A decade ago, sample sales were known only to fashion insiders and were a great way to score amazing deals on last season’s clothing. Now that the sales are announced far and wide on the internet, they’re not such a great deal anymore, although it is still possible to find good deals if you know how.

Bridal Sample Sales
Bridal sample sales are one of the best ways, after eBay, to score great deals on wedding dresses. However, you have to be pretty strong to survive one of these things. Most large cities have bridal sales at some point because the store owners need to move the older gowns. You should be able to find one near you.

If you plan to shop at a bridal sale, follow these tips:

  • Bring the shoes you plan to wear with the dress
  • Wear the undergarments you plan to wear with the dress
  • Arrive very early to get in line
  • Check the bridesmaid’s dress samples if you want a simple gown
  • Check gowns carefully for unrepairable rips or irremovable stains in prominent places. Hems can be fixed, but the middle of the skirt can’t.

If you find a beat-up gown, but are good at sewing, it can be a good starting point. My cousin scored a dress with a beautiful skirt for $100. The bodice was trashed, but she and my mom sewed a new bodice in matching fabric for less than another $100.

Clothing Sample Sales
There are three types of sample sales: designer, store, and warehouse. The designer sales happen mostly in New York and Los Angeles, where most of the design houses are located. If you can get into one of these, you can indeed get good deals.

Store sample sales can be hit or miss. Although they’re less crowded, often the items are very dated or worn-out. The popular sizes are already gone, too. If you have to pay a fee to get in, I wouldn’t bother. Instead, I’d become a good customer and ask the staff to call me just before they have a sale

Finally, there are the massive warehouse sales. These can happen anywhere and several companies host them. You usually pay an entrance fee. Although they feature clothing from numerous designers, the styles are usually a few seasons old and the quality isn’t always the best. Some of the items are genuine samples, which means the sizes may be off or the size-runs may be limited.

How to Shop Wisely at Sample Sales
It’s easy to blow a lot of money on stuff you’ll never wear at a sample sale. To avoid that, and also to ensure you get the best deal, follow these tips:

Arrive early. Get to the sale a few hours, at least, before the opening time.

Arrive with a plan. If you’re going for jeans, don’t stop to look at the tops first. Head directly for the item you want.

Pre-shop. A few days before the sale, visit a store to try on clothes from the designers you’re interested in. This will give you a better idea of their size run so you don’t buy a medium only to get home and discover that it fits like a small.

Wear easy to remove clothes and shoes. There may not be changing rooms, so bring easy to remove clothes and shoes.

Set a budget. Don’t just bring a credit card and figure you’ll know when to stop. Give yourself a budget and stick to it.

Skip sales with high entry fees. If you have to pay a fee of more than $5 to get in, don’t bother. The clothes inside may not be worth the money you paid just to look at them.

Instead of dealing with sample sales to save on last season’s hot items, I buy classic clothes at discounted prices that I can wear forever. It may not be the most fashionable way to shop, but it’s the most hassle-free.

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