Dear Annie

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I have two pairs of very nice, sharp-waisted, wide-leg cuffed trousers which I wear with a black polo neck or a crisp French-cuffed shirt. However I haven't worn them for ages and when I put one pair on this morning the looked all wrong somehow. The waist was great but they seemed too wide at the bottom and looked too short on me. Are wide trousers out and am I displaying an innate fashion sense? What length should trousers like this be, and what kind of shoes should one wear? (I favour classic black American loafers or English brogues). If they are out, is it worth hanging on to them? I always thought they were classics but maybe I'm wrong.

Dismal, Penge

Well, wide-legged trousers are classic. You only have to watch old films with actresses such as Katharine Hepburn and Lauren Bacall to see that wide trousers endure because they work. The first thing to work out is if they are indeed too short. You can do this easily by comparing them with a pair of tailored trousers that you wear happily. Short, wide-legged trousers are not a good idea. What you wear with them (polo neck etc) sounds perfect. I have a pair of crepe, non-cuffed, wide-legged troos and I went through a similar thing: having worn them for years with loafers they suddenly one day seemed too ''flappy''. I solved this by wearing them with biker boots which somehow seemed to balance them out. Wide-legged trousers should skim the bottom of your ankle bone, but you can get away with a longer length if the fabric is fluid. Both the shoes you mentioned would be good, and wearing opaque stockings underneath would also be an idea as this provides an unbroken ''line'' between hem and shoe. Hang on to them and give them a second chance.

I am a barrister and welcomed the new ruling allowing us to wear trousers in court. However I am quite masculine looking anyway, and dread someone addressing me as Sir. How can I wear a trouser suit without looking like a man?

D.Cornell (Ms), London

The main difference between a man and woman's suit is that the jacket on the woman's will be fitted. You can wear a short fitted jacket with a peplum over your trousers and any judge or legal person who mistakes you for a man should be struck off. You are a barrister so you must earn far too much money. Go and spend some of it at Vivienne Westwood (6 Davies Street, W1). She makes sexy, subversive but overtly conventional suits (well not all of them are) that will suit you fine.

I have an interview for a place on a Degree course in Art and Design in two weeks. I am in some confusion as to appropriate attire, as my contemporaries who are being interviewed for law, medicine etc are attending their interviews in rather conformist suits. You will understand that first impressions are important and I intend to appear individual; but how rigidly should one stick to tradition? Do you have any suggestions?

Alison Rolf, Norwich

Sadly you did not leave me enough time to reply to you. I hope all went well, but I thought I'd print your letter anyway as I am sure lots of people face this dilemma. Incidentally, I have a waiting list of about five weeks now for replies to reader's problems (and yes they are real), although I shall always try to make room for pressing problems. You do not tell me what you normally wear, but wherever possible you should stick to your natural style. I understand that you want to look individualistic and yet not like you're trying to do the art-school thing. Neither do you want to look like you're trying out for job in a bank. What about an A-line mini dress with a hip belt or hipsters? Prada do some great ones but I suspect you won't be able to afford them on a student's grant money (if you still get grants). I can't afford Prada and would love to meet someone who can. Anyway, an A-line something or other and hipsters are very trendy and I that's what I'd wear, cos they look smart but not boring. You are right, first impressions are important, but looking confident, friendly and clean is a lot more important than anything else. Good luck.

I am of medium height, size 10 but shapeless. Flat chested,no waist definition - I might as well have been born a boy. I always wear large loose shirts or jumpers over long skirts or trousers as my legs are also thin. It's tiresome, yet I don't see any alternative. Exploiting androgyny and wearing tight things is not an option, as I find it embarrassing to be like this. As a school girl in the 1960s it was easy, because you could be my sort of shape and still be a woman. I would like to wear frills occasionally, yet I think I would look like a man in drag. I sometimes think that antique clothes or theatrical costumes, might be the answer - 1920s styles would suit me. What do you advise?

Anne Lee, Birmingham

Well the 1960s are a very strong influence again so you should find some of the styles suitable for you again (although of course you may have to adapt them slightly, as what suited you then might not any more). Have you seen Roman Holiday with Audrey Hepburn? She had the figure of a cheese straw and yet she looked fantastically feminine in that film, with wide skirts tightly belted (which will define your waist) and neat little blouses. I don't think you will look like a man in drag at all if you wear frills. I know someone who is incredibly thin, she battles to keep her weight up, and yet she always looks feminine and stylish. She wears capri pants and wonderful crisp shirts, adding a touch of colour with a neck scarf (and she is nearly 50 so I am not describing some teenager). As for antique clothes and the like, well you could try them. Antique clothes are considerably smaller than modern ones and you will pick up some lovely pieces. But the point is that no matter what shape you are, you are still a woman.

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