Shopping is a skill – and a practical one! I always thought that they could teach a course on it in college. It’s not just important how to make money; it’s important to know what to do with it when you’ve got it so you don’t spend it all! Shopping is fun. There’s a reason why they call it retail therapy. But if you want to get some bang for your buck, you have to pay attention to the items you buy, their quality, and the timing of your purchases.
I wish I had millions of dollars. I don’t, but that doesn’t stop me from looking like a million bucks. (And not all the time - I’ve got my jeans days, and I break out my flip flops and cut off shorts…. but you can dress me to the nines when the occasion calls for it.)
There are three things I love: shoes, hand bags, and lip glosses. (And men have their addictions, too – I know several who can’t pass up yet one more watch, or another pair of sunglasses.)
Don’t ask me how many shoes and hand bags I own. I never counted. At last count I had over 50 lip glosses in my current rotation; and yes, I use them all! (But not at the same time!) However, when it comes to my first two addictions, not just any old bag or pair of shoes will do. Now, I don’t need designer flip flops, and quite frankly, I wouldn’t want any – because flip flops are meant to take a beating, get wet and sandy, and I think I would cry if I ruined any pair of Manolos. But to me, certain brands do mean quality, and I am willing to invest in quality that lasts over time, when I know that I’m not going to be in situations that demolish my designer duds. (I don’t paint houses in Prada, and I won’t wear Gucci gardening. Get it?) And even within designer brands, not everything is quality.
I’m not a coupon clipper. I can’t be bothered. I don’t have the time. I don’t want to fish through my bag for tons of clippings for percentages off that I may or may not use before the expiration date. And most of the time, for me, except for make-up, the fashion houses I covet know that their wares are worth it, and don’t even bother with offering the kinds of discounts you clip and snip. However, give me a good online offer, and you’ve got my attention. I can’t remember the last time I paid full price for something or didn’t get a freebie at Sephora. And recently, Jimmy Choo was having an online sale, and I super clicked my way to savings. That said, there are sales on premium purchases. You just have to know where to look – and when.
So I will share some of my tips with you for shopping on the chic.
It’s Not the Quantity; It’s the Quality
Yes, I have a closet devoted entirely to shoes. I don’t know how many pairs I have. It would take too long to count. Suffice it to say, the stacks of shoe boxes run as tall as me. However, I didn’t accumulate this quantity of quality overnight. It’s taken years of shopping to find what I like, and to get it at a price I can afford. I also have a large hand bag collection. Again, I didn’t just go out last weekend and buy them all.
What I do is buy maybe two or three high-end designer hand bags, or pairs of shoes every year that I truly covet. I look for luxe materials like the softest, buttery leather that will last a lifetime and in classic colors. Some people buy five, six or more bags a year – but they are cheaper and quite frankly, not quality, and they don’t last a lifetime. They are lucky if they last six months of wear and tear before the zipper breaks or the lining rips. So meanwhile, they are probably spending just as much or more on bags as me, for something that is here today, and gone to the dumpster tomorrow. I choose to spend my money on fewer designer pieces than a myriad of lower quality selections that won’t stand the test of time. Truth be told, I’d rather have one pair of exceptionally expensive sunglasses than 5 dime store shades that fall apart after a day on the beach, or a single big Bvlgari bangle than tons of trinkets I wouldn’t have a place to put. So if you want your brand names, save your money and shop carefully, occasionally, and remember, it’s not a race to the finish line – those with the most don’t win anything – except for disposable deals.
Don’t Let the Labels Lie to You
I remember about ten years ago, Coach brand bags were “all it”. If you had a Coach bag it was looked upon as a status symbol. It was worth something. Their bags were leather and withstood the test of time. Then something happened. Coach wanted to market to the masses. So they created this line called “Poppy”. It was perky and trendy and guess what? It was canvas and crappy. The bags were lighter in weight and lower in leather. They were less expensive than their luxury leather line, but Poppy was still a pretty penny. Then, over the past five years, you could still find leather Coach bags, but they started to incorporate larger amounts of cheaper materials like straw, more canvas and cloth, and still charge the same price. So people were paying for the name, but not getting the same quality. Additionally, the lower price tags on some of the items made them more attainable for some to get their status symbols, but what were they really getting for their money?
So while certain brands may signify quality, the buyer should beware and really look at each item in terms of it lasting long enough for it to be worth their money. Every fashion house has higher end pieces in their lines and lower end ones. However, the price tags don’t always reflect this. Look at Louis Vuitton. You’ll pay almost just as much for a denim cloth bag as you would for another purse from their classic monogram line. Decide wisely. Some pieces are not meant to stand the test of time. Usually accessories that are more trendy are meant for those where money is not a concern and they’ve got a landslide of Louis’s at home.
Shop Sales – Designers Do It Differently
This may seem obvious but not too many people take advantage of seasonal sales – because they don’t know where they are and their timing is all wrong. Flagship and local stores want to clear out their winter merchandise and switch over to spring. Summer is barely over and they want to push their winter wares. They want to display the latest and greatest on their mannequins and in their store windows. Yet, the average shopper will never see a 50% off sign in a Michael Kors store window, or a billboard saying that last season’s Christian Louboutins are now reduced. Why? Because these high-end designers do it differently.
Let me explain: About three weeks after the New Year, the flagship stores are gearing up for featuring their spring lines. They ship all of the leftover “last season’s” merchandise to their outlet stores all over the country. This is where the sales are – the designer outlets. You’ll see sales (sometimes unadvertised) start to surface at the outlets pretty much at the beginning of that third week in January. Timing is everything. Remember, the sales people will get first picks. If they see something come off of those trucks that’s a good buy, they’ll buy it. But you want to be next in line. So stalk those stores. Go at an off-time if you can – like during weekdays. Develop a relationship with the sales people there so they will give you a heads up when the newest, “old” bags will arrive. And when I say develop a relationship – I mean that you have to buy things from the store from time to time. Don’t expect them to just like you for being you. They can spot a mooch in an instant. They know a loyal customer when they see one – come into the store and buy things again and again (and sometimes that does mean paying full price … so save your money!)
Some people go outlet shopping year-round. While you can find eclectic pieces by chance year-round, the largest offerings with the biggest not-picked-through selections can be found in mid-January and mid-August, when stores do their biggest seasonal swaps.
There are also high-end stores, like Coco Pari in Red Bank, NJ that cater to designer brands like Hervé Leger, Christian Louboutin, Jimmy Choo, René Caovilla, and a myriad of others. These stores want to turn over their seasonal offerings, too. Unless you do a drive by their store, you can find out about which lines are marked down periodically via Twitter and Facebook . Again, look for incredible finds at a deep discount starting around mid-January through the end of that month, and again in mid-August. There are other sales, but the size selection on those discounted items may be narrowed down at other times of the year.
ebay is Your Friend
I’ve bought designer shoes and bags on ebay. While this may sound scary to some, any vendor worth their weight will show many photos of the merchandise, with labels intact, from all angles, and have impeccable ratings. You can do your research, too, and email the men (and women) behind the madness. Ask them where they got their merchandise from or to send you additional photos if you are still not sure about something. Ask about their return policy. Ask if they have an original receipt or certificate of authenticity. And never, ever pay cash for something to protect yourself from fraud.
A great way to test the waters is to buy a previously owned designer bag or a once-worn pair of shoes in your size and see what you get. These kinds of classic pieces will be in excellent condition (or should be), and offered at a reduced price. Some people never want to be seen wearing the same shoes twice and their “trash” can be your “treasure”. When it comes to bags, look for natural wear and tear on the leather. Ask to see the lining in photos. Some scuffs can be shined right out with a good leather cleaner and a bit of TLC. Shoes – they can always be re-heeled if they are worn a little thin or lopsided for under $20 at a shoe maker.
If you buy a second-hand pair of shoes, don’t worry – if they are Jimmy Choo, Christian Louboutin, or Manolo Blahnik – they should feel weightless on your feet and more comfortable than anything you’ve ever worn if you get the right size. There are European size conversion charts online that are very accurate. You’re not buying Payless here. There is no toe-scrunching or heel pinching involved. You’ll get a great pair of shoes for your pennies.
Once you know that certain ebay vendors are not selling knock-offs by getting your goods and verifying that they sell authentic designer pieces, go back and see what they offer from time to time. Sometimes they get brand new designer duds that they offer up for a sale price, too, and you will know that it’s the real deal if you make the investment. I got some new Jimmy Choos this way, and a Prada dress.
Don’t Worry About the Numbers
A classic wardrobe addition is when you add something that’s tasteful and timeless to your closet. When I say don’t worry about the numbers, what I mean is that when you are wearing a tweed skirt, or a classic navy blue and white dress, a black pair of stilettos, or sport that charcoal gray handbag – no one will know that it’s from last season and not this one. They don’t tattoo 2012 on the tags or across the chest. If you are not buying a fluorescent orange tank top, that’s screaming “this season only”, you can feel confident that making an investment in something from a coveted designer you can wear year after year, will be worth it. Again, with certain designers, you will find that the comfort, fit, stitching, and attention to detail is what sets these threads apart from the rest.
Not everything I wear is designer, but I like to mix in a few quality pieces with what I have when I can. It’s fun, and I like owning pieces that won’t wear threadbare after one year of washing.
Recently I found this navy blue and white striped Michael Kors dress and I saved a bundle on it. Why? Because it’s from the Spring 2012 collection, and now it’s 2013. I can wear this alone or with a blazer, and not just this year, but I picture myself pulling this out in years to come. Similarly, I didn’t need a purple sweater, but I couldn’t pass up this one from Michael Kors (original retail price $100) that was in my size for $20. The store might want to think Spring, but it’s still 20 degrees outside and I’ve got a few more weeks of winter to wear this! And I couldn’t find one that was as high quality for less at a chain store if I wanted to!
Stalk Sample Sales
If you’ve got really tiny feet, or can slink into a sample size (0 or 2), it’s definitely worth your while to travel to sample sales. Designers sometimes do a practice run for fashion shows and come out with limited edition shoes and clothing (sometimes even hand bags – but not as often), that they offer up usually for one day only in a metropolitan venue like New York City. These sample sales also consist of items that have been on display in stores and haven’t sold by the time the season is up.
Sometimes you hear about these sample sales from fashion or clothing websites like Net-a-Porter via their newsletters, or even the big Condé Nast publications (Allure, Vogue, etc.) let the news leak on their websites or Facebook pages. Beauty bloggers and vloggers sometimes share the news, too if you subscribe to any. I’ve even seen people handing out flyers on the streets of Manhattan announcing sample sales.
Again, let the buyer beware. Before you go – go do your research. Take a look at the linings, monograms, and labels of your targeted designer merchandise in stores so you know that you’re not getting knock-offs at the sale. And be prepared to pay cash with a no returns policy. This means know your size in each brand – jot them down on a sticky note, or key it into your iPhone – sometimes your size is specific to a designer.
It Pays to Subscribe
I subscribe to all of the online newsletters of my favorite fashion finds. You can do this right on their websites. Sometimes that’s the only way you can find out about an online sale! Subscribers snap up the sizes fast, especially when it comes to shoes, so be sure to click on over as soon as you have a chance. It’s not just last season’s clearance that they put up for grabs either! Sometimes designers want to get their new line seen and out and about in the real world, so you can find discounted new items this way, too. The key is to act quick. Most people think subscribing to newsletters provides them with an email box full of spam. While there can be clutter, you can usually quickly weed out the sales that interest you. I like looking at previews of what’s to come down the pike, too!
Happy Shopping! If you’ve got any shopping on the chic tips, please post them in the comments below!
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