When Is It Better Not to Know?

With sample sale season on the imminent-if-not-already-in-motion horizon, I’m just wondering if and when it’s better not to know about the discount havens that pop up on the most unassuming city streets. Why? Because in that episode of Friends, when Monica trains Rachel and Phoebe to function as star players on a half-off court (you know the one: Rachel ends up drowning in a puddle of white tulle while Monica fights for her life and wedding dress on a nearby rack), nothing is dramatized. Not even the whistles.

The experience really does go as follows: you wait for a sale to start outside a door you have just rendered a holy threshold where your dreams can meet their tangible counterparts. Said door opens and you’re left to run free. Often you’re tripped and left to fall on your face while in transit but sometimes, when you’re not, you enter, blindly grabbing at items in hopes of learning (once you’ve opened your eyes) that, yes!, you struck gold.

When you’re at a good one, it’s really good. Prices are typically dramatically reduced and the inventory available for your purchasing pleasure is chock full of items that don’t seem dated, or old, or incredibly indicative of a season that no one should want to relive. If you’re lucky, you might find an Italian cashmere coat at the lucrative price of (it’s damaged) zero dollars. It doesn’t happen often, no, but it’s not impossible.

When you’re at a bad one, though, all the blood, sweat and tears that went into practicing your best grab-arms and punt, then waiting on that line, and finally getting through the doorway, not only shave at least two years off your lifespan but they sting like hell. All that labor — and dammit, no fruit. Not even a ripening banana.

The problem with the good ones is that when you’re at a sample sale, the blinders always come on. You’re no longer just blinded by a label — you’re being blinded by a price tag and the adrenaline rush that commences in the wake of short time periods and lots of inventory.

Though I’d suspended my presence at sample sales a few years ago when I left a Valentino one with $150 fringe pants that did not fit me and never will, I re-entered the gauntlet last week for a luxury label. When I almost left with a fringe jacket all-too-akin to the pants I’llย never wear, I had to wonder what I was doing there and whether sample sale shopping ever actually cultivates that which makes up the stuff of a good wardrobe.

I did, however, leave with two additional cashmere sweaters — one striped and one featuring stiff cotton sleeves. Both initially retailed for upward of $1,000 but were reduced to downward of $100. I believe I’ll wear them, I really do. I just haven’t yet. The problem is, when it’s sweater weather and you’ve just purchased knits you think you’re really excited about, what’s the hold up?

Blinded by the sample sale.

-Leandra Medine, image from Vogue

  • Tamara

    I do not go to these things. Honestly, the behavior you describe makes me very sad and down on the human race in general, and other women in particular. Give me a smile and a jcrew cashmere sweater any day of the week. Don’t get me wrong. I love pretty things, but I loathe ugly behavior.

  • Leila Kautto

    Ditto Tamara… I don’t do sales of any kind… Afterall, the whole reduced price thing is for a reason… I dont think its saving money at all. I’d rather get one great piece than 5 designer wear it once get bored pieces. $200 wasted so far MR… Don’t do it !! Plus you should be getting samples/new stuff free now – you’re mad !!
    I cower being hussled at Henri Bendel, let alone mobbed by shoppers !! Panic attack central !
    Sales are a way for companies to push their non-sellable items out of the stock room while still making a profit.

  • GalGoesNYC

    I have the SAME problem. I went crazy back in May and June and I think I have worn 1 thing out of the 10 pieces I bought overall. That being said, I recently went to a sale on behalf of my mother and walked away with a fabulous trench coat marked down from $1200 to $300 and I have worn it everyday for the past two weeks.

    I think we just have to make sure not to get caught up in the frenzy and be selective. Will I wear that see-through army vest and weirdly shaped sweater dress? No. My real issue now is, do I try and sell on Ebay? Sigh.


  • Curvily NYC

    I love a good find, but I prefer to get mine from Loehmann’s et al. It takes digging, but I’ve found amazing pieces for a pittance, and without any shoving. I could throw bows if needed, but I’d rather not.
    Also, I love that you referenced that Friends scene – it never fails to elicit a chuckle!





  • What are these cashmere sweaters that you’re talking about????

    My typical strategy for sales events – only get what I’ve been wishing for for a long time. I never do any spontaneous buying spree.

  • I don’t allow myself to enter stores during my lunch break anymore. I end up shopping out of boredom.

  • Claire Zulkey

    I’ve found a great way to avoid being drawn into the whole sample sale thing is to avoid being a sample size. It’s hard work but with discipline I can do it!

    • Hereshoping Themayanswereright

      Wholefoods chocolate dream cake helps me keep to my non-sample size:-) yum yum yum it’s so worth it.

  • Holly

    Was that The Row? I killed at that one!!

    • Leandra Medine


  • Nicole Girten

    Honestly, every time someone mentions a sample sale this video comes to mind: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Pd2Jkv7yyVg

    I love a steal, but a little human decency would make an upward price tag worth spending

    • I hope no animals were hurt in the process? ๐Ÿ™

  • Lina

    Funny, I went to my first sample sale this week. It was Club Monaco and I loved it.

  • Rosie

    Thats why I do thrift stores. Beleive it or not, Macklemore has a point. Although I have been digging through my local goodwill for long before Macklemore released “thrift shop”. The hard truth is that people are stupid enough to turn in mint condition Calvin Klein jeans, and designer bags to a goodwill just because they dont know the brand it is and they never really wore it. Plus, rich people really do turn in “old” clothes to local thrift stores, you just have to want the designer brands enough to go digging through racks of grandpa sweaters. Eventually I always find some gold. Always. Also if your thrifty like me, I tend to find ugly old sweaters, buy them, go home, and re-create that ugly sweater into a cool, unique peice you customize. Heck im just a teenage girl who is desperatly broke but goodwill has saved me time and time again.

  • Rosie

    Thats why I do thrift stores. The hard truth is Macklemore is actually right. Although I discovered the beauty of my local goodwill long before “thrift shop” was released, curtusy of my mother (she trained me well). The thing is people are actually stupid enough to turn in a mint condition pair of Calvin Klein jeans, and designer brand bags to thrift stores just because they dont know what brand it really is and they never wore them. Painfull thought right? Not for me. Heck im just a hoplessly broke, fashion savy teenage girl, but if you want designer, good quality, cute clothes, they are there. You just have to go digging through the grandpa sweaters to find them. Also being the thrifty girl I am, alot of times you can easily find a old ugly sweater, buy it, take it home, and re-construct something unuiqe and cute by sowing on or cutting off some sleeves or adding something to it. And that, is why I avoid sales entirely.

  • belulopezchamba

    I’m from Argentina, and we don’t have sample sales, we only have sales. But I do understand and can correlate to that feeling of only shopping for the sake of the discount. In the past year I bought so many shoes because “they were on sale” that it’s crazy. I believe the addicting factor of buying gives us that rush… the problem is, when the rush is not enough anymore. Whats next?

  • I’m rarely blinded by the brand, but oh, a sample sale or even nordstrom rack…I have issues. Seeing the previous price crossed out just does evil things to my will power (it completely destroys it).