How To Shop The Sales

During this time of year, you can find great deals on winter clothes, shoes, and bags … or maybe not so much.

Something deep in our female brain loves a sale. It goes back to the hunter-gatherer times. Getting something for not very much money or effort feels like finding a bush full of ripe berries.

I was an impulse buyer during a time when I lost my way in terms of fashion. I would go up to a sale rack and look at every single shopworn, tired piece and then buy something cute because it was marked down so much. Later, I would realize that it didn’t look that good on me, and it didn’t go with anything I owned. All sales are usually final on those drastically marked down items, so there you go. That’s why there used to be so many losers in my closet.

The fur-trimmed black sweater with decorative buttons was only $48.95, marked down from $235, but when you consider that I never wore it, the sweater was very expensive. On the other hand, the black cashmere sweater with simple lines and a high low hem and a V-neckline was $125, but I have worn it many times. The investment in the cashmere sweater was a smart purchase. When I divide the number of wearings into the garment cost, it turns out that the cashmere sweater cost only about $6.00 per wear.

When I see a rack of clothing on sale now, I hone in on color first. I know which colors and fabrics look best on me. I don’t even waste time looking at the others. I rarely find anything that appeals to me on the sale racks these days. I have learned from experience that those items are on the markdown rack for a reason. If I would not have purchased it at full price, I will not buy it on sale.

Whatever I add to my closet now has to work well with that which is already there. Next, there must be a need for the item. It is not good business sense to keep buying the same thing over and over again. How many black tank tops do you need?

When I started thinking about my wardrobe purchases as investments and looking for a return on those investments, I saved lots of money. Having a few exceptional items of the best quality I can afford means I will wear them repeatedly with all the other things I own.

Women who meet me for the first time often tell me that I have saved them a lot of money. They have learned to shop from their closet and wear the same things in different combinations. Add to that, not buying more than you know you need, and you will find that your wardrobe is being operated as a successful business.

All of the pictures I am showing you today include jewelry, bags, scarves, and jackets that I have used often. These were well-planned purchases that have earned a place of honor in my wardrobe. They are well worth the money I invested in them because I enjoy wearing them over and over again. I always feel confident and elegant when I wear these pieces. That is now my goal with each new item I add to my wardrobe.

  1. These are beautiful outfits! The shopping tips are spot on. I just wish I could wear nice shoes. I try to wear Clarks and that type shoe for work, since I am on my feet all day. Even those are too much for me sometimes, well fitting sneakers are the only way I don’t hurt.

  2. The only place I shop sales now is online. My favorite sites send me e-mail when they have a sale and if I need something I check there. For years I have found that things on the sale rack seldom suit my needs and I never have good luck at places like TJMaxx or Marshalls, and certainly no luck at thrift stores. I slightly disagree however about not buying more that one of a particular item. If the item is something I want to wear for years, there is always a risk of not finding the exact same thing in terms of style, fit etc., so to be sure I’ll continue to have one, I sometimes buy a second and tuck it away on a shelf for when the first one wears out. That way I can keep wearing the things that work well for me, long into the future.

    Have a great weekend.

    1. I agree about buying a backup for something you love. I was thinking of the woman who has 20 different black tanks, all slightly different, but none of them worn very often.

  3. Have learned so much since finding your blog. I shopped the other day and passed up the sale rack because Ive also bought items because they were on sale only to never wear them instead I bought a denim skirt that before I purchased I had in mind numerous ways to wear it. Thanks Susan

  4. Susan: It’s also called defending your capital. They arrange things in stores to look so appealing.

    I always enjoy your blog.

  5. You always look fabulous! If a person were to deconstruct your outfits, she would find classic. well-fitting basics with spot-on accessories. The temporary sparkle of a sale item soon diminishes when you discover it doesn’t go with anything in your closet. You have encouraged me to shop my closet and skip the leftovers at a sale.

  6. You make some great points in this post Have been trying to curtail some of my own shopping trips lately. Just found my missing blog posts from you in the spam folder! Don’t know if anyone else is missing any, but was glad to know where my filter had sent them. Have a great weekend.

  7. Susan, this is a great post and full of information we all need to keep in mind as we navigate the new retail market of sale, sale, sale! I work p/t in retail for a well known women’s line of clothing and know that the things put on sale are generally way overpriced to start and just not selling or of colors and styles that are also missing the mark. With that said, some people do well on the sales racks but I find that these tend to be people with a great eye for style and willingness to pick through the racks very thoughtfully.

    Being on a very limited budget I need to be extremely mindful of all purchases and to chose those, just as you say, where the price may be higher but the cost per wear is low and the clothes will interchange well with things already in my closet.

    I love jackets and have a couple of high end ones that are beautiful but very limited in how they can coordinate and expand a wardrobe, needless to say, I have almost never worn these jackets.

    The best option for shopping, I believe, is to shop when stores are offering an overall friends and family discount.

    1. I think you bring up a good point. Unless you’re absolutely in love with something or it starts out at a price you consider reasonable, waiting for a discount, which likely will arrive soon, is the way to go. I think you get the best selection of sizes and styles if you purchase earlier in the season, so waiting for the deep discounts when all the common (or unusual) sizes are gone isn’t so good, but holding off and purchasing for an in-season markdown is often worth it.

  8. Hi Susan. Coincidentally, my friend & I took a rare trip to the mall yesterday. She was checking the sale racks & I actually used the term “shopworn” & told her if no-one else wanted that stuff why would I? My biggest problem is that I need a misses size 18 due to large shoulders & muscular upper back. No stores carry nice clothes in this size & if you do find an 18, it’s terribly matronly. So I seem to be in between sizes. It really is a problem & I wonder if any of your readers have experienced this.

  9. A great post, so very true. I view sales very differently these days, if I wait for them, my size is usually gone!
    As to color, you mostly choose cool colors, but that warm color scarf looks smashing on you!

  10. This is very timely! I rarely see a sale item any more that I would purchase for full price or that really adds to my wardrobe. I have to change my mindset and be willing to pay more for an item that will add more value and make me feel well dressed for any occasion instead of feeling “I have nothing to wear”. Thank you.

  11. Love your page, Susan. Thank you for sharing all that you do. As a redhead, I have often been lucky at the end of a season, to find the perfect item in a colour I wear, on the sale rack. One particular jacket at an upscale shop had been marked down several times because of the colour. I loved it and wore it for years. I only look at colours when I shop as I know what suits me.

  12. I rarely shop sales anymore. In fact, I generally only shop for essentials that need to be replaced. If I am browsing and find a piece that I love, I usually leave it for a day and think about the purchase. If I continue to think about it, I return, try it on and decide. These are the pieces that spice up my wardrobe.

    The last look, above, is stunning. Is that a Chico’s jacket by any chance?

  13. Thanks, Susan. It is very generous of you to share your insights as you do. I always learn something, and enjoy the embedded travelogue too!

    Yours, Jo

  14. Great article. I also follow a lot of your rules that I’ve learned on my own over the years, however I’m still making some mistakes. I sometimes think I get too bland and frumpy if I don’t step out of the box and try a new piece. Working on this. Thanks for your tips.

  15. One of my main goals during sale season is replenishing basics. I tend to like Talbots as their sales are good, and their quality is good. They will also help you find your size in another store. Most of their colors blend ….so old and new clothes generally coordinate… Beautiful pictures, Susan !

  16. Also, Susan. I hope you will be doing more luncheon seminars. I am hoping to be able to visit and attend one in the not-too-distant future. After the winter has passed, it would be a lovely trip and such a nice opportunity.

  17. Great website! I am turning 60 late this year and have just found your website. I look forward to your posts. You look,amazing and I am sure I will learn much from you! Thanks so much!

  18. This is me for sure! I am training myself to look for color, fabric and style before price. I too have purchased something because it was ‘such a great deal’ only to get it home, hang it in the closet and never wear it.

  19. Sales are nice, but I like shopping at Shop My Fair Lady for the newest things with your discount code. Waiting anxiously for the next one because I already have items in my cart.


  20. What is your story. I keep trying to find it but no luck. There is such wisdom in your comments and I know all that comes from experiences. I received my scarves today and they are beautiful. I’m now looking for a camel or gold satchel without much luck so far. Any suggestions?

    1. I am so glad you are happy with your scarves! Try looking at T.J.Maxx for a satchel. They have some very nice ones but less expensive than the department stores. Click on Biography above to learn a little more about my past.

  21. I recently bought a pair of wedge sandals, paying more than I usually allow myself to spend. But every time I put them one I just feel good! So I think they were worth it!

  22. Great advice. I shall remember the next time I go shopping. Again, you look beautiful. Love all the gorgeous shoes.

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I share tips and inspiration for using what you already have in contemporary ways. Defining words include effortless, classic, refined, discreet, and elegant. My style is chic, minimal, and timeless with a bit of edge.