Serendipitously, the garment set to have a real fashion moment this season - a ladylike blouse - happens to make the perfect transitional piece at this time of year. The blouse is the ideal apparel for early-autumn, when it can be too mild to plunge into winter's fashion-fabulous pieces such as aviator jackets, fur collar tailored jackets and perfectly groomed, minimal-chic coats, yet is also too late for tribal-print maxis no matter how balmy the weather.
While the word "blouse" may conjure images of Victorian governesses and Miss Marple, these soft, ladylike garments embellished with droopy bows or languid frills were a key trend across the autumn collections from a slew of designers. Think Chloe; Matthew Williamson; Christopher Kane, who embellished his with hand painting; Lanvin who offered sublime, oyster silk satin or softly drooping creamy silk pieces; Marc Jacobs with a sleeveless taupe silk blouse with bow and rows of fine frills; and even Vivienne Westwood, whose fitted, foxy grey blouse with asymmetric bow is anything but demure.
As well as being the perfect transitional piece, the blouse is the natural successor to last winter's statement top, since a blouse can look properly finished when worn alone (not, obviously alone alone, but with an appropriate bottom half), yet will sit happily under a tailored tweed jacket later in the year.
As well as looking achingly on-trend when worn with jeans, a pencil skirt or a pair of to-the-ankle tapered trousers, this is a garment that also naturally channels the 1950s Mad Men vibe - just make the pencil skirt a little longer and more fitted, and add sheer hold-ups/tights and a pair of platform stilettoes.
The way to achieve that restrained sexiness - and avoid the risk of saccharine sweetness - is to aim for a mix of hard and soft. The prettier and more bow-embellished the blouse, the more it needs roughing up. Toughen it by pairing it with edgier pieces like a leather biker jacket, which also avoids the in-your-face biker chick raunchiness that is an ever-present style risk with such jackets; distressed jeans; or a leather or denim skirt - Reiss has a brilliant one that so effortlessly channels Stella McCartney's summer version, it is hard to tell them apart. You could add ribbed tights and biker boots, fur-lined lace-up boots or clunky brogues.
Joseph in St John's Wood has a sweet, sleeveless silk blouse with bows, in cream and very 1930s flesh as well as black, at £215, as well as a less demure black lace shirt with leather collar at £495.
Fenwick, W1, also has a crop of ladylike blouses, including ivory or silver-grey silk chiffon tie-necks with pintucks and puff sleeves by Pyrus at £109; an oyster chiffon round-neck blouse with satin pockets by Malene Birger (£145); and a lingerie pink chiffon, collarless blouse with soft bows by Tara Jarmon.
Day, Birger et Mikkelsen also has a pretty, spotty chiffon blouse with frilly jabot, at Wild Swans and Matches.
Unlike tailoring, where it can be risky to buy cheap versions, blouses don't have to cost the earth to look good. I have resurrected a cream blouse with bow and pin-tucking bought at Primark two winters ago for roughly the cost of bottle of Essie Velvet Voyeur, and may well head back there for this season's pretty and very understated offering, in cream with soft bow and puff sleeves .
Marks & Spencer has a similar shape blouse in its Limited Collection, in taupe with some pretty origami folding and floppy bows at £35, and Banana Republic has a half-sleeve satin blouse in glamorous oyster with darker oyster edging.
There are, ahem, pussy-bows galore, with low-key, appealingly droopy ones at Hobbs - including one in soft yellow and a sleeveless version in a nicely edgy, spiky flower print -– and a sheer red one at Wallis. At the top end, Dries van Noten has done a deliciously decadent animal print blouse, while on the high street, River Island and A|Wear have done very on-trend blouses using animal print. A|Wear also has a charming, 1950s print, three-quarter sleeve blouse which would team well with jeans, but would also look very Mad Men with a wide skirt, wide belt and low heels.
And if you like the concept, but not the bows/frills, Reiss has a sleek, slash neck, drape-sleeve blouse in fuchsia silk (£110) that is ladylike but sufficiently simple to become a wardrobe staple.