11 OCTOBER 2003, Page 79

Q. In their light-headed enthusiasm, some of the disciples of

the late Dr Atkins seem to have lost their social judgment as well as their weight. Last week, whilst dabbing at her crocodile tears on having to discard so many of her wonderful clothes, a very good friend offered me first choice. Unusually for me I was stricken dumb. Mary, how should I have responded?

A.C., Galway A. If you were feeling chippy you could have replied, Poor you. Shouldn't you keep them for when you put it all back on again as you inevitably will?' But I see no call for chtppiness. Unless your friend is suffering from projected body dysmotphia, there is no reason for her to think you are fatter than you actually are. Either you are still carlying the same amount of bulk as she has shed, or you are taller than her and therefore take the same dress size without necessarily being fatter. In which case, lucky you to be in receipt of free 'wondetful' clothes. Yet perhaps you imagine there is a stigma or whiff of patronage attaching to second-hand clothes. I assure you that these days the reverse is the case. With every style icon from Kate Moss to Emily Mortimer preferring vintage /secondhand, people will soon be coining a new insult: 'She's the kind of woman who has to buy her own clothes.'