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Most of us can't afford designer clothes. Don't be shy about the fact. Realistically, our financial priorities lie elsewhere. We may see one, maybe two pieces per season and think "Two swishy dinners, four bottles of Chablis and no cigarettes for a week equals one perfect Hussein Chalayan dress". The gain outweighs the pain. The January sales are pay-back time for discriminating, aspirational shoppers. How many times have you thought, "Knock a nought off the price tag and I can almost afford it"? In sale time we can all be millionaires for the day.

You will need the speed and tenacity of a heat-seeking missile to hit that target. Your role model is the statue atop the Old Bailey: sword in one hand and scales of justice in the other. Don't buy indiscriminately just because it's designer. When lifestyle dictates shift dress, a pink satin meringue isn't an investment: it is an own goal.

If you would rather walk naked down Bond Street than even consider paying full price for a frock, then you don't like it enough. I recommend a tracking system. Imitate the praying mantis, holding a weekly price-tag vigil for your 10 die-for pieces.

Designer sizing is totally subjective so I can't tell you to shop only to your M&S size. But as a rule never down-size, thinking you'll lose weight. There's more chance of marrying George Clooney, love. Neither will you find a clever little seamstress to alter Chanel black cigarette pants from a size 16 to a 12. You might as well have a seance and try to contact Coco.

Contrary to popular belief, designer clothing does not sell as swiftly as the last bottle of balsamic in Sainsbury's come Saturday night. Forget the waiting list hokum. You may not find a Fendi Baguette or Gucci's funnel- neck coat on the sale rails. But do expect to see off-centre little bits of lunacy by Comme des Garcons and Junya Watanabe unclaimed. There is a limited market for conceptual clothes.

Dust off your crystal ball because you will need an eye fixed on autumn/ winter 2000. The old adage says catwalk takes two seasons to gain mainstream acceptance. So maybe Yohji Yamamoto's ballgown skirts may look extreme on a wet January afternoon. Come September 2000 and that shape will be in the window at Warehouse. Trust me. Trends like bright dyed leather, stovepipe pants and hot colour will run like a greyhound into next autumn.

Sale shopping is not a shot in the dark or a rampant rummage. It is fashion's answer to The Krypton Factor. So if you're a gambling clairvoyant with feet of iron and nerves of steel who would look just wonderful in a Yohji ball gown, then you are in business.