Spring is finally here, but the cold weather has kept us all from feeling like shopping for new things. I was out the other day and there were already SALE signs in the shop windows! Here’s how to take advantage:
1. DRESS SO YOU DON’T HAVE TO UNDRESS
You don’t want to pull something over your head 500 times. You aren’t going to want to re-tie your laces repeatedly. You REALLY don’t want to stand in line for 20 minutes just to try something on. The solution is to wear something very comfortable which is thin and fitted enough that you can try things on OVER it. My ideal shopping outfit is a fitted T-shirt or tank/vest top with leggings, topped with an oversized cardigan (or a simple wrap dress), and ballet flats.
The cardigan keeps you from feeling naked as you walk around, but is easily removed (a wrap dress is nearly as easily removed but is a bit more polished looking). The shoes can be quickly kicked off, and put back on without having to bend over. When the lines are too long, or you just can’t be bothered, find a rail by a mirror in a back corner of the shop, and try your items there!
Keep jewelry simple and easily removed. A cross-body bag will be secure while leaving both hands free, and can easily be hung on the rail behind the items you’re going to try. And if you’re scatter-brained like me, an additional large tote bag will allow you to put all of your purchases in one bag – leaving just one to worry about, rather than several.
Of course this advice is good even if you’re NOT going to a crowded designer sample sale. Sometimes I spend more time trying to find a salesperson to let me into the fitting rooms than I do picking what I want to try; dressing this way you can bypass all of that!
2. AIM HIGH
Unless you’ve recently gained/lost a great deal of weight or suffered the tragedy of a house fire and literally have nothing to wear, chances are you’ve got plenty of clothes and you’re shopping for fun. Use the sales as an opportunity to buy brands you have always admired, but normally couldn’t afford. That fancy boutique you’ve been afraid to go into will probably have items 75% off or more at some point in the year. If you pay attention, you can gradually build a wardrobe of much nicer clothes than you’d normally have.
3. CHOOSE YOUR COMPANY WISELY
If you are a reluctant shopper, you’ll probably want to go with a friend. Pick someone whose opinion you trust, who is patient and has a good sense of humor. You want someone who will encourage you to try new things, but NOT someone who will talk you into things you’ll later regret.
Try to find someone who also matches your stamina: I cannot go shopping with my aunt, because she must look at everything, and I do mean EVERYTHING, in the store. Most other people are exhausted by my marathon shopping, reaching their limits just as I hit my stride. I do have a close friend who is an excellent shopping companion, matching me well for stamina and interest, but I have to remember to stop to feed and water her regularly because she tends to suffer in silence until she suddenly gets snappy. On the other hand, if you’re confident about what you like, you may be better off going alone.
4. PREPARE. GET IN THE RIGHT MENTAL STATE
Think of it as an adventure. You have no idea what you will discover, or what crazy people you might see. Focus your mind. Prepare as if you’re going on a long plane journey. Make sure your clothes and shoes are comfortable, know where you’re going, eat a good breakfast. Put a bottle of water and an energy bar in your bag. Prepare to have an open mind and to try on things you’d normally never consider. Know that some things are going to look terrible, and it often has nothing to do with your weight. Be ready to laugh it off. It’s all part of the experience.
5. FOCUS ON THE BEST DEALS
Don’t waste your time on 15% off. Go for the big bargains – nothing under a 50% discount. Find out which stores have the best sales.
The GAP has never had patience for keeping old merchandise around. They mark it down fast and often and get rid of it quickly.
When I am in the USA, I always hit Dillard’s. It seems to be in nearly every town I visit, and they regularly offer an extra % off their clearance stock. The last time I was there (in a tiny town in Kansas), I bought 5 great wrap dresses for $120, and a big oatmeal-colored cashmere blanket for about $60. I also always check out their handbag department, because they tend to carry good-quality leather handbags – and some go on clearance. I got a gorgeous Calvin Klein patent-leather handbag at 80% off in this fabulous shade of blackberry – deep navy/purple/blackish – so fabulous, in fact, that it was stolen 1 month later in Kingston-Upon-Thames.
In London, I like the Selfridge’s sale, but I wait until the crowds are gone and everything is picked over. Same with Liberty. There are also often “secret” designer sample and clearance sales about if you research it.
6. KNOW YOUR BODY
This is where your special quirks can pay off. Items that are poorly proportioned for the majority of the population may be perfect for you. Knowing that your legs are shorter/arms are longer/hips are smaller/boobs are bigger than the average citizen will allow you to spot those items left on the rails because they aren’t cut to fit an average body, and will fit you instead.
If you panicked or felt lost reading that last paragraph, never fear. I’m going to go over body types/proportions in the very, very near future.
For example, most clothes are too short in the arms and legs for me, so I’m always on the lookout for things that are left on the rails because they’re too LONG for most people.
7. IGNORE THE SIZE LABELS
Very often things go on sale because the sizes were cut incorrectly, and most people frankly can’t be bothered to look past the label. If their size doesn’t fit, they move on. That’s great news for the more patient people like me, who are perfectly happy to buy that cute skirt skirt marked XXL (but fits like a M) or the tailored jacket in the world’s largest XS.
Look at the item before you look at the label. If it looks like it might fit you, try it on. If the items are sorted by size, quickly glance through the other sizes on the rail for items that look mis-sized and things that have been put in the wrong section.
8. WHEN IN DOUBT, USE THE QUICK SIZE METHOD
How do you know that mis-labeled item might actually fit you? Develop an eye. Go to your closet and pull out a skirt or pair of trousers which fit you well. Hold it in your hands and get a feel for how wide they are. (NB: Your first reaction is probably going to be “OMG am I really that big?” but just remind yourself that you are 3-dimensional and you are looking at the garment in 2 dimensions so it is several inches larger than you actually appear in real life). Now remember what that width feels like. It’s as simple as that.
If you need to double-check that sale item before trying to squeeze into it, hold the skirt or trousers up to your body. Line up the side seams with the clothes you’re wearing. If the seams all line up (outer and inner leg), it should fit.
For tops and dresses, I have another method. I fold the item in half vertically along the BACK seam (as if it’s for half a person, or Victor/Victoria, so the two sleeves line up. Push the inside sleeve into the outside sleeve and put your arm through it. Line up the center of the top/dress with your center line, and have your friend make sure the center back seam fits the center line down your back. Check the bust, waist, and hips line up properly. Voilá!
9. IF IT LOOKS WEIRD ON THE HANGER, TRY IT ON
99.9% of the time, designers want their clothes to look good on you. Sometimes they are so focused on the body that they make something that looks awful on the hanger. This is good news for you, because again, most people can’t be bothered to try. The small effort required to figure out how to put that thing on your body may lead you to a great discovery. This is especially true if you like things that are a bit different, a bit edgy.
10. AS LONG AS YOU’RE STANDING IN THE LINE OR BOTHERING TO GET UNDRESSED, YOU MIGHT AS WELL TRY IT
You never know what you’re going to find, so keep an open mind. If something catches your eye, but isn’t your usual style, or you’re not sure it will suit or fit you, or you’re not sure if you’re brave enough to wear it, TRY IT ON. There will be surprises. Things you think are going to look great are going to look awful, and vice-versa. This is why it’s good to have a companion with a good sense of humor, so you can laugh at the ridiculous, the way-too-short, the way-too-tight, the voluminous muu-muu sized, and the just plain weird. You have to be willing to try everything, or you’re going to miss out and end up with a) nothing or b) things which look exactly like the stuff you’ve already got.
11. DON’T FORGET ACCESSORIES
Many of my best sale purchases have been scarves and jewelry. They are the items which are most versatile and will probably get the most wear in your wardrobe, yet we often overlook them in the sales.
12. DON’T BE BLINDED BY THE LABEL OR THE PRICE
If it looks like a $5 T-shirt, it doesn’t matter that the price tag says it was originally $200. It’s just a $5 t-shirt. Even if it says “Chanel” on the label.
13. KNOW YOURSELF
Don’t be so eager to talk yourself into things that are practical, or which will “go with everything.” Try to find items which make you FEEL great, even, and especially, if they are a little bit different from what you normally wear. Not TOO different – those are the things that end up hanging in the back of your closet for years, unworn and with the tags still attached. But if you love the way something looks on you, if it makes you feel fantastic, you WILL wear it. And maybe you need many more things like that in your closet, rather than more of the same.
14. WHEN IN DOUBT, PICTURE YOURSELF WEARING IT IN YOUR REGULAR LIFE
My all-time greatest sale purchase, my most prized possession, and the item most of my friends want to steal from me, is a crazy designer jacket which completely overwhelms most women, but luckily seems to suit me. I immediately loved it. But when I first tried it on, my companion tried to talk me out of it.
“It’s crazy!” she said, crinkling her nose. “I mean, WHERE are you going to wear THAT?”
I cannot thank her enough for asking that question. My brain immediately flashed on me in jeans and red boots, wearing it at Tesco. Then I saw it with a black skirt and turtleneck shopping in London. Then over a slinky dress on a date with my spouse.
I bought it. Even though, at 75% off, it was the most expensive single piece of clothing I’d ever purchased. And I have NEVER regretted it. I have worn it more times than I can count. In terms of price-per-wearing, it will end up being the most economical thing I’ve ever bought.
15. HAVE FUN
You’ll probably need to push yourself a bit, but if you’re miserable, GO HOME. Go directly home. Do not pass go, not not collect $200. Or go get a drink or a nice dinner.
If you’re one of those people who has conditioned themselves to think that shopping is a nightmare, then it’s probably best not to start with the sales. Take it easy, go on short shopping trips with someone who’s fun and will make it enjoyable. Most importantly, try to avoid shopping for things you NEED. That’s a miserable experience for pretty much everyone. Instead, build up your confidence bit by bit, always trying to have fun. Whenever you get tired or find you’re not enjoying it, QUIT.
Good luck, intrepid sale shoppers! I’d love to hear about your craziest finds or your funniest stories, either in the comments or on the Facebook page.