Dear Annie

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My 16-year-old daughter is going to a school leavers' ball at the end of June and we have been hunting with increasing desperation for The Dress. The style she has in mind is very simple so I thought we could get a pattern and have it made, but even that has proved impossible. She wants a long, sleeveless, scoop-necked, high-backed, fit-and-flare dress in a slinky fabric, preferably red. Each of these details is apparently of vital importance. We have tried a couple of hire shops but their styles, frankly, looked like overstuffed cushions. It is no problem for us to come to London.

Gill Kotschy, Babraham, Cambridgeshire

Unfortunately you have not given me enough time to fully research something so specific. Having it made is the best idea, and not being able to find a pattern should not really be a problem - most dressmakers are able to make their own if you describe what you want. I am happy to recommend my own dressmakers (Olney Originals, 01234 241440), but that would involve travelling to London or Olney for fittings and it won't be cheap - you'll be looking at a couple of hundred pounds at least (it might be an investment if your daughter's tastes aren't too fickle). You could try hiring one from Angels & Bermans; it is a costumier to the film industry, so the choice is more varied, (tel: 0171 836 5678).

I have a school prom to go to on 15 June and I am in a total panic. I was looking for a long dress similar to that worn by Liz Hurley or Kate Moss in the newspaper cuttings enclosed (long, white and with a swirling hem), but if not that, what would you recommend? I'm about size 10 and around 5ft 11in, and so usually have little success in finding clothes. I live in the country near Aberdeen, where there are very few suitable clothes shops. More significantly, being 15 years old and still at school, my budget is minimal, but I want my dress to be special. Also, what should I wear on my feet? Being as tall as I am, I don't think I'd like to wear heels.

Stephanie Cooper

The shops to visit are Karen Millen, Kookai and Wallis. All have done brilliant, cheap dresses. I found one wonderful dress in the Freemans autumn/winter catalogue (page 112): a satin, bias-cut, oyster-coloured dress (a bargain at pounds 39.99). I'd wear this with flat gold strappies or thongs (Dorothy Perkins, Clarks, Next) and buy yourself two metres of organza or chiffon as a shawl. Kookai has also done a dead sexy lace slip dress with "nude" lining that costs pounds 89. Unfortunately its only stockist in Scotland is in Glasgow (tel: 0171 937 4411). Another find from Freemans (page 173): a cobalt velvet column dress by Richards for pounds 70 (wear with silver flatties, as before). But with your height and slim build you'd look good in a nightdress, for goodness sake. (Bitch.) Please make the most of the fact that you are tall and slim and gorgeous. When I was a teenager and slim and fairly presentable, I spent a wasteful amount of time worrying that I was too fat, when I should have been spending all of my time in hot pants and a sequin boob tube. My fears will not be yours, but I hope you realise what a fabulous start nature has given you. Have a nice time at the party.

I am 33, but look a few years younger, and am having trouble finding a "high street" shop that seems to count me among its client base. I need to wear smart gear (suits, skirts with jackets, etc) for work and tend to wear jeans at home, although I do not think I look particularly good in them. I don't want to dress like a 19-year-old going to a night club (ie Miss Selfridge, Top Shop), but am equally not ready for top-to-toe M&S just yet. Do you know of a store which sells reasonably fashionable clothing at an affordable price which, at the same time, is not too young for me? Any advice on an alternative to jeans which would flatter my 34/24/36 long-waisted 5ft 5in would also be very welcome.

Susan Howarth, Surrey

Well, I think you are wrong on two counts. First, Miss Selfridge and Top Shop don't just do stuff for 19-year-olds going to a night club. Admittedly, I wouldn't recommend anyone other than first jobbers buy their business suits from there, but you can get some real finds. Second, Marks & Spencer does some excellent clothes; its trousers and jackets provide the perfect foundations from which to build a versatile wardrobe. The trick with M&S is to avoid patterns, because you will see them on everyone else too. Have you been into Jaeger recently? And before you say, "boring, old", look! It doesn't just make 40 plus blouses. Suits are boring; why don't you try wearing a shift dress with a longer length jacket over the top? This is easy summer dressing and very stylish. Have a peek in the following: Episode, Jigsaw, Karen Millen and Wallis. If you're feeling a bit more flush try Whistles (St Christopher's Place, Sloane Square, London SW1) or Space NK (Neal Street, London WC2). Alternative to jeans? I've said it before, but I'll say it again, Boden does some great velvet jeans for pounds 65 (tel: 0181 964 2662). Jigsaw also does some great high-waisted (perfect for you) thick stretchy pants in two lengths and lots of colours, at pounds 44.

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