For an affordable fashion fix, forget eBay or identikit high street chains. Sophie Eggleton sings the praises of the car boot sale: ethical, stylish and, above all, fun.
Haggling is essential if you want to bag a bargain.
It sometimes seems that only the rich can afford to spend their way out of a recession - a grand for a pair of jeans, anyone? Thought not. But fashion devotees in the real world can't abandon shopping altogether (well, how would we work autumn's big shoulder look?). Bargain high street stores are off-limits - we want clothes built to last, not throwaway fashion. Is it time to embrace the good old-fashioned car boot sale?
Car boot sales have had a resurgence of late, thanks to their rebranding as a cost-effective, guilt-free alternative to fast fashion. It is estimated that we spent more than £2.5m at car boot sales last summer, despite the abysmal weather. Richard Franklin from carbootcalendar.com believes that with a warmer summer predicted, and "so many people losing their jobs and others downsizing … 2009 could be an exceptional year for bargains".
The label-obsessed needn't stop reading now. By coincidence or foresight, the designers showing their spring/summer 09 collections made fashion more accessible. Instead of distinct new looks, the 'trendless' season saw a notable reduction in faddy ideas. The shows were full of 'forever clothes', 'investment pieces' and 'future heirlooms'. Of course, there were some recurring concepts and repeating silhouettes (eg the harem trouser), but essentially it's OK to play it safe this season. Quality is key, so unearth a timeless classic at a car boot and you can't go wrong.
Although car boots' bestsellers tend to be children's toys, perfume and homemade foods, you can acquire some fantastic fashion pieces - without the designer budget. Natalie Weatherer, an enviably chic car boot regular, has honed her treasure-finding skills over the past few seasons. She artfully combines car boot finds, both classic and quirky, with her existing wardrobe, thereby standing out among the clotheshorse clones.
"People often ask me where I get pieces from and I revel in letting them know they are car boot buys because I know I've got enough money to keep on shopping and, most importantly, they can't copy my look!"
eBay, the online alternative to car boot sales, is also thriving, with two million new users joining in the last quarter of 2008. For the busy (or just lazy) it offers obvious advantages over traditional buying and selling. I grappled with a brief addiction when eBay became a welcome distraction from work, but a visit to a car boot last summer rekindled my childhood love of low-tech shopping.
One of Sophie's favourite car boot finds While the items on my wishlist had changed - the Spectrum games and Mr Frosty slush machine made way for silk-lined clutch bags, tweed coats and shift dresses - my interest in hearing about the history of the items remained. So too had the light-hearted competitiveness, as my friends and I rooted through the rails and multicolored piles for the most precious prize. Of course, there's also the fact that you can feel fabrics, check seams and (if you're feeling brave) try on your potential wardrobe additions before you buy.
With winter behind us, we can finally dare to dream of a sun-kissed glow and flip-flops in place of pasty skin and waterproof shoes. But while summer brings many advantages, as a fashion lover the car boot season is my favourite. Sales often fall on Sundays, and there's nothing more uplifting on a day tarnished with Monday dread than the thought of a potential wardrobe superstar. And at such low prices, there's no need to hide your frivolous purchases from the watchful eye of a penny-pinching partner.
So next weekend, log off the net for a few hours and go on an open-air treasure hunt with your friends or family. Who knows what you might find?