Dear annie

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Having recently graduated, I now have a job that requires ties to be worn. Although I enjoy wearing ties, I have difficulty in getting the knot of the tie firm at the neck. No matter how I tie it, or what material they are made of, there is invariably a flash of shirt and top button between neck and tie-knot. What am I doing wrong?

Marten Hutt, Hertford College, Oxford

I suspect that you are tying your tie in a four-in-hand knot, the easiest and most common way to knot a tie. A more complicated knot, but one that gives a better shape and hardly slips, is the Windsor. It is very hard to describe how to do this, so may I suggest the following: go into your nearest traditional menswear shop and ask them to show you, or next time you are in London visit Harrods menswear department and ask for Allan Gruy, sales assistant and tie-tying expert, who kindly advised me on your problem. He can also show you other knots, such as the cross, Prince Albert, small knot, Ascot or half-Windsor. I also have a "how-to" sheet Mr Gruy sent me, which I shall forward to you.

I am getting married soon and would like your advice on shoes. Ideally, I would like snakeskin or crocodile or imitation. I know it is in bad taste to use animal skin for vanity's sake, but they look great and I can't resist the temptation to have some, specially for a once-in-a-lifetime experience. Chris Lambert (Mr), Manchester

Yes, snake and crocodile skin do look great, which is exactly why they should stay on their rightful owners. Your request is one that usually comes from women, but, fortunately, imitation animal skin has now infiltrated the men's shoe market. I cannot, however, advise you to go ahead with the real thing, even for a once-in-a-lifetime experience.If anything that is even more immoral - an animal has to die to provide you with footwear for just one day. You will have enough fun, I hope, on your wedding day, let the reptiles have theirs.

On to imitation - you do not tell me what style of shoe you are interested in, or what your price limit is, so it is hard to advise you where to buy an imitation alternative. But Patrick Cox has done some excellent fake snakeskin men's shoes this autumn - loafers and boots with prices starting at pounds 120, and they are stocked by Flannels, 4 St Anne's Place, Manchester M2, tel: 0161-832 5536, so that is worth a try.

You may also be interested to know that shoe designers Lawler Duffy have in the past (but not in their current collection), used carp, stingray, and salmon skin to make shoes, to great effect; however, these skins were all by-products - ie, the fish were bred for their flesh and the skin would otherwise have been discarded. If you ring them on 0171-923 2821, they can check what size shoe you take and see if they have any old stock that would warrant a trip down to London. If none of these work out, write back to me giving more specific details.

Two years ago, at a Nicole Farhi sale, I bought a skirt and jacket suit with divine pewter fish-shaped buttons. I have now lost one of them and am distraught. Can I find fish-shaped buttons anywhere else? Should I change the whole lot? Karen Hamilton, London

I spoke to Nicole Farhi's office for you and was told it keeps a "button box" with buttons from past collections, so although they can't promise it will have your button, you're in with a good chance. Ring the manageress of the Bond Street shop and she'll put you in touch with the appropriate person (0171-499 8368). It is this sort of sterling after-sales service which makes buying British designer clothes worthwhile. Just in case they don't have your button, you may wish to try The Button Queen, 19 Marylebone Lane, London W1 (0171-935 1505); this shop has a smorgasbord of buttons to choose from.

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