Chasing Davies: Shopping Tips from I Try Stuff On

March 26, 2011

Shopping Tips from I Try Stuff On

Guest post by blogger at I Try Stuff On (So You Don't Have To)...Enjoy!

I strive to be as well-dressed as possible but aim to spend as little as possible.  Isn't this a familiar tune?  I recently had a week off from work before starting at a new law firm and decided to make it a week dedicated to shopping.  Yes, I spent a lot of money.  But I also used a few frugal-friendly shopping techniques that I hope can help others, even if you don't have reason to shop at a NYC department store.

I should note that my starting price-point is much higher than the price-point of the average Jane, and because my grandmother passed along a love of finely crafted Italian shoes, it might seem as if I spend a lot (but in reality I sort of don't...).  I usually do two major shopping trips a year, and supplement it with small monthly purchases which I attempt to keep under $200/month (impulse purchases, trendy items, etc.).

I know when to splurge for quality (hello, Manolo Blahnik mary janes going on year 3) and when to skimp on price (hello, burnout tees on the clearance rack at Urban Outfitters that barely last one summer).  I hope that my shopping techniques can help other fashion-conscious women achieve a frugal yet extremely fashionable existence.

On that note, I have pulled five frugal-friendly shopping tips that I have either recently discussed on my blog,  I TRY STUFF ON (SO YOU DON'T HAVE TO), or have planned to discuss in the next few weeks.

Shopping Tip #1 - eBay, eBay, eBay!

I recently was interviewed for a Women's Wear Daily article on shopping habits of professional women in NYC (no link provided due to anonymity, as they used my real name and also used my photo in the article).  Every woman mentioned eBay as a source of affordable yet stylish clothing.  This was not some survey fluke -- eBay is an excellent source to find brand-new or nearly-brand-new clothing at a steep discount.  Some women mentioned that they even used eBay to find affordable vintage items.  If you have your heart set on a particular item, you may not be able to find it.  But if you are just generally looking for silk tops to wear to work, you can easily find some affordable and classy contenders, especially if you don't care about the brand and are willing to consider items that may have been worn by someone else a few times.

One recent clothing acquisition during my week of shopping came from eBay.  It is a Cynthia Steffe silk shirt and was purchased on eBay for $19.99 (shipping was extra).  It was apparently only worn once by the seller (a claim I believe because the shirt is in flawless condition).  This v-neck button down shirt has a slightly lacy color, some minor front ruffles and cap sleeves.  Can't you just see this top softening up a stern black suit while still looking entirely professional?

Shopping Tip #2 - Always check your local discount stores, whether it be a T.J.Maxx, a Marshalls, or something like a Century 21 that may carry more expensive brands!

Certain designers rotate in and out of these stores and if you go in at the right time, you can score some major deals.  My first designer purchase at Century 21 was an Armani skirt for $109, and it was originally priced at over $500.  My biggest discount was a Jean Paul Gaultier silk button-down blouse for $79, and the original price tag of $699 was still attached!  Sometimes the designers are boring, but if you visit at the "right" time, you will be able to purchase some terrific brands.   However, you have never know when that "right time" is, so be patient and diligent.  And, of course, be prepared to spend time digging though potentially-unorganized racks of clothing.

I purchased another silk shirt at Century 21 (the organized and awesome Queens location, not the tourist-infected location in lower Manhattan).  This Marc by Marc Jacobs polka-dot silk top has sleeves with little ruffles, a crew-neck style neckline, a button-down front, and a cute front sash.  I am wearing it tucked into a standard pencil skirt (which I did not purchase).  Again, this is a very comfortable top but will look great with a very standard "lawyer" suit.  If I am going out after work I can ditch the suit jacket and wear the top and the suit skirt alone and not look so formal.  I paid $99 for this $198 top -- still quite an investment for a shirt, but I will always pay more for quality and a superior fabric.

Shopping Tip #3 - The cheapest option may be to buy directly from the designer.

When a designer wants to clear out a past season's merchandise, the sale prices may be dramatically low.  I was just in Reiss in Soho, for example, and formal dresses were discounted up to 70% off.  I've purchased Betsey Johnson dresses for as low as $30 directly from the store.  Now, what does this mean for you?

If you are looking to buy something by a designer, don't have hours on end to spend looking for a deal, and don't necessarily care whether it is from a past season, try going directly to the designer's store or the website instead of hunting through discount stores, fighting the mobs at sample sales and scouring the deals on eBay.

I performed this simple task just last week.  I decided that I truly needed a new DVF wrap dress but the eBay offerings were high-priced and I am always wary of authenticity to boot.  The department store sales were somewhat pathetic.  I therefore visited the DVF online store one morning and went right to the sale section.

What did I find?  Check out the beautiful colors of my new DVF dress below!

I am now the happy owner of the Justin wrap dress in "Ophelia."  The original price was a steep $325.   Some websites were listing it on sale for about $200.  DVF's own website listed it for sale for... $168.  Quite a nice little savings, right?  Not only did I save the most money by buying directly from the designer, but I am guaranteed an authentic dress and I know the dress is brand-new (the original price tag was even still attached).  My dress came perfectly packaged, nary a wrinkle in sight.

Here is a fuzzy photo of the dress on a model.  I don't have a photo of me trying the dress on because I didn't buy it in a store.  I was perfectly fine ordering a DVF wrap dress online because I know my size and trying it on  prior to purchase wasn't necessary.

Shopping Tip #4 - Don't be afraid to shop at a traditionally expensive store, like Bergdorf Goodman.

I concur that the prices at department stores like Bergdorf Goodman, Saks Fifth Avenue and Barney's (NYC staples) are often sky-high.  However, just as if you had visited a designer's store during a seasonal cleanout, these upscale department stores will often have seasonal cleanouts as well -- and discounts are often steep and can sometimes be found online. 

Bergdorf Goodman will have these major cleanouts just a few times a year, but they are worth waiting for because the prices drop so insanely low!  I once bought two suit jackets and a skirt (all Tahari and Theory) for less than $250 collectively.  For a frame of reference, the retail cost was closer to $600.  My most prized find was a pair of Christian Louboutin heels for less than $300 -- they were just sitting there, brand-new and lovely, on a clearance rack of designer shoes.  These heels became my wedding shoes!

I recently purchased an adorable summery Milly dress from Bergdorf Goodman for $229, marked down from $385!  Discounts like this are standard at Bergdorf Goodman, as long as you are there when the right clearance racks are out.  This is the perfect dress to wear this summer to work, with a cardigan, and then out in the heat afterwards.  I just loved the cut, the fabric and the terrific little belt!

Shopping Tip #5 - Just like eBay, a resale/consignment store might yield some amazing items.

A stroll around Greenwich Village in NYC is never complete for me without a stop at the Buffalo Exchange on 11th Street (which is conveniently flanked by two other resale/consignment stores, so you really have a lot of shopping options in one small area).  The Buffalo Exchange has locations all over the country, so visit the website and see if a store is near you.  The goods are gently used but generally in excellent condition.  Sellers bring items directly into the store and the savings are passed on to you!  I tried on an adorable pair of J.Crew wedges and a cute Banana Republic dress this past visit, but decided to purchase a brand-new-looking Juicy hoodie... for $19.  I was able to try it on in a private dressing room (unlike eBay) and inspect the item myself to assure it was definitely worn once or twice at most!

You don't need to live near a Buffalo Exchange to get a great deal.  Many cities have resale/consignment stores and they are probably worth a look.  Just a few blocks from my apartment is a consignment store that sells everything from Pucci purses to cheap and flashy costume jewelry.  Even your local Goodwill or similar type of thrift shop may be a great source.  I used to visit a Goodwill-type of store in Boston and bought plenty of crisp button-down shirts for work and cute outfits for going out for only a few dollars each.

Thank you for reading!

I TRY STUFF ON (SO YOU DON'T HAVE TO) is a blog written by a woman who prefers to remain anonymous (a lawyer, wife, stepmom and all-around fashionista).