Confessions of a Sample Sale-aholic. | Le Hoarder
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Sunday, January 7, 2018

Confessions of a Sample Sale-aholic.

My name is Michelle and I'm addicted to sample sales. I've been sample sale-ing for over 20 years now. Once you've shopped a designer sample sale, it's pretty much impossible to shop at retail. Last week, my blogger bestie, Belle, launched her editorial site, Little Fashion Stylist. I wrote this article for her about the sample sale life, but I confess it's an updated compilation of several posts that have appeared here over the past couple years.

I have a few half-written articles that I planned to share first, but I couldn't finish because life got in the way. Besides the craziness of the Bomb-Cyclone that hit us last week, my boiler decided to crack and die, leaving us without heat since last Wednesday. It dropped to 32 degrees (Fahrenheit) inside my home so we sent the kids to live with my BIL, and ran out and purchased several space heaters so the pipes wouldn't freeze and burst. Right now it's 39 degrees in my house. It's so cold I can see my breath, and it hurts my fingers to type - even with gloves on. Thankfully, tomorrow they're coming and putting in a new one for a whopping $12,000. Ouch. Mine wasn't even that old. Plus I was told it would last for 20 years. Guess not. 

But I digress...

Over the years I've scored everything from $25 Sergio Rossi heels, $100 Choos (that retailed for over $2,000!), countless designer dresses and coats for under $50, even my first Chanel bag for 75% off.  The Chanel actually wasn't from their sample sale - just a crazy end of season deal. But the principals of bargain shopping still apply. Even my $20,000 Badgley Mischka wedding dress was a sample sale score for about $1,000. Name any designer -  they probably have a sample sale.

There are a few caveats as bargain hunting is not an exact science. So much of it is luck, and being in the right place at the right time. If you're looking for a deal you have to be open. If you're looking for current season merchandise and you can't deal with lines, crowds, and digging through countless bins and racks, the sample sale life is not for you. But if you can stomach it, there are amazing deals to be found.

You gotta understand, not all sales are created equal. People always ask me how do I know which ones are the "good" ones. After a while you develop an instinct for where to shop and when the deals are gonna be epic. But you still have to get lucky. At this point I have a network of sample sale friends who share intel and invites. Not all sales are open to the public, but over the years I've talked my way into many a private one.

When you first discover sample sales, it can be overwhelming. You have to fight the urge to shop every sale and you can get yourself into real financial trouble. Luckily over the years I've honed my editing skills and while I still make a mistake or two, these days I tend to under-buy and error in the side of caution. I'm still kicking myself for not buying more $50 Tamara Mellon heels or clothing at her first couple NYC sales or more $99 furs from Elizabeth and James - they haven't had another sale like that one since.

These days the term sample sale is often misused. A true sample sale is when a brand or manufacturer sells off their previous season's samples. Real samples (often one of a kind pieces made for the runway or garments made to show to buyers - some of which were never manufactured for retail) are often the best deals at any sample sale. It drives me nuts when a sale consists of stock merchandise for moderate discounts -  you can often find better deals at end of season department store sales. I always look for pieces that nobody else has for killer prices. My favorite sales are almost always run by the brand themselves in their showroom or a rented space. When you cut out the middle man you often get the best deals. When discounts hit 90% or better, you're speaking my language.

Head to toe:

  • Hat: H&M, $1
  • Coat: Zara, $29.99 (sale find from last year!)
  • Dress: Trendsend/Evereve c/o
  • Bag Strap: Rebecca Minkoff, sample sale, $15
  • Bag: Chanel, Neiman Marcus, 75% off 
  • Gloves: Carolina Amato, Century 21, $5 (Back when end of season sales were good...) 
  • Boots: LF/Life c/o

When I hit a sale, I come prepared. Getting ready for a sample sale is like preparing for battle. I love dressing up but I always keep things simple for New York City sample sales. And now I'm gonna break down my five simple rules for sample sale success.

1. Always be first in line.

I can't stress the importance of this rule enough. Waking up an hour earlier can make all the difference at some of these sales. For less popular sales getting there a half hour early is usually enough but when it's a big name you want to be there 1-2 hours early. The first hour of the sale is when all the best/cheap stuff gets snapped up.

2. Be prepared.

I always have a giant blue IKEA tote bag stuffed in my purse to lug home my spoils of war. For $0.99 it's one of the best deals ever. If it's going to rain I have a tiny umbrella and a couple plastic garbage bags to protect the goods. I also do my due diligence. When a sale is announced I immediately Google past sale reports so get an idea of pricing and selection. Then I look online at lookbooks for current and past season collections to create a wishlist. I also check to see if they've had markdowns historically and show up for those days too. It also can't hurt to ask if they'll be replenishing.

3. Don't overdress.

I have a uniform. I like slip dresses because I can pop a dress on top of it or try on pants or skirts under it. I'm just not one of those girls who strips down to her panties publicly. Some gals wear the leggings and tank top ensemble but I'm more of a dress girl. In the winter I'll wear Spanx tights under my dress which will help suck me in as needed. This also means no makeup - it's just gonna shmear all over the clothing when you're trying it on in a hurry. If I'm wearing lipstick I wipe it off before I go in. No jewelry either. It can get caught and snag the clothing you're trying on, or fall off and get lost. Shoes should slide on and off easily as well.

4. Check and double check!

Sample sales are final sale so look everything over carefully. Sometimes a small damage or unfinished product isn't isn't a big deal if it's an easy fix or insanely cheap. It's also easy to get caught up in the moment and come home with something stupid. Made many a mistake back in the day. Now I'm a master editor and only buy what I love or can be passed along if I change my mind. OK, maybe that's not true - I still make mistakes from time to time...

5. Bring a buddy.

Some sales don't have mirrors or dressing rooms. You're gonna need someone whose opinion you trust to be your eyes. Plus a buddy can help you snap up all the cheap samples and then you can edit together. I have my sample sale crew at this point - we pass along the pieces that don't work for us and make sure nobody makes any huge fashion mistakes. If I'm solo at a sale I usually make friends in line or the dressing room. Shopping is always better with friends.

Photos by Belle Bakst

Be sure to follow my shopping adventures on and/or my Instagram from real time updates. Like I said, once you start sample sale shopping, you can never go back. And be sure to say hello if you see me about town - because like I said, shopping is always better with friends.


P.S. Sample sales have started popping up on the schedule again but IMHO there is no must-shop for this week. Keep your eyes focused on the retail sales. Zara just got another markdown but I'm waiting for one or two more before I shop. Designer sales are at second markdown at department stores and a few have an extra percentage off. You should be checking Barneys, Bergdorf, Bloomies, Neiman Marcus and Saks about now. And FYI, deals are always better in store vs online. Happy shopping!



  1. These are the best tips ever! I am sooo taking advantage of all the retail end of season discounts. It's sale merchandise with an additional 50% off. I think that's the closest I'll ever get to a sample sale for now. Hahaha! I've scored some good deals tho. Maybe not as good as you, but I'm slowly learning the skills needed to shop at a real sample sale.Thanks for sharing! :)

    1. Thanks! As soon as my house is under control I'm gonna check out the sales :)

  2. I love these tips! I hope to find some good deals in 2018! And girlllll I cannot imagine the cold you're feeling right now. I hope the heat gets fixed ASAP!

    1. I have 4 trucks and a dozen men working right now. I'm just hoping my pipes don't burst at this point....

  3. When I get myself to NYC this year you will have to take me on one of your adventures because I am dying to get my hands on some of these bargains you always score!! I can't believe you got a Chanel at 75% off too!

    These are amazing tips and I definitely agree with waking up earlier and being there first because otherwise you just end up with the scraps. I don't think I've bought designers at retail for a while and most of my designer shoes and accessories have been bought during mid-year or end-year sales!

    Helen xx

  4. OMG I feel so identified with this post because I use to do the same when I use to work a RL. The funny thing is that I always wondered how did it work in the other brands for example I'm a sample size which is small or 4 and a 37 in shoes. Which was perfect for me but the other brands they manage the same size? or they have a sample for every size? not really right?

    Thanks for sharing your tips.

    1. Every brand/designers samples vary - some are 0/2, some 4 and some 6. As for shoes everyone does 37 but luckily I have giant runway model sized feet so I can grab the 40/41s on the cheap :)

  5. Haha, girl, I remember your last year post about sample sales :) And to be honest, I'm addicted to it too! I always loved your sense of style and that you're lucky enough to grab the best pieces. Thanks for sharing all the amazing tips here, the IKEA bag is my favourite :))) I'd be glad to visit NYC someday and make it to the shops with you.

    Cheers, Eliza |

    1. Yes - come shop with me in NYC! And Ikea bags really are the best!

  6. Girl I need to go sample size shopping with you!! I've been to a few of them but didn't score anything good (at least not my top choices) because the lines are long and by the time I get in the best sizes are gone. Love the tips there, IKEA bag is such a great idea!

    xo Sheree
    Posh Classy Mom

    1. That's why you have to be at VIP or first in line! Everything good goes fast!

  7. Hey Sweetie,
    You are the Best ever if its about Sample Sales, Really:) You always make the Best Deals, I just remembered your Wedding Dress Deal, it was sooo Good:) But you have many Pieces what you got sooo cheap:)
    I think you should dona business with this all:) ahhha:)
    Loved your Tips and this article:)
    I wish I could do the same:)
    Love Kisses

    1. That's what people always tell me - I actually used to make more money reselling extras but I have so little free time, I'd rather spend it blogging :)

  8. I miss sample sales the most! Especially in nY. I got my favorite pair of jeans there! You have been the master of finding the best goodies! Wish i could come down to NY and get shopping with you. For now I will vicariously live through you!

  9. Hi Michelle,

    I’m a bit shocked now. How it’s possible to buy Choos for $100! Really need more info about sites that you use. You definitely have a talent to pay little for super expensive clothes. I wish I could learn sale-ing someday.


    1. Yep! It's all about access and in NYC you have a lot of it!

  10. You always inspire me to hunt! I know as a bloger even, I no longer have fun shopping because I feel like the prices are ridiculous to spend your own $ on! I know JUST how much they are marked up and that's for reatil not even designer or one of a kind designer. Thank you for all of your tips. I've yet to go to a sample sale but I would just love to! I'm so sorry that your heat went out! What a hoorrible time for that to happen! I hope you've been able to get it fixed or at least tempuratures have warmed up so you're no longer frozen!

    Manda |

  11. I love your tips! So helpful, I really like to take advantage of all the retail end of season discounts. Really need more info about sites that you use too. This blog post is really helpful.
    Thank you for all your tips!


  12. You are the sample sale QUEEEEEEN! I love a good bargain and after reading your posts, I always want to find local sample sales around me. I need to look for good sales in LA. I feel like the best ones are in NY. I think being first in line in key!


    1. There are some good ones in LA but NYC is really where it's at!

  13. Thank you Michele for torn advices. I’m laughing because I’m imagine you how you running hurry to the sales with the slip dress. It’s jist funny but I appreciate this os a good idea to fit under pants or dresses over ;)
    Sorry for the cold in your house, I have always cold in the winter and I’m boifgr also the thermo plaid for my bed from Imetec. When you have cold it’s like a spa :))

  14. Fantastic outfit,I love your shoes ❤


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