In The Red

Until recently, I'd assumed that sample sales were a thing of Sex and the City folklore, the sort of thing you hear about but which never quite makes its way across the pond and into mainstream British culture – like weekly pedicures, monthly blow-drys or sessions with a personal trainer.

Not that I could afford any those, but you know what I mean. I'd heard about sample sales, I'd read about them, but I never really thought that they existed in any tangible sense.

And then I noticed them, springing up all over London like daffodils: whole warehouses of cheap apparel, open for a day while stocks last. Designer labels, ethical fashion, babywear, fancy dress – and all, it would seem, at wholesale prices.

In theory, we should love these things. They're stuffed with bargains, surprises and treats. And it isn't just last season's unwanted leftovers that they sell – they've got a whole array of next season's products too.

In Manhattan, if a designer holds a sample sale the store gets mobbed – hence the rise of "secret sample sales", a phenomenon that really hasn't arrived in the UK yet (or maybe I'm just not in on the secret).

But anyway, I was excited. I was off to my first sample sale. It was in a market hall in east London, only a short walk away from my flat. It would be perfect, I thought, for buying this year's Christmas presents – and, who knows, maybe I'd pick up something for myself.

And yes, I suppose it lived up to expectations – at least in the sense that everything I'd anticipated was there: the piles of cut-price clothes, the trestle-table tills and the queues.

Oh, the queues! So many people descending on a single room, and everyone in search of the same bargains. And yet, from what I could see, there weren't many to be had. Sure, there were plenty of below-average-price items, but nothing that I wanted. There seemed to be an awful abundance of pastel-coloured V-necks and logo T-shirts in extra small. And sober-looking striped ties. But nothing that I would have bought were they not being paraded in front of me in the form of a designated Special Offer.

Of course, in the event I did buy something – quite a lot of things, actually, none of them very useful. In fact, the whole thing was so disappointing that I ended up buying simply to compensate, comfort-shopping when I should have been saving.

Still, at least I can say that I've experienced a sample sale. It wasn't quite the life-changing event I expected it to be – but then, what is? At least now I can return to good old Topshop, safe in the knowledge that I'm not missing out.