We are in the thick of sale season. Markdowns on top of markdowns, rows of shiny metal racks crammed with goods begging for a last chance. Depending on the customer, it is either an exciting or an exhausting premise. The retail industry must turn its merchandise several times a year — there are seven dizzying buying seasons and 11 or 12 deliveries that have just a couple of months to sell. The clock is always ticking.
To approach sale season evenhanded, some insider context is necessary. Things make it to the sale rack for a variety of reasons. The first and most obvious is there’s something wrong with an item, usually a fit or construction issue. The second paradoxical reason is that the item was such a hit during the regular season that the buyer re-ordered 100 units, as opposed to 50 preseason, sold 90, and 10 are left. Also, items end up on sale because deliveries arrive late. Last, a style or color was popular in another region of the country or even at another store down the road, but it somehow didn’t speak to the customers who walked through the doors of that particular store.
Because the reasons that things go on sale are varied and unpredictable, discounted items should not be looked at as the amalgamation of the season’s bad apples. As such, sale season is worth an investigation or at least a long, studied glance.
The in-store approach, which yields the highest degree of success, always balances the scales of expectations and quality. The most important rule is to have an open mind. If it is an Indian summer, but you find a Rick Owens shearling jacket at 75 percent off — take it, no questions. A Louboutin patent 85-millimeter single-sole heel is 40 percent off, but you only wear heels once a year? Absolutely a great buy.
Conversely, the major pitfall in sale shopping is expecting to find something specific. Merchandise at the end of a season is not cohesive, nor is it dependable. Setting out to find the must-have Céline lambskin baseball jacket in a size 42 and becoming frustrated at the dearth of inventory is unreasonable.
Buying something on sale for the sake of paying a fraction of the retail price is generally not a good rule of thumb, nor is the adage to not buy something on sale that you would not have purchased at full price. Value and worth, especially in clothing, is a sliding scale.
Maybe you have wanted a high-waisted culotte but can’t bear to put down a mortgage payment to try one. On sale, the threat of spending money on a trend diminishes. It reduces the pressure of the cost-per-wear equation, where the level of emotional satisfaction increases or decreases with each wearing. However, a bargain becomes a rip-off when the item purchased remains unworn. Even if a Balmain studded, overstitched leather jacket is on sale for pennies on the dollar but it makes you feel like a box turtle or a Liberace impersonator, stay away.
My own personal taste has been influenced largely by seasonal sales. After college I saved for a few months leading up to the Neiman Marcus Last Call sales, from which I still have a Narciso Rodriguez dress and Jil Sander skirt that I will only part with when I die. While a substantial aspect of fashion involves scooping up items as they hit the floors, there is also a strange, superstitious satisfaction in finding a diamond in the rough when you weren’t even looking.