Alternative Shopping in NYC

Thrifting has always been a shopping favorite for those who shun mainstream consumerism, but recently this has taken a turn. With such an upscale donor base, NYC thrift shops have become coveted for their designer options year-round. The cast-offs of the rich and famous land in popular shops like Housing Works (which has 11 locations around the city), and beloved Brooklyn staple Beacon’s Closet. Each area offers a varied supply of designer and well-kept clothing, at basement prices (six dollar skirts and ten dollar dresses abound). Especially if you can catch one of these venues while they are hosting sales, the savings are immense in comparison to NYC prices.

Most notably, a few times a year Housing Works has warehouse sales where $20 will get you an empty bag, and whatever you can fit into it, you get to take. With endless opportunities (new donations appear daily), and unimaginable savings, a little thrifting can go a long way.

For those who need the department store feel, discount designer stores like Loehmann’s, Filene’s Basement, and Century 21 have taken over the city. Loehmann’s website tout’s itself as an “off-price specialty retailer,” which gets its brand-name items straight off the racks of 5th Avenue favorites. The stores are almost overwhelming with how much clothing they can fit into the store per square foot, and caters to shoppers of any price-range: from lesser-known brands whose prices are slashed in half and then on sale, to designer haute couture pieces whose prices are also slashed, yet at a much higher cost. These stores still feel like traditional shopping, while offering brand-name, new clothing much cheaper than department store prices.

The most en vogue alternative shopping trend today, however, is the sample sale: both online and off. Formerly the means of the high society of NYC to purchase (at full price) designer couture lines before anyone else, this elite tradition has fallen prey to the economy as well.

Now, sample sales are advertised as ways to get designer clothing at bargain prices, often in pop-up stores or showrooms around the city. Sketchy signs and flyers are posted surreptitiously around the fashion district for smaller designers. But this phenomenon has taken hold with the same brands sold at Bloomingdale’s or Saks: numerous websites like NYMag.com chart the sample sales of designers like Tory Burch or Stella McCartney – any given day has an array of designers peddling their expensive fashions from 50-75% off.

In the same vein, the online market has taken the idea and run with it. Websites like Gilt, Ideeli and Rue La La offer what they call “sample sales” – almost whole designer collections available for purchase online, at fractions of the cost. Gilt offers not only their high-fashion wares, but also cheaper lines on Gilt Fuse, and is entering into other markets by starting Gilt Home and Gilt Jetsetter.

Just today, Gilt is offering sales on Alice + Olivia, Zac Posen, and Oscar de la Renta – in demand fashions by highly valued labels. These sites make an attempt at the exclusivity of real sample sales (the sites are invitation only), but attaining an invitation on the web is not difficult.