We have just started our twice-yearly sale here at Mashburn, and we are late to the game for most of you. Sadly, in retail, the timeline has inched, then footed, then yarded its way up ... and now you can find summer merchandise on sale in April. This was not always the case, and we try to be a little more old-school with our own calendar. We hate the idea that our customers pay full price for something amazing, only to see it go on sale before they have even had a chance to wear it!
I remember the impact of the SOLDES signs when I was young and traveling in France for the first time. My Parisian friend Pascale had to explain the specialness of this time to me. "Pfft ... it is August! After the museums, you have work to do!" Like all of the smart Frenchies, she would use that time to stock up on basics, but also allow herself to add a few more over-the-top pieces to her closet. Lower price, lower risk. It still might sit at the back of your closet, lonely and unworn — you never really know until it's there – but at least you won't have paid full price. Live and learn. It is so easy to fall in love with a piece and fantasize about the FUTURE YOU wearing it. Will you look like Stevie Nicks in that Ulla Johnson dress, or will you feel more like Laura Ingalls Wilder when you put it on at home? (For the record – I love Little House on the Prairie – this is not necessarily a bad thing!) My problem is that I have a very active imagination when it comes to clothes, so I can play dress-up in almost anything and think my way into it. I make most of my mistakes with vintage, actually, and have ended up with more than a few pieces that belong in a costume department rather than my closet. My latest sale snag was from the Bergdorf's semiannual shoe sale – I can vividly remember thinking "oh yes I am absolutely going to wear these gold sparkly mid heel pumps with my jeans to the office ... so chic!" 9 months later and never mind that I haven't worn them once, but they make me so happy sitting on my shoe shelves, so I'm not ready to call them a mistake just yet.
I am really just repeating Pascale's point – sale is an excellent time to try something a bit outside of your comfort zone. Not for the sake of pushing yourself, but to satisfy a curiosity. And hopefully you have a trusted friend or sales associate who can look at you and say NO WAY ... not even if it's free! But it is also true that a discount can push you over the do-I-or-don't-I ledge, and it can be good to be pushed a bit!
I have a few memorable sale stories (everyone does). When I was still an assistant in the magazine world, I got invited to the Chanel sample sale. This was invite-only and mostly for editors and lowly assistants. The magazine world was not the place to work if you wanted to get rich, and Chanel wasn't trying to clear inventory for quick cash; they were trying to get the clothes on the right people for the sake of the brand. You cannot believe the prices. I still have five or six pairs of ballet flats, several sandals, and a pair of denim (!) slingbacks they must have been close to $5 each. Those are 1985 prices, but still – can you imagine? All the editors would line up – I think our level of importance dictated your place in the line, so I was near the back – and it must have been slightly uncomfortable for the top editors, including mine, to be in the same line as their assistants. But no one is too important to love a deal. The Chanel people knew that the assistants would one day be the editors ... and they would remember the favor of getting those bags and shoes for next to nothing. I still own the pair of sandals banded in three slightly "off" colors — bright blue and purple and teal, with silver lining! – and not something I would gravitate towards normally. They are not for all the time, but absolutely perfect for the 2 times a summer I pull them out. And 30 or so years later means 60+ wears out of that particular sale score ... I think it was a smart purchase! The aforementioned denim heels have literally never made an appearance – but again, I am sure at some point they will be exactly right. Cost average and justify! (Business school really coming in handy here.)
My other great scores were two things purchased at a Michael Kors sample sale (so long ago that Michael was the one physically unpacking the boxes) and they symbolize both of those two extremes: one classic and one less so. The first was a short, strapless dress in pale-blue-grey wool, which I wore to more than a few weddings and rehearsal dinners over the years. It was perfect and plain and something I immediately knew I'd have forever. In fact, I ran into him a few years ago in Italy and was so excited to tell him that my fourth daughter had recently worn it to her prom ... as had my first daughter years before that. It had been nearly 30 years since I had seen him pulling it out of the box in his showroom, but the crazy thing was that when I started to describe it to him, he finished my sentence! He knew exactly which dress I meant and even, a bit wistfully, remembered exactly which mill the wool had come from. I was astounded... all those dresses over all those years and he had it perfectly in his mind. A dress is not just a dress ... it is a memory! And the other item, that he knew just as well, was a palazzo-pant jumpsuit in graphite grey cotton – a minimalist's dream – fitted on top and made fancy by the volume at the bottom. I had an inkling of how cool it was, but it was more out-there than I had the confidence to wear at that point in my life. Michael pushed me to buy it, and he was right – I have worn it again and again and again. It is just the thing for a hot summer cocktail party and will never ever go out of style. But I needed that sample-sale price (and his encouragement!) to snap it up.
I can't tell you how often I grab something on our own sale rack. I think, there is no way I can let this go to someone else – I NEED this! Even if it's been hanging in the store for six months. I have pushed a few women to get that thing they weren't quite sure about, just trying to return the favors of good advice from Michael and all the other stylish people in my life that helped me define my own style by being both truthful and giving me that push I needed. We do it with each other, here in the office. When sale opens up to employees, we love to run over to the store and encourage each other into trying things on that haven't yet been snapped up. As fun as the endless scroll of online shopping can be, this social component of physically going into a store is tremendously valuable. And when you're lucky enough to flip through it in person, make sure you look through lots of the size racks. We organize ours by size, and even the most crack team of sales associates (mine are the best) cannot keep up with sale shoppers perfectly. People put things back in the wrong place all the time when they are focused on their own hunt. I have often found 6.5 shoes shoved among the size-5s at the aforementioned Bergdorfs sale. It feels so good! The experience of acquiring it becomes part of the story.
And in that same helpful spirit, I will tell you to look out for the chic neutral pieces that get passed over for the traditional brights of summer. A classic blue shirt or plain wrap skirt can get lost on the rack among all the splashier of-the-moment tops, but the quieter things are fantastic to buy on sale and pull out later. This is especially sound advice if you are not the type of person who can imagine the future occasion where that out-of-the-box thing is exactly right, or if you don't like to make "what if" or "when I lose 5 pounds" bargains with yourself. Let this be your sale strategy. Stock up on the practical stuff that other people are overlooking. But on the other hand, if you are prone to fantasy, take this opportunity to consider the things you wouldn't normally — a skirt in a kooky 3D neoprene, or a pair of bright red slingback flats, which actually look more wearable than those tricolor Chanel sandals. You may not think you're a motorcycle jacket girl, but do you know that for sure? Sale is the time to find out!
So there you have it. Go for it, and have fun, and use that discount as a way to take a little risk. You need a sale score – I promise.