Great Western not only claims to be Britain's largest bargain basement but would also seem to be its swankiest, boasting Austin Reed, Aquascutum, Ouiset, Jaeger, Jigsaw, Pied a Terre and, rather impressively, Christian Lacroix. Surely, here, I'd find a decent suit without upsetting my bank manager.
My aim was to find contemporary working clothes for early autumn from Great Western's massive selection of collections that are at least one or two seasons' old. The job couldn't be tackled without a modicum of prior information, but since something-for-the-office is less likely to date than, say, something-for-a night-at-Nobu, and the international catwalks have done us the favour of proclaiming grey to be big this season, I was feeling confident.
So for the benefit of anyone planning a visit to one of the UK's designer outlet villages, here is my shopping list of acceptable executive trends for this autumn, that I managed, more or less, to winkle out of the Great Western. And if you can bear to wait another month, there'll be more autumnal stock and the centre will have added Next and Thomas Pink. By October, there'll also be a designer room with names like Calvin Klein, Prada, Joan and David and Polo.
I had in mind a Richard Tyler sharp black suit or a boyish, Gucci, charcoal flannel trouser suit, with wide pants. With jacket prices reduced from pounds l99 to pounds 99 at Austin Reed, I found a fair approximation in a single-breasted, winter-weight, black trouser suit. I plan to wear it with one of the two fluffy, grey short-sleeved crew-neck sweaters I found for pounds 10 at Benetton. And as brown is still a viable option, I had my eye on Lacroix's chocolate trouser suit with velvet trim (important detail), at half the normal price and thought seriously about adding the brown satin palazzo pants for pounds 65 for that from-office-to-evening look.
The textural, earth-coloured story as told by Vivienne Westwood - and virtually everyone else - was easy to find. I particularly liked Aquascutum's tweedy checked jackets (pounds l75 from pounds 250) and matching knee-length pencil skirts (another good autumn item) reduced from pounds 125 to pounds 79. Then back to Benetton for more little sweaters to wear with the skirt or one of Austin Reed's mini kilts (pounds 39.95 from pounds 79).
If your office can cope with bright colours, then I suggest a visit to the vast Jigsaw shop where they have lots of plaid, just like Pearce Fionda, including the vital very short skirt (pounds l8 from pounds 36) and bright tartan, short flared dresses at pounds 34.50. Red (all shades) is also big and if you don't hanker after scarlet, then may I suggest Lacroix's deep ruby fitted jacket with short pleated skirt (half price).
If they really are due for a re-run, as Calvin Klein and Cerutti would have us believe, then Principles have the best bargain - a calf-length, roll-neck version in camel wool, for a mere pounds 25, while at Jigsaw I found shorter, A-line black knit dresses at pounds 29.99.
Hanro, purveyor of the perfect executive knickers, also has a shop at the Great Western, but apart from the expected clean and sporty cotton underwear, there's also lots of their more flamboyant smalls. I particularly liked a sweetly sexy white cotton bra embroidered in black, with matching boned knickers with lacing and suspenders.
For handy day-into-night accessories choose glittery pearl or diamante jewellery from Ciro (from as little as pounds 4) or go back to Lacroix for something wild in gilt (from pounds 19 to about pounds 80) n
The Great Western Designer Outlet Village is a short shuttle-bus ride from Swindon Station (one hour from Paddington). Open till 8pm on Thursday. Tel: 01793 507600