"It's all about legs!" a hugely influential catwalk casting director told me just before the spring/summer 2010 shows. Not hair colour. Not attitude. Not a certain look. Height, or rather lack of it, used to keep models off the runways; now it's legs. He was right. Great legs are vital to pull off the clothing item that reigns supreme: the dress. Which is why Lara Stone and the slim yet marvellously athletic Malgosia Bela are currently scooping up campaigns and acreage within fashion magazines worldwide. These two models are blessed with the most perfect legs imaginable, although right now you won't find them on show. Their best assets are hidden beneath the crucially on-trend, floor-skimming evening gowns we are seeing everywhere.
Long dresses are the new black. Short (and sparkly) has its place too. Nothing new there, I hear you cry: it's the holiday season, so of course it's about dresses. You have a point. But having scrutinised the pre-fall/winter 2010 presentations that have been quietly taking place over the past two weeks (and not so quietly, in the case of the Chanel firecracker in Shanghai), it seems even this time next year, trousers will still be history.
Apart from a brief moment in late November when Cheryl Cole - the breakout artist from the British pop group Girls Aloud - wore tailored tracksuit bottoms pulled down over a yanked-up leotard with a military jacket (for her Fight for This Love video), the idea of a trouser revival has been unthinkable. Pop videos, remember, can be as much to blame for triggering fashion fads as catwalks, but when Cole subsequently performed her song wearing a pair of "exploding" trousers slashed down the sides so her legs became visible, and the style still failed to catch on, the fashion options of the moment became clear.
Yet it was only when the newly crowned queen of pop, Lady Gaga, wore a floor-length red PVC gown with huge puffed sleeves (rather than her regular strapless evening gown) to meet a real Queen, Queen Elizabeth II, at the Royal Variety Performance show in London, that the fashion world woke up to length being the look. The latest post-Apocalyptic chic styles, inspired more by movies such as Avatar than Doris Day, have even got tomboy rap artists like Fergie and Rihanna converting. Nelly Furtado ditched her grungy T-shirt and tracksuit bottoms combo for a Dynasty-style sheer net and silver sequinned flapper dress in the fabulously camp pop video for Timbaland's Morning After Dark, and rising stars such as Kesha, Mini Viva and Pixie Lott are finally rocking frocks rather than ripped jeans.
Last week I took a (long) dress count when I attended several fashion functions, ranging from a lavish awards ceremony to a low-key opening night at a theatre. Those who had good legs still showed them off. Those who didn't cheated. At the London fashion equivalent of the Oscars, the British Fashion Awards, Kate Moss - whose bandy legs are not her strongest point - wore a sheer black Galliano slip. You could barely make out the outline of her slender pins beneath the interesting gothic lace ensemble, which touched the ground and was teamed with a biker belt and Victoriana jacket.
Victoria Beckham, who as we all know loves her minidresses but has knobbly knees, worked her new hairdo with a full-length Forties-style black siren number of her own design that appeared never-ending. Fashion gossip was dress-obsessed. Beckham's third dress range is to be shown during New York Fashion Week on a grander scale than before. In January 2010, Dannii Minogue will launch her debut range of frocks with Tabitha Webb. Don't laugh. If these are anything like the ones she has worn as a judge on the UK talent show The X-Factor, they could be amazing.
And yes, I did spot the occasional pair of luxe sweat pants, similar to styles championed by Michael Kors, Alexander Wang and Isabel Marant as an alternative to the ubiquitous dress. These were predicted to be a big hit of the season, but they have been trounced by RM by Roland Mouret rainbow dresses and Lanvin's black tulip dress. Could it be because wearing one of these makes you feel like Stone or Bela? I wonder if trousers are off the menu by night because so many women are wearing leggings (or treggings) by day, or is it simply because there's a time and a place for wearing a dress and now is it?