I'm standing in a packed room. People are sampling canapes and knocking back champagne. There is a hum of small talk as waitresses edge between guests. I scan the room for someone I recognise. My eyes fix on a dress - a long silk and velvet evening gown that seems familiar. It is black with tight cuffs and split sleeves, Thirties style. I head across the room towards the tall young woman wearing it. She is standing with a glass of wine in her hand, looking bored. "Where did you get that dress? It's great," I say. "It's a Poirot from the TV series with David Suchet," she replies. "I hired it. But don't let on where it came from."

Costumes which once would have been consigned to mothballs after a brief appearance on screen are appearing at parties, office do's and weddings. They are being recycled as elegant evening wear as a fad for hiring designer costumes moves from Paris to Britain.

Some costumes find their way on to the street even before the film in which they appear hits the cinema. Evening dresses from the next James Bond film, Goldeneye, have turned up at the north London boutique of Andrea Galer, to the surprise of some in the film industry. Ms Galer is known for simple, tailored suits for women. Her small boutique, tucked away in Belsize Park, is the sort of place where smart, middle-aged ladies whisk through racks of beige suits and peer at themselves in hats.

It's only in the basement that things liven up. There are flashes of pink, marine blue and red from the racks of film, TV and rock video costumes. Cream palazzo pants, chiffon evening gowns and diaphanous black beaded Bond dresses hang side by side. Some are Galer's own creations for films and TV, others have been brought in by fellow designers keen to make some money from their costumes when filming finishes.

"It's a recession-based idea," says Ms Galer. "In Capital City, the TV series I designed, I was spending pounds 1,000 on an outfit that an actress wore for two minutes. Afterwards none of the actors could afford the clothes. An awful lot just went into storage. I'm giving designers the chance to sell their stock and balance their budgets."

James Bond evening dresses are for hire at pounds 70; Thirties-style costumes designed by Galer for Poirot cost between pounds 30 and pounds 80 a night. "I've hired about five or six things," says Nicky Riley, a 29-year-old market researcher. "It's complete show-stopper stuff. There was a purple Vivienne Westwood dress from a Bryan Adams video I hired quite a few times. I have a fairly hectic social schedule and I want to wear something that's different."

Such is the demand for film costumes from the public that Angels and Bermans, the film, TV and theatrical costumier, has opened a branch in Shaftesbury Avenue, London, just for private costume hire. "We have 13 staff working in private hire now. It's booming," says Tim Angel, the chairman. Clothes from Four Weddings and a Funeral, Out of Africa, Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom and The House of Eliott TV series are among the most popular. Men, after smart blazers and tailored suits, are just as keen on hiring as women.

There is a waiting list for the waistcoats worn by Hugh Grant, and for Andie MacDowell's hat. One Hugh Grant waistcoat was recently shipped to the United States for a wedding, and a woman was married in the Bo- Peep wedding dress that Andie MacDowell tried on in Four Weddings.

But it is not only Hollywood costumes that people want to hire. Outfits from the TV series Absolutely Fabulous are in great demand for social engagements, along with accompanying wigs.