Saving grace: There are bargains aplenty in the sales

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When budgets are tight, why spend more than you need to? There are bargains aplenty in the sales – provided you plan ahead, says Carola Long

The sales can be hard work. Many people would rather volunteer to do the Christmas Day washing-up than risk being crushed like an old car in the stampede. Then there's the danger of getting photographed for the next day's papers whilst lunging for a discounted item only to appear under the headline "fear of debt fails to halt insatiable lust for handbags."

However, for the bargain lover and those with a pathological aversion to paying full price for anything, the undignified scrum is a small price to pay for, well, a smaller price. It just seems madness to me not to hold out until one's desired item is 30, 40 or 50 per cent cheaper. (25 per cent just doesn't do it for us sartorial Scrooges). However, even if you can countenance getting hot, harassed and elbowed in the face, that's still no guarantee of a genuine bargain. Remember a bargain doesn't mean a horrible garment reduced by 95 per cent, it's saving money on something you actually like for more than five minutes.

We all know the mantra: stick to timeless pieces, don't buy anything lime green or orange and avoid clothes that are too big or small thinking you will slim into them or have them altered. If you really want to be sure that you are buying pieces because you love them, have a scout around the shops beforehand to decide what you actually need and in what size. Then, to paraphrase those amusing Dixons ads, go online and buy it.

The only time it's really worth hitting the cheaper end of the high street shops is if you have a trend craving that won't go away and a particular occasion in mind. If you haven't succumbed to something sequinned yet, it could be worth buying an inexpensive sparkly blazer or leggings in time for New Year's Eve.

So what are the best items to look for? Modern classic coats such as trenches, wrap styles, leopard prints and tailored blazers are worth investing in. Look for brands whose key motifs and shapes don't change radically between seasons, such as Vivienne Westwood's Anglomania. Her waisted, draped shapes have been fashionable for the last 10 years, and will be for the next decade, too. If you find a beautifully fitting party dress that isn't too in thrall to autumn/winter's trends, snap it up – it's one of those things you can never find when a specific occasion looms. Again, seek out labels such as Prada, Alexander McQueen and Jil Sander, whose distinctive aesthetics don't date.

Underwear and sleepwear are good sale buys, but, it's worth trying pieces on before the sales start, as queues for the changing room will be huge and you can't exactly get naked in the middle of Harvey Nichols. Classic, riding-style boots are a sound investment or seek out the mid heel, which is making a comeback for next season.

Looking forward to spring/summer's trends is another savvy approach; lace, as seen at Dolce & Gabbana, luxe sportswear (including tailored tracksuit trousers) candy colours, washed pink tones, white and florals – particularly digital prints – are all set to be key. Don't get waylaid by the 'it' items from autumn; after all, we're on the brink of a New Year and a fresh fashion chapter.

Bargain binge: The best of the sales

LK Bennett

Now on, up to 50 per cent off, Lkbennett.com

Harvey Nichols

Starts Boxing Day, up to 50 per cent off, Shop.harveynichols.com

Dover Street Market

Up to 40 per cent off, Doverstreetmarket.com

Harrods

Starts Boxing Day, 30–50 per cent off, 020 7730 1234

Jaeger

Starts Boxing Day, up to 40 per cent off, Jaeger.co.uk

Selfridges

Starts Boxing Day, 50–75 per cent off, Selfridges.co.uk

Liberty

Starts Boxing Day, up to 60 per cent off, Liberty.co.uk

Matches

Now on, 30–40 per cent off, Matchesfashion.com

Mulberry

Starts Boxing Day, 30 per cent off, Mulberry.com

Sara Berman

Starts Boxing Day, 30 per cent off, Saraberman.co.uk

The Shop at Bluebird

Starts 28 December, up to 50 per cent off, Theshopatbluebird.co.uk

House of Fraser

Starts Boxing Day, up to 50 per cent off, Houseoffraser.co.uk

Whistles

Now on, 30–50 per cent off, Whistles.co.uk

Joseph

Starts Boxing Day, up to 50 per cent off, Joseph.co.uk

Banana Republic

Starts 24 December, 30 per cent off, 020 7758 3550

French Connection

Now on, up to 60 per cent off, Frenchconnection.co.uk

Ted Baker

Starts 24 December, up to 50 per cent off, 0845 130 4278

Kew

Starts Boxing Day, 30 per cent off, Kew.org

Browns

Starts 27 December, up to 50 per cent off, Brownsfashion.com

Jigsaw

Starts Boxing day, up to 30 per cent off, Jigsaw-online.co.uk

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