It's time to leg it

Wear leggings by all means - but don't do an onion, advises Annalisa Barbieri

In March this year, I received a secret call with some highly classified information. To use the British intelligence grading system, it rated as A5 - that is to say, the person disclosing was totally reliable, but the information she was imparting was not. Or, at least, it was as unbelievable as it gets. "Leggings," whispered Rachel, "are back."

I snorted in derision. Leggings were awful things. I'd never wear them again, nor would anyone I knew, I was quite definite about that. "Well," said Rachel, "Per Una will be doing them." I laughed unkindly, imagining the racks of unwanted, unsold Lycra leg tubes hanging in M&S. What did fluffy Per Una know?

We had a hot spring and an early summer, so there was little evidence of leggings or footless tights (in fashion terms they are the same thing, unless you want to get into a discussion of denier, in which case leggings are anything over 100, and footless tights anything under), until a month ago, when suddenly they were everywhere. Those stores caught unawares sold out immediately, and could only think of the money they might have made.

It's very dangerous to think you'll never wear something ever again. In the early 1990s, the fashion for flares of 20 years ago seemed too long gone to resurrect - as improbable as ever wearing ruffs again. I remember proclaiming then that I'd never again wear wide-legged trousers, ever. Naturally, it wasn't long before I did, though bootlegs came first to ease the way. The same went for wedges and platforms. It's amazing how quickly your aesthetic can change: how what you once regarded as im probably ugly suddenly becomes beautiful, even covetable.

Leggings are fantastic for this time of year because they allow you to continue wearing dresses or skirts while at the same time still showing a semblance of bare leg. They're a perfect aperitif to tights (and who wants to go back into them already?).

In the 1980s, leggings were worn as trousers, but this year it's easier to get it right if you think of them as footless tights. But - they should never be long enough to touch the ankle-bone, or go higher than where the calf starts to swell out. It's a narrow corridor, and social exclusion awaits those who get it wrong.

Also, most people can get quite fat but have their lower legs remain relatively skinny. It's tempting, I realise, to make the best of what you may regard as your best bits and hope to disguise your less attractive bits by wearing tight leggings under a big jumper. Except it doesn't work; in the trade, it's known as "doing an onion" or "the inverse triangle" (fashion can be mathematical).

Leggings were kinder before Lycra got invol ved, because Lycra is strong, and it clings and never loses its shape. This makes it a useful fibre, but unforgiving - not like cotton or wool, which can stretch with wear to scoot over your more jellyish bits. However, beware of leggings made of pure cotton: not only will they sag but, how to put this . . . cotton is not the strongest fibre, so if your thighs rub together you'll end up with sheer patches. It's a look, but, perhaps, not the one you were hoping for.