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How to Shop a New York Sample Sale

Fashionista tourists: scoop up these 20 tips for the best bargains

Some tourists come to New York City to gorge on Tony-nominated musicals or dine at Zagat-starred establishments. But fashion lovers flock for sample sales, where designers and stores offer discounts on their samples used for advertising, fashion shows or presentations, returns and extras at up to 90 percent off of retail.

Saving money is always in style, but spring is especially joyful for visiting bargain hunters due to an abundance of sample sales across the city.

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Many of them are planned well in advance and become regular events for tourists. You can find multiple generations of family members or groups of longtime girlfriends arriving from around the country, bringing empty suitcases for their yearly haul.

Some shoppers even pay to attend the sales — 200 people just donated to a charity to gain advance entry to the upcoming Lafayette 148 sample sale with a full size-range from petites to plus.

At these sales, anything goes — young mothers bring tiny babies; grandmothers bring an entourage. One wedding party attended a Teri Jon sample sale, bought new gowns and headed straight to the nuptials.

If you decide to be a sample sale tourist, prep for a marathon — those with experience often pop two Tylenols or take Tums, since stress rises during those times you feel someone breathing down your neck to steal your stash.

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Here are 20 tips on how to shop these, and other, sales to get the best goods:

1. Wear flats. High heels signal that you’re a novice, plus there’s the comfort factor.

2. Come with an attitude. It can be fight or flight at sample sales, so when you spot something appealing, move in on the item, or risk a situation. People have been known to tussle over a piece of clothing.

3. Use it as a networking opportunity. The trend is to invite a colleague or prospect to cement a connection made bargain-hunting while you have each other’s back.

4. Don’t let someone talk you out of a score. A “friendly” shopper tried to do that with a Tracy Reese dress worn by Michelle Obama. I didn’t let her. When I wore the dress, 20 people came over to admire it.

5. Score friends-and-family invites. Ask around in advance (social media is great for this) to see if you know anyone with a plum invitation to a private sale, and ask to be a plus-one. A new friend took me to a private Pucci sale, replete with individual try-on rooms, mirrors and guest chairs.

6. Don’t shop early and often. While speed is of the essence once you’re in, you don’t need to hit every sample sale. They happen frequently enough that you’ll be able to catch one faster than a lift with Uber.

7. Don’t juice before a sale. Restrooms are rare or may be located on another floor.

8. Stalk your brands on social media. Special sales or coupon codes may be posted on the designer’s or store’s Facebook, Twitter or Instagram feeds.

9. Go incognito. Wear a no-brand outfit, so no one will nab your clothes while you’re trying on sale items. This actually happened to me. In less time than it takes to text, other shoppers ransacked my pile. The savvy salespeople at Tracy Reese negotiated the return of my frock with the diplomat skills that Secretary of State John Kerry would envy.

10. Sales operate like airlines. No carrier likes to fly empty. To keep crowds coming, merchants deepen discount on the last day of a sale, especially in May and June.

11. Weight-lift at the gym and step up your yoga. Advance prep will help you carry more merch into the dressing room — if you can find one. And balance maneuvers will help you maintain your ground in the crowds, especially waiting in line for entry (which can be more than an hour for blockbuster sales).

12. Time pressed? Pick a retailer’s sale rather than a “jobber’s,” that is, a wholesaler’s. Retailers likely offer a better selection of a particular brand’s line.

13. Bring a friend or two. You may need help protecting your turf, since the best bargains attract teams of four or more shoppers who grab loads of goods and hoard them until they make their choices. Take turns looking for shoppers’ discards before they make it back on the racks.

14. Forgot or lost your department store coupon? Ask the cashier for one. An experienced shopper told us: “A lot of Macy’s cashiers have a list of “coupon codes” taped under the keyboard. Also, if you have a credit card or loyalty membership with a certain store, the coupons they send you appear in their computer when they look up your file via your drivers license number.”

15. If you’re easily unnerved by busy sales, ignore the crowds. “Try to mind your own business and take what you need,” another seasoned shopper advises.

16. Always wear a tank or tee. That way, you can try on blazers or tops without stripping down.

17. Have an exit strategy. If you shop a final sample sale or find that there are no returns, would you gift your purchase, sell at a consignment or donate to a charity?

18. Check your receipt. Chaotic lines lead to errors — I’ve been overcharged twice on the same day.

19. Be prepared to part with your purse. To stave off sample sale theft, there is often a bag and coat check. The guy at Moschino told the ladies that they could keep their bags, as long as they weren’t as big as a Volkswagen.

20. Try a little patience. Waiting has its rewards. A Millennial mom I know prefers to head to sales on Day 2 or 3 to avoid the initial crush. She still manages to make impressive scores, including getting a $1,500 YSL bag for $250 and a $1,000 Ralph Lauren blue knit dress for $100.

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Travel Worthy Spring Sample Sales (A Sampling):

May 3-7: Haviland China, 317 W. 33rd (9 a.m.-6 p.m.)
May 6-7: 148 Lafayette Street, 2nd Floor (9 a.m.-7 p.m.)
May 6-7: Ben Amun Jewelry, 256 W. 38th St, 12A (Noon-6 p.m.)
May 12-16: Hickey Freeman, 317 W. 33rd (9 a.m.-6 p.m.)
May 31: Tory Burch, 261 W. 36th St.
June 7- 8: Teri Jon, 241 West 37th Street, 2nd Floor

Nancy Brenner blogs on fashion at garmentdistrictdiva.tumblr.com covering fashion from the sample sale bins to the front row. Follow her on Twitter @samplesalediva

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