Tonight's the night and I feel all right

Every woman should have one - a `lucky' dress. Cayte Williams hears the tales behind 12 fabulous frocks and Dear Annie assesses their pulling power
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The Independent Culture
Wendy Olver, 39, costume designer & make-up artist: This is my favourite dress because it's eye-catching and almost silly. I bought it in Camden Market two years ago. When I first saw it, it looked really tiny, but my friend pursuaded me I could squeeze into it. It's like an old Diaghilev ballet dress. It's made from velvet knit and satin, and there's a pair of bloomers and netting underneath the skirt to make it stand out. The multi-coloured velvet discs have all been individually sewn on and it only cost me pounds 45. I'm not a plunge-neckline or Wonderbra person and don't want to attract "suits" - when I pull, I want to pull someone with character. It was this dress that persuaded my boyfriend that I was the girl for him - he likes cartoon, comical characters. He's got a bit of a fetish for Minnie Mouse.

Annie's verdict: This is the perfect filter-outer of boring, conventional men. It will attract a different sort - the type that has snowstorm bubbles and reads you poetry up a tree.

Siobhan Belton, 26, Chef: My sister spotted this leopard-print dress in a shop window and made me buy it - it cost pounds 60. I'm not into showing off my figure but I am a flamboyant dresser. I like to wear things that stand out in a crowd. I've been asked out quite a few times in this dress, although on a second date I wear something much less raunchy - it would be too much of a statement if I wore it in a one-to-one situation. If I go to a party where there'll be a bunch of good-looking blokes I wear this to get noticed. I like to look foxy, and it does the trick. I've never met a man I really like wearing this frock, but it's not through lack of trying. At the end of the day, I wear clothes for myself and not for anyone else.

Annie's verdict: Mmm! Seemingly very demure, but it works because it defines the body and its print makes Siobhan look like a feline temptress.

Aine Belton, singer, 24: I bought this in Crouch End for pounds 49 and it's made from stretchy, tight-fit fabric. I wear it a lot when I'm singing and people love it because it's such a great colour - a real colbalt blue. The first time I wore it my friends went on about it for days. You can't wear a bra with it, and everyone kept saying how my nipples were poking out! Once when I was wearing it this man called me a goddess, but I didn't fancy him, which is a shame. If I want to impress a more sophisticated man I wear this dress. It's not too tarty and not too posh. I wear it when my sister and I go out together. She's the redhead, and I'm the blonde so we look quite good together!

Annie's verdict: Classic, figure-hugging, worn on a great figure and with minimum accessories - how can it not work?

Angie Smith, 28, Biba Collector & Valuer: In 1994 I used to walk past a clothes stall in Covent Garden on the way to work. I wore Biba every day then and the stall-owner gave me this dress because she knew I'd value it. She said something very naughty had happened to her wearing it and if I knew what it was I wouldn't put it on. She'd bought it from the original Biba shop in 1968 and I'd love to know what she did in it! I wear it to dinner parties a lot. My boyfriend loves it and I'd wear it every day if I could. It has such a mysterious past.

Annie's verdict: I want to know too! What a delicious story. You can't help but have an air of mystery in such a dress. I wonder if the stallholder shagged the whole of Led Zeppelin in it? In any case, what a great sales pitch.

Ama Clarissa Ihenacho-Bellgam, 38, teacher: My parents come from Nigeria where you have to wear an Egerebite, a dress which grooms you for womanhood, on your wedding day. I couldn't go back for this ceremony when I got married 17 years ago because of the civil war, but I eventually went back in 1985. The women of the tribe put me in a room for four days, where I was groomed and pampered with oils and perfumes. If men want to take a look at you in the dress, they have to give the women gifts and money. You wear the Egerebite for the Chief's blessing and the ceremony. My dress is hand-woven and has been passed down from generation to generation - it is over 100 years old. I still wear it for special occasions, because it has very special memories.

Annie's verdict: What fantasticness! Don't I always tell you that classic clothes never date? Ama should still charge men to see her in it.

Miss Kimberley, Club Hostess/ Singer/ Actress, 21: This dress was made for my 21st birthday by a costume designer called John Kroser. I met him while I was filming The Killer Tongue. It's made from velvet and it cost me pounds 250, which is a lot of money for me. I get loads of attention in it because the split is so high and it has a midriff as well. Men and women are always chatting me up when I wear it. People know me for wearing very little clothes so when I showed up for the party - 2 1/2 hours late and a bit drunk - everyone thought "Oh my god! She never wears clothes, even to a special occasion!" It's elegant-sexy not tarty-sexy and I think that's what turns men on. My boyfriend loves this dress.

Annie's verdict: Is this a dress? Everything about it hints at naughties, the slit plays peek-a-boo with Miss K's pants in a most tantalising fashion, and all that midriff! Great, but could only be worn by people with equally fab tummies. What a drag.

Paris Jefferson, actress, 28: I bought this in Sydney two years ago. It's made from pale blue chiffon and cost pounds 40. I love it because it's sexy but it doesn't display every curve. It's kittenish. Not long after I bought it I went to Rome. I went into a bar to meet a friend and walked past this gorgeous guy, surrounded by women. We made eye contact but I sat with my back to him, waiting for my friend. After about 10-15 minutes he sent a drink over to me. He came and sat next to me and said he'd never seen such a beautiful dress and that it matched my eyes. We had a passionate love affair and still see each other.

Annie's verdict: Oh my God. My favourite. Everything about this dress spells sex. Those demure straps just waiting to fall off the shoulders; those ties at the front that make you want to unravel them and fling this young fillie on to the bed. I almost feel like doing a Sophie Ward.

Becky John, Fashion Stylist, 33: I found this dress in a department store in Bristol. I was a poor student at the time and it cost me pounds 5 because it's sheer and didn't have a slip underneath. I thought, who needs a slip anyway? They're for grannies. It's made from devore velvet. It's a bit of an attention-seeking dress and I'd wear it to a party if I wanted to meet someone. I met my boyfriend when I was wearing it so it hasn't done too badly for a fiver. He was a bit taken aback by it because it's quite a clingy, sheer little number. It's definitely his favourite dress. I bought it in 1984 and met my boyfriend 18 months ago, so it's got lasting appeal. I'll still be wearing it when I'm 90!

Annie's verdict: This works on an age-old man-trapping theory: the less they see, the more they want to. Expect to attract a better class of bloke in a dress like this.

Janella Gibbs, Magazine Director, 44: This dress symbolises my new start - I call it my divorce dress. I had just broken up from a long relationship and been made redundant - I needed a tonic, so I treated myself to this perfect-fit, black velvet dress from Ben de Lisi's showroom in Soho. I had it fitted and it cost about pounds 300. That was three or four years ago at the height of grunge, which I hated. I thought, bring back glamour! The guys I've been out with have adored it because it`s so simple and non-threatening to other women or to men. If I were going to a glamorous party with lots of eligible men, I'd certainly wear it. I wore it for my 40th birthday party and people were gob-smacked.

Annie's verdict: A clever choice: a simple black dress on an ordinary woman will always be just a simple black dress. But on a woman of great character it becomes a great dress.

Alison Pickering, Remuneration Consultant, 31: I bought this in Leeds three years ago and on the hanger it looked absolutely nothing, but once it was on it seemed to flatter me in all the right places. It cost me about pounds 300. I get lots of attention in it because I feel good, and consequently have a lot of charisma and energy. I bought it for a wedding reception where my boyfriend's ex-wife was going to be. There were lots of people there who knew them both and my dress made me feel confident. Men flirt a lot with me when I wear it - I have a good, fun evening. I've had a few dalliances wearing this frock, but nothing that's turned into a relationship. But then, I haven't finished wearing it!

Annie's verdict: I can see why men flirt with Alison in this: it's very fitted - hinting at bondage - and that sweetheart neckline points devilishly downwards.

Sharon Wilson, 23, receptionist: I saw this dress about a year ago in Selfridge's in London. I think it's made from Lycra; it cost pounds 85. I get a lot of attention when I wear it and it is my pulling frock because the first time I wore it I met my boyfriend on a blind date. He loved my dress and still does. It was one of the things he liked about me, he thought it was really sexy. When I put my other things on, although they're nice dresses, he always thinks this one looks the best. Maybe it's because he met me in it.

Annie's verdict: A very confident outfit - after all, with shoes and pants one would be wearing only three things and hence, men think, only three things to get off you. That's very sexy to a certain kind of man.

Sandy Stagg, 56, owner of The Antique Clothing Shop, Portobello Road: I bought this Zandra Rhodes dress in Toronto in 1978 and it cost me pounds 400, which was an awful lot of money. Toronto is a small town so everyone knew what I paid for it! In those days I edited a trendy art magazine called "File". This became a signature dress for me. When Debbie Harry, Iggy Pop or Andy Warhol came to Toronto they'd hang out with us, and more often than not I was wearing this. I also used to fly between Toronto and New York, and this was my Studio 54 dress. My boyfriend at the time was very proud of me in it, and when he got married three years ago, he asked to me to wear it to his wedding - he remembered it after nearly 20 years!

Annie's verdict: Every time Sandy puts this on she must remember all the fun she's had in it, putting her in a frame of mind to have lots more.