I love a bargain as much as the next thrifty gal, but sample sales are one of my personal nightmares, somewhere between being trapped in a room full of writhing snakes and living in a world where “We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together” is the only song I hear for the rest of my life. I’ve been to a few in my day, but I feel they bring out the worst in women, and I lack the steely determination to shop til I drop like the hordes of lunch-break Lindas, clutching armfuls of floaty tops and discount sandals. Conceptually, it makes sense. Clothes are expensive, nice clothes more so. I’m just not one for willfully putting myself into situations where I have to degrade myself fighting over a bathing suit bottom or the last dress in my size.
Perhaps I’ve only had bad experiences, and that’s why I’m so down on the sample sale. Along with the office trip to Pinkberry and the collective mani on the lunch break, sample sales are representative of the icky part of being a woman. I have nothing against shared experiences, and I love frozen yogurt, manicures and discount clothing. It’s just something about the atmosphere inside these things that gives me hives. They are overwhelming, they are crowded, and women who are normally lovely and pleasant people turn into crazed bargain hunters, pushing each other aside and getting grabby over things that don’t really matter. The entire time I’m in there, I’m thinking about this bit from “The Nutty Professor, and it’s not a good look. The experience got much better once I figured out the right way to do it. The opportunity to snap up nice things at a fair price is alluring, so when a sample sale comes to town, be ready with these tips to get the most out of your sample sale experience.
Always Have a Strat: It is a rookie mistake to enter a sample sale with the intention that you’re going to “browse.” Browsing is best reserved for those little boutiques that sell artisanal sea-salt spray for your hair and perforated leather rompers that cost more than your rent. Go in knowing what you’re looking for.
Get A Lay of the Land: Once you’re in, you’re in! Great. Do one solid lap of the entire thing, assessing where they keep the tank tops, the pants, the whatever. Find your one Thing that you came in here for. Don’t lose sight, though it will be hard. If you’re looking for, say, a dress to wear to the 10 weddings you have to go to this summer, find the dresses and stick with it.
Hunt and Gather: Park yourself in front of a rack of your intended and go to town. Take advantage of your focus and be quick but careful in your search. Get as many things as your hot little hands can carry. If people are in your way, don’t be shy! I like a soft but stern “excuse me.” Works wonders.
Be Polite: Look, we’re all in this together, right? Everyone wants to buy the same pair of Madewell pants for $40 instead of the ludicrous $140 they are full price. With that said, some respect for the personal space of your fellow shoppers. If someone is trying to get by, let them live. Your life isn’t going to end if you don’t grab that shirt.
Assess and Reject: Sometimes it’s helpful to have a friend with you, but oftentimes, a friend will just contaminate whatever very clear vision you have. A lovely dress that you think is just the thing, when held up to someone else’s scrutiny, can easily be cast aside. If you need someone else’s opinion on the thing you’re going to buy, knock a fellow warrior out of their reverie and ask them. I find the advice of strangers is infinitely better than the advice of people you know, because they won’t be afraid to be honest.
Get In, Get Out: When waiting in the inevitable very long line to the cash register, you will be tempted by a variety of things. Someone discards a shirt that looks like it might be your size? Don’t grab it! At the J. Crew sample sale that I went to earlier this week, the checkout line was a particular form of torture, because it was next to the only two racks of bathing suits in the entire place. Resist the urge to paw frantically through these temptations.
That’s it! If done properly, sample sales don’t have to be hell. Good luck!
[Image of two young girls choosing clothing in a store via Shutterstock]