Over the years I’ve scored everything, from $25 Sergio Rossi heels, $100 Jimmy Choo’s (that retailed for over $2,000!), countless designer dresses and coats for under $50, and even my first Chanel bag for 75% off. The Chanel actually wasn’t from their sample sale – just a crazy end of season deal. But the principals of bargain shopping still apply. Even my $20,000 Badgley Mischka wedding dress was a sample sale score for about $1,000. Name any designer – they probably have a sample sale that I’ve been to, or purchased from one. There are a few caveats though, as bargain hunting is not an exact science. So much of it is luck, and being in the right place at the right time. If you’re looking for a deal, you have to be open. If you’re looking for current season merchandise, and you can’t deal with lines, crowds, and digging through countless bins and racks, the sample sale life is not for you. But if you can stomach it, there are amazing deals to be found.
You gotta understand, not all sales are created equal. People always ask me how do I know which ones are the “good” ones. After a while, you develop an instinct for where to shop, and when the deals are gonna be epic. But, you still have to get lucky. At this point, I have a network of sample sale friends who share intel and invites. Not all sales are open to the public, but over the years, I’ve talked my way into many private ones.
When you first discover sample sales, it can be overwhelming. You have to fight the urge to shop every sale and you can get yourself into real financial trouble. Luckily, over the years I’ve honed my editing skills, and while I still make a mistake or two, these days I tend to under-buy, and err in the side of caution. I’m still kicking myself for not buying more $50 Tamara Mellon heels or clothing at her first couple NYC sales, or more $99 furs from Elizabeth and James. They haven’t had another sale like that one since.
These days the term sample sale is often misused. A true sample sale is when a brand or manufacturer sells off their previous season’s samples. Real samples, (often one of a kind pieces made for the runway or garments made to show to buyers – some of which were never manufactured for retail) are often the best deals at any sample sale. It drives me nuts when a sale consists of stock merchandise for moderate discounts – you can often find better deals at end-of-season department store sales, so I always look for pieces that nobody else has for killer prices. My favorite sales are almost always run by the brand themselves, in their showroom, or a rented space. When you cut out the middle man you often get the best deals, and when discounts hit 90% or better, then you’re speaking my language.
When I hit a sale, I come prepared. Getting ready for a sample sale is like preparing for battle. I love dressing up, but I always keep things simple for New York City sales. Here is my break down of my five simple rules for sample sale success.
I can’t stress the importance of this rule enough. Waking up an hour earlier can make all the difference at some of these sales. For less popular sales, getting there a half hour early is usually enough, but when it’s a big name, you’ll want to be there 1-2 hours early. The first hour of the sale is when all the best and cheapest stuff gets snapped up.
I always have a giant blue IKEA tote bag stuffed in my purse to lug home my spoils of war. For $0.99, it’s one of the best deals ever. If it’s going to rain, I have a tiny umbrella and a couple plastic garbage bags to protect the goods. I also do my due diligence. When a sale is announced, I immediately Google past sale reports to get an idea of pricing and selection. Then, I look online at look-books for current and past season collections to create a wishlist. I also check to see if they’ve had markdowns historically, and show up for those days too. It also can’t hurt to ask if they’ll be replenishing during the sale.
I have a uniform. I like slip dresses, because I can pop a dress on top of it, or try on pants or skirts under it. I’m just not one of those girls who strips down to her panties publicly. Some gals wear the leggings and tank top ensemble, but I’m more of a dress girl. In the winter, I’ll wear Spanx tights under my dress, which will help stay warm and suck me in as needed. My ensemble also has no makeup – it’s just gonna shmear all over the clothing when trying it on in a hurry. If I’m wearing lipstick, I wipe it off before I go in. No jewelry either. It can get caught and snag the clothing you’re trying on, or fall off and get lost. As far as shoes, they should slide on and off easily as well.
Sample sales are final sale, so look everything over carefully. Sometimes a small damage or unfinished product isn’t isn’t a big deal if it’s an easy fix or insanely cheap. It’s also easy to get caught up in the moment, and come home with something stupid, I’ve made many mistakes back in the day in the heat of it. Now I’m a master, and only buy what I love or can be passed along if I change my mind. OK, maybe that’s not true – I still make mistakes from time to time…
Some sales don’t have mirrors or dressing rooms. You’re gonna need someone whose opinion you trust and for them to be your eyes. Plus, a buddy can help you snap up all the cheap samples and then you can edit together. I have my sample sale crew at this point. We pass along the pieces that don’t work for us, and make sure nobody makes a huge fashion mistake. If I’m solo at a sale, I usually make friends in line or the dressing room. Shopping is always better with friends!
I know this will help those of you who are new, and want to test the waters, or if you’re a seasoned veteran, take this wisdom along with you too! Be sure to follow my shopping adventures on LeHoarder.com and my Instagram, @LeHoarder, for real time updates. Like I said, once you start sample sale shopping, you can never go back. And be sure to say hello if you see me about town – because shopping is always better with friends.
Michelle, aka LeHoarder