How To Make Smart Purchases At Sample Sales

Elizabeth & James sample sunglasses
As I said in this post, I’m going to sample sales this season. I’ve always gone to a couple here and there, but I’ve never made a habit of it. This season I’m making the effort because there’s a part of me that feels like I’m missing out on affordable designer pieces and not taking full advantage of living in New York City. I work near the Garment District and can usually walk to these sales during my lunch break, so why not go?

So far I’ve been to a couple: Elizabeth and James, White and Warren, and Derek Lam. I’ve purchased a White and Warren cashmere travel wrap (originally $300, I bought it for $100) and a pair of Elizabeth & James sample sunglasses pictured above (I purchased them for $38 and that brand’s sunglasses are usually around $180). I’m very happy with each of the items and proud of myself for not succumbing to the pressure of buying a bunch of stuff I don’t need just because it’s discounted. I’ve kind of learned how to be a discerning shopper under a myriad of circumstances and these are of great use at sample sales. Here are my tips for shopping sample sales:

1. Research before:
There are plenty of sites covering New York City sample sales (Racked and Sample Sale Sally are my go tos.) They save you a lot of time and manage your expectations. I also look at the brand/designer’s current and previous collection. It puts items on my radar. And know the original prices. Sometimes these sample sales are misleading and you aren’t actually saving that much.

2. Wear a slip, or Spanks, or something that makes you feel comfortable changing in front of strangers:
Often times these sample sales don’t have dressing rooms and if they do they are communal dressing rooms. If you’re fine with being half naked around your fellow shoppers, then feel free to not take heed to this precaution. But if you’re modest like me, some coverage is nice. It just makes the sample sale experience more pleasant.

3. Go on the last couple of days the sample sale is open:
I woke up early and stood in line for the White and Warren sample sale because it was a block away from my job and I knew exactly what I wanted. But I never feel like I have to be the first in the room to get the good stuff. If I’m meant to have it, I’ll have it, and as the sale comes to a close brands usually slash prices by at least 40 percent.

4. While there, go where no one is shopping:
I usually go against the crowd. If they are all clamoring in the cardboard box full of cashmere, I go the other direction. If there are 20 girls sifting through a rack, I go to a less crowded one and come back to that one later. Some things you have no control over, but the calmer the shopping experience, the better the shopping experience, and the less likely you are to buy something pointless.

5. Think about what you already own, what you need, or what you know you are going to wear:
It’s common sense to think about what you already own before you buy something, but it’s easy to forget when things are highly discounted. At the Derek Lam sample sale I tried on a pair of amazing shoes and they were $150 (probably went at retail for $600) but they weren’t that comfortable. I could walk in them, but I knew I could only do it for a couple hours. I’d rather put that $150 towards the Acne Jensen boot that I will wear constantly. I also keep my wardrobe wish list in mind. Every piece I pick up in the sample sale is compared to that list.

6. Limit yourself to a certain amount of items or only opt for classics:
I’ve heard this before: don’t buy something on sale unless you would buy it full price. But that rule doesn’t work for me. I don’t buy anything full price, so it’s a moot point. But, limiting yourself to one or two pieces per sale and going for classics forces you to be thoughtful about the purchase.

7. Don’t go.
Sometimes a random sample sale purchase isn’t in my budget and there are other things I’m more focused on buying. The Row recently had a sample sale that I would have loved to go to, but I didn’t want to blow my budget for the month and I’m saving up for a moto jacket. I’m going to sample sales but I don’t plan on going to all of them. Just the brands/designers I’m interested in.

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