Fashion: The early bird gets the bargain

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BAD JUNE weather may have kept you swathed in waterproofs, or indoors until last weekend, but look on the bright side; it resulted in the summer sales starting one month earlier than usual. A number of reasons were bandied about as to why "July" sales have crept into June - from "it feels like the right time", to "no particular strategy". But, as one honest retailer commented "we haven't had a very good season".

In a nutshell, this means you can buy designer clothes at sale prices. Swift action is required but check your credit card limit and hit the sales now - there's much more choice. Secondly, start at designer level and work your way down. The best places to start are always at the designer emporiums, like Dolce & Gabanna (40 per cent off), Comme des Garcons (30 per cent off), and Liberty (up to 50 per cent off), whose sales began last week. The High Street kicks into action from next week.

Liberty has discounts on every fabulous designer worth mentioning, including Ann Demeulemeester, Galliano and McQueen. In fact, their half price bargains are worth queueing for: one McQueen women's jacket has been reduced from pounds 445 to pounds 222, and a Helmut Lang men's cotton suit has gone from pounds 585 to pounds 350, which will annoy the people who paid full price just a few weeks ago. Other designer's on offer at half price include English Eccentrics and Betty Jackson.

Confronted with a choice of designer menswear bargains, I couldn't choose between a loud and colourful Issey Miyake photoprint cagoule or more sober cotton combat trousers from Joseph and the khaki shirt from Paul Smith, shown right. I still can't make up my mind, but suspect the crepe soled, backless loafers from Patrick Cox will be in my wardrobe soon.

Hannah Hunter, left, was also faced with a sale dilemma. She preferred the liquid silver Byblos jacket, and Sportmax beaded skirt and camisole shown here, reduced from pounds 409 to pounds 297, over a pink devore Whistles dress, down from pounds 155 to pounds 77, despite the additional cost. Hannah's sale shopping motto is: "You can get practicality from Oxfam; when I go looking for bargains, they must be glamourous." For outright glamour, she could pick up a slinky, black Gucci-logo halterneck dress at Joseph, down from pounds 610 to pounds 430, or one of Ally Capellino's elegant range of bias cut dresses, from pounds 348 to pounds 243. Alternatively, she could drop into Pleats Please (off- shoot of Issey Miyake) and check out their 30% reduced rail of photoprint dresses. If Hannah wants a day off from being a glamour-puss, however, Emporio Armani's classic wide-leg grey herringbone trouser suit may be just the ticket. It might cost pounds 265 (a saving of pounds 114), but will retain its elegance and style long after the liquid silver jacket loses its sheen.