By virtue of the institution that inspired it, military dressing should be ceremonious and rigid - or, at the very least, formal. But the designers and retailers who have adopted the theme, slated to be one of the hottest looks of next season, have struck a balance between fashion relevance and acceptance by the consumer. What that boils down to is military style that is anything but uniform, and a tactical approach to design that is anything but intimidating. And despite the suggestion of harshness that rises from a military image, fashion specialists have managed to infuse their collections with more than a touch of feminine styling. It can be seen in the colours, which run from regimentary browns and khakis to soft pastels. It can be felt in the fabrics - cashmere and brocade from Chanel have been fashioned into the most dramatic of military coats. But it will be the little touches that will serve to define the look of the season: epaulettes are a must-have on any new coat or jacket, as are strong buttons in brass, silver - and even the odd general-star from Prada. Look for a super-slim and tailored fit with belts that are strung through loops, trousers that flare gently into a bootleg and knee-high boots that go with an elongated skirt or a pair of narrow pants. And the most endearing element of military dressing is that there are, surprisingly, few fashion cliches: amidst the spate of soldier-inspired collections, there are few stars and stripes where there shouldn't be.