Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Saving money on clothing. Now's the time to buy your summer wardrobe. Now.

When I tell you that you can save tons of money by buying clothes in the off-season, I can practically hear you saying, "Duh! We all know this!"  But I also know from my experience as an online retailer that people don't actually DO it.   I sold a pair of sandals and a pair of peep-toe pumps on eBay this summer while an awesome pair of wintry shoes just sat there despite an amazingly low opening bid.  Later on, I'll easily sell those wintry shoes at a much higher opening bid, just because it will be winter and people will be more in the mood to buy them.

I have seen people go out in throngs the day after Christmas to buy every shred of holiday wrapping paper and ribbons on the shelves. By the time they depart the Christmas aisle in any given store, it looks like a ghost town.  Why wouldn't people take the same devoted attitude towards cleaning out the clothing clearance racks at department stores?  There is much to gain by shopping at the end of the season and saving money is just one of the advantages.  So please hear me out.   (Clearing of throat.)

You can easily save 75% or more on seasonal clothing by buying it at clearance sales at the end of the season.  This might not be true globally, but at least in the United States in the midwest, where summer and winter climates are sharply defined, department stores have a lot of summer merchandise to get rid of in July and August.  You can find men's, women's and children's apparel--shorts, short sleeve shirts, summer pajamas, sandals, sundresses, bathing suits, swimsuit cover-ups, capris, pants in light cotton fabrics, white jeans and more--on discount racks for up to 75% off easily.  With searching, you can find 90% discounts. (Stick with me, here, as my advice is about to become less obvious.)

It's not just about the money.  I know, in July and August, you may be tired of summer clothing, but this is the best time to buy summer clothes because you already know exactly what is in your wardrobe.  You may have realized that you tend to buy too many dresses when what you really crave are more capris.  Or you may have figured out that those fancy rayon blouses you bought for work are too uncomfortable when the temps are in the 90's and you prefer more practical cotton knit tanks instead.  And if you live in a northern climate and think you might be headed to Florida or Arizona or Cali for a winter getaway or to see family during the holidays, you will have a head start on having the right clothes to pack.

Also, buying new clothing at this time makes you review the rest of your wardrobe, which means you can clear out debris and start a few boxes of stuff to sell in a garage sale.  Garage sales have flourished during the recession and if you have a yard or know a home owner willing to let you use their yard to sell off some of your "carp," you will make more money than you would have pre-2008.  If you don't have much time to organize a sale, see if you can find four or more people willing to go in on a sale together on a Saturday only, with each of you working a two-hour shift.   Or donate to charity and take a tax write-off.  Use whatever money you earned to buy new clothes at end-of-seasons sales. Once you get used to shopping during the end-of-season sales, you may not go back to shopping early in the season when the prices are high.

There are some items that do not always get included in end-of-season sales, especially year-round staples, such as underwear and socks.   But often you can find good prices on staples during back to school sales.   These sales focus on kids' clothes, but high school and college "kids" wear adult sizes, so any adult can find good prices on athletic shoes, jeans, t-shirts, trendy clothing in general, and basics such as underwear and socks.  These items won't be as sharply discounted as the stuff on the summer clearance racks, but it's still worth taking a look.  I always find the best prices on athletic shoes in August.

January and February are the best time in the U.S. to stock up on snow boots, fashion boots, scarves, knit hats, sweaters, anything wool, anything with autumn leaves or Christmas designs, coats, heavy jackets, gloves, boot socks, leg warmers, long underwear, layered sports jackets, children's snow pants, overalls and mittens.  Again, it's all discounted.  And you know what you've been wearing for the past few weeks or months, which outfits you favored, what you needed but didn't have and what colors you still need.  Depending on where you live, there may be plenty of winter left and you can start wearing new purchases right away.

Children's clothing in the off-season can be problematic, since kids grow at unpredictable rates.  You have to guess what size they will be nine months or so in the future.  Look for stretchy sport pants instead of more precise-fitting jeans.  Find dresses that can be hemmed up if necessary.  Girls' leggings can make a too-short dress wearable as a tunic if your daughter grew taller than expected.  Sandals and shoes may not be wise to buy for children far in advance... unless, say, you have three daughters, in which case you can pick up something for the oldest girl and assume that size will fit at least one of the girls at some point in time.   You can usually get snow boots at the end of winter if they are multi-sized and therefore leave a little room for error.  You can also try to find clothing in colors that will suit either a boy or girl, so if you guess wrong on a green sweatshirt you had in mind for Michael, maybe Sophia can wear it instead.

If you're yawning because you know all this (don't make me come over there and slap you!) consider this, which you might not have thought of:  You can find clearance clothing online, and the season for finding what you want can be much longer depending on site traffic and who the sellers are.  Online shopping sites will have varying discount periods.  High traffic will swarm all over the cute summer tops on clearance at Coldwater Creek.  But on a less popular site, it may take longer for the deals to disappear.  Those winter wool socks you had to fight three bidders for on eBay last December are just sitting there, without bids, from March until September.  The person selling them might be open to "best offers" from you, wherein you negotiate the price.  I have gotten winter coats very cheaply in spring.

Also, if you live in Florida but need something wintry for a trip to Canada, online sites will offer far more options for you than your local stores will.  Sometimes I am surprised at the number of Etsy sellers who don't bother to list their summer merchandise in winter; Canadians headed for Florida need that stuff.

Speaking of Etsy, you may find off-season apparel marked down.  But your selection is often the best in the pre-season.  That's partly because artisans cannot easily replenish stock the way a retailer can.  An example:  it takes me hours to knit a winter scarf.  I have to make scarves all summer to have enough inventory for fall/winter.  Then the scarves start selling around September.  By November, they are selling like crazy and I have far fewer winter scarf listings in my shop because I just plain can't keep up with demand.  Anyone who shopped my scarves back in September benefited from a bigger and better selection. By December, they are well picked over and the customers are pretty frantic, e.g.: "Can you make another one by this afternoon?! And send it express tonight?"  Um, sorry, no.

Revised October 30 to add:  Pay attention to business news about retail chains that are struggling so you can go forage their wares.  They may cut prices very aggressively.  J.C. Penney is in very dire straits and I picked up a designer dress from their website for half price this year.  Abercrombie & Fitch's sales are down at present and I just saw $58 skirts on their site marked down to $10.  Aeropostale also had weak earnings lately; I see $5 t-shirts on their web site today.  American Eagle is having some issues and on the day I write this, every sweater on their site is on sale with free shipping.

dj runnels
Life's an Expedition on Etsy.

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