How to Shop a Designer Sample Sale

Jonny Hector

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Designer sample sales are not for the meek. These events are legendary for drawing enormous crowds of deal-hungry shoppers who get ruthless when it comes to nabbing the items they desire. If you’re a sample sale newbie, you’ll need to come prepared. Here are some tips for successful sample shopping.

Know when and where

Do you have to be a fashion industry insider to get location and timing information

for desirable sample sales? Nope. That’s a myth. But you do need to be in the loop, so keep an eye on sites like Clothingline, Sample Sally, and 260 Sample Sale. Most designer sample sales take place in New York City in either November or May, but a few will crop up at other times throughout the year. Los Angeles also hosts a decent number of sales, and some vendors will offer sample events in the cities that house their corporate headquarters. 

Double-check payment options

Most on-site sample sales accept cash only, so make sure you know in advance if you can whip out your Visa or if you’ll need to hit the ATM before arrival. Also be aware that virtually all sales are final at these events.

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Suit up

In this case, suiting up means wearing form-fitting under-layers so you can strip down in the aisles without getting totally naked. Few sales offer fitting rooms, so leave your modesty at home. A tight tank top, leggings, and slip-on shoes make a great foundation.

Shop the first day … and the last

Nearly all sample sale experts agree that making multiple trips to sample sales is worth your while. For the best selection, go on the first day. And if you’re really keen on a particular designer, it’s not a bad idea to arrive two or three hours early to queue up. People have been known to wait for six-plus hours just to get inside wildly popular sample sales.

The last day of a sample sale will offer you a seriously picked-over selection, but amazing prices. By this time merchandise needs to move, so additional markdowns are often taken. Swing by for a second look and you may score an amazing deal.

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First things first: If you arrive at a sample sale hoping to score a particular piece from a particular collection, be prepared for disappointment. Attend with an open mind, but also set some priorities. When the doors swing open, most shoppers will head for shoes, bags, or coats. If you’re there for shoes, bags, or coats you can certainly go with the flow, but if you want the best deals experts say to head away from the pack. Iconic items are often discounted the least, so you’ll find better deals on lesser known pieces.

Be aware of the differences between actual samples and overstock items

True clothing samples often make their way to these sales without tags and only in sizes 0-2. Some are even made from different materials than the finished retail product. If you see fairly full size runs, you’re probably perusing overstock: Merchandise that was put into production, but didn’t sell at full price. If there’s only one of something, it’s likely to be a sample. Many women are sized out of samples, and can still get great deals on quality overstock. Hey, a bargain’s a bargain.

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Only buy something that you adore and that fits perfectly

Resist the urge to buy something just because it’s designer and 90% off. If you never end up wearing it, it’s NOT a good deal. Again, you’re likely dealing with a final sale situation, so be certain about your purchases. Since most of this merchandise was wildly expensive to begin with, it will likely remain spendy even after deep discounts. Keep your head about you, and only pony up for items that you absolutely cannot live without. 

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