Rules to Shop By: Experts Tell Us How to Get the Most Out of Sample Sales

We've been shopping sample sales for years and still sometimes come up empty-handed and feeling like we're not doing it right. So, as we're in the thick of sample sale season, we asked some sample sale experts--as in people whose job it is to go to sample sales and report on them--to share their wisdom and secrets. We learned a lot of tips that we're going to be employing very soon.
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We've been shopping sample sales for years and still sometimes come up empty-handed and feeling like we're not doing it right. So, as we're in the thick of sample sale season, we asked some sample sale experts--as in people whose job it is to go to sample sales and report on them--to share their wisdom and secrets. We learned a lot of tips that we're going to be employing very soon.
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Here in NYC, we're in the thick of sample sale season. While a few big ones like

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Pre-plan

Do a little research beforehand. "I’ll take a quick look at the past few seasons’ pieces just so I have an idea of what’s on the shelf (and what I want)," Fawnia Soo Hoo, Fashionista contributor and former Racked sample sale reporter, told us. "I also do a scan online of what pricing is offered on current online sales—nothing worse than coming home from a battle zone sale and realizing I could have gotten a better deal on the Internets."

If you're debating whether a sale is worth faking a doctor's appointment, Soo Hoo suggests (as do we) checking shopping/sales sites such as

Photo: @SusanShek Instagram

Photo: @SusanShek Instagram

Timing is everything.

Everything from what day you go, to what time you go, to how many times you go, matters.

Sample Sally always goes on the first day, early, if it's a brand she really loves or a sale she knows will have great deals. "I do this so I can see what the selection is like and I try to find out if they’ll restock." If it's a really popular sale, like YSL, she suggests going early. "On the first day a Jil Sander sample sale, I’ve scored on a great handbag ($380, retailed for $1,600) and ankle boots ($119, was $795). For some sample sales, most of the good stuff is gone on the first day."

Of course that doesn't mean she only goes on the first day. "I always try to go on the last day of the sale since that’s when most will offer further reductions. Example: The last day of The Row sample sale at Soiffer Haskin over the summer, I bought a corduroy blazer with python elbow patches ($270, retailed $2,700), tanks and tees for $3."

Mizhattan was also a proponent of getting to a sale well before it opens, as it could end up saving you time. "Case in point, the last YSL sample sale. The shoppers who arrived three hours before opening got to go inside right away. That's 'only' a three-hour wait. Those who came one hour before opening had to wait five to six hours. Plus, all the good merchandise had been taken by then."

Lila of Madison Avenue Spy suggests even going the day before--not to wait overnight, but because many brands hold a private sale the day before for editors or "friends and family" (this is true). "It's usually worth the chance to check it out because most designers aren't too strict with their door policy," she said. "If you really want to play it safe, go in the afternoon when it's most likely to be quiet. Attending a sale early gives you the added bonuses of a larger selection and less crowding."

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Find the best steals.

So you've planned, gotten there at the right time, and you're inside. Now what? Obviously, you're not going to just float around from rack to rack, casually checking stuff out. This isn't Sephora; it's a sample sale, so you need to strategize.

"Go in the opposite direction of other shoppers," suggests Lila. "You will see shoppers herd to the designer's most iconic pieces, usually a handbag or shoe. The problem is that these items are usually discounted the least. If you are really looking for a great deal, you are going to want to start your shopping in the least desirable section of the sale. Sometime this means digging through a bin of accessories or sorting through a rack of designer samples." It's just like the Hunger Games! Run away from the cornucopia.

Soo Hoo points out that some samples are sometimes also (or only) overstock sales--"You can tell if there are multiple sizes, then it’s overstock"-- and suggests honing in on the samples, rather than the overstock. "Since the sample pieces are usually one-offs and/or never produced styles, the pricing tends to be rock bottom, like my Alexander Wang $10 mullet sweater, and the potential to find something amazing is fairly high, like a

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Dress appropriately

Our experts pretty unanimously agreed (and we definitely sign off) on a sample sale uniform of leggings, a camisole, and shoes that are easy to take of (i.e. no laces).

Lila has one specific guideline of her own: "Don't dress up in the designer's past season merchandise." And not because it's ~lame~ like wearing a band's t-shirt to their concert. "There are few things more confusing than wearing Manolos to a Manolo Blahnik sample sale. If you do, don't be surpassed to find another person's foot in your shoe when you're busy trying on a prospective purchase."

Sample Sally adds, "If I can, I try to bring a small bag and lightweight coat so I don’t have to check it in."

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You don't have to buy anything.

Don't see something you're dying over? Don't get anything. It may have been on sale, but that doesn't mean you're immune to buyer's remorse.

"Don’t buy something just because it’s on sale or you waited hours," advises Sally. "If you can’t find anything you like, walk away. Remember: Most of these pieces are at the sale for a reason. No one wanted them!"

Plus, designer sample sales aren't the end game. Boutiques have great sales too. "Bird has amazing twice-yearly markdowns, and I've done really well at French Garment Cleaners (the Fort Greene store formerly known as Stuart & Wright.)," says Greenspan. "Those are often the best places to get deals on labels that don't do big public sample sales, like Isabel Marant."