Having previously slagged off the jumble sale that is 'The Sales' on the Great British High St, I feel I must caveat this by saying there is no greater feeling than picking up a genuine bargain.
There is a special corner of any stockroom (I should know, I used to work in one) piled high with the very dregs of stock, probably many seasons old and getting dustier and more raggedy by the minute. This is wheeled out specifically when the scent of discount is in your nostrils and you're at your most vulnerable and so not inclined to care about a popped seam or a boot-print on the hem or the fact that it's nine sizes too big for you. I am very much not talking about this type of 'bargain'.
What I'm talking about are the items that would otherwise be prohibitively expensive; that are well-designed and well made; that often have the little details, flourishes or extras that cheaper manufacturers don't provide. That's what I'm talking about.
Matches.com and Net a Porter, purveyors of 'designer' garb that is often gut-wrenchingly pricey, have great sales where you can pick up really beautiful things at incredibly discounted rates, frequently taking them into (albeit higher-end) high-street prices.
My 'gateway drug' if you will, was a pair of shearling-lined, black leather, knee-high, high-heeled boots (hi, adjectives) which I bought from Net a Porter back in July for a better price than if I'd have picked them up in Topshop. Now granted, the purchase of anything shearling-lined in midsummer involves a little imagination, like buying bikinis in February, or those hopeful couples waving blueprints on Grand Designs hoping to build a castle off a cliff-face; but this is often the key to bagging a barg. Shop out of season and the world is your oyster.
Another top tip would be to get those 'search filters' on. Personally, I love a full-frontal browse of all the sale items (but I am a sweaty fashion geek) but it can be daunting wading through 63 pages of the stuff, and there is nothing more HEART-BREAKING and I do mean HEART-BREAKING in capitals because it's not too dramatic, than finding something delectable only to discover your size has gone. If you're getting serious, make sure you're limited to only the things that will actually fit your feet or body or budget, it will save you hella heart-ache.
Then there are a few questions you should ask yourself before you take the plunge:
1) Would you buy it at full-price? A bargain is not a bargain if you are never going to use it, so don't get over-excitedly trigger-happy at seeing X% off, I speak from experience that it is usually a false economy. It reminds me of flicking through editorial shoots in fashion magazines, seeing the prices in the fine print next to the photos, and getting weirdly desensitized to the cost of it all. Three and half grand for the dress, 900 odd quid for the shoes, but wait? The pop socks are only £49? Bargain! Keep your eyes on the prize, and the bottom line, and don't be tempted into a 'great bargain'. It's the ripped-seam-fallen-hem-nine-sizes-too-big wolf all over again, just in pricier sheep's clothing.
2) Does it fit? This is mainly covered in getting those aforementioned filters to do all the heavy-lifting for you, but again, don't be tempted (adopting my weary voice of experience again), you will never wear something that is too big, too small, or uncomfortable. The beauty of higher-end clothes is often in the cut, drape or tailoring, or in the case of shoes, the elevated comfort they provide, which you completely negate if you're popping and/or sliding out of it.
3) Does it go with other things in your wardrobe? I'm all for a little experimentation but I've found you'll never reach the wardrobe nirvana of, whisper it, the capsule, if you're constantly adding new ideas into the mix. It can quickly become an all-you-can-eat buffet where you glance down at your plate and see a slice of lasagne jostling a samosa on one side and some feta salad on the other, and immediately start questioning your life choices.
4) Does it fit in with your lifestyle? Similar to the previous point, essentially, but unless you are a minor royal or the President's wife, you probs don't need to stock up on ball dresses. Are you eyeing up a serious cream-coloured cashmere coat to keep you warm (and stylish) on the commute? Three words for you my friend: Closing. Tube. Doors. Need a bag that will actually function as one by being large enough to carry a wallet, phone, AND keys (and not just one at a time)? Step away from the discounted clutches. Say no to velvet hiking boots. You get it.
So get the wind in your sales, and set off in search of well-fitting, well-made bargains, that complement rather than confuse your existing wardrobe and leave the credit card categorically unflexed.