How to Shop a Sample Sale

A traditional sample sale is when a designer, design house, or store sells its “sample” merchandise, merchandise created to promote the designer’s line in fashion shows or showings to store buyers, and/or for use in photo spreads for magazines like Vogue, Elle, etc.  This is one of the reasons why most true sample sales (not up and coming designer showcases masked as sample sales or regular store based seasonal or stock sales) happen in New York and to a lesser degree, Los Angeles.

How to Shop a Sample Sale

In the past, sample sales were limited to sizes 4-6 in clothing and size 7/8 in shoes, which excludes pretty much everyone except Naomi Campbell. However, many designers/stores are starting to expand their sales to be more like warehouse or stock sales—featuring a wide range of sizes and styles that were actually produced by the designer for retail. Most notable of this type of sale is the famous Barney’s Warehouse Sales, held in LA and New York twice a year, where the hip store sales its designer stock from previous seasons.

Discounts at sample sales can range from 20% to 90% off retail price and the quality and quantity of merchandise varies as well. For designers, like Kate Spade or Prada, you would probably find better deals by heading to your local outlet mall. There is no set rule of about who gets in or how many people get in. It really depends on the designer or store having the sample sale, and the limits of the space. Usually once you’re in the sale, you can usually stay as long as you need to, but many sales only let new people in when someone leaves. Unless you have a connection or special pass, there is no way to know that whether you will get into the sale. 

Here are some tips on how to shop a sample sale

Know the dates Mark your calendar appropriately. Key sample sale seasons are November and May in New York City.  Visit our Sales page to see up to date sample sale listings. Make sure to arrive early, and also remember that many sample sales start earlier than advertised— it doesn’t hurt to stop by a couple of hours beforehand, or even a day or two early in some cases. 

It’s all in the preparation
Make your sample sale shopping experience more enjoyable by leaving your excess belongings at home . Dress appropriately, wear comfortable shoes and appropriate underwear. For example, slip-on shoes are the best if you are shopping for pants.  Assume that there will not be a private dressing room area—wear a camisole if you do not feel comfortable getting naked in front of strangers (women and men alike).

Know thyself
You can’t hit all the sales; you must be strategic. Know what designers cut for your body type. Know your size. Know how to separate the junk find from the treasure find. And, most of all, know your budget!

All sales are (usually) final
Make sure you’ve tried everything on and examined your items before you make your purchase. Watch out for a red stamp marked “SAMPLE”, any garment mutilation, faulty construction, damage, mislabeled sizing, etc.