dear annie

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I am 5ft 4in, small-shouldered, with a 34C bust, nice legs but big tum and short waist. I need casual clothes. I live in trousers, but want to wear more skirts, only they're too short or too long. I like unconventional, strong coloured clothes. I am 41 and happy to spend a few bob.

Deborah Park, London

You say you want to wear more casual clothes, but then say you want to wear more skirts. I guess by this you mean you want to wear skirts that are comfortable? (As my interpretation of casual is something suitable to muck the pigs out in, like wellingtons, a pair of long-johns and a shirt four sizes too big.) I think knee-length "flirty" skirts would be good for you, which can be toned down with a sweater or smartened up with a jacket. Fifty-six per cent of the UK population is 5ft 4in or under so it's not surprising you find skirt lengths difficult. Gabriella Rossi makes clothes for the "shorter woman" and in her current range is a pretty skirt in pleated chiffon (style 7BB7451); it has an abstract floral pattern and comes in a variety of colours (in sizes 10-18), call 0171 377 1900 for stockists. Also try Sportmax, (Sloane St, New Bond St and in Dickens and Jones). They do a lovely dress which has a black background and very vibrant flower print on it (pounds 130), and an A-line skirt in this fabric, pounds 115. Flirty skirts worn with flat shoes are comfortable and the best way to get into skirts without having to bother with nasty tight, restricting skirts which will make you run straight back into wearing trousers. If you find something that is nice but is too long, bear in mind that it doesn't take much to shorten a skirt. If it's pleated, or you really can't be bothered, take it to a dry-cleaners which does alterations.

My husband gave me a beautiful "Wallis style" lizard brooch a few years ago. However, it's quite long, about 4in and rather heavy so it tends to pull on the fabric. It looks great with a black tuxedo jacket, but I don't wear it as often as I'd like as I'm concerned it will ruin my outfit. Any bright ideas?

Jeannine Nolan, London

You could try wearing it on a hat or a coat, but I had the same problem with a brooch and I did the following. If you want to wear it with something flimsier try: 1) wearing a tight fitting T-shirt under a blouse (or whatever) and pin the brooch to the T-shirt through the blouse thus giving it something sturdier to hang on to. This works fine with some things, but not with others (the problem being that on a very loose blouse it tends to look odd). 2) If you wear it along the centre of a top (which I appreciate might be the wrong place for your style of brooch) then make a necklace out of, a shoe lace, which you wear under your clothes. Then put the top on, pin the brooch to the top but make sure it's also hooked around the shoe lace. Thus the shoe lace would in effect take the weight of the brooch. You might want to experiment with this idea, using knicker elastic (but make sure it isn't too elastic) tied holster style across your shoulder and across your chest (are you still with me?) and doing the same thing.

I need to wear business suits for work and am prepared to spend up to pounds 200 per suit providing it is hard wearing. Unfortunately all the wool or wool/polyester suits I have bought over the years from high street chain stores have worn through in the upper thigh/crotch area. I have taken to wearing all polyester suits which are more hard-wearing but tend to go shiny and look shabby. Any suggestions for a more durable suit, lined trousers have not worked either.

Alan, Newcastle-upon-Tyne

How long exactly do you keep these suits for and what do you do with them? Two hundred nicker for a suit is not a lot, and while I totally appreciate that this is your budget, I can't suggest much either. The reason this is happening, I imagine, is because as your suits are wearing through, the synthetic fibres - which are harder wearing than their natural counterparts - are left exposed. And cheaper suits do tend to have a higher element of synthetics. I have no idea how old you are, or what kind of business you are in, but Jigsaw do some great tonic suits which cost pounds 195 (unfortunately there are no stockists of Jigsaw menswear in Newcastle, the nearest are in Manchester or Leeds). Tonic has a slight sheen to it and is very trendy so it might not be suitable, but if it is, this suit is a good alternative to the polyester jobbies you have been wearing, as it is well cut and most stylish. The other thing to try is looking in secondhand shops. Before you think "oh no" you can pick up some really well-made suits for not very much at all.

I am to be matron of honour at my sister's wedding in July and am having a 2-piece outfit made from turquoise blue silk - long sleeved top with peplum and straight, mid-calf length skirt. I am also having a matching pillbox type hat made, but don't know what to do about the shoes, either colour or heel size. My sister, who is 4" shorter than I am is having an old pair of flattish court shoes covered to match her outfit. Whilst I don't want to tower over her, I think I would look better in a high- ish heel. Have you any suggestions? And what about colour: if they must be an exact match, then how on earth do I achieve that? Yours in desperation.

Sheila C. Ross, Solihull

I would suggest you wear a bar shoe, which is like a 1920s shoe with one bar and button fastening. It is very thoughtful of you not to want to tower over her, but it sounds as if you already do! A shoe with a two- inch heel will be comfortable without being ridiculous. What you might like to do is call Gamba on 0171 437 0704 (their shop for those interested is at 3 Garrick St, London WC2). They do a catalogue of various styles of shoes (ballet pumps, court shoes, Louis heeled shoes, booties) in satin which can easily be dyed with Dylon Satin Shoe Colour. Prices for the shoes start at pounds 35.95 and go up to pounds 65, sizes 2-8. Dylon's SSC comes in 12 colours costs pounds 1.95 for a 50ml bottle and applicator and one bottle will dye up to three pairs of shoes. If you want to get an exact colour match then you can send a swatch of your turquoise silk fabric to Dylon and they will provide you with the exact recipe of which satin shoe colours you need to combine to achieve this. The address to write to is Annette Stevens, Consumer Advice, Dylon International Ltd, Lower Sydenham, London SE26 5HD. Their consumer advice telephone number is 0181 663 4801. You have left plenty of time, and I hope this advice helps you achieve an exact match, which I think you need with your colour outfit.

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