We're in the bleak midwinter. But think sun, think flowers, think cheering up clothes. Robert O'Byrne has the pick of the bunch


LOOK out your window right now and what's most likely to greet you - not a lot - other than a superabundance of greyness. The sky's low hung and heavy, the air grubby and the ground seemingly barren of any flowers that bloom in the spring. There's always a drab, soiled quality about the post festive period that's encouraged by the weather at this time of year; everything - and that includes your wardrobe - appears to have the same washed out character. This is the moment when even the most optimistic of spirits can fail.

No wonder so many people now suffer from what's become known as Seasonal Affective Disorder, a condition induced not just by want of sun and light but also the overwhelming absence of strong colour. And given that dark shades have remained in the ascendant for the greater part of this decade, until now there has been little help forthcoming on the fashion front, never fear: if you're a woman who longs for more brightness in her life, the good news is of imminent change. In fact, over the months ahead it should be possible to look every bit as colourful as the most florid buds of spring. The first seeds of this new trend were planted at the international collections across Europe early last October and they've been busily germinating ever since. Now these fresh ideas are all set to burst into blossom, offering you a dazzling array of shades which defy the elements. It may be grey outside but even in deepest January, like strawberries on sale out of season, you'll be the herald of better days to come.

There's almost no colour left unexploited in the new fashion palette: green, red, pink, yellow and blue are available at their freshest and most appealing. After the predominance of black, charcoal and navy in recent seasons, this is an exhilarating shift in direction. But it's also, let's be honest, likely to cause problems for some women who have become accustomed to wearing clothes only from the sombre end of the spectrum. Suddenly you feel as though you're being asked to put all those dark toned items aside and dress like a bowl of tropical fruit.

There are two ways of approaching this challenge. One is to take it piece meal. After all, there's really no need to shed your current style altogether. Instead, try just lightening up a little, dropping some brighter elements among the dark. Wear this season's shift dress - but in vivid yellow or acid green - with a black jacket, for example, or pick out a few baby pink and blue shirts to team with a navy suit. Freshen your approach with some bold hosiery or, if even this is too much, drop in a scarf in a primary shade. You won't be ignoring a new trend but nor could you be accused of following it too slavishly.

Alternatively, you can be more adventurous and make the radical shift without necessarily spending a fortune; Obviously the best way to test the bright new colours and find out which ones suit you (not all of them will) is by; wearing them. It's possible to: do this now because many of: the chainstores have already picked up on what's happening. Hunt around and you'll find - brightly shining forth amid so much dark sobriety - wonderful hues that beg to be worn. None of these should cost too much, so if they don't agree with you it won't be too traumatic. This is the perfect way to break the present grey mood without breaking your bank balance.