Any minute now the shopfuls of coats, boots and sweaters that for so long hung dejected as the mild weather continued into October, will start to appear on ‘Seasonal Reductions’ rails. Once upon a time the January sales actually started in January and then someone decided it was a good idea to get Christmas over with a day early so we could all go sale shopping on Boxing Day. These days however it is the norm for the January sales to start before Christmas meaning if you can hold your nerve, Christmas shopping can cost half the amount it would if you’d done it a month earlier. My brother, whose birthday is Christmas Day leaves his shopping until Christmas Eve every year and swears by it – apparently Westfield shopping centre in White City is deserted and therefore a wholly more pleasurable experience than any other day leading up to the festive period (not difficult, mind you).
For me, discounted shopping is not restricted to sale time, in fact to be truly successful in this area, you can never really take your eye off the ball. Outlets such as TK Maxx have deliveries every day and such are the gems to be found in this particular shop, it would be tempting to pop in every morning just to check you’re not missing out on something fabulous. I’m joking (kinda) but when vastly reduced one-off items appear without warning, you have to snap them up when you see them, there’s no room for error in this game. This of course leaves you open to mistakes of massive, potentially pricey, proportions but once in a while you will strike the jackpot and the buzz of getting a knock-down knock-out designer piece will kick start your addiction.
It goes without saying that classic styles and colours will provide the biggest bang for your buck. I will probably wear the tuxedo style Alexander McQueen jacket I got for £99 for the rest of my days. Likewise the Vince cashmere cardigan and Ernest Sewn jeans, both bought for a song. The completely diaphanous, knee length, bridal gown type dress by Ralph Lauren: not so much – I don’t have a wedding in the offing and I can’t imagine any other scenario where this dress would be suitable. Except perhaps a soft focus, 80s influenced, shampoo commercial. I was won over because it was a saving of nearly £1000. Boy, did I feel pleased with myself. The smugness has worn off rather now I’ve had to hide it under the bed to assuage my guilt.
Trawling the aisles of TK Maxx is admittedly time consuming and for many, a joyless experience; my mum thinks it smells funny and most of my friends liken it to a huge jumble sale. It’s true that it’s an acquired taste which requires patience and resolve, and ultimately the limited availability leaves a lot to luck. I once witnessed a fight break out in a certain South London branch which resulted in two sunglasses fixtures being upended. I’ll never know if the scuffle was over a pair of designer shades but either way, passions run high when bargains are at stake. After all, it’s not just the advent of i-phones that has prompted devoted followers to camp outside in freezing temperatures so that they can get their hands on the latest model. I can’t deny I once followed a woman around the shop floor in the hope that she might change her mind about the handbag she had picked out and hung on her toddler’s pram. I am also guilty of hiding covetable pieces in amongst the dross to allow me to return to buy it after my lunch hour when the snake-like queue has reduced. I don’t do queues. It would have to be an exceptional queue for me to stand behind many other people to hand over my hard earned cash.
This month sees the launch of Isabel Marant for H&M. While this collection is highly anticipated and will undoubtedly see customers camping outside the flagship branch long before the doors open, it won’t be the first time a designer collaboration has caused a buying frenzy. Over the years, the Swedish brand has joined forces with amongst others, Lanvin, Jimmy Choo, Stella McCartney and even Madonna. You forgot about the Madonna collection didn’t you? Well I have one of the shiny tracksuits to remind me so I can’t even if I wanted to. I thought it would be perfect for lounging around the house in and I liked the plum colour. On arriving at my parent’s house in it one weekend, my dad opened the front door and asked what on earth I was wearing (at least this shows I’m not usually dressed in a tracksuit) to which I replied it was my Madonna tracksuit. “Well she wants it back” was his retort.
Nowadays sites such as Brandalley, Secret Sales and Cocosa are excellent sources of discounted designer collections. At nine months pregnant I purchased a pair of beautiful classic black suede D&G stilettos from the comfort of my armchair. Completely inappropriate and not exactly nesting at its best but oh how it lifted my spirits when a week after my due date, I was still awaiting the arrival of my baby but my new shoes turned up right on time.
On a slightly less selfish level, I always buy my now three year old son fabulous shoes at a snip from Brandalley. He has so far had footwear from Puma, Timberland and Nike and there is no way I could afford these great quality shoes at full price. At 60% off they’re cheaper than the children’s shoes from Clark’s. When you consider these fit for less than a year and are also horrible to look at, why not just take your little cherub to Clark’s for the foot measuring doodah and then do the buying online, preferably with a glass of wine and a packet of peanuts on the go?
Now here are the bossy boots instructions:
1. When shopping in outlet and discount shops, keep an open mind. You are unlikely to find a pair of jeans if that’s what you’re specifically looking for. You might well go home with something far more interesting if you widen the search.
2. It’s obvious, but stick with classic shapes and timeless colours. You can’t go wrong with a black trench (I got a D&G one in TKM) but a newspaper print Galliano dress isn’t going to necessarily cut it simply because Carrie wore a similar version in Sex and the City (yeup, me again).
3. Designer underwear, tights and jeans brands are regular features on discount websites, make sure you’re signed up to their email updates, even better, log your sizes with them if possible.
4. TK Maxx, much as I love it, isn’t always up to speed on size conversions from Italian and American into British. While this can work in your favour (a common mistake is a US6 in the UK6 section rather than its correct home along with the size UK10s) if you don’t try things on before you buy it can be very disappointing to get home find you have the wrong size. FYI an Italian 42 is a UK10.
5. Ebay is a treasure trove of bargainous finds. I have sold designer stuff for far less than they are worth but equally have been paid way more for the most bizarre things. Never underestimate what crap these people will buy. According to a friend of mine there is a huge market out there for used tights…
Now I’m off to log on to Groupon to buy myself half price tickets to the Isabella Blow exhibition at Somerset House. It’s a way of life I tell you, I’ll never pay full price for anything again. Can anyone remember a time when they went to Pizza Express without a voucher? No, thought not. The world is your clearance rail. Now go out there and rifle through it.