Don't go off the sale rails: Angela Lambert, credit card at the ready, found little to tempt her

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BEAT the drum and blow the publicity trumpets as you will, the nostrils of this old warhorse no longer flare as once they did at the word 'sale'. It is not, in my case, because money is tight; with three insatiable teenagers now grown to frugal adulthood money is, if anything, a bit looser than it used to be. What has changed is the covetability rating of the goods on offer.

I arrived on Wednesday morning for Day One at my former mecca, the Harvey Nichols' sale, the grey HN credit card stowed clandestinely in my purse. I was intending to buy a couple of pairs of summer shoes but ready to be seduced into, who knows? Anything fresh and flattering for these balmy midsummer days.

Up the escalator to the first floor then, and the classy shoe department, where the magic names of Rayne, Ferragamo and Charles Jourdan glint invitingly from every instep. Their desirability stops there, however: for the shoes on offer are nearly all Eighties models with superannuated high heels. Has no one noticed that we are all into flatties these days; sleek little numbers in suede or calf leather on which to walk the summer streets and fields on softly padding paws? These tottering heels are good for nightclubs; weddings at a pinch; but nothing else. Perhaps that is why their prices have been slashed by half.

But have they been slashed? Is that crossed-out pounds 120 a price these shoes were ever really expected to fetch? Even at pounds 69 or pounds 59, it is still pretty steep. The fact that they hang forlornly across the display rails in all their rainbow colours suggests that designers and buyers are out of touch with the tastes of all but a pampered elite: not the kind of women who need to buy their shoes at a sale.

Still empty-handed, I cross the first floor to inspect the rails of my favourite French designer, whose prices (except at sale time) are hopelessly out of reach. Here are ranks of narrow little Eighties skirts, smart career-girl blouses in impractical pale silk and linen; prim, tight-waisted jackets; the look that was acceptable in the City in pre-crash days but is now happily discarded in favour of looser, easier garments.

There is better value to be found and much trendier clothes at London's state-of-the-art Marks & Spencer or the more modish of the high street shops: Warehouse, Ghost, Jigsaw or - my personal find of the year - the 'W' range at Wallis. These are the shapes and fabrics, the drifting, easy textures that feel right this summer: not the unimaginative garments that linger on the sale rails. And this is why, despite red placards inviting us to 40 or 50 per cent off, the first day of the sale at Harvey Nichols was no big bargain after all.

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