dear annie

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I'm looking for a winter dressing-gown that's warm yet has a touch of glamour. All the department stores offer a choice between wispy silk, which is quite unsuitable for an English winter, or warm but dull and grannyish. Any suggestions?

Liz, London

You have not mentined a price limit, but Margaret Howell has done the most divine velvet robes in chocolate or black for pounds 295 (she has shops at 29 Beauchamp Place, SW3 and 24 Brook Street, W1, tel: 0171-584 2462). Dorothy Perkins have tartan dressing gowns (which look quite glam with a tartan bra peeking out), at pounds 22.99, or cream brushed cotton with navy trellis trim, pounds 22.99. BHS have done very glamorous black panne velvet with satin trim robes for pounds 35. And Boden have brushed cotton checks for pounds 55 (mail order 0181-964 2662). Or you could do as my friend Lily Vermouth does: of a morning she always sticks a tiara on her head, that way even if she answers the door in an old candlewick button up jobbie, she looks fantastic.

I've just found out that I am expecting my first baby in June1996. Having spent all my adult life striving for a reasonable level of style, a prelimary look at what's available in maternity wear has left me thinking that I'll have to go into solitary confinement for six months. I've been unable to find any specialists in my immediate area - do you know of any mail order companies or other retailers catering for mums to be?

L. Strange, Wigan

Who decided that pregnant woman develop a penchant for large bows and polka dots? Some maternity wear can make your life easier, such as maternity tights (Hue, Mothercare) and leggings (Mothercare, pounds 10). Other than that, you don't need to go near a maternity shop unless you want to. OK, the sensible advice first. Blooming Marvellous are one maternity mail order company that do a good range of basics (tel: 0181-391 4822 for a catalogue). Their "Basics in a Bag" are three easy pieces: sweatshirt, leggings and skirt in black or navy cotton fleece, sizes S/M/L pounds 48. These would make a good starter kit. Blooming also have a great white linen maternity dress that costs pounds 150 and is designed by Paul Costelloe (who has seven children, so he should know a thing or two). It might not be right for you as you will mostly be pregnant through the cooler months, but for a summer bump this dress is must-have. Dorothy Perkins also do maternity wear, as do Hennes, so look out for local stores. Formes, a relatively new company, is a cut above the rest. They have two shops in London and a mail order catalogue (tel: 0171-820 3456). Their party wear is excellent - stylish and classy, just like "normal" party wear. My colleague, Ms Barbieri did a piece on maternity party wear (issue of 3 Dec) which I hope you saw. But throughout my pregnancies I didn't wear one piece of maternity wear. Depending on what I was doing I wore: really tight Lycra T-shirts a couple of sizes bigger than I normally would with either one of my husband's old shirts left undone (very art-teacherish) over the top; little A-line silk slips from Fenwicks and Knickerbox or little floral summer dresses, (if poss Empire line) with Wolford opaque hold-ups and biker boots and my cut-off sweaters ; devore tunics over silk satin pyjama bottoms with drawsting waists; stretch velvet dresses. I also had this shirt which I loved and as it got tighter I slit the sides to make them look like side vents, just to make it last a bit longer (it easily sewed back up again afterwards). Basically I wore whatever I wore normally, but bigger or adapted slightly. I know it's not easy, some women put weight on all over, but hopefully one of the companies / solutions I have listed will help you. Good luck.

I had a great pair of "rat's nose" loafers that I bought about five years ago. They were patent, very smart and refined and now they're falling apart. Has anyone else done them? I'm a size 7 and I don't mind spending up to about pounds 100.

Ines Falconer, London

Just to explain, rat's nose shoes have a very long, elegant toe with a chiselled end. They flatter any type of foot and are most becoming. Fratelli Rossetti do some lovely ones in pure black patent or with suede tongues, or diamante trim. They cost about pounds 125 but their sale starts on 4 Jan and they go down to pounds 88. They're at 177 New Bond Street, W1, 196 Sloane Street, SW1, and they also do mail order (tel: 0171 491 7066).

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