Reasons to be cheap and cheerful

Rediscover the fashion bargain - and your lost youth - on a high street near you

Like a rite of passage, Going To Town holds a glamorous fascination for post-pubescent girls: Kylie blaring over the Top Shop sound system, racks of party dresses stacked 10 deep, boys to ogle at the cash desk... and change from a pounds 20 note at home time. Face it, your teens were a golden age for high-street shopping. Is it as much fun when you get past 20? We should be so lucky. Well, we have news for all you jaded Prada widows out there. Accompanying a teenage girl on a high-street escapade to Oxford Street took years off Style Police.

Top Shop on a Saturday morning was mobbed. Style Police looked back in languor as teenage girls fought over the last sequin boob tube. Frenzy is the only way to describe these kids dragging arms-full of slip dresses into the communal changing rooms. The boob tube rivals went in together. God only knows what went on once the curtain was drawn. Then your toe starts tapping to Gina G's "Ooh, Ahh, Just A Little Bit" and you start to look at the clothes.

An incredible, smart, gold, lace and oyster satin mini skirt (pounds 3O) leaps off the rails screaming, "I'm a dead ringer for Dolce e Gabbana". A black cobweb chiffon T studded with rhinestones (pounds 20) would work over one of Top Shop's strappy column dresses (from pounds 15) or under the royal-blue, velvet, single-breasted jacket (pounds 65) and pencil skirt (pounds 25).

Naturally, there is a lot of crap on the high street. They don't use good quality dyes on their cottons so the throwaway T-shirts will fade if you even show them to the washing machine. You find the same stories - like velveteen and fake fur this season - everywhere. Then again, if you are a designer snob and wear a high-street cocktail frock to a party, only fellow high-street junkies will recognise it.

"Beware the hype about the high street," says Time Out shopping editor Lorna V. "You have to discard a lot of rubbish before you find the gems. People see great high-street fashion pieces in mags and then get disappointed because the pieces have either sold out or only sell in London. A trip to the high street has to be planned with mathematical precision. Don't just work your way from one end to the other. Find out when the new season's stock is in and beat everyone else to it."

Style Police did feel a bit like the Vampire Lestat escorting the teenager in question through the racier rails of Miss Selfridge. But you can't better this place for glossy, black, lingerie skirts with black lace trim (pounds 25) which look like Stella McCartney for Chloe. A silver sequin on Lurex halter dress (pounds 25), which flutes into a pretty knee-length A-line, may be the frock to make male knees tremble at the office party. Teenagers may not think twice about going out on the town in a wisp of chiffon and a smile, so Miss Selfridge's silver ribbed rollneck (pounds 20) is a cute way to cover-up.

Lorna V advises high-street shoppers to "go to the designer stores and see what is in fashion. Try these pieces on, so you know what kind of fabric textures the designers are using. Then go to the high street and try to match up the most directional designer pieces. Trashy and tarty is fabulous, but there are pieces that will last longer than a season. I have tops from Hennes which have lasted years."

As a rule, the synthetic viscose-mix evening dresses are what the high street does best. They are cheap, clingy and feel fabulous. What they don't do is beading that would pass the Come Dancing test. But so what? Even if you leave every sequin on the dance floor, you can always get down to Top Shop and splash out Ooh Ahh, A Little Bit More on another frock.

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