By NINA GARCIA
Don't panic if the catwalk shows and the new styles flying into the shops have left you confused by what you should be wearing.
My new book reveals that the secret to looking fabulous is not about slavishly following fashion or looking like a supermodel, it's about finding your own style.
And as the fashion director of U.S. Elle magazine, I've realised that anyone can be "in fashion" simply by following the rules of the season.
Jeans and a black dress will take you so far but accessories maketh the woman.
But style is personal. There is no herd to follow. There are no rules. There are no seasons.
Style comes from within, from knowing who you are and who you want to be; not from wanting to be somebody else, or wanting to be thinner, shorter, taller, prettier.
Many of the most stylish women in the world have not been great beauties - think Lauren Hutton with her gap-toothed smile or Barbra Streisand and her Grecian nose - but have drawn from an enormous amount of self-confidence.
They made us think they were beautiful simply by believing it themselves.
All this sounds great in theory, but finding your own style can be a daunting prospect.
Which is why I've come up with some style basics that will have you looking - and, most importantly, feeling - fashion fabulous in no time.
Take control: You can be your own fashion guru.
How many items in your wardrobe do you actually wear?
How many of those make you feel good about yourself? And how many times have you looked in that wardrobe and said: "I have nothing to wear!"?
Your wardrobe should contain only amazing choices - it is much easier to be inspired when you see five remarkable pieces than when you see 25 pieces and 20 of those are unremarkable.
Pick key items and get rid of the rest, even if it is the "must-have" item of the season, or you spent a week's salary on it in 1999, or you wore it every day of your teenage years and "can't bear to part with it".
If it doesn't look good on you now, it shouldn't be there.
Start by throwing out anything you no longer wear or that doesn't look good on you. Be ruthless.
It's easier said than done, so make yourself a deal: for every 20 items you chuck, you can buy one killer piece.
When you're buying, buy the right size.
Don't buy a smaller one because you're planning on losing weight, or because you don't like the idea that you're a size 16.
And be wary of bargains.
Paying £100 for a pair of jeans that cost £200 is a great deal.
But if you are never going to wear them, don't need them, or don't even particularly like them, that's a very expensive deal.
Steer clear of trends.
If everyone is wearing bright yellow mini-dresses but you don't look good in yellow or minidresses, why buy one? Wear what suits you and what makes you comfortable.
Comfortable doesn't have to mean boring. Don't play it too safe.
You should wake up in the morning and be inspired by what is in your wardrobe: 20 black skirts tend to offer little inspiration; one white beaded vintage skirt offers a lot.
THE BARE BONES
Now you've cleared out your wardrobe, it's time to invest in the bare bones, if you don't own them already.
These are essential staples that go with almost anything and never go out of style - a blank canvas that you can layer on to.
The Little Black Dress: Popularised by Coco Chanel, this is the ultimate blank canvas. Slimming and flattering, it's simple enough to make you look effortlessly stylish, yet sophisticated enough to make you look endlessly elegant.
A Classic White Shirt: It has a crisp simplicity that makes it practical and unpretentious. Jackie Onassis paired hers with jeans, Uma Thurman went for black trousers, and Audrey Hepburn teamed hers with a long skirt.
Cashmere Cardigan or Round-neck: Cashmere instantly imbues luxury when worn over anything, but is also incredibly sexy when worn alone, a la Marilyn Monroe.
A Trench Coat: Not just for rainy days, a trench goes with almost anything. Best of all, it makes you instantly mysterious. Wear with big sunglasses to really channel your inner spy.
Denim: Jeans are the most versatile item. Simple and practical, sexy and perfect, rebellious and elegant, they can dress anything down and make even the most uptight items look relaxed.
A Man's Watch: Women's watches tend to change according to trends, but a classic man's watch is timeless and looks great on a woman's wrist. It makes a statement and breaks the rules in an unexpected but subtle way.
Diamonds: You can't go wrong here. Perfect for day or night, casual or dressy, winter or summer, with other jewels, or not. Fake is fine.
Ballet Flats: For driving, mad dashes for flights, the first day of the sales, or any occasion when you have to give your heels the boot in the name of practicality.
A High-Heeled Pump: Sometimes you want outrageous, impractical, bold shoes. But sometimes, a reliable classic black high-heeled pump that won't clash with your dress, or prospective in-laws, is what's required.
A Great Bag (or four): Statement bags are great, but you also need the classics: a tote or shoulder bag for day and carrying almost everything; a clutch for night and carrying around almost nothing; a medium-sized handbag, with a chain-link strap, for those times in between; and, treat yourself to a must-have - Chanel, Louis Vuitton Speedy, Gucci's Jackie O, or the Hermes Birkin, just because . . .
Now you have your basics, it's time to inject your own sense of style with some truly fantastic pieces - a decadent, oversized cocktail ring, a vintage beaded dress that fits you perfectly, a leopard-print coat - spend your money on these one-of-a-kind, dramatic pieces.
Don't just go crazy for the trends. If you do happen to fall in love with a trend, buy it now but wait a few years until it is "out of style" to wear it.
The best time to buy is when you are travelling - something exotic that nobody else will have back home and can usually be picked up for next to nothing, because while fashion may be expensive, style doesn't have to be.
Ironically, it is often the people with less money who seem to understand style best.
Maybe because they cannot slavishly follow trends, or because they consider purchases more carefully, or perhaps because they perfect the art of mixing expensive items with cheaper finds.
So check out flea markets, H&M, Uniqlo and vintage bargains (cheapest of all when "borrowed" from your mum's wardrobe).
As well as mixing Mango and Marc Jacobs, think about other unusual juxtapositions.
Unpredictable is what is going to make you look different.
Try diamonds with ethnic beads, stripes and checks, leather and lace, masculine with feminine.
It takes time and trial to perfect but these "imperfect" mixes are what style is about.
THE FINISHING TOUCHES
Basics and drama will take you so far, but accessories maketh the woman. Start with shoes.
Blahnik, Louboutin, Vivier, Choo and Alaia can all be depended upon for a perfect quality shoe.
Even if you have to save for years to afford a single pair, do it.
Perfect shoes deserve perfect feet - chipped polish and cracked heels are not a good look.
Toe cleavage is often overlooked but it matters - two cracks only should be on show (i.e. only showing the divide between your first three toes).
Don't go too high; if you can't walk, you will look ridiculous.
And be wary of teaming very high heels with a very short skirt - hardly anyone can pull this off without looking like a tramp.
Other accessories should be equally carefully chosen - they pull an outfit together and tell the world how cool, elegant and sophisticated you are.
Think Jackie O and her sunglasses or Audrey Hepburn and her scarf.
Choose accessories as you would friends, seeking out the ones that complement you, make you feel confident, and stick by you through ups and downs, men, and extra pounds.
The key is keeping it personal - your grandmother's pendant or a bracelet from Mexico - and keeping it tasteful.
Think big necklace or big earrings, not both.
Your wardrobe of finishing touches, should also include a good tailor who can make anything look expensive by making it fit you perfectly.
So get them to revamp older items, shorten trousers but keep the same finish and turn vintage finds into one-of-a-kind keepsakes.
Finally, remember style is not about being perfect.
It's the Kate Moss factor. She never looks like she is trying too hard.
Something is always a bit off: her hair is messy, her accessories don't match, her shirt is rumpled. Yet she always looks amazing.
Perfection is over-rated.
Looking like you're always ready for a photoshoot is not style. Looking like you know how to live, how to have fun and how to let your hair down is.
STYLE TIPS FROM THE EXPERTS
Ralph Lauren: "Breaking rules is what makes clothes interesting. I love mixing fabrics and shapes in unexpected ways - classic with modern, rugged with elegant."
John Galliano: "Glamour today is confidence, independence, not giving a damn, going for it and indulging your desires - in fashion, life and living."
Donatella Versace: "The most valuable item in your wardrobe is not a piece of clothing; it is an accessory. With a quick switch of a handbag or a pair of shoes, you can instantly change your look and mood."
Heidi Klum: "Wear something you feel gorgeous in and don't try too hard; it's much sexier when it appears effortless. Clothes that don't fit, or don't fit the wearer's personality, don't help."
Giorgio Armani: "Elegance is the result of a natural equilibrium between simplicity, looking after oneself and intelligence. All this generates the attitude we call elegance. It is a quality which, contrary to popular belief, does not require deep pockets."
Elle Macpherson: "Find a personal style by not following trends. I have worn jeans, a white T-shirt, a cashmere jumper and knee-high, cowboy or motorcycle boots, or ballet flats for 25 years. The shape of the jeans changes and that's about it. There is something disquieting about clothing schizophrenia."
Zac Posen: "Dress to make an entrance the same way you dress to make an exit: with aplomb, shoulders back and a withheld secret."
• Extracted by Claire Coleman from The Little Black Book Of Style by Nina Garcia. All rights reserved. Published by arrangement with Collins, an imprint of Harper Collins Publishers, out in November priced at £10.99.