The high street may be coming under the scrutiny of Mary Portas in her role as High Street Tsarina, but for savvy women across the UK, the high street is already their first stop when hunting down fabulous, fashion forward clothing and accessories.
It was at a dinner party a fewweeks ago that I suddenly registered the seismic shift that has taken place in our perception of the UK High Street. It was at a very ritzy little dinner and one of the (very stylish) female guests was not only wearing a Zara silk top and happy to own up to it, but was also holding forth on the virtues of high street fashion, in particular Zara and, shock horror, Primark.
Curiously - and this demonstrates the huge switch in attitude - there were no sounds of Riedel claret glasses smashing or jaws hitting the table top, because most clever, confident women shop on the high street these days, even those who could readily afford to flash their plastic on Bond Street and Sloane Street.
They may not wear high street head to toe, but they are happy to mix their J-Brand skinny jeans with a Mango top, or to team a little dress from Topshop with a pair of Ferragamo ballerinas or Rupert Sanderson heels.
Partly, we buy high street brands because our high streets and malls have largely surrendered to the multiples, leaving us without the choices available in much of Europe, where independent shops still flourish.
But our love affair is more, I suspect because many of the biggest high street names deliver good quality, well made, well cut, fashion-forward merchandise at prices so ridiculously affordable it would be rude not to buy. And with a beady eye on the catwalks, the high street can translate a trend from runway to rail in less time than it takes to say "Marc Jacobs lookalike".
And it is not only the one-season wonders that we are buying in high street shops, though they may be what that led us there in the first place. We are going for clothing with longevity, like slouchy, pure silk shell tops; beautifully cut sblazers; Jill Sander-esque silk maxi skirts; suede platform wedges and placement print shift dresses.
There are, of course, beautifully made, exquisitely finished clothes in gorgeous fabrics sold in the smart stores and independent shops, which totally justify their price tags, but for the clever shopper, the hot items can also be found on the high street to mix with the uber labels. To prove it, we have found 40 of the most desirable items, hitting all the trends in clothing and accessories, and available now on a high street or mall near you.