Send your fashion problems to: Dear Annie, Independent on Sunday, 1 Canada Square, Canary Wharf, London E14 5DL, or fax them on: 0171 293 2043. E-mail:

I few years ago, while on a trip to the States, I bought my wife what, I think, was called a hostess dress. I would call it a kaftan. Basically it was two large pieces of material hemmed at strategic spots along the sides and top with openings for arms and head. It's in large geometric patterns of white and black. She wears it as a loose casual thing to relax in around the house. Now it's getting a bit tatty so on another trip to the States (from which I've just returned) I tried to find something like it for her birthday. Unfortunately, such things no longer appear to be available. When I tried to describe what I wanted I kept being offered pastel-coloured flannel things covered with little flowers. I understand some people sleep in them; can't imagine why. I seem to be coming up with the same problem here. No one knows what a "kaftan" is and I keep getting directed to the sleepwear department. I am getting desperate. I can't fall back on flowers or chocs, as she gets those anyway. Can you help? And quickly! Her birthday is this Saturday. Hope your children and pigs are in good health ... Cheers. PS I noticed in your book that the shoe repair shop I suggested to you a couple of years ago that repairs bags has doubled its charges. I hope this wasn't a result of my recommendation. I should learn to keep my mouth shut.

Michael, via e-mail

Don't keep your mouth shut because your recommendation was very useful. But if it did double its charges because of all the free publicity we gave it, then that is very crap and why I am not mentioning its name. And yes thank you, my children and pigs are in good health, but I fear this answer is too late for your wife's birthday. Sorry but I need a bit more than three days' notice! But there is nothing wrong with a second, belated birthday present is there? Get a catalogue from Denny Andrews (tel: 01793 762476) - she makes all manner of kaftans and kaftan type things, priced pounds 39+p&p.

I have a hat dilemma. Due to a long-term illness, I need to keep the sun off my head at all times and although I have various baseball caps, I would like another style of hat that I could wear with smart casual clothes. I don't want to look like I'm off to a wedding but I don't want to look like a trainspotter either. Can you suggest any styles or shops or even hat catalogues?

Wendy P Swann, Bristol

The obvious place I would tell you to try is Gap, which nearly always does pretty but not OTT hats. Also try Racing Green (tel: 0990 411111 for a catalogue, p&p pounds 3.50) which has something called an Italian ribbon hat (page 54 of the summer catalogue) which comes in navy or red and costs pounds 18 - it's a cotton, small-brimmed "shrug-on" type of hat and very nice. Racing Green also has a "soft fine braid hat", pounds 28, which is a classic straw hat style. The Peruvian Collection (tel: 0800 550000 for a catalogue) also does some good hats including a crushable straw one for a quite expensive pounds 89. And (my fave) a cloche-style hat which it calls a brown-straw short- brimmed hat, pounds 39, which is different and smart.

Call me a conspiracy theorist if you will, but I don't believe you are the real Annie. The real Annie has been silenced, hasn't she? I'm right aren't I? Having said that ... I will keep my mouth shut if you, the ersatz Annie, promise to tell me where I can get brightly coloured leggings for the longer (and I mean longer) leg. Deal? Great! Ta very much.

Georgina Clack, Truro, Cornwall

Oh do shut up. See, I am the real Annie. And we don't have a deal.

Thank you for your most interesting, non-pretentious column. It is a delight. My fashion problem, is this: in the summer I wear linen almost exclusively. I buy linen clothes which have a soft, floppy, dimpled kind of look (rather than the crisper finish, I hope you know what I mean). When I wash them (at 40C) and iron them they lose their lovely soft dimples and become crisp and stiff. This may be to some people's taste, but I would prefer to retain the original finish. What am I doing wrong? I hope you can help.

Mercedes Kemp, Cornwall

Linen and cotton always crisp up after washing. I have a pair of linen trousers that are gorgeously floppy but after washing they go stiff as a board. (As for ironing ... please! I gave that up after baby number two.) My answer? Use fabric conditioner, stop ironing and wear them as soon as possible. Body temperature breaks up that invisible crisping agent that washing seems to instil in linen. And have a Pimms.

Do you know where I can get vintage dress patterns? I am getting married this summer and am having my dress made. I love vintage clothes and thought it would be great to have a dress made from a Thirties or Forties pattern. Can you help?

Emma Hart, via e-mail

I am very late - too late I'm sure - in replying to this and I apologise profusely but for what it's worth, and for others looking for the same sort of thing, what you need is the "Authentic Patterns from the Past" catalogue from Amazon Vinegar and Picking Works Drygoods company (yes really). Their catalogue is fantastic - it has historical dress patterns and some great "fancy dress" patterns. Contact at 2218 East 11th Street, Davenport, Iowa 52803-3760, US (tel: 0013193226800; fax: 0013193224003).