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My journey down the outlet store rabbit hole started with Banana Republic. I bought two Banana Republic outlet store polos for crazy cheap, then watched them completely deteriorate over the next year.
Seriously, after 10 or 20 washes the fabric felt flimsy, brittle, and even developed several small holes.
Well, it turns out that nothing in Banana Republic factory outlets comes from Banana Republic!
This model isn’t rare. Most outlet stores sell mostly — or entirely — made-for-outlet wares. Many brands sell cheaper, imitation versions of their own products under the pretense of offering steep discounts on main store items.
So how do you know what you’re buying? I tracked down eight stores selling made-for-outlet wares under their brand names, plus the secrets that help you tell the difference.
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1. Three diamonds on Banana Republic tags indicate factory outlet items.
Of course, Banana Republic doesn’t sell any retail items in their outlets, so you can safely assume it’s made-for-outlet when you shop there.
But if you’re wondering about second-hand items, I found out that Banana Republic’s imitation-factory brand sports three small diamonds underneath the brand name on the tag.
Retail Banana Republic merchandise doesn’t have these three diamonds — so make sure you get the real stuff, whether you buy it firsthand or at your favorite consignment store.
And when you do shop Banana Republic, use these savings tips!
2. A square with a hollowed-out spade on Kate Spade bags indicates Kate Spade outlet store items.
You might buy a Kate Spade outlet store item and not realize it! They run online “Surprise Sales” where they sell bags that are not boutique bags and mark them down.
I bought this red bag last year on katespade.com and had no idea it was an outlet item until I did some digging. After all, I didn’t buy it at a Kate Spade outlet store!
Luckily, you can find several details on items and tags to know if you’re buying a boutique bag or an outlet bag.
- Kate Spade outlet-store clothing has an embroidered spade above the label name, and the tag stitching is greenish instead of gold. Price tags show “like style” and “our price” comparisons, which again, do not represent a real discount.
- On Kate Spade outlet-store bags and wallets, there are a few different logos like a square with a hollowed-out spade in the middle or a stamped spade. On legit boutique Kate Spade bags and wallets, the spade logo is attached hardware with just the shape of the spade, no bordering square.
If you do purchase an item from an outlet store, be sure to give them your name and email so you can get the same one-year warranty as items from their retail stores.
3. Three squares on Gap tags indicate Gap outlet store items.
Like Banana Republic, everything at Gap outlets is made for them and never featured in the retail Gap line.
These lower-end pieces are easy to spot since they have three squares underneath the brand name on the label. Real Gap items don’t have these squares! Learn more Gap secrets from a seasoned employee.
4. “Lauren” and “Chaps” indicate lowest-end or made-for-outlet Ralph Lauren items.
Polo Ralph Lauren outlets carry primarily made-for-outlet merchandise. The Chaps, Lauren by Ralph Lauren, and Polo Ralph Lauren brands are lower-end lines and turn up most frequently in outlets.
Major tip-offs for cheaper imitations include comparison pricing like “Value Was” and “Our Price” printed on the original paper tag and lack of an embroidered care label.
Authentic pieces all carry an embroidered factory number, usually starting with RN, on the underside of the size label.
Keep an eye out for “Purple Label,” “Black Label,” and “RRL” brand items at outlets to score around 75% off legit Ralph Lauren merchandise.
5. “346” on a Brooks Brothers tag means it’s an outlet item.
Brooks Brothers outlets carry mostly made-for-outlet wares, but they’re easy to spot. Just look for the number “346” on the label.
Some Brooks Brothers outlets carry only 346 items, but if you spy any pieces with “1818” or “Golden Fleece” on the label, you’ve found a gem from one of their main, higher-end lines. Snap it up!
Before you read on, be sure to bookmark the KCL Apparel Deals page to stay informed about all the deals.
6. Two diamonds on J.Crew tags indicate J.Crew outlet items.
J.Crew outlet stores sell a cheaper outlet line called J.Crew Mercantile. But you should also keep an eye out for two diamonds under the “R” on the tag. These diamonds indicate made-for-outlet wares as well.
Another tip-off for J.Crew blazers: The sleeve buttons on J.Crew outlet jackets are decorative and do not function — not so with regular J.Crew blazers!
Not to worry, I have some legit ways to get J.Crew for less if they’re your style.
7. An “F” in a Coach bag serial number means it’s a Coach outlet store item.
Coach estimates that 85% of their Coach outlet-store merchandise was made for outlets.
Their cheaper outlet bags’ serial numbers, located on the paper tag in the upper left-hand corner, start with an “F.” Unless the deal is off the charts, then you might want to avoid the “F” items when you shop your Coach outlet store.
Don’t worry, though; I’ve got ways to get the best price on a new Coach bag — without getting a fake.
8. When you see “Ann Taylor Factory” on labels and price tags, it’s an outlet item.
Ann Taylor and Ann Taylor Loft outlets carry mostly — or entirely — made-for-outlet clothing. On Ann Taylor and Ann Taylor LOFT pieces, look for “Factory” underneath the brand name.
On older or secondhand Ann Taylor and LOFT pieces, look for two squares or dots underneath the label on the tag. These signify the cheaper outlet imitations.
Just make sure you know how to shop at LOFT like a pro, and you’ll always know you got the best deal.