dear annie

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My girlfriend has lovely long hair but cannot find a decent bathing cap to wear in our municipal swimming pool. Unlike most women, she wants to protect her hair from the chlorine, which gives her split ends and ruins its fine nature. Most bathing caps are old-fashioned and make her look like a pinhead! The ones on sale at the baths in machines (no, not those machines) are thin and designed for women with perfect oval features - or mannequins. They don't really flatter her. She wants a cap that will give her a bit of height on the top of her head. Colour/pattern are less important. Bathing caps don't seem to have kept pace with other sportswear or swimwear. As you can see at any pool, most women put style before haircare and simply do not wear a cap. Any ideas?

Richard Lysons, Bury

I cannot tell you how stylish I look in my Speedo silicon cap, high- necked swimsuit and mirrored goggles, and I put performance before how I look any swimming day of the week. I can't help thinking it's a bit naff to worry that much about how you look when you swim, but your nice girlie obviously does, so I'll shut up. Most swimming caps make people look like they have a pinhead - to get height, one must wear synchronised swimming-style hats, with lots of frou frou flowers (and isn't that just another way of looking ridiculous?). World-renowned photographer Valerie Phillips shot some for my renowned colleague, Ms Barbieri, last year. (For a copy, call back issues on 01988 402455 and ask for Real Life, 28 July 1996, it'll cost ya.) In it were some splendid examples of swimming hats from sports' shops (Lillywhites, London W1; Mundy Sports, London N10), and some vintage ones from Delta of Venus (0171 387 3037) and Greenwich Market. There's also a fabulously cheeky catalogue of Bjorn Borg designs (0171 581 0150), including some superb examples of headwear. My hunch is she'll find what she wants from vintage shops.

My mum has just "inherited" a Burberry raincoat from my grandad. She thinks it's quite stylish and it fits her well. It has padded shoulders, is loose fitting and just below the knee. The problem is that the material changes colour from light-green to purple to orange. I think it is quite naff. What do you think - before she makes serious fools of us all?

Georgie Cooke (14), Shropshire

I've never heard of a Burberry raincoat that does such a thing. Some have a subtle sheen but nothing as trippy as you describe. Well, Georgie, let me tell you a bit about Burberry trenchcoats. Thomas Burberry created gabardine in the 1870s, the fabric most Burberry's are made from. Gabardine is hard-wearing, keeps the rain out, doesn't crease and is a joy to wear. Lots of debonair young men wore gabardine - Amundsen, Scott and Shackleton wore it to the South Pole, as did Alcock and Brown, when they became the first men to fly across the Atlantic in 1919. Burberry trenchcoats were officially sanctioned by the War Office and the Admirality and were worn by half a million combatant officers in the Great War (1914-1918) - hence the "trench" coat name. The 'D' rings were for attaching grenades to the front and a sword at the back. Kitchener died in his Burberry trenchcoat. After the war, these brave young men brought their trenches home and they became part of everyday life. Peter Sellers wore one in The Pink Panther Strikes Again. He loved it so much that he kept two just in case. So, you see what a romantic history (although there is nothing romantic about war) Burberry's trenchcoats have? Look at your mother with pride; there is nothing naff about her heirloom and, remember, it might be yours one day. They last quite a while.

I have recently worn out a favourite night-shirt and am finding it impossible to replace. My requirements are that it must be brushed cotton and full (calf/ankle) length, preferably with only three of four buttons at the neck, like a rugby shirt, not buttons all the way down. I'd rather it didn't have a collar. All the night-shirts I have been able to find in London have been like big shirts: buttons all the way down, with a big, floppy collar and not nearly long enough (barely to the knee). Is there anywhere I could get one more like the one that has gone into holes? (The old one had "Bonsoir, Made in England" on the label and came from an outfitters in Oxford, if that helps.)

JW Stevenson, London WC1

We were in a quandary as to your sex, since nothing about your letter hints at this. Clare, my fabulous illustrator, took you to be female, as did my foxy assistant, Zoe, when I showed her your letter. I, however, think you are a man. I wonder which of us is right? Anyhow, JW Bonsoir makes fabulous pyjamas and night stuff. My father always wears them and, when I was very small, I would wear his pyjama tops when he went away on business because they smelt of him. Hence, I have always had a bit of a soft spot for Bonsoir. They do brushed-cotton night-shirts in winter (but they do have some left, contact them on 0171 439 2101) and plain cotton in summer. They cost about pounds 55 and are calf length. Hopefully, they are exactly what you want. And please let me know if you are a boy or a girl. Thank you.

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