How to find gems amid all the discounted duds on display

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The January sales kick off today and those prepared to brave the mayhem are likely to be amply rewarded.

The January sales kick off today and those prepared to brave the mayhem are likely to be amply rewarded.

It's no secret that, given the depressed economic climate, sales of designer ready-to-wear are less than healthy.

Time was, even the most keen-eyed consumer would be unlikely to find any of the season's key pieces at a discount. These days, identifying the things you might like to buy when they first hit the rails then waiting until the sales is not likely to be anywhere near such a risky business.

Only the most desirable labels – Marc Jacobs and Balenciaga being two of the more obvious – sell out the minute they reach the stores.

But beware – those canny and fashion-frenzied enough to bother with this sort of stealth tactic will be up with the lark in order not to be disappointed.

They will know exactly where to find their garment of choice and make a beeline straight for it. The truly fashion-obsessed may even have alerted a friendly shop assistant or two to their intentions – good customers in small boutiques may well be given the VIP treatment.

Of course, the sales are never the best place to invest in trend-related shopping.

It doesn't take a rocket scientist to deduce that buying something hyper-fashionable six months after it launched is not the most intelligent option.

Instead go for classic pieces, or for less well-known labels that, by their nature, tend not to date so obviously. These, incidentally, are the ones that don't regularly appear in the pages of everything from Vogue magazine toOK! and Heat.

More good news. Given that these are the autumn/winter sales, investment-buying should be top of the agenda. Fifty per cent off a string bikini at the summer sales simply fades into insignificance when compared with the same discount on a coat, pair of shoes and/or boots and leather clothing and accessories in general.

These are some of the most expensive items available and even a 10 per cent markdown will be significant.

Discounted cashmere, still the prince of yarns after all these years, is always worth buying. Head first to department stores where sale shopping is both most harrowing and most likely to be rewarded.

Harrods, Selfridges, Harvey Nichols and Liberty all have more than their fair share of designer labels as well as more anonymous and/or classic knitwear and accessories that are the staple of many a discerning wardrobe.

London in particular (although there is the odd notable regional exception) is still home to many a small-but-perfectly-formed designer shopping experience as pioneered, most famously, by Browns. It may seem a little unkind to suggest that, with recession looming, such outlets have over-bought or, to put it more diplomatically, been rather too optimistic in their purchasing. Where this is the case, the sales are a happier place than usual to be.

But be warned. Any garment or entire collection that appears to be more prevalent than most is on sale for good reason.

For every discounted gem there are many more discounted duds and a bargain ceases to be a bargain once it's been relegated to the bottom drawer, never to be worn.

Where to go for the fashion sales – and when

ACCESSORIZE (01273 823943), Churchill Square, Brighton, from tomorrow

ARMY & NAVY (0207 834 1234), Victoria Street, London SW1, tomorrow to 26 Jan

AUSTIN REED (0121 665 6580), Temple Row, Birmingham; (01223 356982), Sidney Street, Cambridge; (0238 022 3391) Above Bar, Southampton; (01789 268516) Wood Street, Stratford-upon-Avon, from tomorrow

BEALES OF BEDFORD (01234 353292), Silver Street, Bedford, from tomorrow

BETTY JACKSON (0207 589 7884), Brompton Road, London SW3, from today

BRETTS OF IPSWICH (01473 252327), Westgate Street, Ipswich, from tomorrow

BRORA (0207 352 3697), King's Road, London SW3, from 3 Jan

BROWNS (0207 514 0047), South Molton Street, London W1, from tomorrow

CAFÉ COTON (023 9283 8421), Gunwharf Quays, Portsmouth, from today

CHANEL (0207 493 5040), Old Bond Street, London W1, 2 to 18 Jan

CHRISTIAN LOUBOUTIN (0207 823 2234), Motcomb Street, London SW1, from 4 Jan

CIRO CITTERIO (01225 464798), Stall Street, Bath, from tomorrow

DAVID EVANS (01792 651525), Princess Way, Swansea, from tomorrow

DEBENHAMS (01202 552 177), The Square, Bournemouth; (0117 929 1021) St James Barton, Bristol; (0292 039 9789) St David's Way, Cardiff; (01242 261 421) Albion Street, Cheltenham; (01603 626 181) Orford Place, Norwich; (01792 462 500), The Quadrant, Swansea; (01803 295 921) The Strand, Torquay, from tomorrow

DENNERS (01935 444444) High Street, Yeovil, from tomorrow

DICKENS & JONES (0207 734 7070), Regent Street, London W1, tomorrow to 26 Jan

DINGLES (01202 290902), Old Christchurch Road, Bournemouth; (01392 259241), High Street, Exeter; (01752 266611), Royal Parade, Plymouth, from tomorrow

EAST (0207 361 1645), Kensington High Street, London W8, from today

FENWICKS (0207 629 9161), 63 New Bond Street, London W1, from tomorrow

FLANNELS (0121 633 4154), Lower Temple Street, Burlington Arcade, Birmingham; (0113 234 9997), Vicar Lane, Leeds; (0161 832 5536) St Ann's Place, Manchester; (0115 947 6466) Bridalsmith Gate, Nottingham, from tomorrow

FORTNUM & MASON (0207 734 8040), Piccadilly, London W1, tomorrow to 11 Jan

GRAHAM & GREEN (0207 727 4594), Elgin Crescent, London W11, from 3 Jan

GUCCI (0207 235 6707), Sloane Street, London SW1, from Saturday

H&M (0207 323 2211), Oxford Circus, W1, (01223 362332), Grafton Centre, Cambridge, from tomorrow

HACKETT (07000 422 5388), Sloane Street, London SW1, tomorrow to 3 Jan

HARRODS (0207 730 1234), Knightsbridge, London SW1, from Monday

HARVEY NICHOLS (0207 584 0011), Knightsbridge, SW1; (0121 616 6000) Wharfside Street, The Mailbox, Birmingham, from tomorrow

HOBBS (01225 465330)

Milsom Street, Bath; (01753 854911) Thames Street, Windsor, from today

HOUSE OF FRASER (0207 963 2000), Victoria Street, London SW1; (0118 955 7600) The Oracle, Reading, from tomorrow

JARROLD & SONS (01603 660661), London Street, Norwich, from tomorrow

JOHN LEWIS (0207 629 7711), Oxford Street, W1; (0117 959 1100) The Mall, Cribbs Causeway, Bristol; (023 8021 6400) West Quay Shopping Centre, Southampton; (01923 244266) Harlequin Centre, Watford, from tomorrow

JOHN SMEDLEY (0207 823 4444), King's Road, London SW1, from tomorrow

JOSEPH (0207 823 9500),

Fulham Road, London SW3, from tomorrow

LA PERLA (0207 245 0527), Sloane Street, London SW1, from Saturday

LA SENZA (0121 643 2228)

Pavillion Shopping Centre, Birmingham; (0292 034 5244), Queen's Arcade, Cardiff, from tomorrow

LIBERTY (0207 734 1234), Regent Street, W1, from tomorrow

THE LIBRARY (0207 584 7292), Brompton Road, London SW3, from 2 Jan

LONG TALL SALLY (01225 466682), Newmarket Row, Bath; (01242 243001) Cambray Place, Cheltenham; (01189 512300), Friar Street, Reading; (01702 354600) Alexandra Street, Southend, from today

MATCHES (0207 221 0255), Ledbury Road, London W11, from tomorrow

MONSOON (0121 643 0019)

Pavillion Shopping Centre, Birmingham; (024 7663 2168), The Precinct, Coventry; (0118 939 1867) Broad Street, Reading; (01727 857897) Market Place, St Albans; (01872 260945) St Nicholas Street, Truro, from tomorrow

MULBERRY (0207 491 3900), New Bond Street, W1, from tomorrow

MYLA (08707 455003), Lonsdale Road, London W11, from 6 Jan

PENHALIGON'S (0800 716108), Burlington Arcade, London W1, from Monday

PICKETT (0207 493 8939), Burlington Arcade, London W1, from 2 Jan

PRINGLE (0207 297 4580), New Bond Street, London W1, from tomorrow

RACKHAMS (01743 344678), High Street, Shrewsbury, from tomorrow

RALPH LAUREN (0207 535 4600), New Bond Street, London W1, from tomorrow

SELFRIDGES (08708 377377), Oxford Street, London W1, from tomorrow

TYRRELL & GREEN (023 8021 6400) (now listed under John Lewis), Above Bar, Southampton, from tomorrow

URBAN OUTFITTERS (0207 761 1000), Kensington High Street, London W8; (0141 248 9203) Buchanan Street, Glasgow, from today

WEAR HOUSE (01872 278857) Princes St, Truro, today

WHISTLES (01865 728446) High Street, Oxford, from tomorrow

Listings compiled by Beth Dadswell