dear annie

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It is my 40th birthday in a few weeks time and I am throwing a big, informal party for my family, friends and colleagues. Having grown up in the Sixties and Seventies, I feel most comfortable in jeans and a shirt (indeed, this has become a bit of a standing joke with some of my friends!), but want to wear something a little bit more original - although still casual - for my big day. I am 6ft 1in and of medium(ish) build. I fancy something tartan (I have Scottish roots) but what do you think? And do you have any other suggestions? I work in London so London stockists are fine. Please help, Annie ... I read your column every week and I think you are a genius.

Roderick, Hampshire

Well, firstly I don't see any point in decking yourself out in head-to- toe tartan when you will probably never wear it again. What I suggest is something smartish, because for heaven's sake you aren't 40 every day (although Joan Collins and Zsa Zsa Gabor may be able to manage it). I am sure you have a navy suit in your wardrobe? Put with it a white grandad collar shirt (if you don't have one M&S and French Connection do some nice ones) and a tartan waistcoat. The Scotch House do some nice ones in Black Watch, navy and yellow (I think navy would be a good colour base for your waistcoat) and Dress Gordon - navy, white, green and yellow. They are 100 per cent wool and available in sizes 40in-46in chest and cost pounds 85. You can also have a waistcoat made in a Tartan of your choice, but it takes six to eight weeks and costs pounds 95. If you by any chance fancy sticking to jeans and a shirt then why not try a tartan shirt? Scotch House also do tartan shirts which come in Black Watch, Royal Stewart, Dress Kemble - muted grey and white, and Kilgour. They are 100 per cent cotton, sizes 15in-17.5in collar and cost pounds 65. All of them are available from The Scotch House, 2 Brompton Road, SW1, tel: 0171 581 2151 for mail order and inquiries. I'd also like to tell you about Vivienne Westwood's waistcoats for men, which are spendid. They don't come in tartan but you can get checks: there's a classic racing silk check that is blue based and has five "orb" buttons and costs pounds 275; or she does a cotton Prince of Wales check in black/blue checked cotton, which costs pounds 185.

I have recently been invited to visit some friends living in Canada, in an area well known for its sudden snow storms and periods of freezing conditions. A friend advised me to purchase some pure silk socks to act as extra insulation. I have so far been unable to find any in high street stores and have even tried some of the more exclusive designer stores with no luck. Do you know where I could get a pair?

Daniel, Northants

You can get silk socks from the Innovations catalogue, calf length or knee length, in black, blue or cream. They cost pounds 8.95 and they also do glove liners (pounds 8.95), long johns and tops (pounds 27.95). Call them on 01793 431441. You can also try local moutaineering shops

I will be spending a week in Florence during April and I would like to get together one smart/casual outfit that is comfortable for sight- seeing and dining out. I invested in a MaxMara black wool jacket, classic and loose fitting, and am disappointed to find that my black M&S trousers look wrong with it. I like the idea of trousers, but I am not sure where to go for a good fit. I am size 8 to 10. Should I try for a one-ply cashmere sweater as I think that might be suitable and comfortable for chilly days, but have to have something quite thin under the jacket. Then what do I do about shoes - and warmer days? I would value your comments. I would spend about pounds 300 and am in my late 40's.

Mary Ribbens, Keston, Kent

Cor lumey luv, I think you are trying to take over my whole column ain't ya? Well firstly the trouser business; I can't possibly tell you where to go for a good fit as one woman's good fit is another woman's baggy bottom. I can't imagine why your M&S trousers don't look right but why not try cream instead? This would be a good colour to wear in April and really my advice would be to go to M&S anyway for trousers as they have so much choice and provide excellent value. Otherwise try Jaeger, who do some lovely pieces and are especially good for the wiser lady.

What I would do is take a skirt, trousers, a couple of shirts, some leggings, a mac or thin coat, one thin cardigan (more versatile than a sweater) and a bulkier sweater, a jacket (your MaxMara one, if that goes with the other things), a smart dress and two pairs of shoes, one smart and one flat for sight-seeing (like trainers or walking boots or smarter flat booties like jophur boots). That way you can put the jacket and/or cardigan with the skirt, trousers and dress, use the bulkier jumper with trousers or leggings, the shirts with everything and either wear cardigan, jacket and mac/coat if it's chilly, or however many layers you need. Giving advice is difficult with a rather loose brief (as to what you should buy) but really my advice is buy the minimum as wearing new clothes on holiday is not always a good idea. Stick to old favourites instead and invest in just one or two pieces. Save the money and spend it on eating loads of lovely Italian food. Florence in April tends to be quite warm, and remember that clothes are very expensive there, so don't think you'll stock up on holiday. Enjoy it and give my love to Firenze.

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