London

Do you see yourself reclining in velvet, listening abstractedly to a lute and a dulcimer in your castle? Or perhaps stalking the Highland moors in tweed and Fair Isle.

British fashion for autumn straddles both extremes of this feudal scene. The only ethnic around is British ethnic. Finished are all those Ecuadorean knits and Chinese kimonos and Vietnamese cheongsams and Turkish harem pants.

But since most of us are straphanging on the way to work in a city or pushing the pram down to the supermarket, what is there to find in between these extremes?

What you find is the demure Gigi dress, white-collared with a velvet bow at the throat - and it must have a long torso. This comes in dice checks at the chain stores, in plain synthetics that feel like cotton jersey, and - pricier, of course - in fine wool crepe.

But in total contrast to its sweetness comes a range of narrow tube dresses, uncompromisingly somber in taupe, chestnut, black, or gray, which in their deliberate no-fashion statement sparked a lot of interest among foreign press and buyers during London fashion week. These were by Sheridan Barnett, a designer who has worked for many firms over the years and is now daring a great pure forthrightness in one of his first collections on his own. These slim dresses with their cowled necks and long sleeves would have been quite at home in Chaucer's time and scene. (Sheridan steadfastly refused to spark them up with earrings or shawls at his show.)

While the divided skirt is popular news at the chain stores all around the country, the knickerbocker is at last taking a rest. Subdued tartans are everywhere, often in dirndls bursting free with unpressed pleats, and are worn with creamy Aran-stitch sweaters or velvet jackets - the latter enjoying a big comeback, having rested since their virtual uniform status in the mid-'70s.

More comeback: the weskit. The British truly can't live long without this most useful garment in their changeable climate. The news here is that the tweed ones are cut square across the bottom and the knitted ones are of intricate Fair Isle or else of plain cable stitch with contrast embroidery.

Velvet hasn't been so strong for years, and teams beautifully with vegetable-dyed tartan for snug little suits. After dark comes its richly baroque castle mood, with long lean dresses, their puffed-shoulder mutton sleeves the exclamation point. Janice Wainwright, London's most original fabric sleuth, uses applique of silk velvet leaves on her famous rayon jersey dresses this autumn, whereas in former years it was crystal beading or silver kid.

Many evening dresses are downright demure, with the new-again high boat neck dominating over the low plunge.

This is a season when your makeup has to be especially vivid and glowing, for you're fighting with clothes in black, gray, taupe, with occasional flashes of purple (a revival) and teal blue. Tights will be a major concern: They match the outfits for autumn, so you'll need several new pairs to wear with your new lace-up ghillie flats or the even newer high heels of black patent.

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