A Bill Blass evening gown for $30 and a Botkier bag for $75 are just two pieces I've scored at sample sales, and you can buy wedding dresses and even furniture. Here's how to get the true steals.
· Do some digging. The Internet is a great resource for sample-sale information. Racked.com and dailycandy.com post details on sales in a number of cities on a daily basis. Check them frequently, because many companies schedule sales without much notice. You can also call the showroom or store directly to ask when the next one will occur. And don't feel left out if you don't live in a metropolitan area: More and more labels are having online sample sales.
· Plan ahead. It's never a bad idea to do some research in advance. Call the showroom and ask what seasons will be on sale—then you can go to the website or to style.com and get a feel for what might be available. You can also inquire about a specific item. If you have your eye on a Chloé Paratay bag, for example, the manager might be able to tell you whether it will be on sale. On the day of the sale, wear tights or leggings and a tank top under your clothes, so you can pull things on right over them. And avoid wearing a brand to its own sale. I once heard about a woman who lost her Prada heels at a Prada sale. Someone tried them on and bought them!
· Go early. For most sales, arriving 30 minutes to an hour before the doors open on the first day will usually suffice, but I've been in line for three hours for big sales like Hermès's. (If you can't make it the first day, call and find out whether they'll be putting out additional stuff or cutting prices further.) And have cash on hand, since credit cards are quite often not accepted.
· Survey the scene. If the sale is calm, take time to do a loop and decide what to target, but if it's frenzied, just start grabbing. Pull a range of sizes to try on, skipping anything that's stained, torn, or needs extensive tailoring. Unfortunately, there's rarely a good place to stash stuff. That's when it's handy to have a friend to help you.
· Mind your manners. Some people get aggressive, blocking racks and shoving, but I personally won't fight for an item. If someone is hogging a mirror, politely ask her to move for a second. Remember: It's just stuff.
· Buy smart. Don't search for basics you can buy on sale at any department store or buy anything you wouldn't normally wear. The best deals at sample sales are on dresses and bags. I look for scarves from Hermès, shoes from Prada, and bags and wallets from Chanel. And it never hurts to ask for a better price. For example, if you've got $600 worth of clothes, offer to take it all for $500. They probably won't look at you weirdly—everyone is there in search of a bargain.
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