Why Sample Sales Are Hell On Earth



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As a person who shops for a living, there are a few things that really get me going. One: products worth the hunt. Second: a good deal. Third: a challenge. I'm a snobby, cheap sadomasochist, which would make me seem like the perfect candidate for sample sales. Except, no. Nope. Never again. I'm a fashion editor, and I refuse to go to any more sample sales.

For the majority of my life, sample sales were synonymous with the life I wanted: set in NYC, full of moments that'd include laughing while gripping the stem of my mimosa-filled Champagne flute and wandering down a cobblestone street to find top-secret, insiders-only sample sales filled with runway duplicates at 90% off. Blame it on a steady diet of Sex and the City in my teens, but I knew the life of a fashion writer would grant me a taste for nice clothes without the budget for them. The answer would lie in what looked like the most fun activity, ever: trying on designer clothes with your girlfriends in a big room filled with clothes that you could actually afford.

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As it always happens, the truth never ends up looking as shiny as the fantasy. Sure, I drank plenty of Champagne once arriving in New York City, but that was mostly out of plastic Dixie cups. The cobblestone streets were actually broken stretches of concrete outside my apartment in Alphabet City. Those brunches, too, more closely resembled late-night dim sum binges, but the people I was spending them with were much more satisfying humans than the one-dimensional Mirandas and Charlottes of my imagination. My job, too, was rewarding in ways I never could have imagined, but also in ways I did — yep, I received exclusive invitations to the very same sample sales I had always dreamed of attending. But, in place of glory and a closet full of designer threads, I got a bunch of weird pants instead.
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Here's the problem with sample sales: They're set up to unload designers of excess product (read: things they don't want anymore) and send it right into the hands of less discerning shoppers. Sure, there are more than enough stories of one-of-a-kind finds (Proenza Schouler jackets for $50 and a Rodarte sample for $20), and I've even found a few items that I still wear on the regular. But, after spending thousands of dollars on too many items I've only worn a couple of times, you couldn't bribe me to make sample sales a regular part of my life again.

Of course, there are many reasons to dislike sample sales that don't really bother me. Digging is a major factor, but the thrill of the hunt is what makes getting lost in Goodwill one of my favorite pastimes. There's a lot of undressing in front of strangers, but I do the same thing at the gym every week. And, we also hear those urban myths of crazed, hair-pulling women — but I still haven't encountered anything more unpleasant than someone going through the racks in the direction opposite everyone else (ladies — it's with the tide, not against it!).

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What gets me is the built-in anxiety of needing to buy something as soon as you step in line. Leaving empty-handed after waiting around for up to an hour, finally finding your size in an item that looks like something you'd like, stripping down to your skivvies three or four times, and taking out just-in-case cash beforehand (there's often a sky-high credit card minimum) feels like a sin. So what if that camisole only kind of looks right as long as you lean to the left and stop breathing? You loved it when Karlie Kloss rocked it on the runway last season, and you did bring enough money for it…

And, for someone who ascribes feelings and emotions and personalities to clothes (probably unhealthily so, but hey — it comes with the job), seeing piles of designer clothes being trodden upon and tossed aside gives me the same sort of feeling I'd get from visiting an animal shelter. Who cares if the jacket is missing all of its buttons and has a mysterious stain under the left armpit — it still deserves to have a home, right?
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And, that's how I ended up with a section in my closet of clothes I've hardly worn. Even after valiant efforts to get them tailored and creative styling solutions to make them work, I have not figured out how to wear a pair of bonded-silk twill ivory trousers so high-waisted, they practically look like a strapless jumpsuit, and so stiff, they literally chafe. Nor have I actually worn the asymmetrical gown that comes with bungee cords and decorative zippers that I thought would make me look like a tough Stella Tennant (and not a deflated parachute). I don't even have to say anything about the long-sleeved, high-necked dress made of perma-wrinkled fabric so itchy that I broke out in hives the first (and last) time I wore it. (So much for my genius time-saving idea of wearing a bodysuit to sample sales so I didn't have to totally strip down when trying on clothes.)

I suppose the process of falling out of love with sample sales is similar to falling out of love with the many things that used to define NYC in my mind (pickle backs, anyone?) — but it doesn't mean that I love the city any less. Like any good relationship, love is about accepting the other partner in a deep, real way; understanding them in all their facets; and relishing the good as well as the bad — not to mention understanding the areas where you can't find a middle ground. For me, that's sample sales. I rely on other means now to get my (rare) designer fix that don't make me feel like I'm on an episode of Supermarket Sweep. And, by opting out, I'd like to think there's just a little more space for true sample-sale fans to do their thing. On that note, does anyone want to buy a pair of size-23, YSL, wool tuxedo trousers with side stripes made of sequins? Bueller?