Tails you win: Lauren Laverne on the mermaid look

Fashion often takes inspiration from folklore. This season it's all about the mermaid. Sarah Burton at McQueen, Armani, Versace, Givenchy and Paco Rabanne all paid homage to the legendary ladies of the sea, while Chanel hired Florence Welch to sing live in a gigantic white seashell at its undersea spectacular spring/summer show.

Meanwhile Hollywood has gone for the trend with such force it's only a matter of time before having a tail grafted on in place of your legs is offered to nascent starlets as a legitimate cosmetic procedure. Evan Rachel Wood looked particularly spectacular in Gucci at the Golden Globes, and Jennifer Lopez rocked the mermaid look in a nude silk Zuhair Murad dress at the Oscars.

I can't tell you why the briny nymphs of lore are so much on the fashion pack's collective mind, but the origin of the mermaid myth is said to lie with the dugong, or manatee. These marine mammals cradle their young in their forelimbs like a human does a baby and have a habit of coming up for air amid the seaweed they eat, which, the theory goes, explains mermaids' long hair. (Christopher Columbus's ship's log for 9 January 1493 features the first recorded sighting of manatees: "when the Admiral went to the Rio del Oro he saw three mermaids which rose well out of the sea… They were not as beautiful as they are painted though they have something of a human face".)

So, in a roundabout way, this season fashion's finest are channelling a blubbery, herbivorous sea cow – a species whose female specimens are considerably larger than their male counterparts. I'm not sure why, but that makes me happy.

Of course the clothes are beautiful. The high street is bursting with pretty sequined dresses in sea greens and beautiful blues, like this one at French Connection (pictured left). For a tougher take on the look, follow Versace's lead, which combines pearlescent white fabrics with gold, rivet details and corseting. Miss Selfridge's scalloped "scale" skirt is great. On the accessories front, it's time to put on your pearls: I'm rather taken with Tom Binns's Swarovski crystal and fluoro safety-pin necklace. A shell clutch bag is a fashion perennial, or ring the changes with chandelier shell earrings like these from Accessorize. Or how about Charlotte Olympia's Pandora Perspex clutch?

If you're lusting after a "mermaid dress" for a special occasion, proceed with caution. You'll need the curves to fill the frock (there's a reason this shape is Beyoncé's red-carpet signature look), keep hair and make-up simple and accessories on the small side and avoid frills. Unless you really are storing a gigantic toilet roll under there, it's false advertising.

guardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media 2012

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