Sale Rack Shopper?

As a young woman building a wardrobe for her return to civilian life, I believed I couldn’t afford anything but drastically marked-down items. After wearing a US Navy uniform for the previous four years, I was clueless on so many levels.

My uniform experience taught me a lot about the versatility of neutral colors and high quality, but let’s be honest. I craved colorful, modern fashions. I wanted it if the garment was a bold color, had big shoulder pads to go with my big hair, and reflected the style trends of the early eighties. Because of my minuscule budget, I thought sale racks were my only option, but I rarely wore those odd-colored, shop-worn items. My lack of planning resulted in a not-so-great style and often lamenting I didn’t have anything to wear.

If I could, I would tell that younger version of myself to plan, save, and invest in modern classics to wear on repeat and in various combinations. Learn which silhouettes suit your frame and develop a wardrobe that works as hard as you do. Buy a few high-quality pieces that fit your lifestyle and stick to neutral, solid colors in flattering cuts. Use accessories to provide color, pattern, and personality without overwhelming your bank account and storage space.

Circa 1981, at sea on the USS L. Y. Spear (AS-36).

Sale racks are where clothes go to die, so if you would not have bought it at full price, don’t get it just because it is marked down. Otherwise, a section of your wardrobe will include things you rarely (if ever) wear.

Platform shoes have been my favorites since 1973. So, it fills me with glee each time they come back in style.

My handsome date and I were on our way to Hickory for a late lunch and a cocktail later at the LUMAC Rooftop Bar. The relentless wind moved our photo shoot back inside.

My white denim trousers are here. The scoop-neck white tee is here. The slim-fit double-breasted blazer is now sold out, but it was from J.Crew. I bought the pewter belt at Talbots a few years ago. The platform shoes are from last summer. Similar ones are here. I couldn’t stop thinking about the Ted Baker bag even at full price, so when it went on sale last fall, I bought it with the confidence that I would enjoy it for many years. A similar bag is here.

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  1. “Sale racks are where clothes go to die.” I love it! I have a $25 “gift” from one of my favorite stores and usually would head directly to the sale rack to see what I could get for “free”. This time I will look further and make a better decision! Thank you again for the wonderful, sensible and entertaining posts.

  2. Couldn’t agree more with your advice to learn what looks good on you and to stick to the plan when building a wardrobe. I have a question about the scoop neck tee. The website says it stretches to fit. Does it show one’s lumps and bumps?

    1. It has more substance than other tees and tanks, which is why I like it. It offers some smoothing, but I always wear the Shapeez Ultimate Pretty or a strapless bra if I will remove my jacket. The straps sometimes show at the top of the wide neckline.

  3. Love the “sales racks are where clothes go to die” remark! I cringe when I think of how much I have purchased in the past from said sales racks. You were a beautiful sailor as you are today.

  4. Hi Susan, you speak words of wisdom about the sale rail. I have been a ‘sale rail’ fan in the past, and now realise that the clothing are items that no one wanted at full price. I have many pieces hanging in my wardrobe which were impulse buys and sale items. This has now stopped thank goodness, and I am gradually discarding these unwearable items, buying what I need when I have made sure I havent the same item packed away. The results are wearing pieces that suit me.
    The photo of you in the Marines is absolulely stunning, as you still are.
    Susan, you are saving me a fortune, and I thank you for that.

  5. Thanks for this perspective. I’ve never been a sale rack shopper. I don’t shop at the discounters either. I find sorting through the variety on the racks to be messy and stressful.

  6. I read your blog faithfully! I could not help but comment on your circa 1981 picture, it is absolutely lovely! You consistently provide helpful tips that are both realistic and affordable!

  7. I am still a sales rack shopper , but lately I have noticed that most of the time I don’t wear those items very much. I like your description of the clothes hanging there to die. Yes I guess they are. I did work retail and most of the time sale items are things that the buyers made a mistake in buying. So I guess why buy their mistakes. If it is something I am watching or need it makes sense to take advantage of these items. Just like you did with the handbag. I am going to be a better shopper and buy if I need it and it is something I will wear over and over again. Oh yes and most of the time these items are hanging in my closet not worn.

  8. Well I don’t know how but I found the J Crew blazer in my size. Blazers always seem to be too long on me so I’m excited to get this one to see how it fits. And I just bought two pairs of the J Crew denim trousers and they fit great!! Not too baggy and just the right length to wear with a little bit of a heel. Thanks for all your good ideas 🙂

  9. Hi Susan, if there was ever a truer word said I also have been the sale rack shopper and bought items I could not wear that were the incorrect size either too big or too small. Now that I have retired and did a wardrobe clean out I realized all the clothes I could have purchased instead. Now shopping for clothes is only for the necessary items. I love your blog it shows that I am not the only one making these silly mistakes. Elizabeth.. SA.

  10. LOVE the picture of you on the ship in the US Navy. Thank you for your service. I value my freedom more and more each day. Wonderful picture of you and Mr. Mickey. Many blessings to both of you.

  11. I too wish I had been more selective through the years when purchasing clothing. I was always a clothes horse and had to fill my closet with the latest trends and also shopped the sale and clearance racks. I’d say the last 10 years, I have scaled way back and purchased higher quality items that will last longer and work for multiple purposes. I rarely shop a sale rack anymore or purchase something just to buy something. The same goes for jewelry or handbags. I now find my clothes last longer and I am much happier wearing them and it is much easier to pick something out to wear. I guess we live and learn.

  12. Susan, it appears that you and Mr. Handsome are aging backwards! You both look fantastic as always and I absolutely love that you both are so active and take the time to present yourselves with such class. Well done!

  13. Love your 1981 sailor pic! Absolutely gorgeous and still gorgeous today! You haven’t changed a bit! Pic of you and Mr. Mickey is beautiful too. Looking wonderful! Thank you for another perfect post! Classic navy and white! I’ve always loved the crisp cool look!

  14. I still look at sales racks, but I’m much less likely to buy from them than I was in my younger years.

  15. Sale items I have made some good choices and also some terrible choices just because I liked a colour or convinced myself I could squeeze into a size smaller because the garment was half price etc. How us ladies learn our lessons
    the world over I’m sure . Men have the knack they know what they want buy it and go home . Makes for a boring
    shopping experience though , no coffee or cake , no browsing through the beauty department etc and the thrill of
    going home with feet that kill but a hoard of goodies and the fun of hiding some purchases and say Oh yes darling I bought this ages ago makes it seem less guilty if you say I bought it yesterday.. The fun of it, and those bad bargain
    choices end up in the charity shop. .
    You. and MrMickey look so beautifully coordinated and the Ted Baker hand bag is so nice Susan and is so you.
    Regards Pamela Wales UK

  16. Today I filled 3 trash bags with donations of…you guessed it; clothes I bought from the sales rack! Ugh! Live & learn.
    Good to see you and Mr. Mickey “steppin’ ” out!
    You both look wonderful, and what a beautiful throwback picture of you! Hope you both are feeling as wonderful as you look!

  17. Thank you so much for sharing a snippet of your past life. Would you consider sharing a little more – along the lines of how you got to be where you are today? BTW – you look radiant in all the photos and it’s good to see Mr Mickey looking so well

  18. Hi Susan,

    My niece found you for me several years ago and I have been following you ever since. I recently turned 70, keep myself fit and healthy, a UK size 10 and like you, like to wear modern classics, updated with accessories.

    You and Mr Mickey are an inspiration in this troubled world and the photo of you in your naval uniform is stunning!

    Please keep up the good work and God Bless You Both.

  19. I didn’t know you had been in the Navy! Beautiful even then! You have saved me so much time and money since I began following you five years ago! Love these outfits! Thank you for your posts:) Ellen

  20. Fantastic photo of you & Mr. Mickey, Susan! I love the black & white outfit!! Thanks for sharing your beautiful Navy photo, too!! You wore your uniform very well!

  21. I always look through the sale racks quickly and from time to time have found some real treasures that I wear repeatedly and am often told my clothes are great – I think some items on the sale rack are overlooked because they are those boring neutral basic pieces and we want novelty, or because the new things are coming in and the last season is marked down, ready or not, or the collection is down to a few “broken sizes” and put on the sale rack to get rid of what’s left, so if you are lucky to find your size in a good classic item, you are indeed lucky. I also have a list of basics to look for and coordinate those with coupons sent to my email. I guess it all depends, like so many things, but you are absolutely right about having a wardrobe of basics so you are always ready with something you know is appropriate, fits well and is flattering! Then you can have a little trend item or possible poor choice from time to time if you want and are able.

  22. Such a wonderful article. I had a career as a nurse so I identified with your naval uniform. You’re giving me guidance as I shop!

  23. My mother used to tell me that the items on sales racks were there because no one wanted them. She definitely believed in quality over quantity. When she had to go to a special event with my father she would buy the entire outfit from intimates to a new purse. This was not something that happened often.

  24. Your clothes are beautiful but they are not conducive for Florida. Do you know anyone in Florida that can show us how to put outfits together for our weather here. Thank you Laura Arnold.

  25. You were also beautiful back then! Looking forward to wearing white pants again. Unfortunately we have 6 inches of snow today! That’s my white for now

  26. Dang! You are one gorgeous lady! Thanks as always for all of your great tips, stories and adventures. ❤️ Teresa

  27. Let’s switch to ‘Uniforms’. After 12 years of school uniforms, 25 years of corporate life, I have an interesting observation. As I get older and older, I am reverting to, mostly Navy in my wardrobe. Basically I am moving toward, Black, White, Navy and Denim. Of course, my choices include accessories and scarfs to compliment each outfit. Honestly, I feel grounded and comfortable in my choices. Think years of navy blue, white, and black are now part of my DNA?

  28. You were a beauty in the 80’s and still are today! I love your style and hope one day to be able to dress as put together as you do. You are a true inspiration!!

  29. Much like you, I frequented the sale racks when I first got out of the Navy! You’re right – those are the things that have gotten the least use and usually the first to be donated when I cull my closet. I’ve been on a weight loss journey and can’t wait until I’m as slim as you! Almost there! Being 5’4″ means needing to watch what I wear to keep the lines long to add height rather than width.
    I am no longer an apple shape, but I am more of a “rectriangle” now. With skinny pants sadly starting to fade away, how do I keep my silhouette slim. Most slacks seem to have about 4 or 5 inches of loose material in my thigh and butt area.

    Love this length of hair on you – also love that you switch it up every so often!

  30. You and Mr Mickey never change/age
    You both look well and happy
    So good to know you are both doing well
    And, yes, buy quality!

  31. Oh my goodness! Loved your picture from years gone by! Very beautiful! Present picture shows such beauty and grace also!

  32. Great article, Susan – I had to ‘live & learn’ to realize that rarely if ever were sale items ‘keepers’ in my wardrobe! And that picture of you on your ship is lovely!! Thank you so much for your service.

  33. Awe Susan, such a cute Navy picture! Your soft spoken gentleness I know makes it hard to imagine you in the military! You are a sweet lady and a bad-a** as well! 🙂

  34. Wise words Susan, as always. Never having had much cash to splash on outfits, I used to make a lot of clothes for my younger self. I did do some sale rack shopping, but as you say the danger was that those items would be “odd” in some way and therefore not worn often.
    However, for many years now, I have bought lots of my clothes from charity/thrift shops, partly for environmental reasons. In that case, it’s not a disaster if you don’t wear something very often and I have experimented with shapes/colours/patterns that I wouldn’t have otherwise have tried at full price. Now, thanks to you, I have found my own style and harnessed the power of mix and match separates. I always have a list of specific pieces to look out for when browsing. True, I have to wait longer for the right item to come up than if I bought from a regular shop or online, but success in finding a pre-loved item to fill a gap in my wardrobe brings its own joy.

  35. Susan, your outfit is lovely and you & Mr M look smashing, as usual!
    When I graduated from university in the ’80s, I needed professional clothes bought on a pauper’s budget. So I shopped the bargain racks in upscale women’s stores and gradually built up a very presentable wardrobe. How? At 5″4″, and very tiny, I wore sizes 0-2. The bargain racks in these upscale shops had either super tiny sizes or much larger sizes as well as higher quality clothing often consisting of coordinated separates. I was lucky being the tiny size I was (now a size 8) because the marked down items were often in very small sizes.
    I still peruse the bargain racks in upscale shops and will only buy if the item fits and is needed to fill in wardrobe gaps. Of course, being a larger size now, those racks still do hold more of the tiny sizes I could not even dream of fitting into now!

  36. Thank you, Susan, for inspiring me to take an extra couple of minutes to put together my outfit & accessorize before leaving the house. I, too, have a wardrobe of separates. I have begun taking a full-length photo when an outfit goes together, so I remember what worked well. Your wardrobe is so well chosen that outfits from your older posts look as current and flattering as they did several years back. Well done!

  37. Hello Susan! I recently retired after practicing law for 38 years. I enjoy your blog very much. You often provide links to J. Crew, however I’m unable to access J. Crew. Have they gone out of business? Thank you for your inspiration and words of wisdom. I enjoy your postings very much

  38. I always enjoy your posts and pictures. You and Mickey make such a great looking couple. And, you have fun adventures frequently.

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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.