Do Your Homework

If you’ve ever walked into one of these discount retailers like Loehmann’s, TJ Maxx, Marshalls, Daffy’s, etc., you’re usually bombarded with items that are cheaper than the department store prices.  The thing you need to keep in mind…you’re not always getting the best deal.

Take for instance the Valentino scarf.  Each scarf retails somewhere between $330-$540 in finer department stores. 

I’ve seen Valentino scarves hit sample sale sites for somewhere between $105-$300.  Good deal, right?

At Loehmann’s, I found the scarves discounted at $99.  Getting better, right?

How much did I pay for my closet full of Valentino scarves?  At Daffy’s, I paid $50 for each scarf.  That means that I paid 9%-15% of the retail price at Daffy’s.  They didn’t even have the scarves in the discount bin or on clearance.  That was their starting price.  Imagine if I did find their scarves in the clearance bin…talk about even bigger savings!

I actually spent a lot of time in Loehmann’s last night…just looking for a good deal.  I was in there a very long time, because the deals I’m used to were very hard to find there.  By the time I headed to the counter, I had a pair of Ellen Tracy kitty heels and a Pink Tartan cashmere shell in hand. 

The retail price for both items came to $304.  I paid $44.12.  Even the sales lady was shocked at the deal I found…and I had to look for a very, very, very, very, very long time to find these deals (in my size). 

The Pink Tartan top came to $14.  I found it on their clearance rack with the take an extra 60% off sticker on it.  Considering I’ve been trying to get a Pink Tartan top from Gilt.com for about a year now when it hits their sample sale…this deal was far better than any sale that Gilt could have offered.  Same goes with the Ellen Tracy kitty heels. 

For those who are a bit astounded by these deals, here’s the trick to how I’ve been building my fantasy wardrobe.

1.  Shop around.  I shop around. 

Don’t always lay your debit card down when you see a sale.  Sometimes you can do one better at either a sample sale site or other discount retailer.  It only benefits you to know who is selling what you want and their prices.

I usually stop into Daffy’s each week to see what new stuff they have.  It’s very rare that I see the same stuff over and over again.  There’s always new stuff and new displays.

Daffy’s is probably one of the best ways to comparison shop in NYC.  I have found the biggest discounts with them.  Knowing what they have and what they offer, when I go to other retailers (like Loehmann’s or Bolton’s), I know what Daffy’s going price is for the item.  It helps me to decide what the better deal is. 

No, that Valentino scarf at Loehmann’s is not a deal…but those Ellen Tracy heels are.  Pink Tartan?  They don’t sell the brand at Daffy’s, but on Gilt, the same sweater was $44 last month.  I was willing to pay that amount at the time (before they sold out in my size).  So $14 is definitely a steal that shouldn’t be passed up!

Don’t always rush to buy things when you see the big SALE sign come up.  I’ve found that a little bit of patience will score that item at a lesser price.  Who knows?  You may decide a month later you don’t really want that DKNY dress after all.

Also, you never want to have buyer’s remorse a month later when you see how that same item went down by a lot!  You can’t return it because you wore it already.  You can’t do a price adjustment because that period had expired. 

Sometimes it’s better to wait it out for a better price.  If it’s meant to be yours, you’ll find it at a lower price you are willing to pay (and be happy about it).  If it’s not meant to be yours…then it won’t resurface.

2.  Have Patience.  I have only ONE friend that has patience enough to sort through the racks like I do.  All of my other friends would rather pay the retail price at their favorite retailer than to bother sorting through racks.

If you’re like me and realize that a true shopaholic finds the adventure and excitement in finding and scoring an amazing deal…then you know that patience is virtuous. 

I am a stickler about quality.  I only stick with designers that have a consistent history of putting out fashionable and qualitative merchandise.  It’s like my love affair with Valentino…I know his workmanship just by touching the fabric.  I know it belongs to him before I even check the tag.

Finding the right items for a fantasy wardrobe lies completely in incorporating items that will last you the next 20-30 years (and still be fashionable).  Those are the couture pieces.  Finding those pieces at prices you can afford or are willing to pay…it takes patience and waiting for the right time to pounce on a deal that is too good to be true.

I’ve bought Valentino shoes for less than $100, a dress for $2, scarves for $50, sunglasses for $60.  It took patience and a lot of looking around different sample sale sites and discount retailers to find Valentino for under $100.  When I did find it, you better believe I bought it! 

When you walk into these giant discount retailers, go in with patience to sort through racks upon racks of merchandise.  You’ll always find a hidden jem somewhere that’s on some back wall with a big clearance tag plus an extra big percentage off.  It will be a huge steal.  That’s what you’re looking for in the hunt.

For me, if I see something I like, I then look at the quality, designer, and then the price (in that order).  If any of them do not agree with my likes…it’s not worth the buy. 

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Now, some people may get the idea that I’m a bit snobbish when it comes to what I buy…only buying designer.  I buy both designer and non-designer.  What determines if I buy something non-designer…it has to be a basic staple item (like a tee, cardigan, tank, pants, etc.) because these are items you’ll always wear, which means you’ll have a slightly higher turnover.  When I buy designer, I’m buying an ‘investment piece’ for the wardrobe.

When I want to feel beautiful…I wear Valentino.  It’s one thing to wear something beautiful, quite another to radiate beauty from within.  His clothing gives me the confidence I need to feel beautiful, all the way down to the way the silk feels touching my body…like a whisper.  That, to me, is worth the investment. 

Very few pieces of clothing have ever made me feel that way.  Valentino, on the other hand, always makes me feel that beauty confident.  That’s why I invest in his clothing.

I know women like to pay a lot for designer shoes.  I won’t wear designer shoes outdoors…only indoors.  I wear cheap flats wherever I can get them for outdoors (Charlotte Russe is one of my faves). 

Rule of thumb, I never spend a lot on fad items (like this season’s neon color).  If it went out of style back in the 80s and had to wait almost 15-20 years to re-emerge…it’s a fad item.

Of course, you could keep those fad items for when it re-emerges 15-20 years later…but you would be banking on your body never changing, never being ruined in storage, won’t be too young for you when the trend re-emerges, and that it will survive all those years of lugging it around from one home to the next.

You invest in the pieces that you will wear again and again for the rest of your life.  When you pick up a fad trend, spend very little money on it, knowing you’ll be donating it within a year or two.

Because I’ve had over 15 years to build my wardrobe with the basic necessities (from little black dresses, underwear, coats, suits, etc.), I can now start adding couture pieces…one at a time.  Once upon a time, that was so far out of reach, but thanks to living in NYC, discount retailers and sample sale sites, it’s made that fantasy more realistic without going into debt for that dream.

Just remember that couture deals are to be had…you just have to have patience…and you have to go looking for it!  Like I say, if you want something badly enough…it will eventually come into your universe when the moment is right.

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Thinking about fads and keeping them…

I’m reminded of the things my mother packed up and kept as a memory of her years before having me.  That just so happened to be her first clothes when she came to America back in 1972.  Back then, she was a little itty bitty woman…90 pounds, 5 feet tall.

She had these bell bottom jeans in several different colors with faces of people on it.  They were ugly…and I do mean ugly!  But she loved them for some reason.  She thought that a) they would come back in style, and b) that she’d one day return to her 20-something figure. 

Forty years later, they would have made for awesome handbags, because those jeans never came back in style again, yet she kept them thinking that after two children she’d be able to get back into her clothes again.  Forget about the age 30+ spread and the post-baby fat that NEVER goes away.  That dream just never came to fruition…and those jeans ended up disappearing in a trash bin 25 years later during the divorce.

We moved from home to home several times in my youth.  Those jeans survived all the way to when I finally went off to college.  It was only then that she finally let them go, admitting the truth to herself.  It never came back in style…she never got her old body back.

If you’re going to keep something that long…either upcycle them into something you could use (even as a piece of canvased artwork, those jeans would have been cool on display…but not to wear) or let it be something iconic like a Diane von Furstenberg wrap dress that has still been in style since she first introduced them to the world (just watch a young Cybill Shepherd in Robert DeNiro’s legendary “Taxi Driver” from 1976…that DVF dress never went out of style) …or save something iconic like what Jackie O or Hepburn would have worn.  Look to the fashion icons and follow their lead.  Those are the pieces you keep…never the fad items.

About Michelle Kenneth

Michelle Kenneth has been a member of the NHL credentialed media covering the New Jersey Devils since 2008 for Inside Hockey. She is the owner or PerfectionistWannabe.com.