When is it a sale and not a bargain or a discount?

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The Independent Online

How we have changed. A generation ago, the January sales actually started in January. They were the only big sales of the year. And they were probably the best time to stock up on, well, just about anything.

How we have changed. A generation ago, the January sales actually started in January. They were the only big sales of the year. And they were probably the best time to stock up on, well, just about anything.

These days, a lot of the "January" sales start in December, and in the past two years, a noticeable few sales have started even before Christmas. The January sale is one in a whole series of seasonal sales that seem to elide together in a never-ending stream of bargains and discounts. And, in many cases, all that is on offer are unwanted ends of lines and shop-soiled bits of tat.

Genuine bargains are still to be had: you just need to know what to look for - and where to look. So, in the interests of a happier shopping experience, The Independent has asked a select panel of experts for their 2000-2001 sales tips.

Dee O'Connell

Shopping stylist

The Independent

Selfridges, in central London, is particularly good for homewares: things that aren't necessarily very exciting but which plug any gaps in your kitchen. But I'd avoid Habitat. Its bargains are too specific to be much good: £50 off a particular style of sofa, for example, but only if you buy one in a discontinued fabric.

For fashion, Jigsaw has a very genuine sale - not just a measly 10 per cent off a few pieces, but big reductions all round. A department store to watch out for is House of Fraser. Its Linea range of fashion and home furnishings has hit a nerve with the consumer - well priced, reasonably well made and with a popular modern look. As it's already fairly cheap, any reductions should make it particularly worth looking at (expect to see 30 to 40 per cent off the fashion line).

For the chaps, Uth (the Jigsaw menswear line) has up to 50 per cent off some desirable men's clothing - at least for the under-35s.

Susannah Frankel Fashion editor

The Independent

The sales are great for everything except for high fashion. So if you want classics - a Ballantyne cashmere jumper, say, or a wool coat - get down to the department stores. But otherwise be very careful. Any designer gear that's still left by sale-time is there for a pretty good reason: no one wanted it the first time round. Having said that, Liberty in London's West End always carries plenty of stock from Demeulemeester and Martine Margiela - designers whose collections don't vary hugely from one season to the next and, therefore, have a longer wardrobe-life.

And while Harrods has everything from socks to jumpers, its designer rooms are also vastly improved and just the place to find really decent discounts on, for example, classic Jil Sander coats.

Rebecca Taylor

Shopping/consumer editor for timeout.com

The department stores are your best bet. In London, Fenwicks has big cuts in classic designer labels, such as Nicole Farhi, and Harvey Nichols has, as usual, a very good womenswear sale.

Of the chains, I'd recommend La Senza, which has 50 per cent off its cheap and cheerful underwear (I've got my eye on its cute, Betty Boop-style satin chemises), while Whistles' winter coats are great quality, and Russell and Bromley has reduced its DKNY black leather boots from £295 to £95. And the Joseph sale is offering 60 per cent off Clements Ribeiro, Dries Van Noten and Balenciaga.

James Sherwood

Fashion writer

Fashion insiders always make a point of raiding the first day of the designer sale at Liberty in London.

Its buyers are extraordinarily brave, buying collection showpieces from "difficult" Japanese and Belgian designers that are perhaps a little extreme for most people, but by sale time, big reductions on, say, Watanabe, are just the ticket for real fashion addicts. Harvey Nichols is also a good bet.

The buyers there are often over-ambitious, buying good pieces but in far too much quantity to have sold them all by Christmas. For men, Jones on Floral Street in Covent Garden does a proper knock-down sale. It does not mess about with an extra 10 per cent here and there, but jumps straight in with 50 to 60 per cent off. Agnés B is also very good, as absolutely all its stock - including seasonal staples like vital black suits - goes into its sale.

My final tip? Don't buy anything unless you would pay the full price for it.