But do I really need a pair of edible knickers?

mail-order junkie

The mail-order catalogue is a licence to thrill, the chance to wave goodbye to floral waist-high briefs, chuck out the greying Y-fronts and ditch the pop-socks as you wait for the silken body stockings and contour-kissing bodysuits to slip quietly through your letterbox. Or so I thought.

Underwear catalogues are an affront to the senses, the process of selection in turns so dizzying or disgusting, the whole experience is enough to send one scampering to the shopping mall. Sleazy or dated, the choice is either bordello tack displayed by pouting, fleshy models, or post- war - which is panelled briefs and reinforced conical bras displayed by fixed-grin brunettes.

As for the men's range, gone are the days of boxers versus Y-fronts. The choice is a heady mix of T-top bodies, tangas, twin-strap strings, thongs and micro slips - all invariably modelled by wannabe gladiators. Red braces and boxer shorts with hearts on are clearly passe. The slingshot - "this season's most wanted cut-away body" - is a cross between a wrestling leotard and a G-string. Yours, boys, for only pounds 14.99 from the ever-surprising Burlington catalogue. NB: fake tan, clip-on muscles and P&P not included. The less sporty may prefer their cotton boxer shorts covered in cars (two for pounds 12.99). More classic boxer shorts are available from Boden, Hackett and Next, which also does American-style checks for pounds 8.99 and, for those wanting to look like something out of the Walton family on TV, there are button-fly trunks for pounds 8.99.

The advantage for women of the bumper catalogues (Empire, Littlewoods, Freemans) is the wide range: Burlington has some of the covetable Lepel range, while Empire does Felicia as well as the unforgettable Miss Mary of Sweden, whose zip-front corselet with stretch-satin front panel at pounds 51.99 is, quite simply, a vision in viscose.

If you can ignore the models in the Janet Reger catalogue, who stand about by washbasins, snarling and looking like extras in Dallas, the silk satin and French lace underwear is fancy and luxurious. It is the sort of stuff businessmen buy their lady friends for Christmas, but don't let that put you off. Far better that somebody should make the purchase for you, since the silk camisoles are a scorching pounds 128, the silk/satin bridal bustiers pounds 196; but these are a snip compared to the French-laced "mini slips" for pounds 299.

It is with a sigh of relief that I turn to the selection of exquisite bodies in the Kingshill Accessories Collection catalogue. The velvet layered body looks soft and slinky. It is called, mysteriously, a Tahiti, it is pounds 79 and a Must Have, as is everything from Hanro Direct, all stylishly understated and made of soft cotton.

Which is more than can be said of the goodies in the Anne Summers catalogue, most of which are made of nylon or polyester. But this is your Mecca for gold-studded nylon thongs, zip-fronted vests and velour basques, not to mention alligator posing pouches and strawberry-flavoured digestible knickers.

There is no denying it. Shopping for smalls by post is a perplexing affair. I do not know what is more embarrassing: to be caught ordering a pair of edible knickers from Ann Summers or a Playtex pantie girdle from Freemans. Perhaps I will not be chucking out those floral waste-huggers after all.

That's the doorbell. How I love this moment. I dash down the stairs and return with a huge box. It is the linen trouser suit I ordered last week from Boden. It is a beautiful royal blue, the linen is impressively weighty and the trousers so well cut they would flatter a treetrunk. But the jacket slopes off my shoulders. Back it goes into the box. No matter. The peppermint linen suit from Racing Green arrived this morning. It is cool and classic and fits like a glove.

Freemans 0345 900 100; Empire 0345 200 400; Burlington 0181-919 9123; Littlewoods 0181-919 9123; Kingshill 01494 890555; Janet Reger 0171-584 9360; Next 0345 100 500; Anne Summers 0181-763 0122; Hanro Direct 01234 241499; Boden 0181-964 2662; Racing Green 0345 3311177

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