FASHION: DEAR ANNIE...

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My seven-year-old daughter needs new flip-flops (her last pair, which I bought two years ago from a French supermarket, are way too small). I have tried everywhere - Woolworths, BhS, M&S, Asda; all the places I thought I'd find them quite easily. We want plain regular flip-flops, the kind that, ironically, you can buy all over the place now for grown- ups. What we don't want is wedgie-plastic velcro-strapped-pink-purple- and-orange jobs, covered in fake flowers. I'm sure we can't be the only ones looking!

Jane Miller, Kent

When I was a child I remember looking everywhere for really plain flip- flops - I know exactly the ones you mean - and they were devilishly difficult to find. Woolworths always did them but you had to hit the store at just the right time. Sadly as you have found out, it doesn't do them anymore although the girl on the stockist line (01706 862789) was lovely and sympathetic. Jane, I tried everywhere for you: all the stores you mentioned (just to double check) plus a whole lot more. And guess what? Tesco does them!! They come in blue, yellow, pink and green and cost pounds 4 (sizes 3-9); pounds 5 (9-13) and pounds 7 (1-5). They're in 250 stores nationwide - call 0800 505555 for your nearest stockist.

Please help. I have to go to my son's school ball in July and I have no idea what I can/should wear. It's my first ball. I don't want to disgrace him. I normally wear trousers to hide my legs (I'm a lithe 14 up top but 16 below) and can't afford to spend vast amounts on an outfit I will never wear again. Can I wear a trouser combo or do I have to be more formal? It's black tie. PS Will my partner have to fork out on a DJ too? PPS Please don't print my name or it will give the game away.

Esmeralda Shakespeare, via e-mail

Don't worry, I have made up a name for you. Esmeralda, I hate to break this to you but almost whatever you do you will disgrace your son. That's your job at this stage of his life (whatever stage that is and you didn't say, but this holds true until your son is properly grown up). You can of course wear a trouser combo - this is 1999 and I believe we stopped shooting people for not adhering to dress codes in the last century - but you will feel more comfortable in a dress because that is the more usual form of attire for a ball. Your partner can get away with a dark jacket and tie but again, it is preferable for him to hire a DJ. The thought of wearing a dress/DJ may fill you both with dread now, but you will feel much more comfortable in them when you are in situ, I promise. And you can just as easily hide your legs in a long, straight dress (something simple and effective like a shift). You didn't tell me where you live, but I'd suggest visiting Selfridges, Debenhams (which has some fab designs quite cheap by Jasper Conran) and Principles. Please have fun!

I have a piece of silk material in jewel colours bought back from Hong Kong by my father over 20 years ago, and I think it's a about time I did something with it. I'm a reasonable dressmaker but am stuck as to what to make - have you any suggestions for day or evening party wear? It measures 2.5m by 115cm and has a large pattern so I'll probably have to use it for top or trousers or jacket and team with something in one of the colours picked out. I'm a size 12 (skinny on top) 36-year-old full-time mum who hates tailored clothes, so nothing too up-to-the-minute please.

SE Clark, Whitley Bay

When a fabric has a very large pattern it's always best to keep the silhouette simple; a shift dress or a pair of loose palazzo pants would be perfect for this. I wouldn't get it made into a jacket as I don't think that would be the best use of material. If you'd like to get a dressmaker to do it for you then send an A4-sized SAE (with 50p worth of stamps) into me, marked "dressmakers", and I'll send you a copy of our dressmaker's directory. But why don't you think about making it into a double-sided shawl? I haven't seen the pattern so this might not work but you could use the whole length for a shawl and then pick out one plain colour from the pattern and use that in velvet or silk for the other side. That's what I'd do!

My husband is a keen amateur chef and has wanted a pair of those professional chef's black-and-white checked trousers for ages. Can you tell me where to buy them and how much they cost?

Stella Parker, Saffron Walden, Essex

Stella, my column was a bit long this week so I had to cut out the last bit of your letter which asked about hats, but I can pass on a useful number of a lovely milliner who makes hats to order and, although she's up in Scotland, she can deal with you by post. Her name is Claire Tester (tel: 01764 652153). You can get black-and-white chef's trousers from Alexandra (tel: 01454 416600 for mail order), the workwear specialists to the trade although you can just order one pair. They do a black/white houndstooth check (style no: W332) for pounds 26.40 (including VAT) or just a normal square check (W32) but these come in blue and white only and cost pounds 18.80.

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