dear annie

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WHY IS IT that one can't buy any decent dresses with pockets nowadays? For several weekends recently, my wife has taken me shopping to help her choose a nice new summer dress, but every time we found something with a decent fabric and style that looked promising, she rejected it because it had no pockets. A few years ago, it seemed that two-thirds of dresses had pockets, but now it is about 0.1 per cent. Why is this? Are women expected to carry a handbag if all they need is a hankie? My wife is 39 and a fairly standard size 10/12; she likes cotton dresses with lots of flare, in below-the-knee lengths. This should not be a difficult requirement! Can you suggest any good stores to try? I would never think of buying trousers without pockets - so why are women expected to accept dresses without them?

Gareth G Morgan, York

Oh goodness, Gareth, who knows. I guess dresses are taking part in that thing called evolution, too. You know, few women take hankies with them now, so the dresses think "why bother"? I am very partial to a real hanky and I always make my husband carry mine - if for no other reason than I can stick my hand down his front pocket when I get a runny nose (which I do often, specially when eating soup). Nightingales (mail order: 01706 620850) have lots of pretty dresses that I think your wife will like, and many of the models are standing with their hands in their pockets, so the dresses must have them. All very reasonably priced. Or your wife might like to consider a matching top and skirt, such as the one on page 12 of the Artigiano Spring/Summer catalogue (01983 531881) - the skirt has pockets but worn together this ensemble looks just like a dress (more versatile, too!). Racing Green also have a lovely dress - flared, button- through in a nice gingham (pounds 42, style DD301: 0345 331177) - that definitely has side pockets. So, how will you spend your weekends now?

Is it ever acceptable to wear a pair of tights with open-toed sandals? Of course, I mean very sheer, natural tights. Are they okay, or does that webbing effect round the toes look a bit strange?

Hester, Battersea

No, it's not and yes it does. Acknowledge the seasons with your little feet Hester, and let them go naked when the sun shines.

What does one wear to go out with friends for a meal, to go shopping or general socialising when formal or business clothes are not appropriate, and yet I don't want to look like an escaped games teacher? I usually wear black, slim-cut trousers, linen jacket and round-neck top,putting on a scarf if more dressy, and one item of jewellery. This seems to get me through most casual situations, but I can often feel overdressed in comparison with some friends who regard anything more formal than leggings/jeans/shorts and a large sweater/baggy T-shirt/track suit as hopelessly overdressed? Is this a generation thing (I'm 51) or just a question of taste? I'm quite happy with my approach, like a pared-down silhouette for clothes (height 5ft 8in, size 14). I can't quite see myself going out for a meal in jeans (find them fiendishly uncomfortable), and I feel I get better service in shops if dressed less casually. I live in Devon and casual can often mean very casual in rural areas. But I would like other ideas about smart- casual. I love my friends dearly, and don't want to make them feel I've dressed up to show them up. But I won't alter my standards or enjoyment in clothes. Any compromise ideas? I had thought about getting some custom- made jeans by Levis and I think shirts look messy on most women (something to do with too much going on around the collar, stand and buttons area). Any suggestions? I have always liked the European approach to casual dressing. I loathe drippy styles, like the flowery, knicker-fabric frocks this summer, or frills, or anything vaguely milk-maidish. I'm too big, too intelligent and too old. (Please don't use my name, I don't want to offend my friends.)

Lolita, Devon

Well, you've already told everyone you're from Devon, but I've made up a new, foxy name for you. You are in a tizz aren't you? Quite frankly, who cares what your friends think? We all have different styles, tastes and interpretations of "casual", "black tie", "smart-casual' etc. What you wear sounds just right. Think how boring it would be if everyone thought: "Casual, that means this, this and that." We'd all look the same. Yuk. I bet your more casual friends envy you your style and wish they could be bothered. Ring for some of the catalogues I've mentioned to Gareth, they'll have some things for you, also try another catalogue called Talbots which does some really great things for stylish women over 25 - and under, this is just my interpretation - (0800 960 402). But most of all, relax, Lolita, and drink more gin.

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