1.Because sample sales can quickly escalate into blind, frenzied sprees, take your time figuring out what you want before you get there. No point in ripping through racks for a drop-waist only to realize it does nothing for your already disproportionately long torso. If you fall in love with a dress, ask if they’ll presell it to you when the season’s through or if they expect to include it in a sample sale. Take note of prices as you do the prelim legwork, so if and when you find a $10,000 gown for $1,000, you can yell cha-ching—that’s six months’ rent!
2.This magazine’s “Sales & Bargains” section, DailyCandy.com , and TopButton.com announce sample sales. Hound designer showrooms for sale dates (they generally know a few weeks beforehand), and ask to get on their e-mail list (register at KleinfeldBridal.com to get blasts from them). Saks Fifth Avenue and Bergdorf Goodman plan sales six months in advance. Most places have them twice a year, usually in April and September, and some are announced just a day in advance, so be prepared to cancel lunch on short notice.
3.A sample sale can last an afternoon or be a three-day purge. Regardless, arrive an hour early. High-end designers are a lot more exclusive. Thus the lines are shorter, but this doesn’t necessarily mean that all is civilized indoors. Sales at Vera Wang, Carolina Herrera, and Oscar de la Renta are rumored to be frantic, as is the annual sale at Bergdorf Goodman. Filene’s Basement’s annual “Running of the Brides” (embarrassingly named after the gory Pamplona sprint) is a cheapskate’s dream. Their stock is composed of damaged, soiled, or otherwise salon-discarded gowns (albeit in current and popular styles). Shoppers will camp out as early as the night before for the usual 80-percent discount. If showing up six hours early is a bit much, another tactic is to arrive late. Go during the last hour when they restock the merchandise.
4.Follow the old strength-in-numbers adage: Bring as many close friends and family as you can. You’ll have company in the long line and, once inside, they’ll carry out your divide-and-conquer scheme, scouring racks, guarding dresses, “marking” the competition, swiping the last gorgeous duchess-satin princess A-line seconds before that other girl can. However, some salons will limit you to a friend or two to keep the sale orderly. Kleinfeld’s (their July 24 sample sale is pictured above) only lets a few brides in at a time, and Mark Ingram Bridal Atelier admits twenty brides per hour.
5.Scrutinize each garment. Make sure there’s enough material to take up at the hem. Anything near a seam can always be taken in; if something looks irreparable, it can be covered with a fabric appliqué. Don’t automatically be seduced by a 50- to 70-percent discount—factor in alteration, cleaning, and repair bills (basic hemming can run up to $250, and replacing lace and beading is costly). Often there will be a dress or two remarkably more pristine than the rest (usually the remnant of a broken engagement or lesser misfortune). Depending on how superstitious you are, you could be looking at a coup. Pounce!