Fashion not sexy? Who am I kidding ..? If you’ve been out on a sunny day in the past week, you’ll have waded through a fleshfest of tantalisingly exposed bosom, thigh, belly, back and every other erogenous zone imaginable.
And I can surely not deny that with skirts short and colours red hot, this season’s High Street fashion is scoring full marks in the manpleasing stakes.
But that is not the kind of Fashion with a capital F that I am talking about. The kind that after more than 20 years of attending fashion shows and talking to buyers and designers, I can confidently brand as unappetising to the opposite sex.
As the late fashion historian Elizabeth Ewing noted, in the 20th century fashion went from being the ‘special preserve of the privileged few, to the happy hunting ground of all’, courtesy of mass production.
In this century, clothes - especially when bought by young women - are a potent force of self expression.
But once you push past the hordes in Topshop and Miss Selfridge, and examine the relationship between high-end designer fashion and big spending, grown-up women, then you discover that creating sexual allure with what you wear is considered a rather dirty thought.
This struck me the other night when I was getting dressed to go to a party. I decided it was time to unveil my newest purchase: a fashion-forward greige silk dress, very loose cut, with sleeves over the elbow and hem just skimming the knee.
Underneath was an elasticated tube sheath, which was hardly visible. To the untrained eye (ie my husband), it looked as if I was wearing a slightly modified chador, straight off the streets of Tehran.
Seeing the disappointment writ large on his face, I did something I usually wouldn’t. I changed. I know he likes me in a pair of close-cut, dark denim, cropped jeans I recently bought in New York - as he tells me so virtually every time I wear them.
The average person in the UK spends £556 a year on new clothes
I topped them with a a front-buttoned white T-shirt and, just for fun, slipped on a pair of red patent, high-heeled peep-toes that had once had a tremendously positive response from a couple of male friends.
Part of me, I will admit, thought: is this a look that you are happy wearing to a low-key farewell party for friends moving to France? Is it not a little obvious, even tarty?
And another part of me thought: but I have just bought that dress. It’s terribly New Season! I want to show off to my fashion-savvy friends.
But by the end of the party, the largest part of my brain was fizzing with this revelation: when are we women going to understand that too much pure fashion - as produced at the top end of the hierarchical fashion tree - just isn’t sexy?
I am not saying that every last item in your wardrobe ought to be chosen with an eye on men’s fantasy fashion league, but going to a party with a partner who likes what you’re wearing is surely a more pleasing proposal than sticking to your fashion guns, come hell or high water.
And I had more than enough flattering comments and looks to make me acknowledge that I had made the right decision.
The incident reminded me rather sharply of when, as a fashion journalist and then a magazine editor, I used to attend the ready-to-wear shows in Paris, Milan, New York and London.
Despite the fact that hundreds of us were gathered together in glamorous locations to see young, half-naked women strutting around in not a lot of clothing, it was striking how little sex raised its head. There would have been more carnal thoughts at a convention of pigeon fanciers.
Gloriously sexy: Supermodels Linda Evangelista, Cindy Crawford, Naomi Campbell and Christy Turlington in Versace minis in 1991
I consulted a fashion editor friend, Lisa Armstrong, with whom I once worked at Vogue: why did so much designer fashion seem opposed to giving women sex appeal?
‘Very roughly, you could say that fashion falls into clothes to get you laid, and clothes that you wear for other women,’ she said.
‘In relation to the latter, there has been a real evolution in the time I have been working in fashion.
‘In the Eighties, you were dressing to show you were successful and had status. Nowadays, the aim among many women is to show that you have a fantastic body.’
Several years ago, Lisa, a strikingly attractive woman in her mid-40s who favours feminine, pretty clothes, did a wardrobe swap with Vogue’s current fashion features editor, Harriet Quick, whose look is more hard-edged and provocative.
‘Previously, I had never knowingly dressed sexily - but I discovered that I liked it,’ she said.
‘It’s not as if Harriet dresses tartily, but she just goes for it more than I do. Her outfits were fitted with more cleavage, for example. I loved wearing them in the evening, though I would never dress like that in the day.’
And what did her husband make of the transformation?
‘He loved it, too - but he wouldn’t want me to take it too far, I don’t think. He likes the way I dress - I think he particularly likes me in Roland Mouret dresses, which are figure-defining. So he likes sexy, but not vulgar. I think most men would run a mile from a leopard-print mini with a plunging neckline.’
Jane de Teliga, editor of Club 21, a high fashion, travel and culture magazine, is not so sure.
‘The truth is that women in the fashion world dress for other women in the fashion world. And designers - many of whom are gay men - are not looking to make women beautiful or sexy; they want to make them look amazing, which is not the same thing.’
Even some of the women who design fashion are uncaring about the desires of most heterosexual women, which is to look slim and attractive.
‘Look at Miuccia Prada. When she sends a new look down the runway, it often appears downright ugly, and my first thought would be: "Ohmigod, how does she expect anyone to wear that?"
‘But in another few months you learn to love it, because she is so tremendously influential.’
You have only to look at the way Mrs Prada dresses - dowdy skirts, loose-fitting shirts, clunky shoes and long, unkempt hair - to see she is opposed to the concept of sexy clothes.
- Daily Telegraph