Check out the skirt. Half-calf length, neither mini nor maxi. It’s a midi. That’s your clue.

This is a guide for perpetually bewildered fashion wannabe’s who tiptoe around the fringes of the industry.

Firstly, it must be acknowledged that venturing anywhere near a monstrous machine driven by human whippets can be highly intimidating for those with normal or generous body dimensions.

Secondly, it’s fair to say the impression given of the cutting edge being closer to over the edge is sometimes quite correct.

The pressure on creatives to be eternally novel has a tendency to push them to extremes. Fashion can and does get completely ridiculous.

The trouble is, it’s not politically correct to say so. But somebody should. It would save women a lot of embarrassment in hindsight.

Thirdly, any confusion about what’s hot and what’s not and why on earth this may be, is quite understandable. The fashion industry runs at a terrifying speed and has a reach that is overwhelming.

Take this page for example.

What you see here are items from the latest collections of the country’s top-rated designers, hot off the runway at SA Fashion Week.

To be exact, Arnold Phasha – Ageo, Tenisha Lourens – T’niche, Jacque van der Watt – Black Coffee, Free State designer Palesa Mokubung – Mantsho, Rich Mnisi whose label is his name, and design duo Carina Louw and Natasha Jaume who operate as Erre.

For the uninitiated it might look like an impenetrable, possibly demonically inspired mess of faux fur, frills and African mud cloth, all of it impossible to stitch into a logical idea, let alone assemble as a wardrobe.

But actually there is method and coherence – kinda, sorta, more or less – sometimes on steroids.

Still clueless and possibly hyperventilating at the thought of trying to unpick it? There’s an easy place to start. Check out the skirt. Half-calf length, neither mini nor maxi. It’s a midi. That’s your clue.

In other words rewind to the seventies. For those old enough to remember, it was the era of hippy chic – fringes, ruffles, checks, see- through dresses, knits, bare stomachs – all personified by the free-wheeling rainbow goddess, Joni Mitchell.

So this is where we are again. The key to understanding fashion is simply to rewind to the past. Trawl the internet and connect what you see today to previous eras. You’ll quickly get the hang of it.

As the sages say, nothing is new under the sun, but in the hands of skilled and innovative designers a rewind can be a magnificently successful refining process.

Someone like Van der Watt for instance, has honed down the clunky, bulky, hand-knitted look of the seventies to produce elegant clean lines and a careful blend of textures that cross seamlessly from day to evening wear and epitomise classy understatement.

So too has the wonderfully gifted Rich Mnisi who, with his global view and an exploration of African treasures, has taken the ginghams of the seventies and produced garments that may be plaid, but are definitely African, quite unique and extremely sophisticated.

Much the same can be said of Arnold Phasha who blurs the lines between the masculine and feminine and creates innovative straight-lined and timeless clothes. Phasha’s intention is not to start a revolution, but to stay true to himself and stick to what he does well. And boy, does he do it well.

Still on the topic of the usually flattering midi, it’s difficult to get one’s head around pairing it with running shoes. This is not a South African phenomenon alone. It’s on the runways of the world, prompted, I can only think, by the rise of leisure wear coupled to the first world culture of walking vast distances over well-maintained sidewalks in cities such as Paris and New York, usually with a pair of decent shoes in your handbag.

But who does that in South Africa! Seriously!

As for the socks with feminine dresses– exasperated emoticon needed here! Mokubung’s clothes are beautiful, but school socks are hardly a design solution.

Only the sort of lemmings who follow Jacob Zuma blindly are likely to pick up on this fashion “innovation”.

I’d suggest that if you spot a woman wearing school socks and she’s not at school girl, help her.

Tell her gently it’s a bit silly. Worse, it’s ugly.

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