Thrifty Living: Get a move on - it's sales time

Of course, once you have decided to start a life of thrift, the pressure is on to look anything but, as if minding your overdraft hasn't reduced your personal chic one atom. Fortunately, cheap fashion rather than designer labels is the look right now.

However, you must plan your assault. First, casually wandering down the high street will result in a wild overspend, believe me. I know about these things. Second, avoid any shop which is not having a sale.

Shopping devotees know Christmas sales now begin well before the "Bargains Galore!" ads start appearing on television. As far as the high street is concerned, it's already New Year Sale-time. If you want to go online, the website Zencudo.com will lead you to nearly 450 sites, from Boots to Dixons, which have discounted stuff, three-for-two offers, and so on, but who can wait for a sexy dress to arrive in the post when you need to be once, twice, three times a lady, tonight?

It's far better to make the journey to central London and somewhere like Dickens & Jones in Regent Street, or Barkers of Kensington, both of which are closing down in a matter of weeks. Jump on a train and start shopping there now, because the bargains are terrific. Forget about modest little sales; Barkers, which has always looked like an old-fashioned liner, is going down with Titanic-esque abandonment.

There is 50 to 70 per cent off everything in the entire store, from Calvin Klein knickers to Whistles jumpers, by way of Pied a Terre shoes. Finding myself standing in the Ronit Zilkha concession (I know, it just happens), I picked up two swingy cord mini skirts, one with a belt, one decorated with sequinned butterflies, for about £50 each, (down from £120 or so), and a long "Cossack" coat in crushed turquoise velvet, decorated with jet and ribbons, for £224.50, down from over £500. It's just the thing to make knockout appearances at Christmas parties in, this year and next.

A quick saunter past Shoes for a pair of black torturers, a detour into Lingerie for an Elle Macpherson bra and knickers set, and I'm set for several appearances under the mistletoe.

The other key is to make a beeline for the superstores, because this is where the fight is on for the fashion purse of Middle England. Unlike everyone else, I feel that the M&S Twiggy phenomenon hasn't gone quite far enough; at M&S you could find yourself spending well over £150 for an outfit that still looks just a bit too sensible (bar the Per Una faux fur cape, £25). Whereas over at Matalan, frankly, if you have £14 and the nerve to get away with rockin' around the tree in a stretchy black strapless jumpsuit, then go for it. The crushed velvet tiered skirt at £10 is also rather fab.

But for my limited money, the most glamorous glad-rags have got to be at Tesco. Once you can actually find one that sells clothes, that is. I took nearly two hours to get to my nearest one, even after looking it up on the net.

When I arrived, however, all was forgiven. I picked up a pair of this season's sharp shorts (£15); a jewelled evening bag (£15); a long, green button-through Paisley dress (£25); and a 100 per cent cashmere jumper in fawn for £30. With prices like these, who needs changing rooms? There are decorated skirts that could have come straight out of Eley Kishimoto for £20.

I got the shorts, dress, jumper, tights - and some Pringles to celebrate - for less than £100. And some lucky knickers for a quid. Because you always need lucky knickers at Christmas, don't you?

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