, but particularly those over 35, the three-quarter-length beige cargo pant.”

Out in the streets of Glasgow, you can see McGowne’s point. Although the weather is not conducive to stripping off – and those who are wearing skimpy shorts have covered their legs with opaque black tights – the shops are a kaleidoscope of colour. Primark’s windows are bedecked with Hawaiian shirts, while anyone venturing inside with a hangover would shrink from the visual assault of blue, green, yellow and cerise. Elsewhere, the displays may be slightly more muted; but the rail-loads of tiny tops still offer plenty of encouragement to put unsightly flesh on display.

“We were just saying the other week, when you see what some people wear in the sun you go “Oh Lord’,” says 16-year-old Eilidh O’Brien, who is wearing a chic, cropped blue jacket. “I prefer to go for pretty floral dresses when the sun comes out.”

For 23-year-old Aden Paterson, the key is to exercise caution. “I get dead excited when I think of buying my summer wardrobe,” she says. “Just the thought that, at long last, I no longer have to wrap up so much. But I think you have to be careful not to go mad with bright colours and, if I was exposing any flesh, I would make sure it was one or the other [decolletage or legs] not both at the same time.”

The problem for summertime is not so much lack of choice, but the superabundance of it. “When there is such an array of clothes, it can be difficult to identify what suits you,” says McGowne, who points to Jennifer Anniston, Cameron Diaz and David Beckham as celebrities who have mastered the art of minimalist summer dressing. “When you have such a visual assault, it’s easy to get dazzled, but my advice would be ‘less is more’.”

The good news is that the advent of European and US shops, such as Spanish chain Zara, is making things easier.

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“I think Zara is an absolutely first-class high street retailer – you go into a Zara store, they’ll have six to eight mannequins, all with really stylish, classy and accessibly priced seasonal looks,” McGowne says. “They are presenting complete looks, from your ready-to-wear to your handbag, accessories and footwear, which is really helpful. So many people are time poor, but they’re doing the hard part for you.”

For those still struggling, McGowne’s advice is to look to Europe where keeping cool has little to do with stripping off. The mantra, she says, is simplicity. “As Beau Brummel once said: ‘To be truly elegant, one should not be noticed’.” Even if it’s hot.