Designer handbags and the other frills and fripperies that go with a girl's posh frock are being hailed as the saviours of the ailing fashion industry.
Clothes may have been struggling to make money for high street traders who are forced by stiff competition to savagely discount their prices - but accessories have been joyously bucking the gloomy trend.
Sales of hats, bags, belts and other accessories rose by 10 per cent last year - five times the rate of the rest of the fashion business, according to new research.
Market analyst Verdict says handbags - and in particular designer handbags - have been the star performer. While women may once have had just one or two handbags, many now aspire to own four or five, they say.
Bags by the likes of fashion houses Chloe, Mulberry and Balenciaga have been particularly fashionable in the past year, prompting shoppers to opt for bright colours and capacious styles. "When you buy a beautiful bag, you feel you're making an investment in something that will always look good and that you'll have for ever," remarked. Anna Garner, Selfridges' head of fashion. "Customers look at accessories in a different way from the rest of fashion."
According to Verdict's new research, published today, British men and woman now spend pounds 2.1bn a year on accessories to match their wardrobe. Half of the spending goes on clothing such as hats, scarves and gloves and one fifth on jewellery and watches.
About pounds 700m a year - 32 per cent of the total - is lavished on handbags, wallets and their less glamourous cousin, luggage.
The boom comes amid signs that shoppers are increasingly avoiding boutiques to buy fashion garments at budget chains such as New Look.
However, while women may baulk at paying hundreds of pounds for a designer outfit they may only wear a few times, they appear only too happy to hundreds of pounds for a handbag they can use every day.
"In clothing, people are questioning the price of designer outfits and there is a democratisation of fashion," said Maureen Hinton, retail analyst at Verdict. …