Sales guide: The canny clothes shopper's route to a bargain How the beat the stores at the bargains game

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IF IT'S a Prada biker jacket (for her) you're after, or a Dolce & Gabbana coat (for him) and you weren't prepared to take out a small mortgage to invest in one the minute it hit the rails in the first place, the sales could be the place for you.

That spending on fashion is hardly booming is no revelation. While the misfortunes of Marks & Spencer have been trumpeted ad infinitum, the rest of the British high street is thinking up ever more imaginative ways to boost turnover, which can only be described - as it has been for some time now - as invariably flat.

Designer clothing, equally, is hardly flying out of the stores. On the contrary, more than a few big names had already started their sales before Christmas. All of this, in the short term at least, can only be good news for the consumer. The spring/summer collections will be coming to a store near you this January. There'll be no shortage of itsy-bitsy bikinis come the cold snap, fashionably - read insanely - enough.

In the meantime, the prices of more costly autumn/winter clothing - there's rather more to producing a heavy wool jacket, for example, than a slither- of-silk sarong skirt - are being slashed to make way.

A word of warning: it's always safer to go for more classic items - ones that won't have metamorphosed into a fashion faux pas by the time you're seen wearing them. The season's must-haves have usually all been spoken for even before the clothes have come into the stores at full price.

It's that waiting-list thing again. The modishly minded knew what they wanted well before the humble likes of you and me. By the time the sales start, any such fashion moments will be thin on the ground.

Similarly, the most experienced - and determined - sales shoppers will have done their homework in advance, earmarking the exact sales items they're looking for, at the most reasonable price, and having committed to memory exactly which part of each store to go to ensure they get just what they bargained for.

Less aggressive shoppers may well simply find themselves stranded in a sea of tired millennium partywear - bright orange, probably - they'd be well advised to avoid like the proverbial plague.

And therein lies the key. If you come across rails of one particular item, and one particular item in one particular colour especially, in the sales, chances are they haven't sold by now for a very good reason. However much the price of such things has been slashed, however tempting it might be to buy into even the greatest of status labels at unfeasibly low prices, every designer makes mistakes and such items were, almost invariably, not worth having in the first place.

The best things to head for when sales shopping are the staples that most designers now include in their collections and which carry through from season to season with only the slightest adaptation to keep them up to date. The trusty Ballantyne cashmere sweater is just one example, the MaxMara coat and Helmut Lang windcheater two more. With these, and other items that have by now become hardy perennials, the sales shopper can't go wrong.

And finally, if you've never been prepared to line up for the opening of the Harrods sale before, this year's guest celebrity might just be worth the wait. Yes, on 5 January the thoroughly gorgeous, ever-pouting Raquel Welch will be doing the honours at the world's largest - and most famously ferocious - sale. Start queuing now - even if you haven't the heart to make it actually through the doors, we trust you'll agree.

THE BEST OF THE FASHION SALES

Specialist Boutiques

A La Mode, 36 Hans Crescent, London SW1, 0171 584 2133. From tomorrow to 8 January.

Alberta Ferretti, 205-206 Sloane Street, London SW1, 0171 235 234. Sale from 29 December to 30 January. Bargain alert: ponyskin coat reduced from pounds 2,806 to pounds 1,403.

Betty Jackson, 311 Brompton Road, London SW3, 0171 589 7884. Sale now on, ends 22 January. Bargain alert: suede dress, cut from pounds 696 to pounds 487.

Browns, 23-27 South Molton Street, London W1, 0171 491 7833. Sale starts 8 January. Initial reductions up to 40 per cent. Bargain alert: Jil Sander coat reduced from pounds 805 to pounds 405; Michael Kors double-face wool dress pounds 805, reduced to pounds 400.

Browns Focus, 38-39 South Molton Street, London W1, 0171 629 0666. Sale from 8 January to 8 February. Best bargains for all those Martin Margiela and Converse trainers fans.

CK Calvin Klein, 55 New Bond Street, London W1, 0171 491 9696. Sale on until 30 January, with 30 per cent off all items.

Chanel, 26 Old Bond Street, London W1, 0171 493 5040. Sale from 5-15 January; 30 per cent off.

Christian Dior, 22 Sloane Street, London SW1, 0171 235 1357. Sale starts 4 January.

Comme des Garcons, 59 Brook Street, London W1, 0171 493 1258. Sale now on; up to 40 per cent off.

Corniche, 7 Jeffrey Street, Edinburgh EH1, 0131 556 3707. Sale now on.

Cruise, 180-188 Ingram Street, Glasgow G1, 0141 572 3232. Sale now on, with Prada, Gucci and Alexander McQueen.

DKNY, 27 Old Bond Street, London W1, 0171 495 3100. Sale now on; up to 60 per cent off.

Dolce & Gabbana, 175 Sloane Street, London SW1, 0171 235 0335. Sale starts 4 January.

Donna Karan, 19 New Bond Street, W1, 0171 495 3100. Sale now on, with 40 per cent off.

Egg, 36 Kinnerton Street, London SW1, 0171 235 9315. Sale starts 18 January, with 40 per cent off.

Emporio Armani, 191 Brompton Road, London SW3. Sale starts today.

Flannels, 4 St Ann's Place, Manchester M2, 0161 832 5536. Sale starts today; discounts on Prada, Giorgio Armani, Hugo Boss and Jil Sander.

Freelance, 253 King's Road, London SW3, 0171 351 4038. Sale starts today. Bargain alert: white yeti fur boots pounds 250 reduced to pounds 125.

Georgina von Etzdorf, 50 Burlington Arcade, London, W1, 0171 409 77789. Sale starts 4 January, with 40 per cent off most items.

Ghost, 14 Hinde Street, London W1; 36 Ledbury Road, London W11, 0171 229 1057. Sale starts 4 January, with 30 per cent off.

Gieves & Hawkes, 1 Savile Row, London W1, 0171 434 2001. Sale starts today. Suits pounds 995 cut to pounds 495. Lambswool jumpers pounds 69 reduced to pounds 49.

Giorgio Armani, 37 Sloane Street, London SW1, 0171 235 6232. Sale starts today, with up to 50 per cent off.

Gina Shoes, 189 Sloane Street, London SW1, 0171 235 2932. Sale starts today. Bargain alert: embroidered boots pounds 750 reduced to pounds 399.

Graham & Green, 10 Elgin Crescent, London W11, 0171 727 4594. Sale starts 7 January.

Gucci, 33 Old Bond Street, London W1, 0171 629 2716. Sale starts 2 January.

Hermes, 179 Sloane Street, London, SW1, 0171 499 8856. Sale starts 5 January.

Issey Miyake, 270 Brompton Road, London SW3, 0171 581 3760. Sale starts today.

Jean-Paul Gaultier, 171-175 Draycott Avenue, London SW3, 0171 584 4648. Sale now on, with 30 per cent off.

John Lobb, 88 Jermyn Street, London SW1, 0171 930 8089. Sale starts tomorrow, with 40 per cent off.

John Rocha, 60f Sloane Avenue, London SW3, 0171 838 0017. Sale now on, with 40 per cent off menswear and womenswear. Bargain alert: angora coat pounds 398 reduced to pounds 238.

Jones, 15 Floral Street, Covent Garden, London WC2, 0171 240 8312. Sale now on.

Joseph, 77 Fulham Road, London SW3; 26 Sloane Street, London SW1, 0171 823 9500. Sale starts today; 30 per cent off.

Joseph Azagury, 117 Walton Street, London SW3, 0171 589 2155. Sale starts today.

Koh Samui, 65 Monmouth Street, London WC2; 28 Lowndes Street, London SW1, 0171 838 9292. Sale now on, with 40 per cent off Martine Sitbon, Antonio Berardi and Jimmy Choo shoes.

Krizia, 25 Conduit Street, London W1, 0171 491 4987. Sale starts 4 January; 20 per cent off.

Manolo Blahnik, 49 Old Church Street, London SW3. Sale starts 7 January, with up to 50 per cent off.

Margaret Howell, 29 Beauchamp Place, London SW3; 36 Savile Row, London, W1 (menswear), 0171 584 2462. Sale starts 4 January; 30 per cent off.

Matches, 34 & 56 High Street Wimbledon Village, London SW19, 13 Hill Street, Richmond, Surrey, 0181 947 8707. Sale on.

Mulberry, 41-42 New Bond Street, London W1; Gees Court, London W1, 0171 491 3900. Sale starts 1 January.

N Peal, 37 Burlington Arcade, (women) London W1; 71 Burlington Arcade, (men), London, W1, 0171 493 5378. Sale starts 1 January; 20 per cent off.

Patrick Cox, 129 Sloane Street, London SW1, 0171 730 8886; 81 King Street, Manchester M2, 0161 819 5336. Sale starts today.

Paul Smith, 40-44 Floral Street, Covent Garden, London WC2. 0171 379 7133 for Manchester, Nottingham and other branches. Sale starts 7 January.

Pleats Please, 20 Brook Street, London W1, 0171 495 2306. Sale starts 29 December, with 30 per cent off.

Pollyanna, 14-16 Market Hill, Barnsley, South Yorkshire, S70, 01226 291 665. Sale starts 3 January, with 30 per cent off labels including Comme des Garcons, Issey Miyake, Yohji Yamamoto, Jean Muir and Jil Sander.

Polo Ralph Lauren, 1 New Bond Street, London W1, 0171 491 4967. Sale starts 5 January.

Prada 43-45 Sloane Street, London SW1, 0171 235 0008. Sale starts tomorrow.

Thierry Mugler, 34 New Bond Street, London W1, 0171 629 7020. Sale now on, with up to 50 per cent off.

The Cross, 141 Portland Road, Holland Park, London W11, 0171 727 6760. Sale starts 14 January, with up to 50 per cent off.

Valentino, 174 Sloane Street, London SW1; 160 New Bond Street, London W1, 0171 235 5855. Sale now on, with 40 per cent off womenswear and 30 per cent off menswear.

Van Mildert, 14-21 Elvet Bridge, Durham DH1, 0191 384 8500. Sale starts today, with reductions on Prada, Miu Miu, Paul Smith, Hugo Boss and Giorgio Armani.

Versace, 34-36 Old Bond Street, London W1, 0171 499 1862. Sale starts 29 December.

Versus Jeans Couture, 113-115 New Bond Street, London W1, 0171 355 2700. Sale starts 29 December.

Catherine Walker, 65 Sydney Street, London SW3, 0171 352 4626. Sale starts 10 January, with 10 per cent off wedding- dress orders

Vivienne Westwood, Man & Red Label and Anglomania, 44 Conduit Street, London W1, 0171 439 1109; Gold Label, 6 Davies Street, London W1, 0171 629 3757; 15-17 County Arcade, Victoria Quarter, Leeds, 01132 456403. Sale starts tomorrow, with 30 per cent off.

World's End, 430 King's Road, London SW10, 0171 352 6551. Sale starts tomorrow.

Whistles, 12 St Christopher's Place, London W1, 0171 487 4484. Sale now on, with up to 50 per cent off certain items.

Yohji Yamamoto, 14-15 Conduit Street, London W1, 0171 489 4129. Sale now on, with 40 per cent off. Bargain alert: black velvet coat pounds 1,355 reduced to pounds 813.

Yves Saint Laurent, Rive Gauche Women, 33 Sloane Street, London, SW1, 0171 493 1800; 137 New Bond Street, London W1, 0171 493 1800. Sale starts 5 January.

Department Stores

Barkers, Kensington High Street, London W8, 0171 937 5432. Sale starts today.

Debenhams, 0171 408 4444. Sale starts nationwide today.

Dickins & Jones, Regent Street, London W1, 0171 734 7070. Sale starts today.

Fenwick, 63 New Bond Street, London W1, 0171 629 9161. Sale starts today.

Harrods, Knightsbridge, London SW1, 0171 730 1234. Sale starts 5 January.

Harvey Nichols, London SW1, 0171 235 5000. Sale starts today.

Liberty, Regent Street, London W1, 0171 734 1234. Sale starts today.

Selfridges, 400 Oxford Street, London W1, Freephone 0800 123 400. Sale starts today.

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