TODAY'S WOMAN: Sales shop with your head is the rule - not your heart

With manic present-buying and festive trolley dashes behind us, you'd think queuing up at the tills would be bottom of our 2011 to-do lists.

But the New Year saw a surge of shoppers on the high street, out to beat the VAT increase and capitalise on post-Christmas sales.

While December is the season of loving and giving, January is officially the month to be a little self-indulgent.

A successful day at the sales is one way to lift the January blues. Women spend eight months of their lifetime bargain-hunting, according to a recent poll by HotVouchers.com, with almost half saying they always try to avoid paying the full price for an item.

But how do you end up with the deal of the century rather than the leftover dregs of the sale rails?

"The key to savvy sales shopping is planning rather than impulse buying," says head of John Lewis fashion advice Amanda Slader.

Elbows at the ready.

Give your wardrobe a New Year lift by embracing the sales extravaganza...

THE SALE COMMANDMENTS

THINK seasons: We may be in the midst of winter but put back the chunky knits, winter coats and boots with slashed price tags. Unless you're planning to 'buy now, wear later', they won't get a lot of use before being packed away for the spring season.

Take an inventory: Before you leave the house and hit the sales, inspect your wardrobe and make sure you know what you have and what you're missing.

Keep it classic: Aim to build a staple wardrobe. It's important to remember that a little black dress is a future classic and a much better investment than last season's statement trend. The sales are a great time to pick up other timeless classics such as a trench coat, figure-flattering day dresses and basics such as well-fitting jeans or the perfect pumps.

Complement your existing wardrobe: Take into account the cut, colour, shape and styles that suit you. Make thoughtful purchases that reflect your signature style. The sales are not an excuse to drastically change your look.

Try it on: If it's not a good fit then it's not a good buy. It's always worth asking if there are more sizes available in the stockroom.

Be thorough: Make sure you're aware of any faults before you make your purchase. Unless you're willing to repair it yourself, it's not a good investment.

ONLINE BARGAINS

While some shoppers thrive on the buzz of January sales, the thought of clothing mountains, crowds and queues brings others out in a rash.

But these days you don't have to pound the pavements to snap up a sale bargain.

Retail experts dubbed this festive season 'Clickmas' as so many shoppers logged on for early Christmas Day reductions.

Many of us are shopping online every week - 11% of us daily and 37% of us once or twice a week, according to Shopittome.co.uk, who say the internet is the place to be to beat the high street hassle.

"The best bargains are for those who know exactly what they're looking for and it's definitely worth researching," says Arabella Dymoke, managing director of thegoodwebguide.co.uk. "Sign up for newsletters from the retailers that interest you. You'll then be kept informed of sales, previews and updates, allowing you to shop the bargains before everyone else."

High street favourites are also branching out on the internet with specific discounted sites, so check before you shell out for current prices in store.

"Check outlet shops - quite a few of the high street brands now have shops on eBay," explains Dymoke.

"But it's important to remember you probably won't be able to return items to the bricks and mortar shop and you might also have to pay via a PayPal account.

LK Bennett, Kookai, Karen Millen and Jigsaw all have an eBay outlet."

And if you're a Park Avenue princess with a high street budget, don't despair.

Dymoke says: "For designer fashion, The Outnet (www.theoutnet.com) is a great site to pick up seriously good bargains with up to 80% off.

"Also check out non-stop designer discounts at brandalley.co.uk and asos.com"

John Lewis are offering free 'How To Shop The Sale Rail' tutorials nationwide throughout January. Call 020 3073 0564 or visit www.johnlewis.com

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