Sample sales are special clearance sales thrown by stores and designers to clear out storerooms for the next season’s merchandise. One of the most infamous sample sales is the annual “Running of the Brides” at Filene’s Basement. Eager brides camp out in the hopes of scoring their dream designer gown at an 85 percent discount.

Let’s be honest: sample sales aren’t for the faint of heart. At popular sales, hordes of frugal fashionistas desperate for a great deal can turn a sale into a  fashion battlefield. Sometimes people try to pry merchandise from others’ hands. So slide on some Spanx, strap on your stilettos and study these tips for scoring at sample sales:

  1. Do Your Research: Find sales on websites such as Daily Candy, Racked, SheFinds, and TopButton. Some sample sales require advance registration to control crowds. Or call your favorite designer’s store and ask about the next sample sale.
  2. Know Where You’re Going: Sample sales are often held in warehouses, conference centers, and offices —not run-of-the-mill storefronts. Never be late to a sample sale! Have clear directions and a phone number to call in case you get lost.
  3. Dress Appropriately: Sample sales usually have large, communal dressing rooms. Wear modest undergarments and save your barely-there skivvies for the boudoir. Boy shorts and a lined bra make a smart choice (and Spanx). For even more coverage, wear a camisole and thin leggings or tights. Choose an outfit that is easy to take on and off.  Leave your over-the-knee boots at home. Also, it’s easiest to wear a cross-body bag so you have easy access to your valuables while keeping both arms free for grabbing items.
  4. Know Your Price Points: Not everything at sample sales is a good deal. Research the retail price points before the sale. Then check the online clearance section at department stores that carry the designer ‘s line and at discount designer retailer sites such as BlueFly, 6pm, and The Outnet. Run a broad search on ShopStyle. True sample sale prices should be below wholesale prices (less than 50 percent of the suggested retail price on the tag). Pay no more than wholesale price.
  5. Try Everything On: The majority of sample sales do not allow returns. So make sure you try everything on and carefully inspect items for irregularities, defects and wear and tear. Sample sale sizing can be irregular since some pieces may have been altered for the runway, photo shoots, and store displays.
  6. Set a Budget and Stick to It: It’s easy to get caught up in the fast-paced commotion and make impulse buys. Don’t  get dazzled by designer labels. Ask yourself if you would want the item if it wasn’t on sale or didn’t have a brand name. Set a strict budget and stick to it.
  7. Sample Sales are for “Losers”: It is important to understand that a sample sale generally serves to clear out a designer’s “losers”— the items that for whatever reason did not move that season. Make that your mantra when scouring racks. But there are gems to be had at sample sales. Sometimes items were over-produced or didn’t work because of unusual weather. Some items were used on the runway or in photo shoots — if you wear a size 4, then you’re in luck!

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One thought on “Designer Divas: 7 Thrifty Tips for Shopping at Sample Sales”

  1. Cheryl says:

    Like the “totally free stuff” – just don’t “like” having to pay $ for shipping & handling!!!!