It is the style dilemma du jour: is it possible to do double denim without looking like an extra from a Spaghetti Western, a nerdy student from a mechanical engineering course at a Midlands university or the epitome of Estuary chavness?
The dilemma arises because Ralph Lauren, the master of understatement, the designer who can make "beige" look unutterably desirable, the creative genius who has spent three decades putting his swanky New York spin on English country house-style interiors and clothing, suddenly went hokey and folksy for Spring 2010, showing denim shirts with jeans and washed-denim jeans with matching boyfriend blazers, and even denim dungarees. Lauren wasn't alone with double denim: William Rast, Chlöe, Twenty8Twelve and others put denim jeans or skirts with denim jackets or denim shirts (or both), but the effect was the same: it evoked the feeling that this trend just feels horrible no matter how hot the designer.
But is our resistance to double denim because it is truly, irredeemably horrid or because, after 20-odd years of fashion law proscribing the combining of denim top and denim bottom, we have become conditioned to rejecting it. And if the latter, should we be more open-minded, especially since we have come around to other hard-to-wear trends that, at first sight, we may have declared unwearable, such as harem trousers, vertiginous heels and body-con.
Alexa Chung has been photographed doing double denim (skinny jeans in dark denim, oversized pale denim shirt), but drew the line at a denim jacket, opting instead for a black blazer, which looked cool and on-trend.
If you want to flash your denim credentials, but don't want to take the double denim route, you could choose a single denim statement piece, like Stella McCartney's button-through denim mini, or a denim jacket (boyfriend blazer or biker is a change from the classic most of us have tucked into our wardrobe) worn over a floral or digital print dress. Probably the most desirable is the tough, rough and deliciously mannish denim biker by Balmain at an eye-watering £2,325 from Browns.
Unexpectedly brilliant is the cleverly draped, shapely denim jacket with puffy shoulders from the F&F Couture Collection at Tesco (£75 but looks pricier) while an M&S military style jacket in grey denim with frilled peplum would work with black jeans, leggings or mini-skirt. There is an easy denim boyfriend jacket from GIVe, George Davies's latest retail venture, while Fenwick W1 has a crop denim military jacket with embellished shoulders by Sandro at £275, and the Brent Cross store has a blazer in dark denim by MaxMara Weekend at £260. Banana Republic, which did lots of denim for spring, combines two trends - trenchcoats and denim - with a denim trench at £140.
River Island and A|Wear have very on-trend sleeveless denim biker jackets which look great with trackie bottoms or peg-top trousers, while Oasis has a classic, stitched denim jacket at £45.
Oasis also has a polished, ladylike denim shift dress with cap-sleeve, while Jane Norman has a sharply tailored denim shirt dress in black or blue denim. Fenwick W1 has denim dresses by Velvet, including a strappy, gathered sundress at £139 and a V-neck shirt dress at £179, plus a Paul & Joe denim sack dress at £159.
Matthew Williamson has a pretty jumpsuit (£535) whose neat neckline, demure bow belt and harem styled bottom half provide a clever counterpoint to the masculinity of denim, but a half-sleeve cotton T-shirt worn underneath may prevent those rolled-back sleeves leaving you looking like a member of a chain-gang. Firetrap also has a stylish jumpsuit in pale denim, with stud details (£9 at Fenwick Brent Cross).
The shops are awash with denim skirts and shorts, including a pretty dirndl at Oasis, and a Rock the Boat denim mini skirt, £35 at Fenwick Brent Cross. Zara, Warehouse, New Look and Topshop all have great denim shorts.
And if you want a long, pale denim shirt (a la Alexa Chung), get the original Ralph Lauren (£115, Fenwick, Brent Cross), or a Warehouse version at £38.
How to work the denim trend
● Either the denim needs to match exactly or totally mismatch. The latter is preferable: ideally team dark denim at the bottom with light denim at the top.
● No belt to hold up your jeans, it smacks of ho-downs. But wear a wide belt over the top of an oversized shirt (see left).
● Tan leather looks scrumptious with pale denim, so wear a tan bag or belt. This season's across-the-body bags can do tragic things to the bust, so think hard (and look in a long mirror) before slinging one on.
● Denim is fabulous when mixed with other fabrics, like stripes, prints, chino, linen and silk.
● Pretty up denim with dangly, ethnic earrings, bracelets and rings. Silver and turquoise looks best with denim. Don't even think about diamonds and gold with denim.
● Very pale denim can wash you out, so undo a couple of buttons at the neck to show a little flesh (not too much décolleté, please), and turn back sleeves to the elbow. Or twist a long cotton scarf around your neck. Definitely no kerchiefs.
● No cowboy boots or high heels. Ballerinas or flat sandals are perfect.
● If you are pairing a denim waistcoat with jeans, put an oversized cream vest, T-shirt, or linen shirt underneath.
● No stone-wash or other dyes, even by top designers. These are the emperor's new clothes of denim; everyone can see they are horrid but say "Ooh, how lovely". Nooo, it isn't lovely. It is vulgar and chavvy. Avoid.