Shopping the sales -- how does it work, when does it happen, where do I go??
August 30, 2006 7:06 AM   Subscribe

Over the next few months, I need to buy a lot of new clothes to bulk up my professional (woman's) wardrobe. I want everything I buy to fit well. Slacks, skirts, blazers need to be lined. I will not buy anything without trying it on first, so web and catalog shopping is out. I don't have the budget to buy this all at full price. What kinds of strategies can I employ to get the best deals possible? Are there specific stores I should be shopping in? Are there sales I should watch for? Are there specific dates, weekends or times of year when I can get the best deals? How can I find out about and obtain about great coupons and upcoming sales?

Those are the questions, here's a little background.

I am normally a cheapo shopper, and I'm pretty clueless about nice business wear.

My boss and the most respected senior women in my work place tend to wear suits about half the time, and nice skirts or slacks with sweaters or blazers the rest of the time. I've also become that my boss notices what people where when -- "Didn't she wear that earlier this week?" etc.

So I want a classy and robust wardrobe.

I hope to gradually acquire:
* 2 summer work skirts
* 2 summer work dresses
* 2 winter work dresses
* 2 fitted pullovers (1 v-neck, one crew neck)
* 2 cardigans
* 1 black turtleneck (fitted, black, thin)
* 2 pairs winter work pants (tropical wool, lined, not black)
* 1 classic pant suit in a light color
* 3 wool blazers (varied neutral colors)
* 1 light summer blazer
* nude stretchy camisole
* 2 belts -- dark brown and a lighter color
* more socks and pantyhose
* Light colored summer office shoes (pumps)
* 1 pair of knee boots
* 1 pair of ankle boots.

I can't afford it all at once, and I want to get the most bang for my buck while still going after high quality stuff. Hence my obsession with sales and deals.

How should I approach this?
posted by croutonsupafreak to Shopping (38 answers total) 22 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: browse the mall, go into stores and try on clothes. if you like it, note the designer, style, name, etc. go home. google it and compare prices. order it online. search sites like for coupons, promotional codes, etc. that will offer you free shipping, tax free purchases and possible cash back.
hit up end of season sales.
take advantage of deals like the one ann taylor loft is currently promoting (spend $50 now, get a card good for $25 dollars off your purchase a few weeks down the road).
go to
posted by jessica at 7:15 AM on August 30, 2006

Best answer: If you're in the states, maybe hit Marshalls or Filene's Basement?
posted by rbs at 7:16 AM on August 30, 2006

Response by poster: When are end of season sales? When are "seasons"? It always seems like when it finally gets hot enough that I want to buy something summery, the stores have put away all their summer clothes and broken out the fall stuff.
posted by croutonsupafreak at 7:17 AM on August 30, 2006

I imagine your town has some nice consignment shops, where you'll be able to find contemporary business wear for less than the brand-new retail price.
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 7:18 AM on August 30, 2006 [1 favorite]

Hey crouton, I don't think you can train yourself to bargain shop like that. Women who love shopping are good at finding bargains. This is because they devote a lot of time to shopping (even that mall trip/online scouring thing seems like an awful lot of time). That said, I think Labor Day is pretty big on sales..

I think all the yuppie stores like Ann Taylor, J Crew, Kenneth Cole, have pretty fast rotations (IE sales rack) of business casual staples. any time I've bought crappy quality clothes they have fallen apart. I don't think you can really cheap out on well-made clothing (and fashionable people TOTALLY spot the difference if that is part of your motivation here).
posted by shownomercy at 7:26 AM on August 30, 2006

You're in Portland, right?

There is an outlet mall 35 miles south of Portland that might be a good bet. They've got a Banana Republic outlet store, and BR has some pretty good work stuff.

I'd probably check out the websites of some of the stores listed in their directory and see what sort of styles suited me and go down there and see if there was anything that suited me.
posted by mckenney at 7:26 AM on August 30, 2006

Jessica has a great strategy that I've employed... try it on at the store... buy it online. I've had great luck on E-bay buying good quality stuff like Dana Buchman and Rena Rowan for work wear. Often I find stuff the same season that it is offered in the store.
posted by kimdog at 7:26 AM on August 30, 2006

Ann Taylor Loft has a lot of perfectly acceptable work clothing at reasonable prices, and usually has sales going on all year. Banana Republic has better quality work clothes, and also usually has sales. Outlet stores are your friend too - you could probably get a decent season worth of clothing out of one trip to a big outlet town. Zara has decent stuff and is pretty cheap.

Don't be afraid of tailoring - lots of clothing won't fit you off the rack, but you can still keep it if you have it tailored. For example, almost all Banana Republic pants are too long for me - I get them all hemmed and they're fine. It does cost a little money, but I think it's worth it.

Why are you getting dresses? Mix and match skirts/pants and tops seem more versatile to me, if you don't want your boss to complain that you just wore them.

You can often find good clothing prices on ebay. If you have a body that typically fits a particular brand, it might be worth buying stuff on ebay, and reselling or tailoring if the stuff doesn't fit quite well.

Pay attention to good quality fabrics, tailoring and attention to detail for the stuff that is most noticeable, but for the camisole, for example, you can get away with much cheaper stuff.

And try to get stuff you really love - if you're going to we spending all this money, you should feel great in it. What makes me feel good is nice fabrics, flattering cuts, sometimes particular colors.
posted by Amizu at 7:28 AM on August 30, 2006

January is a good time for sales. I've had particularly good luck at the Banana Republic outlet after the holidays.

J Crew also has some awesome sales, particularly online (although they're running a non-returnable final sale right now). You can usually find a free shipping code with a quick google, and then return the clothes for free in the store. Fall stuff will start going on sale in Sept/Oct.
posted by robinpME at 7:35 AM on August 30, 2006

At stores like Banana Republic, you can get 10% off your total if you apply for their credit card at the time of purchase. (In the store. If you buy online, it's 10% off your next purchase.)

I don't know what the "seasons" are, but I was at the mall on Monday and the last bits of summer stuff were on sale. So I suppose now would be the time to be looking for the summer shoes and blazer on your list.

I second the outlet mall idea... I went to one of these recently too and there was a ton of good stuff on sale, especially as compared to the dregs left at the mall.
posted by xo at 7:35 AM on August 30, 2006

jumping in to second jessica's strategy. go to (for instance) ann taylor and try everything on, writing down in a notebook "ann pants: size 8 petite; jessica pants: size 6 regular". then you can pick up bargains on the website.

also, stick to the "garanimals" for adults designers (for instance, misook or eileen fisher) who sell everything each year in colors that go together. so you can pick up a basic piece in may and then when it goes on sale in july or september, liven it up with new pieces that still match.

finally, invest in one (or more) three piece suit (jacket, pants & dress or skirt) that is tailored to you. try brooks brothers. it's a bit of a cost upfront, but it makes all the difference.
posted by crush-onastick at 7:35 AM on August 30, 2006

I would definitely scour places like Marshall's, Loehman's, Filene's Basement, TJ Maxx, etc. These places are hit or miss and definitely require shopping skillz, but you can get some awesome deals on suiting and other professional wear...and SHOES!

For suiting, I would go to Macy's, Lord & Taylor, Nordstrom, and their West Coast equivalents (decent department stores), open a charge card there, and use it for your initial purchase to get 20% off what you're buying.

Go shopping labor day weekend too. Sales everywhere. Plan to spend a whole day scouring for your basic pieces.

Good luck!
posted by tastybrains at 7:40 AM on August 30, 2006

I second DSW. You also might find some good deals at Nordstrom Rack.
posted by amarynth at 8:05 AM on August 30, 2006

I don't suggest going to the Woodburn Outlets - they have a Banana Republic, but I have never really found business wear that I liked there.

I really suggest going Downtown. When I had to get my suits and business casual it was great to go to Pioneer Place and have Ann Taylor Loft, j. Crew, etc in the mall and then Nordstrom, Meier and Frank and The Rack a short walk away. I highly recommend Nordstrom Rack - which basically is Nordstrom's outlet store. You can find some amazing clothes, shoes and accessories there for great prices.

And don't be afraid of buying clothes that may be a little big/long in certain areas and getting it tailored - it's not as expensive as you think, and it ensures you get the perfect fit. Plus, some of the stores you may be shopping at offer free tailoring. so don't forget to ask.
posted by miss meg at 8:08 AM on August 30, 2006

xo mentioned the "10% off if you apply for the card" deal you can find at many places these days, but one thing that I haven't seen mentioned is to actually get and use one (or more) of those store credit cards. It's a bit penny-wise and pound-foolish, as the interest rates are pretty ridiculous on some of them (and make SURE to never be late with a payment, else they jack 'em up to usurious levels) but if cash-flow is a big issue, they can be very handy, especially for buying the high-priced items.

(Garanimals were kids clothes put out by Sears, I think. They had different animals printed on the tag, and you knew if you wore a giraffe top with a giraffe pair of pants, they matched.)
posted by Rock Steady at 8:08 AM on August 30, 2006

Holy crow, they still make 'em!
posted by Rock Steady at 8:10 AM on August 30, 2006

I've been to a handful of outlet malls in my life, and they all have the same pantyhose store. I can't remember the name of it now, but it's named after a brand of pantyhose so you'll know it when you see it. I'll bet that they have good socks, too.
posted by leapingsheep at 8:15 AM on August 30, 2006

Oh, and there's this: they don't do this in New York, so maybe they don't do it where you are either, but at least in southeastern Michigan on the day after Thanksgiving practically every store puts practically everything they sell on extremely reduced prices, and open really early at about six AM or something. Then as the day goes on the % you can save gets smaller. (Like, 50% of from 6-7, 40% off from 7-8, or whatever. I'm not exaggerating.) They're competing for all the Christmas shoppers, and some people do indeed finish all their Christmas shopping in that one day.
posted by leapingsheep at 8:19 AM on August 30, 2006

For good sale deals, I generally buy at the end of the season (ie, summer clothes now, fall clothes at the end of fall, winter clothes in March, &c.).

Also, Christmastime. Depending on what kind of season retailers are having, the deals can start before the holiday, but the days after, though vicious, can be awesome for deals. I recommend taking your iPod or friend, going to the big department stores as well as the stand alones, and wearing a tanktop & small skirt, plus as little else to facilitate trying things on in the aisles. Bring a bag big enough to put your coat in, because it will be hot. Steel yourself. Then, shop like you might die. Be rude. Beat people. Get awesome clothes dirt cheap.
posted by dame at 8:21 AM on August 30, 2006

okay. that makes me feel old. we americans of a certain age remember garanimals, which were clothes for children, marketed at new-fangled working moms, with a special system of tags which showed you which pieces matched (the tiger tops went with all tiger bottoms; the elephants with elephants, and so on). they still make garanimals, but the aggressive marketing of hassle-free dressing your children while you all rush around without leisure or coffee in the morning before school/work is long-gone.
posted by crush-onastick at 8:24 AM on August 30, 2006

I think your list looks good, but I too would leave off the dresses -- wait until you need evening/party wear. Spend the most you can afford on 'important' things (ie, stuff other women eye first and closely!) -- coats, jackets, shoes and bags, your hair! You can find bargains on slacks, skirts, sweaters, shirts, makeup, accessories -- and I'm also an advocate of the strategy of a try-on day in the field for those items, diligent note-taking, buying online.
posted by thinkpiece at 8:56 AM on August 30, 2006

Response by poster: This is awesome advice. I'm thinking I'll spend Saturday trying stuff on and taking notes of prices at the local mall, look stuff online that night, then check out the outlets Sunday before I decide what to buy.

I'm going to keep the dresses on my list (I like dresses), but I'll make them my very bottom priority.
posted by croutonsupafreak at 8:58 AM on August 30, 2006

If you have a Macy's near you, keep your eye out for their sales. They have nice suits and you can sometimes get them as much as 50% (or more, depending) off.
posted by Medieval Maven at 9:02 AM on August 30, 2006

crouton&c--i wouldn't take dresses off, particularly not if you're looking into suiting separates. a suiting dress is an extremely verstatile piece of a professional wardrobe: it goes under the jacket, or alone, or dressed-down with a cardigan or casual blazer, or dress-up with a nice wrap if you have to go to some sort of corporate vent or just out on a date after work.

more casual dresses are less versatile in professional wardrobe, but i snatch up any suit i can find that has a dress instead of a skirt because the life span (and utilty over the life span) is higher.
posted by crush-onastick at 9:11 AM on August 30, 2006

("wouldn't take the dresses off the list"--i would, of course, take them off at the end of the day or when they need laundering)
posted by crush-onastick at 9:12 AM on August 30, 2006

Ditto everyone on Nordstrom Rack. Mervyn's will be out of Oregon at the beginning of next year, if I understand correctly, but you might check them out for their career line called Hillard & Hansen. It is mid-priced and certainly not the quality that you would get from Nordstrom, but their suit items are lined, and they have most items in normal and petite lengths. It is a good bargain for the money, and you can just check the Sunday paper each week for sales.
posted by peep at 9:15 AM on August 30, 2006

Oh and ... do you have Zara shops? They are really fast and efficient at knocking off real runway looks in wearable ways with pretty decent quality and they offer the gamut -- play and career, shoes, bags, etc. There are a few here in NYC and I like to scout them for trendy things I don't want to spend serious cash on (peasanty skirts, 3/4 sleeve work jackets, greek-ish sandals, big white bag ...)
posted by thinkpiece at 9:17 AM on August 30, 2006

One thing to remember about sales is that they come in layers. When new merchandise is brought in (right now, Fall is coming in in most areas of North America) it's full price, with, perhaps, a special offer where you can buy multiple matching pieces and get a discount. Fall, though, is still a month away.

In a month, by the time fall actually gets here, you'll start to see all that stuff marked down to the first level of saleness. It might be another buy several pieces and get X off, or a scratch and save event, or just a small discount on the items. This is a pretty decent time to buy any items that are likely to be trendy - you have time to wear them this year, because you aren't going to wear them next year. There will also likely be some new fall stuff that's still full price, though.

By the time you're well into the season at hand, the next season is going to start coming into the store, and the earlier stuff is going to get it's next round of discounting. It's been moved to the middle of the store, and is slighly consolidated so you're not getting pretty displays anymore, but rather, stuff on separate racks. This is where the serious discounting happens, and is generally the best time to buy and get a decent discount (usually 25-50% off full price) coupled with a good selection of sizes and choices. This is the best time, in my experience, to buy quality basics.

The last round of discounting you'll see in stores is when stuff gets super pressed into a couple of sale racks at the back of the store, and marked down again, or offered at 'take an additional X% off'. This is the cheapest you'll be able to buy this stuff in the mall stores, but it's a point at which selection is down to things that are weird sizes or slightly damaged, so shop with care. You can sometimes get great deals on great things at this point, but often it's stuff that'll be out of season in a week, and out of fashion next year.
posted by jacquilynne at 10:24 AM on August 30, 2006 [2 favorites]

Can i recommend something that no one has mentioned? PLEASE don't buy cheap suits. please. the cuts are not elegant, the material *looks* cheap, and they won't last. (Ann Taylor LOFT suits are horrendous, btw: what's the point on spending $100 on the pants and $150 on the jacket if it *looks* cheap? the pants are cut like a circus tent, and the jackets have badly-styled lapels that go out-of-style after one season.)

what smart women do is spend $$$$ on 3 or 4 solid, timeless, elegant suits: you really only need black, gray, tan/white (brown, navy are optional). it's what you wear UNDERNEATH the suits is what people notice. This is where you can save your money. But you need to build your wardrobe around timeless suits. Then you can mix and match your blazers and pants very well.

what i am telling you is to rethink your strategy, and put most of your budget towards very good suits: tahari, armani, bcbg, etc...even jcrew, brooks brothers have more decent cuts than zara, ann taylor, banana republic, et-al).

SAVE your remaining money on the shoes, the turtlenecks, cardigans, separate skirts, accessories, etc., which you can find a-plenty at the bargain racks of banana republic, zara, the outlets, even h&m.
posted by naxosaxur at 10:56 AM on August 30, 2006 [1 favorite]

Even cheaper, if you don't mind scouring the racks: a good thrift store in a wealthy area. I've found some wonderful business casual wear in a local Goodwill where a number of rich women leave off clothes they've dieted (or gained) their way out of. Bonus: there's lots of turnover, and you can get a huge chunk of your wardrobe at a third of the cost of a new suit.
posted by limeonaire at 11:17 AM on August 30, 2006

I think everything I was going to say is covered, but I wanted to reiterate that you can often get really good deals on nice work clothes at Department stores (Nordstrom during one of their sales, which I believe are in July and January like in Europe, Macy's, Bloomingdale's, Lord & Taylor, etc.). Some of them carry really good brands (I like INC at Macy's & Bloomies, Jones New York is mostly "older" but sometimes they have nice things and it's always on sale).

And also, you said you want everything to fit perfectly when you try it on -- this is SO rare, I suggest finding things you like, and classy versatile items, and having them tailored to fit you. Things look SO much nicer when they're shaped for your body...
posted by echo0720 at 11:23 AM on August 30, 2006

Response by poster: I appreciate your advice, naxosaxur, but my salary is fairly small so I'm going to have to take it with a grain of salt -- unless I'm way over-estimating the cost of an Armani suit.

It's tough to be the new kid on the block, when all the folks I'm surrounded by have 20-plus years of experience (and 20 years of gradual spending on clothes, 20 years of pay increases).

Sounds like JCrew and Brooks Brothers might be good places to look, though.
posted by croutonsupafreak at 11:39 AM on August 30, 2006

a good thrift store in a wealthy area

Refining this further, a good consignment shop in a middle-income area. Those will have last years' clothes that don't fit anymore, rather than donations. (In a wealthy area, you don't bother trying to sell them on consignment.)
posted by mendel at 11:55 AM on August 30, 2006

Stein Mart isn't in Oregon, but if you travel to a city with one, it's worth checking out. It's your TJMaxx/Loehmann's/Ross-type store, but ten times nicer stuff and very affordable. (By way of comparison, TJMaxx and Ross carry lines you find at Macy's and Penney's. Stein Mart carries lines you find at Nordstrom and Neiman's.)

Why no black pants? Two or three pair of wool trousers, one black and one charcoal, can last you forever because you can literally put anything with them. The problem is that navy trousers look dowdy and are difficult to match and recycle... khaki connote more casual environment... and anything else isn't neutral enough.

On the same line, I would also recommend against getting your suit in a light color. You simply can't use the separates if you go with something that isn't black or dark gray.

For whatever it might be worth, I feel like trousers, jackets and shoes are the place to spend your real money. It's the first place that ill fit and cheap construction will show.

For your more throwaway pieces, i.e. the tees, camis, and seasonal things to wear under blazers or with sweaters, etc., don't dismiss Target. They've got a couple of "career separates" lines that will produce some perfectly lovely 100% cotton suit tees, knit tanks, and the like, and you can get your trendy colors without breaking the bank, until you can afford $50 shells.

Additionally, don't completely dismiss Old Navy forever amen. It can save your hide in leaner months. If you are extremely shrewd, you can find basic, classic pieces there. The key is to go with the higher end (yes, ON has better-made items at higher price points) solids (ON prints will always look cheap) with very traditional cuts and which fit perfectly. I've got an ON gray wool flannel pencil skirt that is on its second year, and with expensive shoes and blouse, it's fine for workdays.

Also, it sounds counter-intuitive but dry-cleaning (or Dryel-ing) your less expensive things will keep them nice for longer. It's not the wear that inexpensive clothes can't stand up to, it's the laundering and ironing.
posted by pineapple at 12:40 PM on August 30, 2006

Response by poster: Why no black pants?

I already have two really nice pairs of black pants.
posted by croutonsupafreak at 12:51 PM on August 30, 2006

In some parts of the country, Value City sells clothes, and they're sometimes a good bet for those.
posted by dilettante at 2:27 PM on August 30, 2006

It's been said, but I don't think it's been emphasized enough—bring your clothes to a tailor! Get stuff tailored! The difference is really amazing in how much better your clothes will look and fit, after you get someone to alter them, not just hemming.
posted by hooray at 8:09 PM on August 30, 2006

Since I know my sizes and the labels I prefer, I have had tremendous luck on ye olde Ebay - it might not won't have everything you need, but I've found Talbot's separates and the like for pennies on the dollar.
posted by deliriouscool at 12:46 PM on September 14, 2006

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