How To Navigate A Scary Sample Sale

Sample sales are akin to war. The act of shopping at sample sales can be super distressing. First off, you have to battle yourself, asking if a sample item is really worth the spend, if it's not something you want simply because it's cheap, and if you would actually pay full retail price for it. There are plenty of tips and things to consider when shopping sample sales, but there are also intangible elements to prep for that have nothing to do with the clothes.

You also have to battle fellow well-heeled sample salers and shoppers who are on the warpath, ready, willing, and able to engage in battle and claw your eyes out over a rare, affordable item by an expensive designer, perfect manicure be damned. It's an emotional and physical experience, one that may leave you wiped out and not because you are carrying heavy, stuffed-to-the-brim shopping bags full of fashion scores that you can immediately incorporate into your wardrobe or sell on eBay at a profit.

Navigating a sample sale is similar to shopping for an investment bag or vintage/thrift/consignment shopping. As long as you suit up mentally, you'll be fine — but they can be downright nasty. These are the usual emotional and survival stages of navigating a sample sale.

1. The "OMG, What's My Budget" Stage

Before you go, make sure you have the proper payment method. Some sales are cash only. Some take cards. Don't show up without proper funding options or you will already be behind, obviously. Next, set your budget. Decide if you are going to score as many items as possible, if you are only after key basics, or splurge-worthy specifics. Allow yourself a budget to splurge on one big item if you are able. I learned at my first few sample sales that not having an advance plan or agenda could get me in trouble quick and I could end up with too many items I didn't really love or having to put back ones that I really did.

2. The "Divide And Conquer" Stage

If you go with a friend, don't be shopping buddies. Sample sale shopping is best as a solo endeavor. There is no strength in numbers in this case. You each have your own agenda, so divide and conquer. Once, I went with a friend, I found myself repeatedly annoyed that she kept asking my opinion on stuff she was indecisive about. I had to worry about my purchases and nabbing stuff I wanted, not hers. Selfish? Maybe. But this is war.

3. The "Ignoring Normal Shopping Rules" Stage

Normal shopping rules (especially pertaining to sizes) don't apply at sample sales, but that won't stop your brain from trying to use them out of familiarity. These are samples, remember. Also, price tags at a sample sales are different than those in the real world. Designer sample sales don't automatically mean cheap. It's more like cheaper, so recognize that going in. I struggled with that when I cashed in my sample sale V-card. I almost walked out. But here's what you have to do: Forget what you know. Unlearn. Yes, it's maddening — but don't fight it.

4. The "Oh No She Didn't" Stage

Inevitably, you will find yourself eyeing the same thing that someone else is. Be prepared to lunge, forgetting all your etiquette and manners. If you like something, even moderately, grab it and hold onto it because nothing sucks more than going back and finding that it's long gone. If you're on the fence about something, hold onto it for a few, since you can always put it back if you ultimately decide against it.

Also, be prepared to be treated the same way. Someone will bump into you and not excuse herself while on the way to the leather skirt section. Someone will cut in front of you to nab something because she thinks you may have your eye on it. So don't get mad or divert from your appointed rounds. Keep shopping.

5. The "Overthinking It" Stage

You will find an item, be it a top or even a handbag, and it will be imperfect. There will be some loose threads. Maybe the stitching or shape is slightly uneven. Like with vintage or consigned pieces, you will have to decide if you're willing to drop extra cash to have it altered or repaired. This is a good time to revert back to the overall rule of Sample Sale Shopping: "Am I buying it because I genuinely like it, or because it's a big brand name?" If it's the latter, you should probably put the piece back on the shelf.

6. The "Victory Lap" Stage

Once you have sorted through your finds, pare them down to the ones you are definitely buying, ditching the items you want less. It's tough, but you'll get through it. Then, do another final lap and see if you've missed anything someone has ditched. Someone else's castoff is someone else's treasure, you know? I can't tell you how many times I have found one last piece that I didn't see or wasn't available on the first go 'round. Score.

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