To shop New York is to shop sample sales. Forget walking Fifth Ave., perusing the racks of a store you could find at your hometown mall—albeit a bigger version—or even any of the changing room amenities (read: privacy) you thought were standard in any place clothes are up for purchase.
A New York City sample sale is an experience. I know “experience” is a catch-all term, but it’s really the best and only way to describe it. Some I attended were major disappointments with fashion houses trying to pawn off shoddy merchandise while others seriously enhanced my wardrobe for a relatively low cost. Regardless of the end result, each one was an experience. At one filled with 20-somethings and older, I saw a girl not a day over 13 carrying a pile of merchandise (bigger than would fit into any closet I’ve ever owned) walking with her mother, who intended on purchasing the pile, to the register. And then there was the time at the alice+olivia sale when one woman tried to talk another woman—a stranger—out of a dress (literally) so she could purchase it instead.
But shopping a New York City sample sale is a rite of passage. Below are a few basics I, a still-learning and former NYC sample sale neophyte, have compiled to help with the mental preparation. (You’ll need it.)
- Target sales that aren’t Louboutin level (On a scale of 1 to 10 of sample sale madness, this is THE ’10.’ I’ve heard stories, crazy, crazy stories of women bloodthirsty for those red soles.) but are still something you could brag about. Don’t worry; it’s a sample sale right to brag. I will warn, though, that it sounds a little pretentious when outside of New York… as most New York things do.
- Do your price-range research. Sample sales are high-pressure environments and you’re going to walk out with something—just face it—and it’s generally a good idea if you can afford what you’re buying. That said, beware the urge to snatch and purchase while waiting in line. Tara did this at the LaRok sale and ended up with an oversized t-shirt we had trouble belting, styling, anything. Luckily it was only $10, but still. Store employees squeeze the line between filled racks for a reason.
- Choose the sample sales you believe are going to yield the highest rate of success because, if you’re anything like me, you’re going to have had your fill for a while after just one. It’s like Indian food. I love Indian food, but I can only eat it when the craving hits. Then after an indulgence I’m satisfied for weeks, months, even.
- Show the other women… and, er, sometimes occasional man you are not the enemy. You can actually make friendly with them and alliances are critical! Once Tara was MIA while I was in the fitting room at a sale, so I turned to the insanely core fusion-toned mother who I had chatted with in line for an honest opinion.
- Get everything you think you might even consider buying into the try-on area the first time. You are NOT going to want to endure that try-on mayhem again. Unless, that is, you delight in long lines, cattle-herding tactics used to move deal-obsessed women through and stripping down with about zero privacy.
Tara and I relied on the Daily Candy NYC edition and NYMag.com for most of our New York sample sale info. We have yet to venture into Chicago, but I’ve seen some good deals listed on Chicagomag.com and the Chicago-based Poor Little Rich Girls, (which was founded by a recent Medill grad—fun fact!).
I’m still waiting for the sample sale urge to hit to check out Chicago’s offerings. I give myself a month…
-Karina for TKGO