After years on the NYC sample sale circuit, I figured out certain strategies that will put you in a position to conquer the sale. From what to wear to how to get first dibs to how to navigate the inventory, I’m sharing my best tips to shop a sale successfully. Going in, you should know, most sample sales take place in random warehouses or borrowed spaces so expect poor lighting, few mirrors — if you find one, it’s probably bent — and forget about organized racks of clothes. Oftentimes, the sizes aren’t marked, or are marked incorrectly, and shopping could feel more like digging through clutter to discover that one golden treasure. However, one remarkable find is all it takes to come out a winner. Case in point: I scored this green designer bomber jacket at the Rent The Runway sample sale for less than $100! I found a similar one by the same designer on sale here! I eyed it, grabbed it, and as soon as the other shoppers noticed the shiny trophy in my arms, I could sense them willing me to put it down and move on so they could snatch it up. I’ve already gotten a ton of compliments on my jacket, which is the perfect weight for this transitional weather.
1. Do Your Research: Most sample sales are a free-for-all. Know which brands the store carries, or if it’s a single designer, be familiar with the looks from the current and/or previous season. If there’s a specific item you’re on the hunt for, start with that. Or at least have an idea as to what your priority is (top, jacket, shoe?) because items go fast and you want to stay on track.
2. When to Show Up: Your best chance for getting first dibs and the best selection are usually the moment the doors open or toward the end of the sale. By start of the sale I mean getting there before it opens. Depending on the draw, it could be 5 minutes beforehand or an hour beforehand. The midway point is typically when a lot of the merchandise is either being tried on or waiting to be put back on the hanger and returned to the racks after someone decided they didn’t want it. If you come toward the end, while some of the best pieces could be gone, oftentimes inventory can get replenished including some dope pieces that were initially taken by someone else but ended up not being sold.
3. Grab, Then Edit: There is no time to dilly-dally. Do a quick lap of the room, skimming first, pulling whatever attracts your eye. Decisions about whether or not you’d want to buy the item should be saved for later.4. What To Wear: This tip applies to all sample sales and outlet shopping. The less you have, the easier it is to maneuver through the racks and pile up clothes to try on. Your purse should be one of two things — a crossbody bag or a small backpack so you’re hands-free. Think about wearing things that are easy to take off and on. Shirts with a million buttons will slow you down. I always have on a white tank under whatever I’m wearing. That way, if the line for the dressing rooms is insane, I can try all my pieces on over the tank top and get a sense for how it fits. For shoes, stick to flats or slides. If you’re looking for a dress or evening attire, consider wearing pumps so you get an idea for proportions when trying on.
5. Quality Control: Yes, we all love a good sale, but the key to mastering one is to return to reality before you buy. First off, make sure you check for flaws in the garment (snag, broken zipper, makeup stains, etc.). If it’s fixable, you can negotiate for a deeper discount and then bring the item to your tailor. Secondly, don’t get sucked into the idea of a deal. Make sure it’s worth it. For example, an over-the-knee boot that was marked down to $150 from $700 is only a great deal if the boot actually fits and is something you’d actually wear.