Woolly thinking

It has a bad image, but cosy knitwear can be sexy

Knitwear has a very bad image - pulled out in times of crisis or cold and worn as a means to an end, instead of celebration. Not like your best shoes that get saved up for and doted upon. Some years ago, when I was frightfully important, I was spectacularly ill with a life-threatening cold. A fashion PR got to hear about it and sent me a huge cashmere bouclé jumper that I had coveted but could not justify the purchase of. "Illness," she wrote on a little card, "is always better in a Joseph jumper."

How right she was! My passages cleared instantly and my nose unreddened as I cocooned myself in this huge, soft, knobbly jumper. I still have it, though it has stretched so much, it's now a dress (very "now", actually). But generally knit wear is ridiculed and the terms used to describe it don't send blood pumping to the extremities: woolly pully, cardy, polo neck, tank top . . .

This is a shame, because although knitwear has an unsexy image, secretly we all love it. "Nothing is sexier," my male friends tell me, "than a girl who looks warm, rather than one with acres of flesh exposed in a mean north wind." "And few things," says another, "are sexier than a good bosom in an angora sweater."

Men in jumpers are sexy, too. It's the "cuddlesome" factor, which, while not sounding attractive, is. Of course it depends on the man, and the jumper. Take Paul Weller, for example. He's never done anything for me on the telly, but in the flesh he has real presence. I once stood behind him at Selfridges and was mesmerised. So was the cashier and everyone else in the queue; we were all silent and staring. When he walked away we all went "Corrrrrrr", quite audibly. But even his sex appeal couldn't counterbalance the dreadful combination of a pink Fair Isle round neck atop a pink stiff-collared shirt, which I saw him wearing again some time later. Had he been in a caramel-coloured, four-ply Connolly turtleneck, the effect could have been very different.

If you're dreadfully shallow and interested in looking good in knitwear, here are a few tips.

Men: longer-than-average cuffs on a jumper are really attractive. Don't ask me why; it's just one of those things. Even better if they're slightly splayed out and look as if you've been pulling at them in romantic angst. (I'm sure Ted Hughes's cuffs were like this.) Never wear a round neck with a shirt and a tie, although a V-neck with same is acceptable as long as the jumper isn't burgundy. Avoid black: it's hard to look good in it, and it ages the wearer, shows fluff and can look cheap even if it's not. (There are exceptions to the black rule but it's best to go for charcoals and navies.)

Women: polo necks or round necks aren't a great idea for the large-chested. Scoop or V-necks are far more flattering. Avoid black, as above. And never think that gaping buttons on a car digan is a sexy look. Believe me, I've tried for the past three years to convince myself it is, but it ain't. Admit when something has got too small for you and either diet or ditch it.