When it comes to fashion, having Prada tastes on a Gap budget can leave you wistfully flipping through the pages of “Vogue” feeling green with envy. Designer fashion definitely doesn’t come cheap, especially when looking at big-ticket items such as coats, shoes, and handbags.
But just because your budget doesn’t allow for Gucci doesn’t mean you can’t have any designer brands in your closet. In fact, with some resourceful tips, you can still nab some of your favorite designer brands – just without paying the ultra-high prices.
Why would someone want to splurge on a designer brand? There are a few reasons: Designer brands often offer better quality and longer-lasting materials. Also, such brands project an image of status (and wealth) among friends and business associates. Designer brands also offer the chance for a high resale value in the future, since certain fashion houses are always in demand.
No matter your reason for lusting after Louis Vuitton, the trick is to avoid paying those premium prices to stretch your dollar without sacrificing your high-end taste.
Saving Money on Designer Brands
Knowing a little more about how branding works and where to scope out the best deals can help you fill your closet with your favorite brands on the cheap. Here are several tips for bargain shoppers with discerning tastes.
1. Shop Other Collections
You might not realize that a specific fashion house or brand actually has a number of brands beneath the same “umbrella” of companies. For clothing, you might have the high-end brand – for example, Marc Jacobs – with several other brands under the Marc Jacobs name, including capsule collections, bridge lines, and lower-end brands.
Check out the difference between these terms:
- Capsule Collections. Capsule collections are made up of a few staple pieces that best showcase a designer’s work or a certain brand collaboration. Because there are only a few staple pieces, the brand can mass manufacture the same jackets, pants, dresses, and skirts over and over again, driving down prices so they’re more affordable. You’ll still get the name and similar quality, but you’ll spend less. Capsule collections are also typically a limited run – once they’re gone, they’re gone.
- Bridge Lines. The term “bridge line” describes the collaboration between a high-end designer and a lower-priced retailer. The designer comes up with a collection of pieces, and they are manufactured more cheaply by the lower-priced retailer and sold at more affordable price points. For example, Marc Jacobs worked with Neiman Marcus and designed a few different pieces for Target. It’s a great way to get pieces designed by your favorite fashion houses – but keep in mind that the designers have little sway over the manufacturing process, so the quality may not be designer standard.
- Lower-Cost Brands. When perusing the racks of your favorite department store, you’ll probably notice brand names that resemble your favorite designer, but aren’t quite the same, such as Marc by Marc Jacobs, or REDValentino. These are lower-cost versions of the main brand, which you can spend less on to get the same prestige. True, they’re often trendier items, accessories-only lines, or made without the strict quality standards of the main brand, but lower-cost brands mean you get to own something from your favorite designer without paying the high-end price.
You’ll find that most high-end designer brands have a number of different collections available, and some are surprisingly affordable. I personally love bridge lines as a way to get the aesthetic of a certain designer, without having to fork over full price.
2. Utilize Flash Sale Sites
Flash sale websites offer a few specific designer pieces on the cheap. Those items are then shipped in bulk to the flash retailer, and then shipped to your home, saving the designer brand big bucks on packaging and shipping. Those discounts are then passed onto you, which can mean designer goods for much lower prices than on the retailer website or the department store. Of course, items are only offered for a short period of time – and they often sell out quickly.
Flash sale sites are notorious for sending daily emails that entice you to visit and spend daily. Luckily, most flash sale sites will allow you to set alerts or send emails when your favorite brand is available, so instead of visiting daily, I only check out sales when I know it offers a designer that I love. This can reduce some of the temptation to spend on daily sales.
I love sites like Gilt, Ideel, Zulily, and HauteLook for designer brands without designer prices. In most cases, you need to create an account for the flash site, but you can also score credits and discounts by inviting friends and family to sign up.
3. Shop the Off-Season
Shopping for your favorite designer in the off-season means you can score deep discounts as retailers try to make space for new merchandise. I bought a swimsuit by my favorite high-end designer for pennies on the dollar, simply by shopping for swimwear in September. While you might have to store the items for a few months, it’s a great way to get designer brands.
Just follow a few tips while off-season bargain shopping:
- Choose Classic Pieces. If you find a great deal, ask yourself if the item will still be in-style by the time it’s in-season again. Take shoes, for instance: A peep-toe pump will be in style year after year, but a flashy, sequined espadrille might be woefully passé next summer. By sticking with classic shapes and styles, you won’t have to worry about your supposedly “great deal” languishing in the back of your closet.
- Ask About Price Adjustments. Here’s an insider secret: The best time to shop for off-season fashion is actually a week or two before a store begins a sale – as long as that store will do price adjustments. Price adjustments (where a retailer refunds part of the purchase price should an item go on sale after you buy it) are usually limited to one or two weeks post-purchase. Therefore, you can get the best selection of clothing before the sales starts and the items are picked through, but still get the price adjustment a week or two later when the items go on sale. If you’re unsure about price adjustment limitations or when a sale will start, ask a sales associate for the scoop and plan accordingly.
- Check “Final Sale” Rules. Usually, off-season items are clearance, which also means they’re probably final sale and ineligible for returns. Always check the store for return policies, and make sure you’re happy with your purchase – you’ll probably be stuck with it.
Buying coats in April, swimsuits in September, and boots in March can help you stretch your designer dollars. By following the rules for savvy off-season shopping, you can get steep discounts and store your designer goods until the right season rolls around again.
4. Buy Secondhand
Believe it or not, it’s possible to find designer goods for less than half their original price – you just have to try your hand at second-hand shopping. I’ve had the best luck shopping at consignment stores, rather than thrift shops. Thrift shops rely on donations, which means you may find a good score once in a while. However, there are consignment shops dedicated to designer duds. And, since consignment shops either purchase goods from owners and sell them for a profit, or sell the goods for the original owners and split the profit, you’ll often find better-quality merchandise there.
Consignment shops are in the business of making money, so they often repair, launder, and improve items before selling them. They’re especially good to find items that don’t traditionally show a lot of wear, such as handbags, accessories, or even special-occasion dresses.
5. Swap With Friends
I know that I’ve found myself “investing” in a designer piece, only to find that I didn’t wear or use it as much as I thought I would. In that case, why keep it in your closet? Chances are that one of your friends would love to own a designer piece and put it to good use.
That’s where a clothing swap comes in. By arranging for your friends to meet, check out each other’s unwanted goods, and go home with some new stuff, you can get rid of the designer items that you don’t use and replace them with something you really love.
The best way to create a designer clothing swap with friends is to create some ground rules, such as:
- Name-brand clothing and accessories only
- Friends must bring a specific number of items to participate
- Clothing and accessories should be in good condition and freshly laundered
As the hostess, you can provide snacks and drinks. Invite friends in a number of shapes and sizes for the best chances for a successful swap – a successful swap relies on variety, so the more the merrier!
6. Borrow Designer Goods
If you really only need a designer item for a special occasional – such as a high school reunion, wedding, or work event – there’s no need to purchase an expensive dress, bag, and shoes. Instead, you can rent high-end designer goods and clothing for a short period of time. It’s a great way to get the designer look if you only need it for a night or two.
Dress to impress by visiting sites such as Rent The Runway and Bag Borrow or Steal. Conditions surrounding the rental vary from site to site, but generally, you select the item and book the date, and then pay the rental price.
For example, a Badgley Mischka gown costs about $700. However, you can rent the dress for $70 plus initial shipping (from Rent the Runway) allowing you to shine during your red carpet moment in a designer gown – without having to pay the hefty retail price.
Once the event is over, most rental websites offer prepaid packaging to ship the item back. As an added bonus, the rental company takes care of dry cleaning after the fact.
7. Check Closeout Websites
You might be accustomed to scouring clearance racks in-store, but don’t forget about bargain shopping online. Checking closeout sites is like going through the racks of a discount store such as T.J.Maxx – stores receive or purchase merchandise that is out-of-season or otherwise removed from brand-name stores, and then sell it to you at a deep discount.
I love the designer brand Vince Camuto, but a Camuto top usually retails anywhere from $80 to $120 at Nordstrom. No thanks. But at Nordstrom Rack – the retailer’s closeout store – the same shirt that I’ve pined for usually retails between $30 and $40. While it’s true that you might have to wait for a specific item to land on closeout websites, they’re great for shopping if you love a certain designer, rather than a specific piece.
My favorite closeout websites include Nordstrom Rack Online, 6pm.com, and The Outnet. Check out these sites – you may be surprised at some of the available discounts on high-end brands and items that are no longer sold by the original retailer.
There’s just something about designer goods – they’re high-quality status items that are beautifully made. But you can expect to pay a premium for the privilege of Prada.
If you’re a savvy shopper, however, you can look outside the showroom to find that designer goods don’t always have to cost designer prices. Thinking beyond the brand, doing some clearance rack-digging, and even shopping secondhand can help you feel like a million bucks – without spending that much, of course.
Do you ever score affordable designer fashion? What are your favorite tips?