dear annie

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I have been appointed a senior officer with a local authority, which involves attending several functions during the year. Male officers wear dinner suits and black bow ties, while their wives wear glittery polyester. I like to look fashionable and would happily buy a fresh outfit each time. Have you any ideas how I can look glamorous, different on each occasion, a person in my own right (not someone's wife) and contain costs? I can sew if necessary (though time is even shorter than money).

Kate, Forest Hill, London

Sewing is great but, really, who can be bothered? What I'd advise you to do is buy a couple of pretty basic shifts, either short or long in classic black, or for a stunning change try red or white and then customise them with antique shawls or cardigans / jackets. (I know the word cardigan conjures up gardening and things like that, but believe me, some of the antique ones are extremely glamorous.) This way you will knock spots off the polyester women and look fab and original. I have the benefit of an assistant at the moment, quelle joy, and Anna (it is a complete coincidence that she has a name like mine OK?) has done some research for you. Dresses: M&S have some great shifts that can be used for day also (money saving) and still look evening-ey: Lycra / wool short sleeved, pounds 40 in black or red; crepe short sleeved in black or red crepe, pounds 30. Next has a black polyester sleeveless shift with beaded hem, pounds 69.99; black velvet long column dress with low back, pounds 79.99 (0345 100500 for mail order). Principles have dresses such as a white shift with beading, black crepe simple shift or a long red column dress, prices start at pounds 55. Antique shawls / cardigans: Cornucopia (12 Upper Tachbrook St, London W1; tel: 0171 828 5752) have a 1950's style cashmere cardigans with embroidery, pounds 25, and various evening stoles, prices from pounds 25; Steinberg & Tolkien (193 Kings Road, London SW3, tel: 0171 376 3660) have 1950's beaded cardigans, pounds 28 and a wide range of antique shawls and scarves from various periods (the most expensive would be pounds 200 dating from the turn of the century but a cheaper example is an antique scarf with tassels and silk embroidery for pounds 65); Lunn Antiques (Thomas Neals, Shorts Gdns, London WC2, tel: 0171 379 1974) have antique bits and cheaper reproductions. Cardigans are about pounds 85, shawls start at pounds 35 for reproduction and go into the hundreds.

You are my last hope ... I have a fabulous pair of black trousers - satin smooth on the inside, matt black on the outside. They skim the thighs and flare out very gently from the knee down. They move beautifully because the fabric is heavy, and feel amazing to wear because of the satin finish inside. The years have taken their toll, however, and now they can no longer be rescued. I cannot find anything remotely comparable so in desperation I wondered if you could help or if you could recommend someone able to copy what I already have. I would need help choosing the fabric because getting the right feel and weight is important. In addition, I must be able to machine-wash the finished garment. If such a person exists, how much should I expect to pay?

Sarah, London

The fabric you describe sounds like satin backed crepe, which is indeed lovely as it swings in a most satisfying way, and is incredibly luxurious next to your skin. I have only had a few things made for me by a company called Olney Originals (01234 241440) but we shall sometime soon be doing a feature on dressmakers which will involve a nationwide directory of what's available, so look out for that. Expect to pay around pounds 150 including material (and stress it must be machine washable). I haven't been able to find anything in the shops that follows your description but if any shops out there think they can help Sarah, I shall be only to glad to pass it on.

For years I was a fan of the products of Cosmetics to Go. I understand that they went bankrupt, and I was overjoyed when they reappeared under the new name, Lush. However, the one product that I really wanted had disappeared - that sublime perfume, Ginger, to which I am addicted. The shop assistant told me that there was some kind of patent row between the new Lush and the creator of Ginger, and that the perfume would never be available again. Is this true? It is the nicest scent I have ever bought. Please tell me how I can prevail upon these short-sighted perfume people to bring me back my Ginger.

Catherine, Bethnal Green, London

Right then, let's clear some stuff up. Cosmetics to Go were owned by a company called Constantine & Weir until May 1994, when they were sold to a company called Fountainhall Marketing UK Ltd. I spoke to a lovely lass at Cosmetics to Go called Marcia so you see, they still exist, they still produce a catalogue and they still make Ginger! Yippee! Lush is an entirely different company. I am unsure which shop assistant you spoke to; Cosmetics to Go no longer have a shop (they operate entirely by mail order) but she was clearly talking nonsense. CTG make a Ginger range, from their bath bombs, called Ginger Snaps, pounds 3.10 for two, to the famous Ginger perfume, pounds 19. They also do soap and bubble bath; a talc is planned for Christmas and there is even a Ginger FM (for men). I hope you and your Ginger will be reunited soon. Call Cosmetics to Go on 01202 621966 for a catalogue. (Anyone who hasn't tried their products really should. It's original and fun, and makes you feel like a kid again as their stuff comes nestled in that shredded paper and they quite often used to put in little pressies, like sticks of rock, for you to hunt out.)

Send your fashion problems to: Dear Annie, Independent on Sunday, 1 Canada Square, Canary Wharf, London E14 5DL, or fax them on: 0171 293 2043. Annie regrets that she cannot enter into personal correspondence

YES PLEASE . . .

When I was in my early teens, and still under the influence of my mother, I wore big knickers. When I hit 15, I decided they were terribly old womany and wore "minis". Now, much time has passed and I am a woman with a uterus and 75 feet of intestine and a tummy that is not flat. Big knickers - enjoying a welcome return in recent years - are the thing to wear if you aren't size 10 (and if you are, you can't be eating enough) but they are either hideous or they are ridiculously "high cut" in the leg. What I want is a pair that is pretty, comfortable and comes to just under my belly button. I have found them (and have ordered 25 pairs). Playtex's Cherish style 6311 comes in sizes S-XXXL, costs pounds 6.99 and is available in black or white. They have a band of lace at the top, so they don't look that "big". From all good department stores nationwide.

Policemen looking younger may be a sign of getting older, but all men under 30 looking like members of Oasis is a sign that men need new role models. It was bad enough with the whole Blur thing when every man on the street under 25 was wearing zip-up sports tops and retro trainers. Now everywhere I look there are would-be Liam Gallaghers with shaggy pudding bowl haircuts and stupid sunglasses, snogging their Patsy-lookalike girlfriends, and then looking round to make sure everyone's seen them. This shows a severe lack of imagination. Why can't they model themselves on someone like that nice Phillip Scofield? Joke, I'm not that old. But boys, enough. Remember individuality?

BIG FEET OR SIZE 16 PLUS?

If you make or sell shoes in woman's size 7 plus, or clothes in size 16 plus, or if you wear any of these and have useful information to share, please write to Annalisa Barbieri, Independent on Sunday, 1 Canada Square, London E14 5DL. Please don't telephone. Thank you.

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