DEAR ANNIE...

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I'm looking for a dress to wear to early evening worky things and dinners with friends, that looks special and partyish, but isn't armless and minuscule. I don't like the on-the-knee length, so long would be best but not ball-gown-type long. Not too clingy, but figure flattering, and any colour, even black.

Jane, London

Jane, when you say armless I presume you mean sleeveless. You are severely restricting your options by asking for this so I am going to ignore it, sort of, because you can always wear a little cardigan over the top and then, when you are sufficiently marinated in booze, take it off. H&M (formerly known as Hennes, tel: 0171 323 2211) has done quite the best evening dresses. Just superb. From the absolute most fabulous black ball-gown (not for you but I'm telling others) with detachable straps (pounds 50), to a wine full- skirt (pounds 25) that could be worn as is or puffed up with petticoats and would look good with the simplest of black tops (and can be as smart or as casual as you want really), to dresses with a more ornate neckline (pounds 30). All in a matt satin fabric, which is divine (trust me), in black or wine. It also does party trousers (black with ornate drop sequin hems, pounds 35) and tops (pounds 25). This shop is really worth a visit - go to the one in Marble Arch, London, which is the best by far. Then take a trip to Debenhams (tel: 0171 408 4444), which has done fabulous pieces by designers such as Ben de Lisi (great dress for pounds 150) and Pierce II Fionda (flamenco skirt, pounds 100). If you really want to blow the budget go to Elspeth Gibson's shop in 7 Pont Street, London (tel: 0171 235 0601), which has totally gorgeous embroidered beaded skirts that start at the pounds 700 mark. (I did say blow the budget!) PS: Also see my suggestions for Louise below as they might be right for you too!

On New Year's Eve my neighbours and I are holding a "safari" party where we will all go to different houses throughout the evening and everyone takes responsibility for hosting a different part of the fun. To make it a bit special we have decided that each house will be themed on one of the decades of this century. Ours is to be the 1930s house, so we're having Thirties music, dress, etc. My husband will need period evening attire and I will need either to hire a Thirties frock or buy a modern one with a Thirties feel. Where might we go to buy/hire these kinds of clothes?

Louise, Kent

Yes, this is a Dear Annie party-outfit special, OK? Not a lot of space this week so, Louise, some quick suggestions. If you decide to go for a "new" dress with a Thirties feel I have found two that would be good for you. The first is a gorgeous pink satin one by Warehouse (tel: 0800 9159902) for pounds 60, sizes 8-16. It has frilled capped sleeves and a plunge neck with gathering under the bust, and a tulip hem. It is a three-quarter length dress, however, so if you want a full-length one head for your nearest branch of Asda to stock George at Asda clothes (tel: 0500 100055). There you will find a sublime champagne-coloured satin dress with a draped neckline - very Thirties - for pounds 34.99 (sizes 8-18). If you decide to go vintage try: Cornucopia (tel: 0171 828 5752); Gallery of Antique Costumes & Textile (tel: 0171 723 9981) or Wardrobe in Brighton (tel: 01273 202201). I suggest your husband hires his outfit: try Bertie Wooster (tel: 0171 731 5772), Angels (tel: 0171 836 5678) or Crazy Clothes Connection (tel: 0171 221 3989). Have fun!

I am looking for one shop from which I will be able to buy my "festive" outfit. I would like either a fab pair of trousers or shirt/jacket. I quite fancy something frilly or glittery and am not shy of something a bit boho - I would prefer that to too smart. But I don't want something that would make me look out of place at a fashionable party. I am 32, 6ft, and quite skinny, but don't want to look like Jarvis Cocker, so no yellow/brown jackets please.

Richard, Isle of Wight

How about a nice yellow/brown jacket? Only joking. Anyway, hmmmm ... you sound nice! I do like a man with long skinny legs. What you need to do (although you are a bit lazy, ain't you, wanting only one shop) is go to Paul Smith at 40-43 Floral Street, London WC2 (tel: 0171 379 7133). He has fabulous embroidered/ jewelled shirts from pounds 210 that I think are quite the thing! Wear them with plain trousers though, otherwise it will be too much. If you haven't got a plain pair then you can get these at PS's too.

Lovely readers, I have to tell you that after this column I am taking two weeks off to prepare for Christmas. See you on 5 December.

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: annie@independent.co.uk Website: www.dearannie.com

Annie regrets that she cannot enter into personal correspondence. Dear Annie is a registered trademark. Dear Annie, the book, is available priced pounds 9.99, published by Faber and Faber.

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