How to Get Investment Pieces for Less
It pays to invest in your image: From creating powerful professional impressions to projecting an “executive presence,” appearances matter. But once you’ve embraced that philosophy and made a wishlist of wardrobe pieces worth investing in, you still need to acquire those items — which can be expensive. That’s why my personal styling clients need guidance not only with regard to what to buy, but also how to buy it.
Shopping isn’t a one-size-fits-all approach. It depends on your schedule and lifestyle, as well as where you live, how much time you have to shop, the size you’re looking for and many other personal factors. But regardless of where and when you shop, there are strategies you can use to get the best value. Keep reading.
If you live in or frequent a big city like New York where there are sample sales every day of the week, these can be a great resource. But if you live elsewhere, this is a less dependable way of bargain shopping. And even if you do live in New york, sample sales aren’t always practical. Some brands’ sales are so popular there’s a line to get in — and there’s no guarantee everything won’t be picked over by the time you enter.
Expert tip: Identify the brands you like, fit you properly, are high quality and correlate with the items you need. Get on their mailing lists and make a point of attending those sales and buying for the year while you’re there. (For instance, I go to the ilux sock sale every year. It’s such a great sale that I only sock shop once a year from them. I also stock up on gifts while I’m there.)
Online Flash Sales
The online version of the sample sale is the flash sale. Gilt sets the pace, but there seems to be a new one daily, vying for your inbox attention. While this is a great way to score designer merchandise for heavily discounted prices, it can also encourage regrettable impulse purchases — or just too many purchases in general. Sizes move much quicker than in brick and mortar stores, and your virtual shopping cart has a time limit. Oh, the pressure!
Expert tip: Direct all of your flash sale email notifications into a folder, then only visit that folder to explore the day’s options when you’re looking to make a specific purchase. Cut down on returns and guesswork by exclusively purchasing brands you know work for you. And only shop from your wish list of items you actively want and need in your wardrobe. Do not stray from it.
Vintage and Thrift Stores
Part of what makes vintage items so great is their rarity. But that’s also why it’s not the best route for stocking a viable professional wardrobe for most industries. Thrifting can be a major timesuck and is perhaps the least efficient way of shopping — so think of it more as a fun way to spend an afternoon than your go-to resource for everyday business attire. Most items also need to be cleaned or tailored before wearing, tacking on an added expense.
Expert tip: For a higher hit rate, stick to small shops in wealthy or hip neighborhoods (places where you admire the inhabitants’ style) and focus on items like jewelry and leather goods — pieces that can last forever and look unique. Inspect seams and elastic before purchasing clothing, as those are areas that are vulnerable to age and can give out the first time you wear it. Looking for something specific? Make friends with the owners and ask them to let you know when things arrive (it’s a win-win situation for both parties).
Bargain Basement Shopping
First there was Filene’s Basement, and now no strip mall is complete without a discount store. Exercise caution in these low-priced lairs: Bargain hunting can be a seductive thrill. Research shows that finding a bargain gives us a high and clouds our judgment, as we experience a release of dopamine when we pay a low price for a desirable item. So, in other words, bargains are more satisfying and physiologically harder to resist — meaning they pack a powerful consumer punch.
Expert tip: Go there only when you are looking for particular items. Then, imagine whatever you find without the discount. Would you still consider buying it at full price? If not, walk away. Carry the item around the store for 20 minutes. It takes your body that long to snap out of a high shopping-induced mental state. And whatever you do, don’t feel like you can’t leave without buying something (you know what I’m talking about).
Fast Fashion Stores
Fast fashion — those cheaply made, rapidly produced garments that bring affordable trends to the masses — has changed where and how quickly we acquire runway looks. And while these trendy outposts do vary slightly in quality and durability, what they sell is largely disposable clothing that will either fall apart or look dated after one season (and I won’t even get into the the ethical and sustainability issues these retailers raise).
Expert tip: None of the fast fashion chains produce investment-worthy pieces, though some outlets, like Zara and Uniqlo, tend to outperform the others from a durability standpoint. If you do shop at the bottom of the fast fashion food chain, only buy things you expect to wear for one season, like trendy evening tops or costume jewelry.
Timing is everything. And knowing when to shop at your local department stores can radically change the financial punch of those purchases. Seasonal shopping promises deep discounts, but it requires patience and an element of risk, as you’re left to hope that your item won’t be snatched up before it goes on sale, forcing you to repeat the search and discovery process. And during the busiest sale days, brace yourself for crowds and chaos. Sizing also plays a big role, so if you wear an in-demand or hard-to-find size (like a size 8 shoe or an AAA width), you may not have the luxury of waiting for the sales.
Expert tip: Know when to buy each type of item to make sure you’re getting the best deal. (Here’s a cheat sheet.) Some stores will pre-sell merchandise a few days before their scheduled sales. Know when those sales are and head to the stores a few days in advance to beat the crowds and reserve sizes before the masses arrive, or at least know if it’s worth making the frenzied rush.
Everyday Online Shopping
You don’t get the instant gratification of holding and admiring your purchases, but if you know your size, online shopping is efficient and can feel downright luxurious compared to physically going to stores. But take caution: You are exponentially more likely to keep something that’s less than perfect once it arrives in your home, so take the extra time to read customer reviews and match up measurements against items in your closet before making a purchase. (If the site with the best price doesn’t offer those things, try to find that information elsewhere before you commit.)
Expert tip: If you find an item on one website, do a 60-second Google search to see if other online retailers offer a lower price, free shipping or are running a promotion that day. No matter what you’re purchasing or when you’re buying it, do a search for “[Name of Store] discount code” before you check out. Between 30 to 50 percent of the time, I’m able to locate a digital coupon that lowers the total price.
Anna Akbari, Ph.D. is the "thinking person's stylist" and the founder of Sociology of Style, which takes an intelligent look at image-related issues and offers holistic wardrobe and image consulting services. Find out more and follow her on Twitter.