How to Shop a Sample Sale: 8 Ways to Always Get the Best Stuff

tips on how to shop a sample sale

Photo: 260 Sample Sales

In the case of sample sales, the goal is clear: Get the best stuff at the best prices. The problem? Pretty much every other woman at the sale has that same goal, making for some seriously stiff competition. The good news is that there are ways to triage your way to the front of the line, and score killer merchandise. Read on for 8 tips on how to shop a sample sale.

1. Know about the sample sales.
The first step to scoring the best merchandise? You have to actually know about the sample sales. Contrary to popular belief, you don’t have to be enmeshed in the fashion industry to get wind of top sales, as you can sign up for various alerts, invites, and newsletters via sites like, Clothingline260 Sample Sales, or Got a pal who works in fashion? Ask them to keep you posted on private invites.

2.  Know the exact address.
Some sample sales aren’t held in easy-to-spot storefronts—many are are in office buildings, so knowing cross streets isn’t enough. Make sure you know the exact address and floor number.

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3. Know currency rules. 
Worst scenario ever: You’re on line waiting to pay for those seriously jaw-dropping [insert brand name here] heels, only to throw down your AmeEx and hear “sorry, cash only.” What’s worse: There’s no guarantee that sale staffers will hold your goods while you run to the ATM.

4. Get up early for big sales, and go back at the end.
It’s common knowledge that the first day of certain sample sales (ahem, Alexander Wang and Manolo Blahnik) draw insane crowds—we’re talking Thanksgiving Day Parade insane—so being at the back of the line won’t do you any good. In order to get first pick at the good stuff, its imperative to arrive way before the sale starts. Odds are, there will always be some maniacal shoppers ahead of you, but better to be the fourth person in line, than the 94th.

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That said, if it’s a brand you adore, it might pay to go back during the last day of the sample sale, as most things left will be discounted heavily (sometimes up to 75%) The big-ticket or coveted items will probably have sold out (bags at Wang, boots at Rag & Bone) but you can bet there will be plenty of other items left.

5. Leave vanity at home.
Most sample sales don’t have formal dressing rooms, and those that do are communal with a capital C. Meaning, you’ll be stripping down in front of a lot of ladies, so leave vanity at home (do not, however, leave your underwear at home.) You also might want to wear thin layers like tank tops and leggings that allow for easy try-ons.

Also: many sample sales require you to check your bag, so choose clothing with pockets to store you cell phone and your wallet.

6. Understand the difference between samples and overstock.
Some brands will sell actual samples, but most sell overstock. The difference: Samples are items that the designers made strictly for sample purposes or items that never made it into production, and are usually made in sizes 2-4, if it’s clothing.

Samples often feature no labels inside, and could feel a bit flimsier than the version you’ve felt in the store (for example, silk shirt brand Equipment will often sell samples of their shirts at sales but they’re not all rendered in silk.) Overstock is actual merchandise that was produced but didn’t sell. One isn’t necessarily better than the other, but it’s smart to know what you’re paying for. 

7. See an imperfection? Speak up.
If you notice a tiny hole, missing button, or busted zipper, it pays to ask the sales associate for a bigger reduction. Try something like: “Hi, I just noticed there’s a missing button on this blouse, but I’d like to buy it anyway. Is there anything you can do on the price?” They might say no, but it can’t hurt to ask.

8. Don’t love stuff? Walk away.
If you don’t see anything you’re really loving, walk away. Yeah, items cost less than they do at retail, but in most designer sales’ cases, they’re still not cheap. Even if you waited for two hours to get into that Phillip Lim sale and nothing catches your eye or looks good on you, walk away. And remember that there’s a reason why most sales have so much overstock—there’s not much demand.

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