Fashion is at the height of the raunchiness curve right now, with sex spelt large on every designer's runway. But it doesn't hold exclusive sway. Clothes that women actually wish to wear may be becoming an endangered species, but they are still around. For spring 2003, designers as diverse as Paul Smith in London and Donna Karan in New York went for ladylike, choosing diaphanous spotted fabrics - he in grey and white, she with the classic navy and white - and recapturing the two moments, during Edwardian times and the Second World War, when every woman had at least one spotted blouse. But if this makes the new spots sound dull, they are not. Spots were simply a little conservative, even prim, in those days.

It was in the 1960s that spots really came into their own. This was a time when rules didn't seem to exist any more. There was no such thing as taste. And a great freedom to come out of it all was that fashions that had seemed suitable only for your mother could be adapted to look cool (the famous boutique Granny Takes a Trip was aptly named). They were simpler fashions, too, and the emphasis went from skilled tailoring to a preoccupation with pattern. Small Victorian posies printed on cotton, sprigs of roses and tiny pea-sized spots - it was charming and, even with skirts almost up to the hipbone, remarkably innocent.
Spots don't have to be prim or girlie. In Donna Karan's hands they have the sophistication of Noel Coward in his dressing gown: elegant, worldly and amusing. They are part of a look as elegant and empowered as Gertrude Lawrence performing in a witty Broadway hit. Spot on for modern sophisticates.

(First published November 2002).