Fashion notes: Let sale time be a steal – for you not from you

Our biggest failing when confronted by sales, as always, lies in our lack of preparation.

Use sales to to invest in essential clothes and colours. Seen here model on Celine autumn 2014 runway. Courtesy Rex
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The January sales are code for potentially heartbreaking, soul-crushing ­mayhem. Still, most of us love the sheer naughtiness of it all, the bleep of the scanner, the ka-ching of the cash register as we swipe another “must-have” and, oh, the fun in hiding all the bags. “Buy me, buy me,” the sad leftovers screech from the rafters, as we, ever the loyal friends comply.

The promise of a bargain can throw even the most directional shopper off-kilter. Most of us need only look shamefully into the bottom of our wardrobes to be reminded of the expensive mistakes made under pressure.

Our biggest failing, as always, lies in our lack of preparation. It’s a battleground out there, so, if nothing else, arrive suitably armed. You will need the foreknowledge of a fashion editor and the eye of a falcon. Rule number one is to know and avoid the traps – the emotional buys.

Apart from Nicki Minaj, nobody really needs a hot pink shearling coat, just because it is half price. If you will never use it or wear it (you won’t), the amount of money saved is ­absolutely irrelevant. That’s not to say you shouldn’t invest in your showpieces, your fun big-ticket pieces that are normally too expensive to justify. Have a look at your wardrobe and work out what’s missing – just be certain they will last through the seasons.

As dull as it may sound, when it comes to what to look for, the sales are the best time to stock up on the basics – T-shirts, white shirts, vests, a good pair of jeans – things that will give you a good price-per-wear ­ratio. Buying from the sales is an opportunity to upgrade your wardrobe, time to invest in ­better fabrics. Good-quality jersey is something that most of us tend to ignore, despite the fact that it ought to be a staple in most wardrobes. Look for quality in workmanship and avoid anything in a man-made fibre, instead looking out for fine cottons that will hold their shape.

Most seasoned shoppers tend to pick out what they want in advance, think about it, go to the shop, try it on, and then think about it some more. If ­after the whole exercise you still dream of it, then it’s probably going to pay for itself.

Bags, jewellery and small leather goods are normally the first things to go in a sale as they don’t have the limitations of sizes. So if you see a bag or a pair of shoes you love, don’t hesitate. A good leather bag will never lie dormant. A classic, soft, slouchy leather tote in mushroom, tan or black should last decades and never go out of style.

If you’re looking specifically at designer labels, try to buy signature pieces from the label rather than a wild card from a certain collection, leather from a leather brand rather than a designer, a good coat from Burberry, a dress from Valentino, that sort of thing.

I understand that entering the dreaded changing rooms at sale time needs the constitution of a warlord, but at the very least wear a thin outfit under your coat to enable you to slip things over it in a quiet area of the shop, as buying with a no-return policy is risky business.

In conclusion, remember that bargain-basement items are incredibly cheap only because they are incredibly difficult to wear. Tread carefully, my friends.