Shoppers who are spending their riches on rags have to be more conscious than ever of value and quality.

Ladies' Home Journal reports that the cost of clothes rose faster than the Consumer Price Index during 1988, and high-fashion designer items, particularly those imported from Europe, cost as much as 30 percent more than last year. Retail analysts predict more bad news for the spring, and fashion experts feel that while prices are rising, the quality of clothes is declining.In order to get the most value per fashion dollar, the Journal offers some important advice. For starters, don't be fooled by sales. Many stores mark clothes way up before marking them down. Consider waiting until an item has been reduced a second time to ensure actual savings.

Also, be wary of private-label clothing, which is offered by the retailer under the store's own name. Stores claim they cost the customer 25 percent less than designer clothes of comparable quality, but that's not always true. Private-label merchandise is worth considering for basics that can be readily priced.

Catalog shopping is recommended for convenience, good quality and reasonable pricing, particularly on classic clothing.

By Ladies' Home Journal, a Meredith magazine