This past weekend I visited the Mara Hoffman sample sale in NYC. Now, I am not one of those obsessive sample sale girls, but hers is one I never miss. (Except for last year when she decided to forego the NYC sample sale and go online only. Mara, please never do that again!)
I usually attend the first day of the sale early in the morning, but I had some scheduling conflicts that prevented me from going at that time. Which actually happened to be a good thing, as you’ll read about later in the post.
It can be hard work finding the perfect item in a sample sale, but if you’re successful the reward is significant. You can score up to 75% off retail prices (sometimes up to 90% off!) on designer goods, occasionally even their current collections. But if you think they’re giving it up easy, you’re dead wrong!
Here are some of my top tips for how to shop a sample sale like a pro. I hope you find them useful, and if you think I’ve left out anything important, please leave me a comment so I can add it to the list!
Wear Comfy Clothes
When you’re shopping sample sales, you should wear the most comfortable clothes you can. And make it something easy to take on and off if you plan on trying on the samples. Now is NOT the time to wear that new button down shirt with 45 individual buttons! This goes for shoes, too. Try not to wear any shoes with laces or straps because #thestruggleisreal.
I usually wear the most basic top and bottom I can find, such as a denim skirt (*bonus for wearing a skirt because you can always try on bottoms underneath without taking it fully off, if need be). And I usually opt for a cute pair of flip flops or slides on my feet.
Although the rules in the dressing room vary from sale to sale, they can be very strict. For example, at this weekend’s sale, there was a limit of 10 items allowed at once in the dressing rooms. This is a decent amount of items, but the kicker is that you had a strict time limit of 10 minutes to try everything on before they opened the curtain and exposed your naked bod to the crowd (see more about that in my next tip).
So, again, you basically want the easiest thing that you can rip on and off in a matter of seconds. And even with comfy clothes I had to go back through the line a second time to try on everything I had brought in the first time.
Also, please know that sample sale dressing rooms are not anything like you’ll find in a department store. It’s basically a small open room with a bunch of garment racks, one or 2 mirrors, and a bunch of naked girls frantically stripping in front of each other, scrambling to try on their next item.
So, if you plan on trying on bathing suits (or lingerie) and are shy about showing your lady parts, you should plan on wearing some pasties to hide the goodies. And if you don’t want your butt cheeks on blast, plan on wearing some granny panties or boy shorts, too.
Personally, IDGAF so I just wear a thong, call it a day, and just hope I don’t encounter any “moon landings.” (*If anyone knows what TV show that’s from we are seriously BFF*).
Do Your Research
Sample sales usually encompass several seasons worth of the designer’s goods, for whatever reason they couldn’t move them through their normal distribution channels. If you are the type of person who only wants current season goods, then do your research before you go. Check out the designer’s current website, bookmark any pieces you really love and concentrate on finding only those.
I am personally not concerned with the newest of the new, I just buy what I like, so it can get overwhelming going through everything. Like, I literally spent
an amazing 6 hours there the first time I went to the Mara Hoffman sale. The employees truly thought I was crazy when they saw me there at 9am then still saw me there at 3pm. I mean, I probably am a little crazy.
But keep reading for some tips on scoping out everything without being overwhelmed.
Take One Section at a Time
Sample sales are usually jam packed with merchandise. If you happen to go first thing in the morning, you may find the racks to be somewhat organized. But by the time the after-work rush comes, the racks are a mess and clothes are everywhere. So, take it easy and go one section at a time.
Are you positive you want a handbag by this designer? Start there. Go through the entire section and don’t move onto the next until you make a decision. And once you do find that treasured bag…
Don’t Put It Down
Come on, haven’t you seen ‘Confessions of a Shopaholic‘? When she finds those red Gucci boots at the sample sale?? Girls are vicious, yo!
I mean, it’s obviously not that dramatic in real life, but if you really want something don’t put it down without guarding it with your life. Especially if it’s a sought after item and you were the last girl to snag one…hang onto it!
What you can do though, if you see a girl has something you desperately want, is to go up to her and politely ask her if she decides not to purchase that item, if you can try it on. Tell her your name, too, so she feels a more personal connection and will be more willing to go the extra effort of finding you.
If you are serious about sample sale shopping, you could try going with a friend and each tackling one section. But I don’t have any friends who are willing to spend 6 hours of their day shopping one sale with me so I had to do the next best thing: I made friends with girls in the dressing room!
One time I went there were these 2 girls who were there almost as long as I was, so we became close pals. We asked each other’s opinions if something looked good on us or not in the dressing room. They would also watch my stuff for me if I needed to quickly grab a different size of something. (But only do this with girls you trust. See rule above!) I also didn’t feel as bad that I was there so long, because it became kind of fun. We crazies stuck together in the long haul!
But obviously, shopping a sample sale for 6 hours is not typical (or normal, HA), so grab a friend to come along. Because it’s always good to have a trusted, honest opinion if something looks good on you, etc.
Get There Early….or Late?
The ideal time to guarantee the best selection at a sample sale is as soon as the sale opens on the first day. Obviously, you’ll have your pick of whatever you want.
But, as I said earlier, I couldn’t go on the first day. I actually went on the third day of the sale, expecting everything to be sold out and picked through.
But, as I found out, some designers actually hold merchandise out to replenish the racks on the last few days. And, as an added bonus, they offered an additional 20% off when you bought 3 or more items! So, sometimes it pays to go later on in the sale if you don’t have your eye on any particular item. And I definitely took advantage of that extra 20% off *wink wink*.
Don’t Forget Off-Season
While sample sales generally take place twice a year (the beginning of Summer and before the Holidays), they’ll sometimes offer better deals on the items that are considered off season. For example, this past weekend I was mainly looking for Summer dresses & swimsuits. But they did have a gorgeous selection of sweaters that I wish I had paid more attention to. So don’t forget to check out the warm woolies in Summer and the bikinis in Winter. You may be able to score even higher discounts for these items.
Be Patient & Prepare to Dig
Actually getting into a sample sale may be the toughest part of the whole process. For example, I know the lines for this Mara Hoffman sample sale were up to 2 hours on the first day. So, please take this into consideration and just be patient. FYI: when I went on the 3rd day there were no lines. See my resources list below to determine what the lines are like at the time when you want to go!
And this may be obvious, but at a sample sale, be prepared to dig. Literally. Sometimes there will be huge Tupperware bins just stockpiled with samples that you literally need to dig through. Your arms will hurt from digging and from carrying around samples on one arm, while you browse the racks with the other. Clothes are heavy!
So just be patient, persistent, and tackle one thing at a time. You can do it!
But How Do I Find Out About Sample Sales?
You may be asking, “How do I know when these sample sales are happening?” Well, I’ve got an answer for you! There are a few companies who put on the majority of the samples sales in NYC and a few great websites that list them all in one easy place. You can sign up for their email lists or follow along on their social media to keep in the loop for upcoming sales.
SampleSally (NYC and LA sales) – Offers info, pictures, and comments regarding length of the lines and merchandise selection from people who have already attended.
Garment District – For other smaller, more obscure NYC sales.
Follow @cooperdesignspace on Instagram for LA sample sales of smaller contemporary brands, generally not featured on major sample sale sites.
Also a few additional tips:
- Don’t bring a big/heavy bag. Sometimes they do make you check bags at the door, but lugging a heavy bag around while you shop is a drag.
- If they do make you check your bag, remember to put your sunglasses in it. Trying on clothes with sunglasses on your head just sucks.
- Bring cash. Accepting credit cards has generally become the norm, but you never know when they’ll have a discounted option for paying in cash. And some smaller designers may only take cash.
So, if you read the whole post and got to this point, congrats. You are officially a serious sample sale shopper who stands a good chance of scoring a great deal on those designer duds you’ve been eyeing.
If you have any other questions for me regarding sample sales, please do not hesitate to ask me in the comments section below.
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