dear annie

I work in Thailand for five to six months per year and I need to wear tights or pop-socks. I cannot find any either there or here that don't ladder on the first wearing. I have been told that there are some tights that are very hard-wearing available by mail order: I don't mean run-resistant things one can buy in shops. Can you help?

N Dickins

I don't know if I got your name right, but it was rather hard to read. The only very hard-wearing ones I have heard of are the run-resistant ones you don't like, which you often find advertised in the classifieds of the Sunday papers, or through those mail order brochures that pop out of the papers (for those interested, a company called Independence does 20 denier run-resistant tights in mink and nearly black in packs of three. They cost pounds 4.99 for hip sizes up to 42; pounds 5.99 for 42-48ins; pounds 6.50 for 48-54ins; pounds 7.50 for 56-64ins; pounds 8.50 for 64-72ins; and pounds 9.99 for 72-80ins. prices include p&p, call 0181 861 1722). What can you be doing to them to make them ladder on the first wearing? There are certainly things you can do to make hosiery last longer (an old wives' tales says putting them in the freezer first helps, but I have never tried this out!) and generally, the higher the denier, the longer they last. There are a few tips on how to make tights and pop-socks last longer such as: wash by hand or in a laundry bag on a delicates wash; don't wear jewellery when putting on etc. But hosiery is delicate and, short of wearing chainmail tights, something, somewhere will get them.

My father is 75, lives in Australia, and has a sense of humour. He recently wrote that he is "getting thinner on top", and as I know that he has always been reluctant to visit the barber, I would love to buy him a baseball cap with a long, grey ponytail attached to it. Do you know if anyone in London sells them?

Christine, London

I have tried all the usual joke / party / toy shops for you and they didn't have any, although one kind chap told me that you can sometimes get them in some of those little shops in Carnaby Street or Covent Garden (the sort that also sell policemen's helmets, you know). Why don't you make him one? The haberdashery sections of big department stores sometimes do fake hair bits for puffing out buns and the like, and then you can just pin it on. This seems the best and cheapest way to put a smile on your father's face. (If you're not funny about these things you could even ask your hairdresser to keep a clean, shorn length of hair for you, although I think you'll have more luck if you don't hold out for grey.) However, if you are really serious then in the wig department of Selfridges they do fake ponytails for pounds 35 (Oxford St, 0171 629 1234), or Trendco (229 Kensington Church St, W11, 0171 221 2646) does them for pounds 49. This does seem rather excessive, not to say expensive, but I try to leave no stone unturned.

Do you have a list of outsize mail order companies please? We live in Aberdeen which has an Evans, full stop.

Marilyn, Aberdeen

Dear readers, I am currently working on lots of directories: dressmakers, big shoes and outsize. The big shoe one will be ready first but, as regular readers know, there has been a bit of a hitch with it and I have to re- input all the data due to a particularly greedy pig called Paddington who made a dreadful mess of the previous disc. He likes to come in to the house, and, being an extremely rare and expensive piggy, we tend not to scold him (although I do shout "bacon" at him occasionally, and that sends him trotting off). My eldest child, Leonardo, bless him, has been trying to help me but, being only seven years old, seems to be more interested in spreading Nutella about my keyboard. But I have a shiny brand new assistant, Zoe, starting tomorrow so I shall just have to make her get her nose to the grindstone and you will all have your directories in time for Christmas. Watch this space for details of the others (no more SAEs yet!) and, in addition, my renowned colleague Ms Barbieri will be running an outsize feature soon.

This request is slightly at a tangent to your usual queries, but I hope you'll be able to help. I make most of my clothes and love dressmaking. Thanks to Vogue patterns, I could have a wardrobe full of Donna Karan and Issey Miyake, but finding fabric is depressingly difficult. Liberty is fantastic, but I wonder if you could suggest anywhere a bit closer to Leeds, or mail order specialists. I've tried finding shops through magazine adverts, but without much success. What I'm after at the moment is wool/Lycra mixes, wool jersey, cotton duck, and trouser weight linen. Any suggestions would be greatly appreciated.

Sue Hamelman, Leeds

The good news is that Liberty produces a catalogue (pounds 3.50 plus 50p p&p), but this does not have everything in it. For other stuff the company can provide samples of fabric if you write to them: Liberty, Regent Street, London W1R 6AH, tel: 0171 734 1234 (and ask for extn 2244 for the mail- order catalogue). John Lewis, Oxford St, London W1 also provides a spiffing service, nothing less than I would expect of my beloved Johnny Loulou's. They have a whole department dedicated to samples, and will send out, free of charge, up to five samples of fabric if you call and describe the sort of thing you want. This is for fabric up to pounds 25 per metre - any fabric costing more than that, and you will have to buy a 10cm piece. When you have decided what you want, you can order by phone, paying by Switch or account card (not credit cards). Call John Lewis on 0171 629 7711 and ask for dress fabrics.

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