Sample Sales: A Beginner's Guide

sample sale guide
sample sale guide

I fell in love with sample sales the same day I fell in love with an earnestly misguided brown crossbody bag complete with perforated leather and plenty of gold studs. I was an NYU freshman, and mistakes were bound to be made. Since then, I've spent enough early mornings rummaging through discounted bins to learn a thing or two (and the deals to prove it!). Here, seven things to keep in mind the next time you find yourself with 99 problems squeezed between two racks overloaded with last season's trends.

1. Go a day early

Research the when and where of the sales (New Yorkers, check Racked), and then get there early. More often than not, there will be a preview the day before (editors and other various VIPs will be there), but walk up with confidence, and anyone can get in. It's the freest tip worth trying.

2. Start in the back

I like to start shopping wherever there are fewest people, usually far away from the crowded doors, security guards, and bag check. That's also generally where accessories are located—shoes are sample sale gold, but sizes sell out quickly.

3. Don't trust the tag

Always, always ask a salesperson for the most accurate price, because this stuff can get complicated. For instance, I was recently at a Scoop sale offering “80 percent off retail,”—so did that mean 80 percent of the markdown price, or the original ticket price? It turned out to be off the markdown price, which is insane. Also of note: I think retail sales tend to offer better discounts than designer-specific ones.

4. But do trust the dressing room

Consider the communal fitting room the sample sale version of a Greek chorus. Listen to the advice of your peers—they are wiser than you think. One time, I was trying on an Elizabeth & James oversized blazer that I thought looked like a lab coat, but then a fellow shopper persuaded me to get it. Now I wear it all the time.

5. Be hypercritical

Is there a pull in that sweater? A stain on the lapel? Even if your tailor or dry cleaner can fix it, point it out. Shout it to the world. Tell an employee, and do your best to swindle a discount. You usually won't be disappointed.

6. Bin-dive

There will be bargain bins. They may look monstrous and you might convince yourself that they're not worth the hassle. But you would be wrong. I've acquired many a $10 T by Alexander Wang top this way. The task at hand is one of the reasons it's crucial to attend sample sales on a good night's sleep and a full stomach—you have to work for your finds.

7. Circle back on the last day

The pickings will be slim, but the prices will be incredible. Pop in near closing time, and expect to find everything you never knew you needed for pennies on the dollar.

—Claire Knebl

Photo by Tom Newton.