The thing about the sales is that they exemplify the triumph of optimism over reality. At New Year, the shops are filled with people spending their way out of the disappointment of their Christmas gifts and that character we all hate, the person getting the next festive season sorted 11 months early. Summer sales have a different flavour: at this time of year, we genuinely believe we're going to improve our lives with the things we buy.
Which just isn't true. Although everyone has one cherished item they stumbled across at a knock-down price and which gave them years of pleasure, what you buy in the sales is almost invariably a mistake. Sure, the shops carry gorgeous knock-down bargains, but this is only to addict the unwary punter to the rush of getting something for nothing. Sale shopping is like gambling: once you've had the big win, however long ago it was, you always believe that the next one is just around the corner. You'll fritter away far more than you ever save on lime green Lycra bodysuits for when your diet's worked, juicers (without box) that you thought would be an easy source of vitamins and actually turned out to be a major washing- up burden and black half-cup lingerie you're too shy to actually wear.
Fashion gurus write smug little pieces about the best bargain they ever tracked down but what they don't tell you is that they bought it at a fashion editor's' preview sale. For the rest of us, it's a question of mile-high piles of size eight, baby-pink button-down crop tops and fake lizardskin hipster jeans. The point is, moving these, even in a sale, convinces retailers they can sell stuff we don't really want, and encourages them to think they don't have to stock the items we do.
Try this: stay at home, buy nothing, put the money you didn't spend into a jar. After two Saturdays have passed you might have saved enough for tickets to the centre court at Wimbledon. Even if you do have to enrich a tout to get them.
Now on at branches throughout England, Wales and Scotland. General customer information (0171-408 4444). Discounts of up to a third off selected merchandise.
Now on at 63 New Bond Street, London W1 (0171-629 9161) and Brent Cross, Leicester, York, Newcastle, Windsor, Tunbridge Wells and Canterbury branches. Fenwick's sale is always worth a good browse. Look for Nicole Farhi narrow cotton/viscose trousers reduced from pounds 159 to pounds 79, and women's white single breasted jackets down from pounds 349 to pounds 199. Armani and Bill Amberg bags are 40 per cent off, and 50 per cent off all english Eccentrics, Armani and Timney Fowler scarves. Bargains for the guys include up to 30 per cent off Nicole Farhi, Jasper Conran and Kenzo.
Fortnum & Mason
Sale now on until 13 July at 181 Piccadilly, London W1 (0171-734 8040). Look for savings of between 30-50 per cent off selected womenswear lines including Max Mara, Christian Lacroix, Benny Ong, Georges Rech, Mani, Jean Muir Collection, Roland Klein, and YSL Variations.
Starts 10 July until 20 July at Knightsbridge, London SW1 (0171-730 1234). It's an institution - if you can only face one sale make it Harrods'. As usual many departments will be offering up to half-price reductions with prices tumbling yet further over the final few sale days. The furniture departments on the third floor and major household appliances and kitchen furniture on the second floor will be revealing sale bargains on Saturday 6 July and Monday 8 July where customers may order, thus avoiding the crowds when the sale begins in earnest on the 10th. Account holders will receive an extra 10 per cent off purchases made on the first Saturday of the sale (13 July). If you can't get there phone for a sale catalogue on 0800 376 1234.
Starts 3 July at 109-125 Knightsbridge, London W1 (0171-235 5000). Absolutely fabulous reductions, up to 50 per cent, on mens-, womens- and childrenswear, furnishings and accessories. Account customers receive an extra 10 per cent discount on all reduced merchandise for the first four days of the sale. Look out for Dolce & Gabbana Zebra print dresses down from pounds 385 to pounds 230, and Calvin Klein Jersey dresses from pounds 770 to pounds 385; in menswear Giorgio Armani Le Collezioni 3 button suits are reduced from pounds 595 to pounds 450.
House of Fraser
Starts today (call 0171-963 2236 for stores). Bargains include Zanussi FL881 washing machines reduced from pounds 399.99 to pounds 299.99; Sharp 4G56 microwaves down from pounds 199.99 to pounds 129.99; Myers Nocturne 4-drawer divan sets (5'x6'6") reduced from pounds 380 to pounds 300; and a third off selected Le Creuset cast iron cookware. Menswear reductions include up to 25 per cent off YSL, and Calvin Klein jeans and a third off selected French Connection items. Stylish kids benefit from a third off selected items from Paul Smith, French Connection, Diesel, and Osh Kosh.
John Lewis Partnership
Clearance sale 9 July to 20 July at Oxford Street, London W1 (0171-629 7711). Head for the audio and TV department for a 25" Toshiba 2552DB TV at pounds 399 reduced from pounds 449. Over to china for Denby, Wedgwood, Spode and Worcester in a variety of patterns and colours at 20 per cent lower than normal price. Also good value are the dress fabric seconds selling at around half the perfect price. Assorted furnishing fabrics are approximately half price.
Starts on 2 July for approximately two weeks at 210-220 Regent Street, London W1 (0171-734 1234). Bargains throughout the store: stock your linen cupboard with well priced bedding, such as white goose down duvets at half price (king-size down from pounds 259 to pounds 129), bath sheets are down from pounds 29.95 to pounds 14.95, Peter Reed Egyptian cotton bed linen is reduced, for example a double flat sheet is pounds 36 down from pounds 45. Bedspreads are half price - Jacquard cotton king-size is now pounds 59 from pounds 119. Also big savings can be had in the furniture department including a Rebecca sofa by Lyndon Design in Monkwell "Samar" for pounds 895 from pounds 1,795.
Starts 8 July at 400 Oxford Street, London W1 (0171 629 1234). Avoid the crowds and become an armchair browser: take your pick of the bargains in Selfridges Selection mail order sale catalogue (ring 0800 101 101 for a copy). In store there's plenty at half price in the childrenswear department such as Jean Bourget, Miniman, Baby Dior, Chipie and Naf Naf. Menswear comes with 50 per cent off Valentino and 30 per cent off Hugo Boss shirts and selected lines of Patrick Cox. Women can take advantage of bargain designer jeans. Snap up crystal seconds: 40 per cent off Dartington Crystal and Royal Brierley Crystal.
Starts 3 July at 80 Fulham Road, London SW3 and branches (call 0171 584 4009). Up to 50 per cent off day-, evening- and knitwear shoes, accessories, samples and fabrics.
Now on at 100 Regent Street, London W1 (0171 734 6090). Reductions of 30-50 per cent off selected items.
Starts on 3 July (for branches call 0171-734 6789). Account customers are invited to a sale preview day on 2 July when they will receive an extra 5 per cent discount (this discount will be carried on for the first two days of the sale). Reductions will be between 10-50 per cent on selected mens- and womenswear.
Starts 1 July at 311 Brompton Road, London SW3 (0171-589 7884). 50 per cent off most items. Linen/rayon zip front jackets in putty or navy are reduced from pounds 335 to pounds 168, matching tapered trousers are down from pounds 159 to pounds 80.
From 9 July until 27 July at 344 King's Road, London W3 (0171 352 3697). Discounts of between 20-40 per cent off summer cashmere. "Serious" discounts expected on winter lines.
Comme des Garcons
Sale now on at 59 Brook Street, London W1 (0171 493 1258). Reductions of 30-40 per cent on men's and women's collections.
Sale starts on 25 July at 43 Earlham Street, Covent Garden, London WC2 (0171 497 5543). Today only catch the sample sale at 55 Argyle Street, Off Grays Inn Road, London WC1 from 9.30am-5pm. Samples available from the hip Diesel range to include accessories, kids, leathers, jeans, womens and menswear.
Now on at branches nation-wide (call 0171-200 4211). Discounts of up to 50 per cent on many items. Forget the little black dress and grab one of their little black suits in fine wool crepe with double breasted jacket and short skirt for pounds 260 down from pounds 390 (from the Jaeger London range).
Starts 2 July at 77 Fulham Road, London SW3 (0171-823 9500). Reductions from 30 per cent.
This mail order sale is now on. Call 01494 890555 or fax 01494 866003. British Designer Collections catalogue pounds 7.50, Diffusion catalogue pounds 3.50. The blissfully lazy way to hunt your designer bargains. Half price on Paul Costelloe, Nicole Farhi, Jasper Conran, Amanda Wakeley to name but a few.
Starts 3 August (call 0171-379 7133 for stockists/branches). Initial reductions of 30 per cent off across the board.
The Scotch House
Now on at branches nationwide (call 0171-581 2151). Reductions of 30- 40 per cent.
Now on at branches throughout London. (Call 01323 649408). Half price on many styles of good quality shoes.
Now on at 192-194 Oxford Street, London W1. (Call 0800-289 2971 for other branches). Reductions of 30-50 per cent.
Starts 1 July at branches nationwide (call 0171-631 0224). Up to 33 per cent off this season's fashion sandals, court shoes and bags. Square toe court shoes in lilac, mint, cream and black down from pounds 39.99 to pounds 22 are a must.
Small and Tall Shoe Shop
Sale of women's shoes in large or small sizes. Sale for large sizes (8 1/2-11 1/2) runs from 3-12 July. Small sizes (12 1/2-2 1/2) will be reduced from 17-26 July. 71 York Street, London W1 (0171-723 5321). Serious reductions on current stock.
Homes & Interiors
The Conran Shop
Starts today at 81 Fulham Road, London SW3 (0171-589 7401). 30 per cent off much upholstery with big bargains promised on discontinued and ex- display stock.
Starts today until 13 July at 277 King's Road, London SW3 (0171-351 5775). Warehouse sale on 6-14 July at 6 Relay Road, Ariel Way, Off Wood Lane, London W12. Reductions on upholstery, bedlinen, cushions, rugs and tableware.
The General Trading Company
Starts 13 July until 8 August at 144 Sloane St, London SW1 (0171 730 0411). Reductions throughout the shop ranging from 15 to 50 per cent. Discounts include 40 per cent off selected ceramics, 15 per cent off TinTin range of bed linen.
Now on until 14 July at 196 Tottenham Court Road, London W1 (0171-636 1666), 234 Kings Road and Tunsgate, Guildford. Heal's own bed linen is 30 per cent off, and discontinued lines are 50 per cent off. Bargain hunters should head for the Tottenham Court Road store for samples and items that are shop soiled, damaged: all are greatly reduced.
Now on until 14 July at 2 Drury Way, North Circular Road, London NW10 (0181-208 5600) and branches in Croydon, Birmingham, Gateshead, Leeds and Warrington. Up to 50 per cent savings throughout the store.
Starts 8 July for one month at 46 Goodge Street, London W1 (0171-580 6921). 10 per cent blanket discount on everything in the store including bedspreads, cushions, ceramics, furniture, glassware and lighting. Up to 50 per cent off selected goods. Look out for bright new cotton bedspreads and cushion covers promised at "fantastically low special offer prices".
Purves & Purves
Now on until 20 July at 80-81 & 83 Tottenham Court Road, London W1 (0171- 580 8223). Up to 40 per cent off ex-display furniture, up to 50 per cent off discontinued accessories and 10 per cent off any single item over pounds 500.
Buyers & Sellers
Starts on 1 July for the whole month at 120-122 Ladbroke Grove, London W10 (0171-229 1947). This is a dial-a-bargain sale of domestic appliances. Simply phone naming the item - brand, model number - and ring up for a special sale quotation. Nationwide deliveries.
Starts 10 July at 61a Brompton Road, London SW3 (0171-589 5584). 50 per cent off selected costume jewellery.
Starts 5 July at 150 Oxford Street, London W1 (0171-631 3423) and stores around the country. It's HMV's 75th anniversary and by way of celebration there are CDs starting from pounds 2.99 and major chart titles will be around a tenner. The first 75 at HMV's 100 stores around the county will be able to pick up a copy of (What's the Story) Morning Glory for pounds 5.
Now on at 170 Piccadilly, London W1 (0171-493 4138) and 1 Tunsgate Square, Guildford, Surrey. Up to 50 per cent off all luggage, holdalls, briefcases and handbags including this season's colours and styles.
Now on until 15 July at 1 Piccadilly, London W1 and branches nationwide (call 0171-439 2500). To celebrate their 10th anniversary Tower Records are offering their choice of the 100 greatest records over the last ten years at pounds 11.99 CD, and pounds 7.99 cassette. Following directly on from this promotion is the Polygram sale from 16 July until 31 July.
Starts 12 July until 26 July at branches nationwide.