I find sales a bit of a nightmare, quite frankly - the dragging from store to store, the endless trying on and taking off in hot changing rooms. And for what? All the nicest suits in my sizes (42/44) have been snapped up long since, at the beginning of the season. Often you are left with one of a designer's more eccentric creations, or else forced to sacrifice fit for price. If you can cope with the ruck, a trip to the men's department at Harvey Nichols, where every label is gathered in one basement, saves on the legwork. It wasn't with the highest expectations that I set out.

Cecil Gee

190 Sloane St, SW1

When was this branch last refurbished? Lots of mirrors, chrome glass-topped tables and a smashing puffy, light brown leather sofa, all neatly finished off with 10cc's Wall Street Shuffle on the stereo. I think that places it circa 1973.

First up, a beige, single-breasted suit from Ermengildo Zegna's Soft collection. Can't imagine this one selling too well in Barnsley. Was pounds 550, is pounds 450.

A very light, cool fabric (94 per cent wool, 6 per cent nylon), ideal for a Sicilian state prosecutor. Jacket a little short for my liking (more classic cut than continental), and shoulders a little too padded and power crazed. (Still, they do say never trust man whose hips are wider than his shoulders. At least, I think they do.)

Sale rating: HH

Irresistibly drawn to a cashmere wool single-breasted jacket from Gianni Versace's Versus collection. How can I describe the colour? Electric cerise, I suggest. 'Beautiful,' says the assistant.

The jacket is left over from winter stock and not altogetherly useful for a hot, clammy summer's day. Still, perfect for Stringfellow's or a bet (although at pounds 350, down from pounds 450, make sure you win). Acid house lining means it can be reversed into Joseph's amazing Technicolor dreamcoat.

Sale rating: H

Ditch the designers in favour of a Cecil Gee own-label, classic single-breasted navy blue suit. Clean cut, light wool, big reduction (pounds 350 down to pounds 150).

Confront the perennial suit-buying problem - you have to buy the jacket and trousers together. I prefer the looser fitting size 44 jacket, but the trousers that go with it are big enough to make a parachute. For the purposes of the picture, I can avoid major surgery by swiping a pair from the size 42 jacket. Looks good in the shop mirror, but not sure how well the delicate fabric or the shape will wear.

Sale rating: HHH

Emporio Armani

187-191 Brompton Rd, SW3

Maybe I'm just a label victim, but this shop is heaven. Light wood, gentle lights, discreet mirrors, with melodic house and cool jazz funk drifting out across the mannequins. And that's just the men's lavatory. They also serve a fine cappuccino and cake upstairs.

At the start of the season, I'm guaranteed to see something I might be tempted to steal for. But at sale time? The good clothes normally go a long time before then.

Victor, the assistant, suggests a three-button, single-breasted cream or beige suit (was pounds 495, is pounds 395). Classic cut, slightly tailored at the waist. Straight out of a Merchant-Ivory film. It is a cotton and linen mix, so the suit has all the light, airy feel of linen without turning into a scrunched up tea-towel after five minutes of wearing. The colour might prove a little impractial on the Underground. The silk tie is reduced to pounds 25 from pounds 40 and has been modelled by Alan Hansen during the BBC's World Cup coverage. That clinches it.

Sale rating: HHHH

As you may have worked out by now, I'm not much of a double-breasted man, myself. Still, quite taken by a four-button, wool and rayon version in grey - soft shouldered and loosely structured for that 'unmistakeable Armani look and feel' (Victor's words, though I'm inclined to agree). Light but robust fabric, and the colour could cope with more than one day on the buses. Reduced to pounds 325 from pounds 450.

Sale rating: HHHH


13 Floral St, WC2

Normally the kind of shop in which I feel faintly threatened (rail to rail designer labels - Jasper Conran, Jean-Paul Gaultier, Romeo Gigli), but Carlos, the assistant, is a star.

I have never been sure about brown, mainly, I think, because it is usually followed by something deeply dubious such as 'corduroys', 'ale' or 'polyester suit'. A three-button, single-breasted, 100 per cent cool wool outfit by Giuliano Fujiwara (now there is a culture clash to conjure with) is a noble attempt to challenge my prejudices. Down to pounds 344 from pounds 459.50. Well cut, airy, dead comfy, but ultimately, well, brown. I like the tie by Gigli (was pounds 53, is pounds 39).

Sale rating: HH

What do I look like in this other single-breasted linen suit by the same designer - an escaped prisoner? A prat? Whoever tried it on first leant against a wall before the paint dried. The pattern is known as 'broken pinstripe'. For a wedding or garden fete, why not? Down from pounds 499.50 to pounds 374 (ah, that's why not). There are only two left (there were six), so hurry, hurry, hurry while stocks last.

Sale rating: HHHH


11 The Strand, WC2

and branches all over London

The chart music says it all really - mainstream, mass-produced, lots of cover versions and occasionally prone to novelties such as the Birdie Song or Aga-doo. Instantly spot a merino wool charcoal grey suit jacket, three buttons, single breasted, down from pounds 94.99 to pounds 49.99 . Better still, I know the trousers (down from pounds 59.99 to pounds 29.99) will fit because I can buy them separately. Also available in navy blue and pinstripe. Not convinced it will look so immaculate in two years, but for pounds 80, who cares?

Sale rating: HHHH


26 Sloane St, SW3

My last shop and by now getting a bit 'suited out'. The bright, cool surrounds gently suffused with reggae and new world music are a relief. Joseph is about to start selling only its own stock, so is clearing out its designer labels - Dolce e Gabbana, Yogi, Nicole Farhi, and so on. Drawn to a black single-breasted Joseph Classic in linen and cotton. A slim cut, but comfortable. The light cloth looks like it would wear well. Jacket and trousers were pounds 195 and pounds 90, now reduced by 30 per cent to pounds 199.50 for both.

Sale rating: HHHH


Unit 3, The Barkers Centre,

High St Kensington, W8

Seemed to be getting rid of their

most frumpy, mumsy, least-desirable clothes with smallish reductions. There was nothing exciting or special (or anything for Saturday night) to get your mits on. A good place to find reduced office wear though. Shoes were the best items with everything from flat court shoes to four-inch cork platforms reduced by pounds 10-20.

Black polyester dinner jacket:

Original Price:pounds 179.99

Sale Price:pounds 115.00

Being black and fairly lightweight, this will go over everything. It'll suit evening wear and can also be worn during the day and would be fine for hot weather, so scores well for versatility. It's fully lined, well cut and well made - an all round classic buy that will last more than one season. But still a pricey buy, despite the hefty pounds 64 knocked off. Worth browsing before splashing out on this one.

Sale rating:HHH

Fawn linen A-line skirt:

Original Price:pounds 39.99

Sale price:pounds 29.99

For the price, this is a good, basic fashion item that can be worn for the office as well as for casual day wear. The A-line skirt is very much this season's thing, so may not be what you want to wear next summer.

Sale rating:HHH


123b High St Kensington, W8

There are rock bottom prices and serious bargains to be found here. A place for the ultimate one-off, though the clothes are not of the highest standard. Hennes also sells a good cross-section of clothes for different ages. Very young, fun clothes, like Mickey Mouse underwear and ruched bikinis can be found as well as smart mix-and-match office wear and casuals.

Cream polyester safari jacket:

Original price:pounds 49.99

Sale price:pounds 24.99

This hangs well and would look great over trousers as well as skirts, belted or unbelted. It's lined, lightweight and doesn't look cheap. A classic that is excellent value for money.

Sale rating:HHHHH

Patterned polyester A-line mini:

Original price:pounds 16.99

Sale price:pounds 9.99

This is in a pretty fabric, feels good and fits well. It's not too long, not too short and would be great for the office. A simple piece that will last another season.

Sale rating:HHHHH


129-131 High St Kensington, W8

Good, but not huge reductions on clothes, though Benetton reduces prices progressively over the summer period until they hit rock bottom long after other shops have finished their sales. They do very well-made, functional clothes which are good for office and day wear. Nothing glamourous, fun or exciting to be found here. Wait another week or two for classic bargain buys.

Beige cotton/linen jacket:

Original price:pounds 77

Sale price:pounds 62

This is a timeless summer piece made from quality fabric. While the reduction isn't huge (pounds 15), it's an all-round good buy and will last for years. Good value for money.

Sale rating:HHH

Navy linen skirt:

Original price:pounds 25

Sale price:pounds 20

This will look great with a T-shirt and trainers as well as smarter clothes for the office. It's cut nicely, is well-made and will be a much-worn summer favourite with fashionable working girls.

Sale rating:HHH


15 Floral St, WC2

The clothes here are all exquisitely made, top of the range designer wear. With reductions of pounds 100 and more, anyone could come and buy something unique and highly covetable. Good value for money, though nothing is exactly cheap.

Joe Casely-Hayford brown suit:

Original price jacket:pounds 349

Sale price jacket:pounds 210

Original price skirt:pounds 127

Sale price skirt:pounds 77

A whopping pounds 189 knocked off the price of this suit brings designer wear into the land of the living. That is, if a quirky, one-off designer look is what you hanker for. This is a a special suit for a wedding or stylish occasion, and while still at a hefty price, is affordable. Attention to detail is high, the cut is original, the look is high fashion and very individual.

Sale rating:HHHH


20 The Market, Covent Garden, WC2

Huge reductions (up to 60 per cent on some items) on quality clothes that range from the smart and stylish to the fun and flirty. It would be hard not to find something you want here.

Navy silk twill jacket:

Original price:pounds 155

Sale price:pounds 95

This is the best buy of the bunch. A top of the range classic as far as cut and quality are concerned (it would equal an Armani jacket easily), at a middle-of-the-range price. A pounds 60 reduction means this is excellent value.

Sale rating:HHHHH

White and silver flecked

rayon/lurex mini skirt:

Original price:pounds 50

Sale price:pounds 39

Not a huge amount off, but this is a well-made, fun fashion item that will work well for day and evening wear.

A well finished, up-market piece

and good value for money.

Sale rating:HHHH

Monique Roffey