EVEN WHEN finances are strained, the prospect of buying clothes at this time of year is always more enticing than in the spring. When the weather is warmish, the need to stay cool prevails over the style imperative, and the same old floppy linens tend to surface year after year. Shopping for winter clothes, on the other hand, is generally a much more satisfying experience, especially as in this country you are guaranteed to get a lot more wear out of warm clothes - which is as good an excuse as any to go for quality.

Not that the dreaded R-word can be brushed aside: more than any other factor, price consciousness is what motivates today's consumers. That does not mean clothes have to be cheap, but they must offer value for money.

With this in mind, we chose four outfits, three costing less than pounds 200. The seven main items (jodhpurs, leather jacket, long skirt with matching jacket, military coat, riding boots and white shirt) were all key players at the autumn collections, and form a complete and versatile winter wardrobe. If you can afford to buy all of them, so much the better. However, if you have integrated a few of the longer, leaner styles into your wardrobe in the past year, you should easily get by this season by adding just one or two of the pieces here.

What is important is judging where to go for a bargain, and deciding when a compromise on style and quality would be a mistake. As a general rule, if a garment is relatively straightforward to make and works as well, say, in a wool mix as in pure wool, then it need not cost a fortune. For example, the Whistles jodhpurs, at pounds 55, and the Monix white shirt with cravat, at pounds 49.99, are as good as similar versions costing twice the price (if you want an absolutely plain white shirt, menswear departments offer plenty and you should not have to spend more than pounds 35).

On the other hand, tailoring and fabric are worth paying for, which is why we opted for a pricey leather jacket. (Along with pinstripe, leather is one of this winter's dominant fabrics.) At pounds 400, it is by far the most expensive item here, but the softness and cut of the leather make it a really special piece that will probably last as long as you do. (Not all jackets have to cost the earth, however. At pounds 130, the pinstripe French Connection jacket is quite a bargain - and hard to fault.)

Traditional wisdom holds that coats are likely to be the most expensive items in your wardrobe, and to get one that lasts you could find yourself paying in excess of pounds 300. But do you want one that will go on for ever, or would your rather buy a fashion statement, such as the military one on the right, that will see you through a couple of winters until you are ready for a change?

More than ever, the catwalks this season hosted an abundance of fancy dress. A lot of it looked dubious even on the models, and should certainly be approached with caution by anyone over the age of 20. In any case, this season is really about inexpensive details: a leopard-print beret or scarf with a black pullover and jeans is as much as you need to say about animal prints. Similarly, a length of satin ribbon, tied, Daniel Day-Lewis style, at the neck of a white shirt, is probably taking the dandy theme as far as is sensible. The total outlay for the ribbon plus the season's statutory fishnets is pounds 4.90. It could turn out to be the best investment of all.

(Photograph omitted)

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