Dear Annie

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Indy Lifestyle Online
Reading your column is far more fun than going shopping, which is my least favourite activity. Please could you spare a thought for the likes of me (I can't be the only one). I really like clothes that are stylish and fit well, and don't mind spending what it costs - but have almost no time to go and buy them. When I try it is often a disaster because I've no idea where to look, or indeed what to look for. My last splurge was about 10 years ago, and as all those clothes are falling apart I now need pretty well everything: a dinner suit, a couple of summer-weight suits, ditto for winter, a few jackets, several pairs of shoes - the works, in fact. My ideal would be to get the lot in one day. A friend in New York tells me they have "shopping consultants" who will advise on where to go and what to get. I wonder if this service exists over here? I am regretfully assuming that you yourself are not available. (Though if you were, you could make a fortune - given that Samantha Fox gets pounds 10,000 to attend a party, you could charge the earth.) Alternatively, how about made-to-measure?

David, London

Oh David, you are sweet. You sound quite rich. Are you also good-looking? In which case, maybe I could make myself available (for shopping only, of course). But no, p'raps best left. For now. Anyway, shopping consultants do exist here and most stores have them, but it is a service few of us make use of. For you, I have concentrated on shops that I think would suit you, but generally most stores will provide this if you ask. Selfridges in Oxford Street provides a personal shopping service which is on an appointment basis, and is "one to one". It can be arranged whenever the customer wishes, including before and after store hours (9.30am-7pm, 9.30am-8pm Thursdays). Twenty-four hours' notice is sufficient for an appointment: call 0171 318 3536 or fax 0171 318 3303. The service is free; there is no obligation to buy and no minimum spend. You are also encouraged to bring in your own clothes, if you just want to finish off your look with a jacket or whatever. Jones in Floral Street sells some wonderful, slightly more unusual clothes from various designers. It does not have an official personal shopping service as it is a smaller shop; but it is very willing to advise customers and pick out items for them to try. It operates on a one-to-one basis. Call in at the shop and ask for Kevin or Gary, who will be only too happy to help you. Harvey Nichols in Knightsbridge also provides this service: it is also free and available during store hours. There is usually a week's waiting list. To book an appointment call 0171 259 6638. Browns of South Molton Street also provides this service free and it is available at all times, including after opening hours if necessary (10am-6pm, Mon-Sat; 10am-7pm, Thurs). Its service is very flexible and includes local deliveries to homes and hotels (you have to pay extra). They have a VIP room for extra privacy. The mens' shop can be contacted for an appointment on 0171 491 7833. So you see David, you don't really need me. Shucks.

Please can you help me to find the ideal hair- cutter? I'm 52 years old and I'm not ready for a so-called "softer look". (Why does anyone want to look soft?) The late Jean Muir's style, or something like it, would be eminently suitable. Do you know who used to cut her hair, and would that person be prepared to cut mine?

Anna, London

Jean Muir's PR kindly revealed who used to do her hair: Michael Rasser at Michaeljohn, 25 Albermarle St, London W1. Tel: 0171 629 6969.

I've been looking high and low for cotton or silk trouser socks, with little luck. I find that sweaty feet in synthetics are uncomfortable and, well, smelly, especially in summer. The closest thing I've found are black knee socks from the Sock Shop, 70 per cent cotton, 30 per cent nylon. Is this the best I can do? I hate to compromise when it seems like such a simple thing. (I'd wear a thin wool pair, too, if it were the only natural- fibre sock, and I'd buy colours other than black if I found them. I'd wear men's dress socks if that were the only alternative. I hate nylon.

Nina, London

The British Heart Foundation catalogue does pure silk socks that come in calf or knee lengths. They are available in small, medium and large in navy, natural or black. The calf socks (code: VC11556) cost pounds 9.95 and the knee socks (VC11562) cost the same. Call 0990 342414 to place an order or request a catalogue. They're a bargain, and you'll be giving your money to a good cause at the same time.

I'd like to buy a cotton dressing-gown, and I saw a nice one in a shop when I came to London which was sort of a waffle print. But it was about pounds 100. Not only do I not now remember where this shop was; but why was it so expensive? Is waffle cotton treated in a special way? Do you know anywhere where I could get one near me?

Susan Hayworth, Manchester

I love waffle cotton too. It makes me feel quite hungry, and feels all springy next to the skin. Plus, due to the increased surface area, it sucks up the water like smoothie cotton just can't seem to do. In the same way that sometimes a plain cotton shirt can cost pounds 100 in one shop and pounds 20 in another, so it is with waffle dressing-gowns. But in answer to your question, no, the cotton is not treated in a special way. Unfortunately, I don't know anyone that does one near you, but Racing Green do an excellent version in ecru (sizes S/M and L/XL) for pounds 39 in their winter catalogue. Call 0345 331177.

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

I've written about non-iron shirts by Van Heusen in the past, but now I hear about "wrinkle-free" trousers thanks to a different company, the Haggar Clothing Co (which also does "wrinkle-free" shirts, incidentally). The trousers come in pleated and flat-front, with or without turn-ups, in 100 per cent cotton twill. And all carry the Haggar money-back no-iron guarantee. The range is machine-washable (yeah!), it doesn't need ironing, and as the garments dry, the creases disappear and they - so I'm told - stay wrinkle-resistant while you wear them. Could this really spell the beginning of the end for the iron? Maybe. Prices for the trousers go from pounds 35 to pounds 45. Available from all major department stores; call 0171 636 5255 for your nearest stockist.

"Oh, she's really let herself go", I heard at one party last week as two women - done up to the nines - pityingly eyed another girlie who was rather more modestly and carelessly dressed. This was after having read similar scathing remarks about a female pop star, once always glamorously dressed the report said, now dressing definitely down. And this got me thinking. One friend has gone through a transformation, losing weight, buying new clothes, looking great - she's just split with her boyfriend. Another friend's clothes get sexier and smarter the unhappier she gets. These are all familiar scenarios. But the sad thing is that while we all like dressing up, dressing down isn't always a barometer of having let yourself go. On the contrary, often it's the girl whose put on a little extra weight, or who is wearing a mis-matched top and bottom that is the most together of all. So next time you're poised to slag someone off, ask yourself this. Are they too happy to worry about such things?